Peeves aside, actors get along fine
By DONNA FREYDKIN
LOS ANGELES — One is Fizbo, the other fussy.
On ABC's "Modern Family," Eric Stonestreet, 38, is the flashy and affectionate "Lion King"-loving Cameron Tucker, who moonlights as Fizbo the clown. His longtime partner, the tightly wound and Fizbo-loathing lawyer Mitchell Pritchett, is played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, 34. Together, they make up one of the most high-profile gay couples on prime time.
And like any couple, real or fictional, these two have their pet peeves with each other.
Stonestreet: "I know what Jesse's is of mine."
Ferguson: "You're Pollyanna."
Stonestreet: "Go ahead."
Ferguson: "He has this very Southern personality. He's always very chatty with people, and he gets very emotional. It's very sweet. I call him Pollyanna, basically."
Stonestreet: "You do make fun of me, but it's OK. Jesse is constantly using the bathroom in his trailer and telling everyone about it. Always announcing to the set and to the crew (when he has finished). I never once go to the bathroom in the trailer! It's the worst place in the world to go to the bathroom."
That's about as mean and catty as these two get. On their Golden Globe-nominated series, they also have an easy, relaxed vibe as a long-term couple grappling with their addition, an adopted baby girl who won't sleep through the night — and, on set, spends most of her time sobbing, with Ferguson the one more adept at calming her down.
"Jesse and I are going to be friends forever. This show has put us together," Stonestreet says.
Interjects Ferguson: "Pollyanna!"
Their sexuality is secondary to their characters' story lines, which focus mostly on the humdrum and often sweet aspects of couplehood: what birthday gift to buy their nephew or how to behave at a kiddie gym class with their baby. The show's cast traveled to Maui this month to film a story arc in Hawai'i.
"So many traditional parents have come up to me and said, 'My husband is totally Cameron.' They're relating to it," says Ferguson, who is openly gay and single. "I really wanted to be part of this couple on television. I think it's groundbreaking. It hasn't been done. I wanted to be the voice for that character and represent."
Ferguson says it might help people be more comfortable with gay marriage.
"It's a safe 'in' for a lot of people who are on the fence about the issue," he says. "They feel OK liking our couple. Maybe that will bleed into their personal life. Maybe it's not such a big deal if two men raise a baby."
Stonestreet is straight, and also single, in real life. Being on one of primetime's hits hasn't exactly been a boon to his dating life.
"To meet from the ground up a girl is difficult. Being introduced by friends is a little easier," he says. "I never want to seem embarrassed or ashamed that I'm playing a gay person. So I would never want to be like, 'Hey, I'm not gay.' "
Ironically, Ferguson says, "we were finding when we were going out, especially at the beginning of the show, that a lot of men were hitting on Eric and a lot of women were approaching me."
Says Stonestreet: "It's really funny."
Still, sexual orientation aside, Stonestreet sees a lot of himself in his character, a huggable, affectionate and exceedingly generous guy who watches football with his father-in-law and plays host to a stranger's wedding in his own house.
"I consider myself a straight version of Cameron as far as the passion for life goes," Stonestreet says. "Cameron is a passionate person, and I definitely have that. I'm probably a little more serious than people would anticipate,"
As for Ferguson, whose Mitchell is the stricter parent, "I'm more humorous than my serious character. I love having dinner by myself. I'm kind of a homebody. I've enjoyed my personal moments."
What's ahead for Cameron and Mitchell? One joins a band, and the other bonds with his father.
Ferguson: "We get more into the relationship with me and my dad, and him learning how to be OK with my sexuality and having this adopted baby, and accepting Cameron."
Stonestreet: "I end up getting the wheels on my car stolen."