Before we announce the winners of the 2011 My TV Awards, we’re proud to present the My TV Nominee Interview Series.
One of the Best Young Actors working on television today is Ariel Winter, the charming and oh-so-bright star of Modern Family. A scene-stealer amidst TV’s most lauded ensemble cast, 14-year-old Ariel plays Alex, the endlessly smart and hilariously snarky middle child of Emmy winners Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen, who is quickly becoming my favourite character on TV. Squeezing in a phone interview in the middle of her shooting schedule, the truly awesome Ariel shared her thoughts on her TV family, starring on comedy’s biggest critical hit and the zombie movie she’s developing with her co-stars.
You started pretty young, when did you decide you wanted to be an actress?
I started when I was four years old. It’s really funny; Dora was kind of my inspiration. I was just watching tv and I was watching Dora and I thought, “Wow! I wanna go explore with them,” and of course, my parents were like, “…That’s not really—that’s not really how it works,” *laughs* They kinda explained to me the actual process, and I said I still wanted to do it, so they set me up with commercials and an agent—because they told me they wanted me to start out really slow—and I did that, and I loved it. And my first commercial was a Kool Aid commercial, and I had so much fun, and then when I was seven, I graduated to film and television, and so when I was eleven I got Modern Family.
So, getting your inspiration from Dora the Explorer, was that sort of how you got your foot in the door with wanting to do some voice work?
Yeah. I’ve always been interested in voice work. I think it’s really cool to voice a character that’s not yourself, this animated person that someone else drew and then you get to figure out a voice for them. Then you just go in, and you kind of create a whole new person, and it’s a lot of fun. And also I have nieces, and I love that they can watch the shows, and kind of think their aunt is cool, ‘cause they’ll be watching Phineas and Ferb, or Jake and the Never Land Pirates. I kind of consider my character on Modern Family, and my character in the animated series, a role model. And that’s something I try to be for my nieces and for a lot of the other kids in the world that are watching. So that’s kind of why I want to do that as well.
And aside from Dora, who are some of the performers who’ve always inspired you?
Johnny Depp, Audrey Hepburn, Angelina Jolie, um…. hmmm. There are a lot of them. I have a lot of inspiration. Leonardo DiCaprio, um… oh, Elizabeth Taylor is one. I love her work, she is just—an icon, she’s just amazing. Yeah, those are a few of who I really admire. *Laughs*
How did the role of Alex come about?
Well, I got the call from my agents, and they were like, “there’s this new pilot, really great, it’s a family comedy, and we think you should go out for the middle daughter.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s so awesome, okay.” And they sent it over, I read it and I dressed the part, I went in with glasses, I was so excited, and read for Jeff Greenberg and I finished reading for him and Jeff said to me, “Hold on one second. I want to go get my associates.” So he brought in Allen Hooper, and I read for the both of them, and Jeff said, “That’s great. You’re perfect for the role. Can you come and meet the producers tomorrow?” and so I met Steve Levitan, and Chris Lloyd, and Jason Winer, and they said they wanted to meet me again the next day and I was ecstatic, I was like, “Wow, cool, they like me!” and then I got a call from my manager, saying “They want you to go for studio and network testing,” which was—I was blown away. It was—“wow, this is really happening for me”—I got to do a great job. I went in for studio, and network testing, and what’s actually funny is when I left network I didn’t think they liked me, I didn’t think I did my best. I said, “Mom, you know, I think next time I’ll do a lot better, but I just don’t think I got this one.” And on the way home, in the car, I got the call saying I got it.
The show’s been a huge critical success and won tons of awards. Has that been overwhelming?
We are so floored, and honoured that we have been nominated for—and won—so many awards when we are just finishing our third season. We were nominated for Emmys and SAG awards our very first season. And to us, it was such a blessing, because everyday we go to work, just having the time of our lives. We get to be goofy and fun, you know, just act like goofballs on national television for everybody to watch. And for us, that’s really cool. The biggest reward to us is when people come up to us and tell us that we changed their day. Like, if they were having a bad day, or they didn’t feel too happy, they could turn on our show and laugh and forget about all their problems, and kinda submerge into the world of Modern Family, and their day would be changed. Or when people tell me, “Wow! This situation was really like mine, and you guys kind of helped me figure out how to solve it.” You know, that’s kind of the biggest reward to us. But the award shows and the nominations—it’s really spectacular, we’re really grateful for them.
