LOS ANGELES – Now filming the last season of “Modern Family,” Ty Burrell says the reality hasn’t sunk in yet, “but it will get hard as the season goes on.”
He and the other cast members admit it’s one of the best jobs in television. In addition to boasting a “murderers’ row” of writers, the show gives its actors plenty of time off and a very comfortable schedule.
“Sometimes I don’t want to say what our hours are because they’ve been so good,” Burrell admits. “When you’ve got three families shooting, you’re not there every day.”
Still, the two-time Emmy winner has found a follow-up gig that’s even better. In the animated series “Duncanville,” which premieres mid-season, he works just two days a week. On that Fox series (produced by Amy Poehler), he stars as a teenager’s dad.
“It’s an easy transition, a lovely transition,” Burrell says. “It’s not in the same world, but it’s (done by) really good people and (it boasts) really fun material. Somehow, I managed to find better hours than ‘Modern Family.’”
For the 52-year-old, “Modern Family” was a real game changer.
“When I first started as an actor, I was playing a lot of smarmy people – people you knew, at the beginning of the movie, were going to either get killed or get their comeuppance. And Phil has been a treat. I love waking up in the morning to go play him.”
A well-intentioned dad, Burrell’s Phil Dunphy never fails to surprise with the lengths he’ll go to to win his family’s affection. He doesn’t hesitate to look stupid and there’s no stunt he’s not willing to try. (A first adapter? Phil had an Apple Watch before you did.)
“There were a couple of stunts I couldn’t pull off, that I needed a stunt man for, but (the producers) were always understanding,” Burrell says. “If I didn’t think it was something Phil should do, we’d always have a conversation: ‘I don’t know if I want him to be that lascivious’ or whatever it might be. If there was a red flag, they’d pull away from it.”
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Phil’s hallmark has always been his sunny disposition and good intentions, Burrell says.
Before the series began, audiences were tired of multi-camera comedies. “They’d see punchlines coming and they were getting more sophisticated,” Burrell says. “Modern Family,” shot like a film, gave viewers a different take on families and that once-predictable form of comedy.
“We had the benefit of getting a lot of writers who had run (writers) rooms of their own,” Burrell says. “What they were doing was really multi-cam humor in a sophisticated film style. People still wanted that warm humor.”
Because “Modern Family” boasts a large cast (more than a dozen regulars), there are plenty of opportunities to pair seemingly unlikely characters in one scene. Burrell has had great success playing opposite Julie Bowen (his TV wife) and Sofia Vergara (Bowen’s stepmother). But scenes with Jesse Tyler Ferguson (his TV brother-in-law) are ones that really pop.
“He does bits all day long,” Burrell says. “I’d want to be in a scene with anybody in the cast, but Jess is a bit machine. He’s literally hilarious off-screen all day long.”
Now, as the end nears for “Modern Family,” “everybody’s feelings are just overwhelming gratitude that we get to say goodbye to the show.“
“Duncanville,” another take on family, has allowed him to expand his reach as a voice actor. While he has voiced characters in “Finding Dory” and “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” the father of two hasn’t played a character on an animated TV series.
“This is very fun ... and fast,” he says. “I don’t envy the writers, how fast it is to turn these around. But it’s enabled me to tweak the character from episode to episode. You don’t have that in film.”
Meanwhile, “Modern Family” has been one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. “It’s unbelievable,” Burrell says.