Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Ty Burrell

ty burrell.jpg

Making his name as superhumanly embarrassing dad Phil Dunphy in Modern Family, Ty Burrell has become the unlikely hero for men everywhere – clumsy, cringe-inducing and downright hilarious. Hitting the big time after a string of lesser-known roles before he turned 40, Burrell now has a cabinet full of awards and Hollywood knocking at his door. Over the phone to ShortList, he opened up about facial topiary, comedy heroes and hot mommas…

It only began four years ago, but Modern Family is currently the most watched comedy on US TV. What was it like for you to hit such a huge career peak at 40?

Yeah, 40-plus. I feel very lucky it happened to me at this stage. I was not a grounded young man. I think the wheels would have come off.

Were you pretty wild, then?

No, I was wimpy. So I would have done something very boring but killed myself doing it. I’d probably have been sat in front of the internet, with prescription painkillers or something.

So Phil saved your life?

No, I would just say that I am lucky I didn’t have success early. Modern Family came at a point where I have a wife and kids, and am extremely happy and aware of the good fortune.

What’s your favourite moment on Modern Family?

I love playing Clive Bixby [Phil’s amorous alter-ego]. Any time I do it, Chris Lloyd – who directs those episodes – will dress up as Clive as well and we both walk around as him all day. So it’s a fun week whenever I’m doing Clive.

When was the last time you thought, “Oh God, I’m Phil”?

That’s a better question for my wife because, much like Phil, I don’t realise. There are more links [between me and him] than I would like to admit. My wife will say every couple of days, “Oh, that was so Phil.” And luckily my kids are too young for me to be making most of Phil’s mistakes. I’m inevitably going to try to be cooler than I am, but at the moment the mistakes are just clumsiness – dropping them and that kind of thing.

Do you have a gymnastic background like Phil?

No. I delusionally thought that I could make it through college as an athlete. But I’ve always taken mental notes about male cheerleaders – I always found them really funny.

Is your real-life wife similar to your onscreen wife, Claire?

To a degree. I suppose we are the same sort of characters. She is more organised. She is certainly keeping our family headed in the right direction.

Who is hotter on the show: your mother-in-law or wife?

Shelley Long [who plays Phil’s ex-mother-in-law, DeDe]? [Laughs] Oh, right, Sofia Vergara [Phil’s current mother-in-law, Gloria]. I mean they [Vergara and Julie Bowen, who plays Claire] are both equally awesome: down-to-earth and hilarious.

You’re currently in London filming The Muppets… Again! Are you living the dream?

Oh yeah. It’s a sort of daydream. Like everybody, I grew up with The Muppets.

Tell us about your character, Jean Pierre Napoleon…

He’s an amalgam of French investigators over the centuries: Clouseau or, even though he’s Belgian, Poirot. People really could draw this character if you just said ‘French inspector’. The hair and make-up is very The Artist. Extra-wafer-thin moustache and a wardrobe of cool Sixties French suits. It’s a blast.

Will you keep the ’tache?

Oh yeah, I will wear the fake moustache all the time.

It might suit Clive Bixby, actually…

Oh my God. That is a truly inspired idea. Clive must have a moustache. I promise you will get credit for this.

Much appreciated. Back to The Muppets, you’re working with Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey, but are most of your scenes with felt creatures?

The three humans have a few lines with each other, then we pair off with a Muppet or two. I’m with Sam The Eagle. It’s fun working with him, and Eric who operates them all. Sam’s such a funny character: so pompous and arrogant.

Both Phil and David Brent are masters of the ‘look to camera’. Have you discussed that with Ricky?

I haven’t. I think [in The Office] they always wanted Ricky to look to camera, but on Modern Family we didn’t talk about that. Phil’s ‘obliviousness’ is borrowed from Fred Willard, which is why it’s amazing to have him play my dad.

Any other comedy heroes?

I was raised on Steve Martin. He explained irony to me. I was very inspired by many people that did sort of long-form character work, such as Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg and Jonathan Winters.

Finally, where do you keep your Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards?

In the basement. My wife would like me to move them up, but…

Too shy?

Yeah. If I could screw them in sideways and turn them into coat hangers, then maybe…

Modern Family: Season 4 is on Sky1, Fridays at 8.30pm

(Image: Rex Features)

Related

RAMSAYBEAKER.jpg

Muppet TV Star Lookalikes

HERO.jpg

Surprisingly tragic sitcom stars

ricky_gervais - the_office.jpg

The greatest sitcom characters of all time

Comments

More

Westworld producers discuss the big questions from season one's finale

It's also been revealed the HBO show won’t be returning until 2018

by Joe Ellison
06 Dec 2016

What The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air taught us about race, sex and family

More than just funny, more than just black, Fresh Prince was important.

06 Dec 2016

The greatest Christmas movies & specials available on Netflix

Binge watching these with a box of Lindor is the true meaning of Christmas

by Jamie Carson
05 Dec 2016

We imagine what the future held for all your favourite sitcom couples

Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.

by Sam Diss
02 Dec 2016

Google Translate describing The Simpsons characters is just lovely

Strangle the son of Bart's neck is annual

by Emily Badiozzaman
01 Dec 2016

Elijah Wood: "Finding Nigerian records is quite difficult"

ShortList chat DJing, Daniel Radcliffe and detectives with Elijah Wood

by Ralph Jones
01 Dec 2016

More young people are watching Planet Earth II than X Factor

Faith in humanity almost restored

by Tom Fordy
01 Dec 2016

Planet Earth crew left devastated after witnessing 150,00 antelope die

Many of the Beeb's production team were left devestated

by Emily Badiozzaman
29 Nov 2016

The first teaser for Game Of Thrones season 7 is here

The Starks are coming

by Emily Badiozzaman
29 Nov 2016

Rapper-turned-foodie Action Bronson tells us how to unlock happiness

“My beard just happens to grow naturally gorgeous”

by Chris Mandle
16 Nov 2016