You work with some amazing actors on the show. What’s your relationship like with the people who play your family?
I honestly work with the best, most talented actors, most talented writers, directors, producers, that are probably in the business. We are so lucky to have them. I have a great relationship with my tv family. They’re, in a sense, my second family. Every time I go to work, I talk to everybody like they’re cousins, uncles, brothers, sisters. So it’s really great, we all have an amazing relationship. I talk about everything, I talk about my whole life with Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell, they’re like second parents to me. I have a great relationship with all of them. They’re my family.
Do you and your on-screen siblings squabble like Alex, Haley, and Luke do?
Nolan Gould and I, we— Definitely. We definitely have a brother/sister thing going. We’re always bickering over something, whether it’s our zombie script that we’re working on, or just you know—who gets out the door first, or who scared the other person when they walked in the schoolroom. We always have this crazy little rapport. Same thing with Rico Rodriguez. They’re great. They’re like little brothers to me. We have the best time.
You’re working on a zombie script?
Yeah. *Laughs* Yeah, I know, it’s kind of funny. The three of us [Ariel, Nolan and Rico] have said that we wanted to be the first young tv trio to write and direct a mid-length film. Even if we don’t have all the money that we need to, we can just do it on the video camera, because we want to—you know, it’s something we’re all interested in, is working behind the camera as well. And so they elected me to write it, because I’ve always been a writer and have always been interested in that sort of part of the entertainment world. Writing is, I think, for me, a great way to express your feelings. But in this one I don’t get to express my feelings, ‘cause it’s a zombie script. *Laughs* But it’s actually pretty cool. I’ve kind of made it into a zombie romance, which is, I know, kind of odd, and you probably can’t picture it, but it’s a lot of fun. And, actually, the boys haven’t read the script yet, I just finished it last night and I’m putting the final touches on it today, so I’m really excited for them to read it.
Alex is the smartest member of your family, is that fun to play?
It’s really fun to play. Because, well, I call it the Smart Alex, instead of … smart aleck. Because I think that’s funny but I’m just a super dork and I come up with very weird things. Only I think it’s funny. I love playing Alex, ‘cause she’s so different from the stereotypical teenage daughter who doesn’t value education, and who only cares about boys. And I like that she’s different from that. I like that she’s a role model. I like that she’s smart and I like that she’s incredibly witty and she has something to say to everything, cause I think that’s fun. But really, what I also love about Alex is that, at the end of the day, no matter how much her siblings annoy her, or what they say, or her entire family, what any of them do, she will have their backs, she will yell at a Christmas tree salesmen if anything goes awry with her family, or someone says something bad about them. I really love that about her, and like I was saying before, she’s a big role model to all the kids in the world because Alex keeps kind of showing everybody that it’s cool to be a dork. It’s cool to have glasses, it’s cool to have braces. I myself had braces, and I was kind of like, “Oh, mom, I have braces, I don’t like this,” and then finally I was like, “You know what? The majority of young teenage girls in the world have braces. I’m gonna embrace them.” And really I love that about Alex. She’s not trying to be perfect and show everyone this is what you have to be. She’s showing everyone that you can be who you are and that’s all right.
And maybe because of that attitude towards life, you character has a particularly fun relationship with her Uncle Mitchell. Did that come out of your chemistry with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, or is it because the characters are sort of similar?
I think it’s both. I love Jesse Tyler Ferguson. He is so funny, and he’s so sweet. I mean, honestly, he’s so funny. He’ll come into our schoolroom with a bag, and he’s like, “Get ready for teddys!”, and we’re like, “Yay!” He brings us Pixar books, and science projects, ‘cause I’m a science geek. And it’s just—he’s just the sweetest guy, and such a good actor. And he’s so cool, and funny, and kind. I love working with him. So I guess some of that chemistry was kind of, just the chemistry that I have with Jesse. We just kind of bonded. We had so much fun filming that episode [3.10 “Express Christmas”- in which Alex and Mitchell bond over buying a Christmas Tree]. We had a really great time. And also, I think, Alex and Jesse’s character are sort of similar, and I think that’s also why it works really well.
Alex actually had her first kiss earlier this season. Any chance we’ll be seeing some more boy drama for her?
