Jesse Tyler Ferguson: A Gentleman in Full

3.27.2011

By Bill Keith

You grew up in Albuquerque in a pretty conservative household.
Yeah, as far as I know, my parents still vote Republican, and we went to Catholic school. I went to New York right after high school at 18, and it was definitely exciting for me to move to a more progressive area. And I started my butterfly unfurling there.

Hmm. And what phases did that involve?
I thought I was a very beautiful butterfly right off the bat, but I look back, and I was a moth, actually. I was very awkward. I was obsessed with musical theater. I wouldn't listen to any radio. I could sing the whole score to The Phantom of the Opera, but I couldn't like tell you any current popular artist. So yeah, I wasn't the coolest kid.

And maybe coming out wasn't a gigantic surprise to the family?
God, no. Although I did have to come out to my dad three times.

Really?
Yeah. At one point, he asked me if I had a girlfriend after I'd already come out to him, and I had to reiterate, 'No, Dad, I'm gay.'

How old were you at this point?
Too old for that question to come up -- like 22, 23. And then my sister is also gay, and she came out of the closet after me, like five years ago, and my dad was very accepting of her. But she said to him, 'I was just so worried. With Jesse being gay, I didn't know how you were going to respond.' And my dad goes, 'Oh, so Jesse is gay?' Like he just would not -- it wouldn't sink in.

Which became your character's story on Modern Family.
Yes. The writers just thought it was all sooo hilarious. Looking back on it, I think my parents always knew. Like, they took me to a child psychologist. They needed a professional to make the decision, and they didn't want to assume anything. They were very supportive parents, but we certainly never talked about it. Actually, my mom approached me and said, 'You know, I know you're gay,' so I never really had to come out to her, she sort of outted me to herself. Though she did it in a letter. With tearstains on it. But we're good now.

You go up against American Idol on Wednesday nights, but I've looked through some of your recent Tweets and clearly Idol is a big part of your life.
Well, not a big part of my life, but I tune in.

You seem to tune in very regularly.
I need to fast-forward through a lot of the chatter, but yeah, it's awesome. I love that like 10 years ago Ellen DeGeneres had this canceled series, and that's all that Hollywood thought of her -- the woman with the canceled series who came out of the closet -- and now she's running the business with Idol and her talk show, which I'm obsessed with. I'm dying to be on her show. She's had almost every cast member of Modern Family on but me. At this point, I'm waiting for our craft service team to be on her show before me.

Idol and Ellen don't seem to be your only obsessions. During the Olympics a celebrity crush seemed to emerge, no?
Evan Lysacek, yes. I'm not hiding it. I hear he lives in L.A. too, so it's just a matter of time before we meet. Although I don't know if he's gay. At first I was taken by his outfits, and then I learned that Vera Wang designed them, which left me very conflicted. He's a brilliant skater, and he's also really handsome, and he seems like a really sweet guy, so I swoon when I see him. He's probably too young for me. I need to get out of the 20-year-old age bracket. Like, I have crushes on all of the Jonas Brothers. I assume that's OK?

In addition to Modern Family, Ferguson can be seen opposite Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice and The Winter's Tale in Central Park's Shakespeare in the Park this summer.

To see a slide show of images from the Jesse Tyler Ferguson May cover story, shot by Art Streiber, click here.

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