Meet Julie Bowen, the bright star of ABC's most popular sitcom, “Modern Family,” as she chats with CSM editor Nick Brandi
If one were to play the Mt. Rushmore game for the most beautiful and talented female sitcom stars ever, names like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are certain to be among the first mentioned. But while the competition for that final, coveted fourth spot is pretty stiff, the leading contender for the honor may just be Julie Bowen.
With multiyear runs on such hit series as ER, Ed, Lost and Boston Legal under her belt, Bowen’s star power seems to have hit its apogee with her portrayal of the lovably uptight Claire Dunphy on TV’s top-rated sitcom, Modern Family.
Recently, CSM editor Nick Brandi caught up with the two-time Emmy winner to chat about her life, career, hit show and on growing up in Baltimore.
CSM: So, Julie, rumor has it you’re a B’more girl.
JB: Yes, yes I am!
What was it like, growing up in Baltimore?
My childhood was basically very idyllic. We actually lived between Towson and Ruxton, so I can’t honestly say I was weaned on the “mean streets” of Baltimore. My parents still live there, in fact.
Tell me about your parents.
My dad is John Luetkemeyer Jr. – yeah, that’s my real last name; Bowen is my middle name – and he’s a commercial real estate developer. My mother, Suzanne, was a stay-at-home mom.
Do you have siblings?
Yes, two sisters. My older sister, Molly, is an interior designer. My younger sister, Annie, is a doctor whose specialty is infectious diseases.
Where were you educated, and what did you study in college?
I went to boarding school at St. George’s [School] in Rhode Island for high school and then off to Brown [University], where I majored in – get ready for it – Italian Renaissance studies. It’s the perfect major provided you don’t want to be bothered by those pesky things called career options.
Good preparation for a role based on a Dan Brown novel but not much else.
Did you discover the joys of performing early in life?
Oh my God, my sisters and I were impassioned about performing for as long as I can remember.
It was actually Molly who was considered “the actress in the family,” and I think she was probably the most naturally gifted. She was sooo good, but she didn’t stick with it because she had no stomach for the brutality of the industry, whereas I [begins laughing] had no such problem.
When did you know you wanted to be a pro?
[Sarcastically] Actress, you mean?
I think I knew for sure in 1992, when I got cast as the lead of a little indie film called “Five Spot Jewel.” It was just me and two crew guys and the director, who also shot and edited the film. Though I had already done theater, this was such a unique and amazing experience for me, I knew immediately that I wanted a career acting on-screen if possible. I’d had enough years waiting tables in New York City and not having any money whatsoever [laughs]; I thought it was time for a change. So, in 1994 I went out to L.A. for pilot season and never came back.
You seem so consonant with Claire Dunphy. Do the writers base her on you or at least how they perceive you?
Maybe to a certain degree, for the rest of the cast, too, but it’s not a mandate or goal of theirs to make the characters more like us. First, our writers are so brilliant, they don’t really need to do that; second, it means [the writers] trust us to bring believability to their creations. That said, Claire and I definitely have some things in common.
Well, we’re both high-strung, but to be honest, I think I may be even more high-strung than she is.
I know… it’s not pretty. Also, Claire is not the most tech-savvy person in the world, and neither am I. Claire and I are also both very organized and orderly. It’s not that we’re neat-freaks or germaphobes; we both just appreciate efficiency and aren’t fans of excess. And I don’t think either of us likes sitting still very long.
It sounds like you two could be pretty good friends.
Are you two just really good actors, or is the real-life chemistry between you and Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy, Claire’s husband) that good?
Oh, I love Ty. He is the nicest, sweetest, kindest, most decent person ever. He is a pure joy to work with. All the couples on the show get along really well. You should see Ed [O’Neill, who plays Jay Pritchett] and Sofia [Vergara, who plays his wife, Gloria] together. They’re like a house on fire, they’re so similar.
Though you have a very full resume, you’re probably best known for your work in comedy, which is somewhat surprising considering your classic beauty. Is that a product of design or entirely coincidental?
First of all, thank you for the nice compliment. Second, it was entirely coincidental. I never consciously sought out comedic roles as a means to market myself within the industry. I was and am perfectly willing to be a dramatic actor and have plenty of experience in that realm. That said, comedy is the hardest thing to do and therefore the most rewarding when you succeed at it.
Every actor at some point writes and delivers his/her Oscar, Emmy or Tony speech – usually to an audience of one, who
resides in the bedroom mirror. You’ve won two individual Emmys now. How does the reality compare with the fantasy?
The fantasy is always better because everything is always perfect in a fantasy.
In my fantasy, I never wanted to throw up, but when I won the first time, I almost did. The tension was excruciatingly nerve-racking. And when you go up there to accept it, you turn around to behold an sea of icons and legends in front of you – and absolutely nothing can prepare you for that. However, when those icons and legends cheer and applaud for you as you hold that golden statuette in your hand, there is no better feeling in the world.
Is there anyone you look upon as a kind of comedic role model?
Sure. I’d say both Candice Bergen and Mary Tyler Moore fill that role. In terms of my contemporaries, it would have to be people like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey – women who not only perform but also write their own roles. I also think very highly of Amy Schumer, who is so funny yet groundbreakingly edgy, too.
Do you still ever get star-struck?
Are you kidding? All the time! You should have seen me around Candice Bergen, whom I’d worked with on “Boston Legal.” I was like a babbling idiot around her. Once – and I’ll never live this down – I was trying to make small talk with her and show her how cool I am and how deserving I am to be in her company. Well, I asked her if she’d ever been to India. Like, duh, moron – she starred in the film “Gandhi”! But instead of making me feel stupid, she just replied that she had, with her characteristic elegance.
Any other projects on the horizon for you?
Yes, actually. I’m going to be the voice of “Dipper” in the film “Planes: Fire and Rescue,” which costars Ed Harris (“Pollock”) and Dane Cook (“My Best Friend’s Girl”). I’m also going to be in a horror/thriller titled “10 O’Clock People," which is based on a Stephen King story and stars Jay Baruchel (“This Is the End”), Kathy Bates (“Misery”) and Chris Sarandon (“The Princess Bride”).
For very different reasons, they both seem like fun projects. Meanwhile, we’ll keep tuning in to see Claire in all her glory.
That would be awesome; thank you!
Thank you for making time for us, Julie. It was really fun.
For me, too!
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