I’m not quite sure. I think we’ll be seeing some more boy drama with Alex. Yeah. Yeah. Every teenage girl goes through boy drama, so I’m sure there’ll be some new little Jeremy boy to be on the show for Alex to kiss. But that was actually really fun, because that was actually a side of Alex that we haven’t seen. Like, beside the fact when she walks up to the boy’s house and says, “Kiss me!” you’ve never actually seen her out on a limb for something like that. So I thought that was a really good changing episode in Alex’s life. I really liked that.
What’s a typical day on set like for you?
I get to set. I go to hair and make up, I get all that stuff done—to make me pretty, or actually, in this case, to make me dorky. I go out of hair and make up. I put on my wardrobe. I go to school, I go to set, I rehearse, I go to more school, I go to lunch, and then, we film. And then I go home. *Laughs*
About how long would your typical day be?
With everything included, I’d say 11 hours. It takes me like 2 hours round trip to drive to the set, and then like a ½ an hour for me to get ready to get in my car to go home, and then I’m pretty much on the set for 9 and a ½ hours.
Do you have a favourite moment or episode from the show so far?
It’s hard to pick favourite moments or favourite episodes. They’re all so funny. I just did an episode with Ty Burrell that was just amazing, it was such a good storyline, it was so sweet. I’d never really gotten to work one-on-one with Ty, and I really enjoyed that because it was something new and something different and it was so much fun, because he’s just a genius. Our episode was kind of like a bonding thing with a twist of hilariousness. We had a really good time filming it, and it’s a really sweet episode, so I can’t wait for people to see it. I don’t want to give it away because it’s so good.
A lot of the actors in the show, both the regular cast and the guest stars, are fairly big deals who’ve been around for a long time. Were you familiar with any of their work before starting?
Yeah. I mean, when they told me all the guest stars that were going to be on the show, I was floored that we had such amazing guest stars. I mean we had Ellen Barkin, Shelley Long, James Marsden. We’ve had so many great guest stars, that we’re just so lucky- Reid Ewing, recurring as Dylan, who is so fun. We just have the best guest stars and the best casting team. So honestly, all the people that come on our show are just spectacular.
You were actually on my Best Dressed list for both the Golden Globes and the SAGs this year.
Do you pick your own red carpet looks?
Thank you so much. Um…. what was the second part to that question? Because I was saying, “Yay!” and I couldn’t hear. *Laughs*
Do you pick out your own stuff for the red carpet?
No. I help pick it out, but I have a stylist named Jessica Pastor, who is amazing, and she picks all of my red carpet outfits. She picked the outfits for the SAG awards and the Golden Globes, she did all that, and brought me a bunch of dresses and said, “Which ones do you like?” and we tried them all on, and she told me which ones she liked, and I told her which ones I liked and you know, we just kind of picked. We picked which ones were appropriate and which ones were fun.
What’s been your most surreal moment since the show go picked up?
Probably when people started knowing my name. *Laughs* When people would be like, “Is that— Are you Ariel Winter?” I was like, *Dramatic gasp* “Me?!” And it’s just so cool to me that people actually know my name, and not just know me as Alex Dunphy. So that’s been pretty cool to me. I mean, I still consider myself just, little Ariel, that my friends know. Just hearing, “Ariel Winter, she’s so cool,” I think that—that’s really cool to me.
Aside from your zombie project, do you have any dream projects you’d love to work on, or someone you’d love to work with someday?
I would love for Andy Samberg to be on the show. I think he is a comedic genius, and he is just so cool. I watch him on SNL and The Lonely Island music, it’s so fun, he’s so cool. There could be like a really super geeky storyline between him and Alex.
Stuff I’d love to work on in the future? I’m actually working on music at the moment. I’ve been really interested in music since I was really little, and I’ve also been writing since I could get my hands on pen and paper. So I’ve started music, I’ve started recording songs that I write, and so yeah, I’m really excited about that, because I want to venture into that part of the entertainment industry as well.
You mentioned Andy Samberg. Is hosting SNL one of your dreams?
Hosting SNL would definitely be one of my dreams. I would be ecstatic if I could host SNL. I love all their skits, everyone who works on that show is just so awesome, and fun and funky and, you know, I’ve seen a lot of the episodes so—I’m kinda, kind of a geek for SNL. That would definitely be a dream.
Can you tease what’s coming up for Alex the rest of the season?
Hmmm… How much can I say without giving away… we have a Disneyland episode that I’m so excited for, ‘cause I love Disneyland! We have a lot of really awesome episodes coming up.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just thank you again for your nomination; It’s really an honour.