Sitcom star Jesse Tyler Ferguson dishes on the hit comedy’s sophomore season, the gay couple’s
controversial kiss, and Nathan Lane’s crazy cameo.
First kisses are always a big deal—and no one knows that better than two Modern Family fathers. The ABC sitcom hit a home run during its debut season last year, garnering critical kudos, healthy ratings and Emmy love for its funny family romp. But with Cameron and Mitchell, the gay couple raising a daughter (played respectively by Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), they’ve yet to even reach first base.
The lack of lip action prompted frustrated fans to launch a kiss-pushing Facebook campaign, but Ferguson, who plays the series’ uptight lawyer, assures us it’s finally happening this season, following the show’s Sept. 22 premiere. Ferguson, on the way to the Modern Family set in L.A., also chatted about risking his career for this role, Nathan Lane’s crazy-and-queer parties, a possible wedding episode and how Modern Family changed his life.
What’s it like to be back on the Modern Family set?
Honestly, there hasn’t been a job that I’ve enjoyed more than this. It really does feel like a family reunion every time we get back together.
How has the show changed your life?
I have no anonymity anymore. It’s funny, because when I did The Class, (director) James Burrows said to the cast, “You have to say goodbye to your anonymity. It’s going to be different. I saw this happen with Will & Grace and Friends.” We were kind of terrified, actually. And then the show got canceled, and my anonymity stayed fairly intact. So I’m now experiencing that.
You’re single—has it helped in the dating department?
(Laughs) It’s actually been harder! I have a lot of people who I think are hitting on me, but then it ends up that they just want to be friends. It’s just hard to tell people’s intentions.
Who’d be your type: Cam or Mitchell?
Oh gosh! It seems wrong to say Mitchell, but I definitely like Cam. He’d be a lot of fun to date, actually. If I could find an Eric Stonestreet-type who wants to date me, that could be great.
Too bad Eric’s straight.
Too bad, but it’s been nice test-running that chemistry with him.
Modern Family has become a monster hit among gay audiences, even picking up GLSEN and GLAAD honors. How do you feel that the show has been a positive influence for gay and lesbian people, especially parents?
Gosh, I mean it’s really hit very close to home because I have parents who also found it challenging at times. I have a gay sibling as well, and it’s been hard for my parents, so I think it’s been really helpful for them to see their son, not just on TV in a gay relationship, but able to be more open and out in the community in real life as well.
There are a lot of great TV shows that are just sort of putting it out there. They’re not “gay” characters; they’re just great characters who happen to be gay, just operating among society like they do in real life. It’s really great for families who maybe have a challenging time with that. I wish there was a reference point like Modern Family or Glee to show my parents when I was a kid—and to reassure me as well.
Your parents, particularly your father, had a hard time with your sexuality, as you noted in Out magazine. What was it like for them—and him, especially—to see you on the cover of Out?
It was challenging for him, but also really exciting. He was sort of confused because I made reference to the Jonas Brothers and having crushes on all of them. It means what it says! They’re handsome men!
He’s a funny little guy. He hasn’t grown up in the entertainment industry, so with my Emmy Award nomination (for Outstanding Supporting Role in a Comedy Series), he asked, “How does that come to be?” It needs to be broken down for him, and that’s OK. I’m willing to take those steps with him.
The Cam-Mitchell kiss is a hot topic lately. When will it happen? And is there really a wedding in the works?
First of all, with the kiss thing, it’s been built up to a kissing episode—and I have to say, it’s not going to be an episode about kissing. (Glee creator) Ryan Murphy criticized us, saying that it shouldn’t be this big thing, and he sort of didn’t have his facts right because it’s not going to be this big thing. The Facebook campaign and all these people rabidly excited about the kiss are what’s made it a big thing.
There’s a big PDA episode that deals with public displays of affection in general, but the kiss might not even be a part of that episode. We’re trying to integrate it in a way that’s just very natural.
And with the gay marriage, we were just so excited about Proposition 8, but we certainly don’t have a wedding episode planned. We hope to be on the air for a very long time, so we don’t want to put all the eggs in Season 2’s basket and then not have any stories to tell.
While we’re on the topic of eggs, is there another baby on the way?
I would be thrilled with a second kid in the future, but I don’t think it will happen this season. Honestly, as an actor, I don’t know if I can handle another kid right now (laughs). It’s enough when we have the twins (who both play their daughter, Lily) on the set. I play with both of them and look at their parents and I’m like, “How do you do this all the time?”
Has it turned you off from being a father?
No, it’s actually whetted my appetite. I’ve been a little baby crazy lately, but I’m single—so there’s that. If the opportunity arose, I would totally jump on it.
How will Nathan Lane play into Cam and Mitchell’s lives in Season 2?
He’s our older, gay and flamboyant friend who throws these very eccentric themed parties, such as the “Studio Fifty-Fourth of July Party.” In this episode he’s throwing his “Oscar Wilde and Crazy Brunch Party” and we have to all dress up in Oscar Wilde gear, and we’re trying to get out of going to these parties but he’s very sensitive about people who cancel on him. It’s a really funny episode, and he’s perfect for this part.
I could see Cam having more fun than Mitchell at these parties.
Even he’s reached the breaking point. When we were actually shooting our scenes without Nathan Lane, the ones that lead up to his entrance, we’re in some very specific Oscar Wilde costume gear, and I looked at Eric—and he was wearing this fantastically flamboyant outfit—and said, “If this is what you’re wearing, Nathan Lane has to be a few notches above this?”
Have you given Eric tips on playing gay? I know he’s got the “z-snap” down.
That’s never happened again—which is good. But Eric is doing such a fantastic job, and he understands the workings of Cameron so well that I would never even attempt to offer any advice. All of his instincts are always spot on.
You recently were in some Central Park productions, The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino and The Winter’s Tale. What’s it like moving between theater and TV?
My roots are in the theater, so it was harder going from theater to my first sitcom. I love the immediate response from the (theater) audience. But on a show, you don’t know if something’s funny because no one’s allowed to laugh and you’re working very closely and very quietly and very intimately with the other actors.
After playing gay on Fox’s short-lived 2008 show Do Not Disturb and again now on Modern Family, do you fear being typecast?
Honestly, no. I would never have given up the opportunity to play Mitchell because of that fear. It’s been interesting, because Do Not Disturb was not successful at all. It’s interesting to see how playing gay on one sitcom just did not work and here it’s working brilliantly. I’m happy to have the opportunity to play gay on a sitcom that is working so well, and I just can’t worry about being typecast.
Even gayer than either sitcom role is your hilarious rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” on YouTube. Are you inspired to take that further?
I’m trying to put together a show. It’s probably going to be a pretty gay show, actually. Gaga musical theater, that’s what you can expect.
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