In the pilot of Modern Family, which will have aired 12 years ago this September, Mitchell Pritchett — played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson — brings home his adopted daughter, Lily. Today, as a new father himself, Ferguson is able to reflect on being a real dad versus playing one on TV.
"The great thing about having babies on TV is when they start crying, someone sweeps in and takes them away from you. And there's not that person in real life," Ferguson laughed, "but it's been a joy. It's so much fun."
Jesse Tyler Ferguson stayed on the ABC mockumentary for its entire 11 season run, which ended in April of 2020. "As an actor you are used to constantly being laid off; it's just part of the business," he said. "To have a show to last as long as it did is a treat. It's such a joy to play the arc of someone's life."
While widely known for his TV work, Ferguson originally found success on the stage. He made his Broadway debut at 21 as one of the three sailors in On The Town, and was in the original Broadway cast of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. In 2016, he starred in Fully Committed, a one-man show about a reservationist at an upscale New York City restaurant.
For Fully Committed, Ferguson conducted his research for the performance by eating at a variety of Michelin-star restaurants. He told NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg, "It was the most expensive research I've ever done. The producers of the shows paid for those dinners, and they invited themselves to a few of them as well. They were like 'If we're gonna pay for this, we might as well enjoy the food.'"
Ferguson said the reservationists he met were excited to finally get to discuss their work. "Usually in those circumstances it's all about the kitchen and the front of house staff, and the fact that we were really wanting to know what was going on behind the scenes was really special to them."
Jesse Tyler Ferguson's passion for food goes beyond any performance or research. Since 2017, he's worked with friend and professional chef Julie Tanous on the food blog Julie and Jesse Cook. Now, it's getting its own cookbook titled Food Between Friends.
"I met Julie at a dinner party," Ferguson explained. "I've always wanted to go to culinary school and I never had time to, because I had this thing called Modern Family that I had to go do every day. Julie would come over to my house and would sort of teach me knife skills and inside information to what she learned at culinary school... the book has become this sort of story about a friendship and the background of both Julie and my life." The recipes serve as an homage to their home states of New Mexico and Alabama.
For his Ask Me Another challenge, hosts Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton quizzed Jesse Tyler Ferguson about New Mexican knowledge in the game New Mexico Or New MexiNO. Yes, it was the first name we thought of.
Food Between Friends comes out March 9 and is currently available for preorder.
On the Modern Family cast's least-favorite interview question
In our first season of the show we did a ton of press, and every single interviewer asked, "So what makes a modern family modern?" And we were all just like, "I hate this question." And I think we were all at a press junket together and one of us said, "If the first question is 'What makes a modern family modern?' we're walking out." And they were like, "That actually was my first question."
On his childhood room decor
I had sheet music wallpaper that went halfway up the wall, and you would finish it off with a border. So the border was piano keys. Sheet music wallpaper, and then piano key border, Beauty and the Beast calendar, I think there was a Patti Lupone as Evita poster... you could see what my interests were... When my parents were shocked that I was gay, I was like, "Look at this room that you helped me design!"