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By Stephen Ostrowski | September 21, 2016 | People
We caught up with Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson just before the show’s season eight premiere to chat about where we can expect the series to pick up, why men need stylish bedding, too, and what it’s like to share a scene with Nathan Lane.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
A humor high point of ABC hit Modern Family’s seventh season sees Mitchell Pritchett at his low point: Suffering a midlife crisis, he tries his hand at painting to little success—or, as his partner, Cam, describes it, “A talent-free breakdown” (Perhaps more damning: “You know why he reminds you of Van Gogh? Because he’s earning nothing and he’s losing his mind!”).
Fortunately, for the off-screen Pritchett—series star Jesse Tyler Ferguson—fecklessness doesn’t beget tackling new disciplines, the most recent of which includes upcoming designs for his husband Justin Mikita's menswear bedding line (co-founded in conjunction with Greg Shugar, creator of Chicago-based The Tie Bar). Ahead of the collaboration’s October 1 debut and Modern Family’s season eight premiere (September 21), Ferguson talked aesthetics, acting, and activism with Michigan Avenue.
First off: Why do you think bedding should matter to men?
JESSE TYLER FERGUSON: You spend a lot of time in your bed so it’s nice to make it a place where it’s pleasing to the eye, and it’s a nice place to hang out for a little while. And I’ve always found when I’m looking for bedding that there’s not a lot of options other than sort of more female floral-driven colors and patterns, and you don’t really have a lot of options other than solids or more masculine patterns.
Were there any particular experiences, emotions, or muses you drew from to inform your collaboration?
JTF: I wanted to do something with bow ties just because it sort of ties in (I guess figuratively and literally) the other venture that Justin and I put together, Tie The Knot, which is this foundation that raises money for LGBT rights—and initially it was raising money for marriage equality. I thought it’d be a fun way to pay homage to that and acknowledge our other adventure together, so that’s why I decided to go with the bow ties. And then as far as the paisley design, I just really like that pattern; it’s very classic.
One of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s design for Thread Experiment.
What can you tell fans about the upcoming season of Modern Family? Where will we find Mitchell Pritchett when everything kicks off again?
JTF: Well the first episode sort of takes place in flashback; we see how the family spent their summers and I am with [Mitchell’s husband] Cam in his hometown. His grandmother has passed away, so we are at his grandma’s funeral. And it’s bittersweet because the actress who played Cam’s grandma actually passed away recently. We wanted to pay homage to her and it’s a very funny episode that I think she would really appreciate. We also have some great guest stars this year: Martin Short came and did a few scenes with us and we have Shelley Long returning as DeDe, my mother. It’s always fun to have people come visit our set.
Earlier this year you had a run with the one-man Broadway show Fully Committed. Did any of the dexterity demanded by that role or any of the residual lessons you learned inform any of your subsequent performances for season eight?
JTF: It’s like driving two totally different cars; it’s a whole other set of muscles that you use for something like a one-man show. I realized how much I love rehearsal and the ability to have a performance grow over time. On television you rehearse a scene once or twice and then you’re filming it and sometimes all the good ideas come after you’ve marinated with the work for a little while. It was hard to let that go and definitely the one thing I took from it was realizing how much I love rehearsal and why I love doing theater so much, because of how much is still yet to be discovered and doesn’t come immediately
After eight seasons of filming Modern Family, is there anyone that you work with that you’re still consistently in awe of? Whether it’s for their acting or comedic chops, is there anyone that, in spite of having done this so many times, still leaves you slack-jawed with their ability?
JTF: We’ve gotten very lucky with a lot of our guest stars that have come to us to do scenes with us. I have gotten to work with some of my favorite comedic actors: Nathan Lane, Andrea Martin, and Catherine O’Hara, whom I’ve admired for a very long time and have been fans of before I was ever successful. I always have those pinch-me moments when I’m doing scenes with those people who I’ve drawn from so much in my own career. I remember seeing Nathan Lane on stage and just feeling things that he did and using them for myself. Actually sharing scenes with him and working with him was really kind of surreal.
You also have your food blog with Julie Tanous on the side. How did that get hatched? Has that always been a passion that you’ve incubated or is that something that you learned and then just put into practice?
JTF: Well I’ve always been fascinated with the the culinary world; I think if I wasn’t an actor, I would have put myself through culinary school, so I’ve always had a passion for it. I met Julie through some mutual friends at a dinner and found out she used to be a private chef and she was a recipe developer and I shared some ideas with her; basically a cookbook idea I had and she sort of latched on to that and said [that] we should cook together sometime. So we sort of developed this relationship in the kitchen and had a really great time working together and we’re sort of sharing the fruits of our labors on our food blog right now, so it’s been really fun.
Congratulations on your upcoming honors at the LA LGBT Center’s Vanguard Awards. What does activism mean to you?
JTF: I feel like with the exposure that Modern Family has given me, you need to be willing to give back and use that platform, and there’s responsibility with that as well. I’ve always been someone who has been very empathetic of—specifically—the LGBT community, because that’s my community. I certainly had my own struggles with coming out as a teen; to be able to give back, and sort of give voice to a generation, and maybe be a voice for people that I didn’t necessarily have when I was a kid is very important to me. And Modern Family just amplifies that passion in a way that I think is really fantastic.
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