Julie Bowen already has won two Emmys for her performance as hilariously frazzled mom Claire Pritchett on Modern Family. Competing for the fourth consecutive time at this year’s awards, the defending Emmy champ picks her most memorable moments from the fourth season of the hit ABC comedy.
Claire Takes Over the Snack Bar
Episode 22: “My Hero”
Ordinarily so much of comedy acting and TV acting exists in the writing. Basically, as long as you don’t screw up the words and have extremely talented writers like we do, then you’re going to be OK. Sometime you get these scenes that are really physical. It’s like playing the piano or something—you have to hit all these notes at the right time and in the right way and make it look natural. There’s something incredibly scary and so deeply satisfying about that, because it’s work I can do.
They write a lot of physical comedy for me because I think they know I can’t tell a joke. What they usually write for me for physical comedy is that I’m good at being really bad at physical things, like tripping and falling. I’m good at that because it’s really me. So then they write something like this, and it’s the complete opposite. Like I’m going to have to be really good. It’s like dancing or playing music. I’m terrible at that. But I am Type A and I’m good at practicing. They said I didn’t have to do it on roller skates. But I did have to do it on roller skates, because she would. And it’s so much funnier to have somebody flying by. I’m a terrible roller skater as well. I went to a lesson or two beforehand. But it was… basically the goal was not to die. I have not gone back on skates since.
Claire’s Heart-to-Heart With Jay … on Skates
Episode 22: “My Hero”
There was one scene where we were supposed to be on skates, but he Jay [Ed O’Neill] wasn’t actually. That one made me laugh because I felt like such a hambone pantomiming. Ed O’Neil doesn’t do anything that’s going to make him look stupid unless it’s going to be funny. He doesn’t just do goofy things. He does it because it’s funny. So I watched him pantomime skating, and I thought well if he can do it, I can do it.
Any scenes with Ed have such a different feeling for me. There is so much complexity in those scenes. I love that man, but I am vaguely scared of him just like you really would feel towards your father. He’s been around so long and done so many things, I feel like he must think I’m a hack, just like Jay looks at Claire and thinks she’s a hack. There’s an inbred sense of fear in those scenes that comes very naturally.
Haley Surprises Claire at Alex’s Band Concert
Episode 17: “Best Men”
That was such a sweet scene. It’s always surprising to me how much depth Sarah Hyland has, because [her character] Haley doesn’t have that much depth. Haley’s not a deep person, but Sarah is. Every now and then when they give Haley a little deeper side, you really see that Sarah can go many, many more miles. I think it’s really easy for me to be shocked and taken aback by that, because it’s sort of shocking to see from her. Because Haley is really just worried about her bra.
Claire and Phil Drop Haley Off at College
Episode 2: “Schooled”
There’s a fine line between having some heart and being treacly. We fight that all the time. We want to get the tone right. Dropping off Haley at school could have been really dewy and sappy. We’re driving home and talking on the phone after dropping her off. When we dropped her off it was very cold and “get out of here” and “don’t forget condoms.” Then when she called after we left and we don’t have that moment of connection until we’re far from her and it’s over the phone and we sort of sob quietly. It’s hard to think, “this is a comedy.” But the tears are real. So how are we going to do this so that it doesn’t feel like a “Very Special Episode of …?” So I always look at Ty [Burrell, who plays Phil] in those scenes, because he’s so good. He’s so good at being real. He’s not good at being a faker. I look at him and I think, if he’s playing this completely for real and it gives me the courage to play it for real, too, which ends up being funnier. The two of us sat there crying, genuinely crying. Somebody on set said, “I don’t think you can see the tears.” And we were like, “You what!? Are you kidding? We ARE crying!”
Claire and Gloria Get Nabbed at Costco
Episode 9: “When a Tree Falls”
People are always so quick to set up the kind of Betty and Veronica thing between Claire and Gloria [Sofia Vergara]—in real life, too. The first couple of seasons people were determined that we really hated each other. That says more about the people saying that than us. I am perfectly happy being a beta tomboy to Sofia’s alpha uber female. Claire struggles with it a little bit more. But those moments in that Costco security office when you realize she has Claire’s back and is craftily getting them out of there using her Colombian wiles is really nice. They really connected there in a quiet way. I love those scenes because they do surprise me. Working with Sofia is always a surprise. You have no idea what things are going to look like or sound like, mostly. I love that pairing, because she’s so easy to react to. Everything she does is so weird. The way she pronounces everything is so different. Her choice of what to wear and what to buy and anything—it’s so easy to be Claire to her. What was fun and surprising was to realize that Claire is being taken care of right now.
