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5 minutes with Ty Burrell (AKA Phil Dunphy)



Before he became everyone’s favourite bumbling (yet charming) TV dad, Ty Burrell almost always played the villain. Now, six years later, he’s pretty content playing the good guy.

During his visit to the UAE last month, ShortList had the chance to chat with Ty about his career so far; influences and rejections, his thoughts about our city and how Phil would survive in a zombie apocalypse.  If you want to know more about just how much he relates to his character on Modern Family, or what he and Fox have planned for the future, read on…

How do you think Phil would cope in Dawn of the Dead/Black Hawk Down?

Well, he wouldn’t be the nihilist that I played in DOTD and he wouldn’t be capable of being an Air Force medic, as I was in BHD. I think if there was a war on Zombies, as I assume the combination of these movies implies, I think he’d be a cheerleader for the humans.

My brother used ‘when life gives you lemonade, make lemons and life will be like Whatttt’ as his yearbook quote! Which Philsosophy quote do you love? Which one would you live by? Which is most quoted to you?

My favourite Phil’sosophy is “Always look people in the eye. If they’re blind, tell them you’re looking them in the eye.”

How has playing Phil influenced you as a father and vice versa?

I find Phil to be aspirational. I’d love to be as earnest and committed as Phil is as a father. I hope I am. I definitely fall on my face as much as he does.

Which one of your Modern Family cast mates would you want to be stranded with on a desert island?

Nolan [Gould, who plays Luke on the show], he’s smart enough to get us off of it.

You’ve played a mix of good guys and bad guys now, which do you prefer and why?

I really don’t have a preference. It has everything to do with how well something’s written, you know? A well written bad guy and a well written good guy usually have a little of the other in them anyway. That said, it’s pretty great to wake up every day to play Phil Dunphy…

You’ve got to work with great writers and directors, like Aaron Sorkin on the West Wing and Ridley Scott, which role do you think you have learnt or grown the most in? 

I’ve loved working with so many directors, really. I feel like I’ve learnt so much from each of them. Mainly, it’s that everyone does better if the director takes the heat on behalf of those beneath them on the food chain. If that stress trickles down (and their job is stressful) it can poison the well, so to speak. Luckily, most of my working examples have been inspirational.

Is there an actor/actress from your career that stands out as a favourite or influence? 

Working with Nicole Kidman on FUR was an incredible education in grace and professionalism.

Which was the toughest rejection you have experienced?

Honestly, rejection becomes the default setting if you’re a working (or trying to work) actor. The most painful moments are less about being rejected and more about missing up an opportunity. That, I have done MANY times.

What have you got planned for your writing deal with Fox?

We’re working on several projects, all comedy, at once. We’ll hope to have some of the fruits of our labour this fall or shortly thereafter. It’s been amazing and humbling. My writing partners and I are thrilled with the opportunity.

You seem to have been very well taken care of on your trip over here. How has the visit been overall? 

I was so well taken care of in the UAE that it’s going to be hard to follow this trip. Dubai was so fun and my wife and I are officially smitten with Abu Dhabi. We’re planning on bringing our kids back to Abu Dhabi in the future.

How does Catch Dubai here hold up to the NYC joint?

I haven’t been to the Catch in NYC but it must be good. I wouldn’t be shocked, however, if it’s overshadowed by the Dubai version. What an amazing meal that was. Also, it was, by far, the best cocktail program that we came across on our trip.

Catch – Dubai
World Trade Center Area


Did you catch a show at the ACT Dubai?

The ACT was also a blast. We had been to the BOX in NY and this holds up very favourably. The food, drink, and atmosphere were phenomenal. Dubai has some seriously fun nightlife.

How was the class at NYU?

I had a blast talking with the kids at NYU. Such a wide cross-section of students and such thoughtful questions (followed, probably, by less thoughtful answers…). I was struck by how much that student body looked like the student body in Manhattan. There really is no such thing as a ‘typical’ NYU student and that holds true in Abu Dhabi too. Very cool.

Following that, what is your overall feeling about the state of performing arts in the UAE?

Looking through the local paper in Abu Dhabi made me realise just how much is going on there, culturally. I was so impressed by the balance of new and old ideas. To build so much so fast but to remain connected to your roots seems to me a Herculean task and, yet, they’re doing it. My wife and I left feeling like Abu Dhabi is going to be one of the great cities of the world, if it already isn’t.

Is there anything here you wanted to see/visit that you didn’t manage to?

So much, but we covered so much ground! We’ll be back, for sure.

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