WORDS BY DAWN KAY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TYLER CLOSE
GROOMING BY AMY FREEMAN
As Phil Dunphy in ABC’s Modern Family, Ty Burrell plays an idiosyncratic father with a curious sense of humor and an unapologetic will to please. In all honesty, the character is not a huge stretch from the affable, self-effacing actor who’s never a few words away from a great one-liner. Still, the two are not one in the same. While Phil’s real estate bravado screams over-confidence, Burrell is still not counting his chickens despite having hit the big-time when the show first aired in 2009. “I’ll never lose the unemployed actor complex of not being sure where my next meal is coming from,” he said. “When I go to events I still case the joint for free food.”
Out of character, he shares many of Phil’s responsibilities, and describes himself as “trying” in his real-life roles as a son, brother, husband and, of course, a father. “That is to say they all find me trying, but I am trying,” he joked. The loss of Burrell’s own father when he was 21 is something he recognizes as the pivotal event in his life. “He’d be having a laugh if he was around for this chapter,” he said. In 2010, the same year that he could be seen playing hide and seek with Elmo in short spots for Sesame Street, Burrell and his wife Holly adopted a baby girl. “I don’t have much to offer my daughter, in the way of culture,” he said. “Theater is about all I’ve got in that respect. My wife is very musical, so I can count on that being a part of her life. My other great passion is sports. I’m not going to get all Marinovich on my daughter but I would love it if she [took] an interest in team sports of any kind.”
Having lived in New York, Salt Lake City and most recently Los Angeles, Burrell feels a “womb-like” connection to his home state of Oregon, where his most meaningful memories are set. “New York and Utah now occupy two ridiculously different parts of my and my family’s hearts,” he said. “New York is about storming the castle and Utah is about the exhale of relief when you’re finished.” His relocation to Los Angeles was a decision made to accommodate the filming of his full-time gig as Mr. Dunphy – a role for which he has received multiple nominations as well as Emmy, SAG and TCA awards.
Burrell’s television success has not confined the actor or led him to neglect other ambitions. He spent the latter part of last year cycling through the festival circuit in support of Butter, a quirky comedy where he stars alongside Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde and Jennifer Garner. In the film, Burrell plays Bob Pickler, an Iowa local who attains widespread notoriety by championing the world of competitive butter carving – a Midwestern activity that Burrell warns is taken very seriously. “The film taught me that within every subculture is the center of the universe. The stakes are as high for a state fair butter-carving competition as they are for the Olympics.”
With the exception of acting, Burrell has always been a dabbler. “I love to do many things and I am not good at any of them,” he said in true, modest fashion. Still, he has the self-deprecating ambition to “someday be more than a hack writer.” And if someone plans to revive The Munsters, Burrell’s solved a casting problem already. “I would love to play the adult Eddie Munster,” he said. “I think it’s the only role that my eyebrows really suit.” The future for Phil Dunphy and the modern dad who brings him to life is looking bright. “Five years from now I hope the show is still on the air,” he said. “If not, then I hope I’m writing and teaching and making my daughter laugh. Not with me, of course… at me.”
Enjoy more of this on thelabmagazine.com, coming summer 2012!