“You’re Gonna Get So Fat …”
Episode 1: “Bringing Up Baby”
Telling Gloria, “You’re going to get so fat,” was so great. But it was really hard. I saw that on the page first and I remember thinking, oh my god, that’s the best line ever. But it is such a needle to thread because I didn’t want Claire to be mean, but at the same time oh my god, she’s going to get so fat. It’s this ray of hope, not that she’s really going to get fat, but that she’s human. I mean, I work with that human every day and I can’t say 100 percent that she’s human. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like that every day. She’s the kindest, most generous person I’ve ever met, but she may have been made in a lab. You don’t look like that. I’m not saying that she had surgery. I’m saying she’s perfection. So that line I was terrified of. I tried it a million different ways on the day. And also when she gave birth and we’re all in the delivery room and I say, “Wow, look at you. It doesn’t even look like you had a kid.” It’s that same, oh man, I don’t want to be this petty and small, but I am. And I think that’s why people like Claire. She’s a really imperfect person.
Cam Unveils the ‘Wow Factor’
Episode 18: “The Wow Factor”
In “The Wow Factor,” when Cam [Eric Stonestreet] shows me the fountain he built and the goldfish is flying through the air … our set designers had no time to build it. It seemed like an impossible stunt to pull off. We couldn’t get it exactly to work on the first time and everybody had done their very best, but it looked like we may have overplayed our hand. Eric was frustrated and it was getting late and all of a sudden he flips the Cam switch. He turns on his heel and throws his head back and says, “Wow factor.” I peed my pants pretty much. I couldn’t stop laughing, because I saw it all come together in that one moment just how it was written. Sometimes when you’re just looking at how the sausage was made and you wonder, is this ever going to be funny? But sometimes with somebody like Eric, you see it right away. “Oh, there it is.”
The Future Dunphys
Episode 19: “The Future Dunphys”
We spent that day looking at them. We had this weird distance all day where we’re staring at them across the curtain like we weren’t allowed to talk to them, like we didn’t want to break the spell of them being the future Dunphys. Justine Bateman played one of them—that was just killing us. Everything about it was so funny and so inappropriate and I felt like I was in the show watching the show. That’s an unusual experience. We were watching another scene sort of unfold and were just like, “Wow.” I think I missed a lot of cues.
Phil Meets Claire’s College Ex
Episode 16: “Bad Hair Day”
Those scenes are hard. They are awkward, and my awkwardness is very real. We have a lot of guest actors, especially on that day. We had a lot of people we had never met or worked with, so there are a lot of layers of awkward happening because you don’t have the shorthand. And it was Maxwell Caulfield from Grease 2 who played the professor, and he had just the right amount of smarmy pompousness. And I still do remember him as the superhot guy from Grease 2. Like oh my God! When they cast him, I was like, “Oh. OK.” I don’t have to work at all. I just have to remember being 12 or 13 years old and being googly eyed over him. Sometimes casting does most of the work for you.
Claire’s Point Is Proven on the RV Trip
Episode 23: “Games People Play”
Those scenes are so not Claire, to me, or her go-to place. Her go-to place is trying to convince everybody of something or yelling or frantically organizing something. We were driving in that RV and having the best day. It got very relaxing. I was just like, I’m gonna chill up here and let these guys do the hard work. It’s weird for me to shift into that mode because I have one “on” level and it’s hyper vigilant. So to tone that down—I always describe Phil as a talking dog. The inside of his brain is like a meadow. So I always think of that. He’s a talking dog, so steal a little bit of that from him and just hang here. And it’s not easy. That’s not me in real life, either.
And I love those kids so much. Nolan [Gould, who plays Luke] has grown so much. He’s like a man now. And Ariel [Winter, who plays Alex] is my daughter. She’s the closest thing I have to a daughter in real life. She gets mad at me and I smack her and get her text-o-matic out of her hand all the time. Like, You can’t text right now! And Sarah [Hyland] is a full adult. She’s the smallest of them all, and it’s hard to remember but she’s a full adult and way cooler than I am. And they are all pro.