All In the Family
By Justin Ravitz
On ABC's new mockumentary comedy Modern Family, redheaded cutie Jesse Tyler Ferguson plays Mitchell, a self-serious gay man who's adopted a Chinese infant named Lily with his flamboyant, zaftig partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet). The new family lives in suburbia, with similarly harried relatives (played by TV vets Ed O'Neil and Julie Bowen) nearby. In real life, the gay 33-year-old is living the bachelor life. He spoke to Out about Shelley Long, his 'gay-for-pay' costar, and why they won't be making out on screen.
Out: What's in store for Cameron, Mitchell, and baby Lily this season?
We're focusing less on the fact that they're gay, more on the fact that they're raising this child together and learning to be dads. A lot of the comedy is mined from that. We take our baby to a 'Mommy and Me' class, which is hilarious: I'm trying to blend in for the sake of our daughter -- just fall back with the other mothers. But Cameron, my partner, wants to be fabulous and over the top. Then everything blows up in our face when a more fabulous gay couple walks in with their little African baby. That was a very fun episode to shoot. We also meet Shelley Long, who plays my estranged mother.
Oooh! What's it like working with Shelley Long?
The moment she opens her mouth, she has that cadence that makes you think of Diane [from Cheers]. There was a dog on the lot whose name was Sam. She called out for it -- it was the most surreal moment I've ever had. She is absolutely genius.
How did you and Eric Stonestreet work on your romantic chemistry?
Eric is straight. I call him gay-for-pay. He is so game for this character. We just clicked. We hang out a lot. Ironically, after he got the role, we decided to meet up for coffee. We're having coffee in the middle of the afternoon -- and we realize it's Valentine's Day! Just two guys, hangin' out, having coffee. No big deal.
The pilot didn't have much PDA. Will you get more affectionate in future episodes?
You're not going to see us in bed anytime soon. But honestly, none of the other couples show much affection. It's network TV. But Eric and I are the most traditional couple, in a weird way. We're squabbling parents. I think their normality is what makes them interesting.
The way Cameron and Mitchell are matched physically reminded me of 'King of Queens' -- the big guy and a slimmer, more conventionally attractive partner, i.e. you. Did you guys talk about that dynamic?
We didn't really discuss it. I think it's a very real relationship. I know a lot of couples that you're like 'how did they end up together?' I read with all different types of guys -- different ethnicities and different sizes. Really, the chemistry is what dictated how the relationship was. I'm certainly falling in love with Eric Stonestreet more and more each day!
What was your family like growing up?
I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had a lot of passion for the arts and not much of an outlet. I didn't grow into myself until I moved to New York after I graduated high school. I'm from a very traditional family, one of three kids. I wish my family history was more colorful and elaborate, because I feel like all these great artists come from these tortured pasts.
What was your coming-out process like?
Not to rat on my Dad, but I had to come out four times to him. He kept forgetting and would ask about girlfriends. I'd be like 'Dad, we talked about this!' I certainly don't have the horror stories that some teens unfortunately have. It's a process and they're still learning -- but they're nothing but supportive. They certainly have never turned down the love dial with me.
How old were you when you came out?
I was six. [Laughs.] No, no. I was about 21. My mom actually was the one that broached the subject. She said 'I think you're gay''
Your mom took you out of the closet?
Sort of. She definitely opened the door.
Modern Family airs on ABC on Wednesday nights. Check local listings for channels and times.