Modern Family, a mockumentary sitcom about a quirky extended family, offers a novel development for network TV: a committed gay couple as normal as the rest of their dysfunctional family. Eric Stonestreet, formerly of CSI, plays the more flamboyant Cameron; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, of Broadway’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is Mitchell, the aggrieved son of the show’s aggressively straight dad (Ed O’Neill). Emma Rosenblum spoke to them by phone.
Eric, it’s kind of a shock to talk to you. You sound like such a guy’s guy.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I know! Everyone is so surprised when they meet him.
Eric Stonestreet: I’m a regular dude from Kansas who grew up with pigs and cows.
What do you mean by regular dude?
E.S.: For example, I’ve never been to New York. Isn’t that crazy? I used to live in Chicago, so it’s not like I’ve never been to a big city. And I guess Los Angeles is a big city.
I see. Did you mean that you’re not gay?
No, I’m not gay. So it was important to ground Cameron in something that was familiar.
E.S.: My mom. She’s very excitable and passionate, like Cameron. When I got the part, I told her, “Not only are you going to be happy I got a job, but you’re going to be super excited because I’ve kind of based it on you.” And she goes, “Oh, my God!” Just like Cameron would say it.
Did you two audition together?
J.T.F.: I was initially asked to read for Cameron, but right after the audition [creator] Steve Levitan said, “You’d be a really good Mitchell, too.” And I got this big grin on my face—I had to admit to him that that was the part I wanted. Mitchell is representative of many gay men I know. I’ve played flamboyant before, so I was excited by the challenge of playing someone neurotic and tightly wound.
E.S.: After my first audition, they called and requested I come in again and do it in “spiffy clothing” and clean shaven. I took spiffy to mean lavender gingham, so I went and got a lavender gingham shirt and did it again.
J.T.F.: They had us do a chemistry read. I’d already gotten the part and at each reading [with possible Camerons] I felt like I was getting more stale. I was worried the producers would rethink hiring me. Then with Eric, it felt very natural; we really clicked. He has great energy. The day after Eric got the part, we went out to celebrate. We didn’t realize it was Valentine’s Day until we were halfway through the coffee. We just thought that was the funniest thing, and a good omen that our relationship was meant to work.
You two do seem to have great chemistry.
E.S. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am fully clothed right now. But I can’t make the same promise for Jesse. He is naked constantly; like, always nude. Just nude.