Ty Burrell / © Scott McDermott / Corbis Outline
No activity is too demeaning if it will get a laugh for Ty Burrell, the Emmy Award winner who plays Phil Dunphy on Modern Family. In the dark comedy Butter, on demand and in theaters Oct. 5, he plays a retired Iowa butter-carving champ whose wife (Jennifer Garner) is determined to succeed him as champion. Burrell, 45, and wife Holly have two young daughters.
How far will you go to entertain us? I’ll do pretty much anything. I fall into the category Big Ham.
What’s the hammiest thing you’ve done lately? I dance with my `daughter to get her laughing. I was in my car and she was in the back in the baby seat, which is below window level. I was dancing in the mirror, and a woman pulled up next to me, pointed and mouthed “Phil Dunphy!” She thought there was no one in the car.
Do you have a talent for carving butter? The film people gave me a hunk of butter the size of a toddler, and I tried to carve [the shape of] my hand. It ended up looking like a tortoise.
Any craft skills? Not unless it involves duct tape.
Phil thinks he’s hip. How hip are you? I fall into that huge swath of people who, when younger, thought they were hip. But if you look at the photo evidence, I’ve never been hip. I’m doomed to a life of unhipness.
Phil is supposedly good at home repair. My printer just broke. What should I do? Take it out into the woods and shoot it. I don’t know anything technical at all. My wife handles all that. We’re basically an inverted version of a 1950s household, where she comes up and says, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little head about this.’
Are you and Phil very much alike? Phil is a less neurotic me. He’s got more initiative. Playing him is like living in an alternate universe. It’s invigorating.
Do you wish you’d found stardom at 25? I’d have been a mess. I wasn’t very composed as a young person. I’d have been vulnerable to a lot of things that you see from actors and athletes. Stuff happens before they’ve matured completely.
Did success and fatherhood come at the same time? It was a really great hilarious challenge. The combination set something off in the back of my head. ‘Oh, I need to do a good job and keep doing a good job. I need to provide.’ That’s something I couldn’t have done had I been that 25-year-old actor.
Should a parent be his kid’s friend? My dad was my best friend, but he made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going to be challenged on certain things. I’ll probably follow the arc of my parents.
When did the comedy bug bite? When I was a little kid. I remember improvising with my younger brother Duncan and cracking up my family. He’d play my boss, and I’d try to please him. To me, it was like taking a love bath.
Is Duncan an actor too? He remodeled homes for a long time, and now we co-own a bar--Bar-X--in Salt Lake City. He is the funniest person I know. He does his share of entertaining at the bar. We’ve always been two sides of the same coin. His side is a little more secure. He never needed the attention or wanted the spotlight. I, on the other hand, was constantly doing a monkey dance.
Have you ever had a real job? I started working when I was 13. We lived out in the country (in Oregon), and I helped in our family’s store, stocking shelves and pumping gas. I was also digging irrigation ditches for our neighbors. That story doesn’t end with me having a super-hardnosed, crazy work ethic. I’m soft as cotton candy. I think all it did was teach me that I wanted to do something creative.