As the excitable Cameron Tucker on the acclaimed ABC sitcom “Modern Family”, Eric Stonestreet, 44, has the uncommon distinction of being a straight man in a gay role — though ironically, his character is anything but a comedy straight man.
Two-time Emmy Award-winner Stonestreet was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and after college at Kansas State enjoyed a successful career in Chicago, acting in TV commercials and industrial films while studying improv at iO and Second City. After landing a part on a 1999 episode of “Dharma & Greg,” he went on to a string of TV and film roles, including 13 episodes of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” from 2001 to 2005, playing forensic technician Ronnie Litre.
Shortly after that came “Modern Family,” in which he and Jesse Tyler Ferguson play a married couple. His current project (besides a voice role in the hit animated movie, “The Secret Life of Pets”) is his audience-interactive show “An Intimate Evening with Eric Stonestreet,” which hits The Paramount in Huntington on July 17.
Your stage show is billed as a Q&A, so . . . what are audiences going to get there that they won’t get right here?
Well, first and foremost they’re going to get to see my beautiful body in person and my face right up close [he chuckles]. The show was sort of born from what my life consists of once I got on “Modern Family,” which is people out in the world saying, “Hey, can I ask you a question . . . I’ve always wanted to know . . . ” So I’ve embraced that. And I thought, “Well, you know, my background is in improv. . . .” I’ve never been a standup and I wouldn’t build a show around standup, but there are definitely standup elements to it.
But it’s really about the audience. There’s nothing I won’t discuss in my own way and I just want to give people a chance to get to know me, to know the show [“Modern Family”] from my perspective, to know my career, Hollywood . . . I enjoy it, and I think that’s part of the requirement — that if I’m having a good time, usually other people have a good time.
How long have you done this show?
A couple of years. I had a little downtime right before “Modern Family” starts [upcoming season 9] so it was a nice opportunity to do three or four shows back to back.
You were already a busy actor before “Modern Family,” so when you were auditioning for it, was it just one more pilot or did you think, “This one is going to series”?
When you’ve been an actor for as long as I had been then, your goal is to always think of it as just another audition. If you get a callback, great; if you don’t, keep moving on. When I read the script, it was very difficult for me not to be extremely excited and really want this one.
You know, they passed on me twice before I got this role. They had auditioned me and thought, “Hey, good job, but no thanks.” And then they thought about me again and said, “Hey, come back in.” Then they saw me do it and said, “Great job, but no thanks.” And then, about two weeks after the first time they saw me, they gave me a chance to go in front of the studio and the network, and that’s when I got the job.
It sounds as if you were on the short list, with all those callbacks.
I was on the short list after they had seen hundreds and hundreds of other actors! I came into the process late and they had already cast a lot of the roles. Cam was a hard part to cast because it was a little bit of a pitfall in that they had written this character on the page that said, “He’s exuberant, he’s not too over-the-top.” . . . That’s why they were having a hard time casting the show: Everybody was coming in either too over-the-top or too subtle. It just needed the right balance.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell Pritchett, has said he was originally considered for Cam and didn’t want to do it. Have you ever talked about how different the show might have been if your roles had been reversed?
We’ve never really talked about it, but he likes to remind me of that on occasion . . . he enjoys that [he chuckles]. And I’m thankful that he wanted the role of Mitchell and didn’t want to be considered as Cam. I think we’re both talented enough that he could have done Cam and I could have played Mitchell, but he’s got a difficult role on the show, being the straight man and still coming off as likable.
Cam sometimes plays a clown named Fizbo, and you actually were a clown named Fizbo professionally in real life when you were young. Was he the same type of clown?
Fizbo always was, and is, an Auguste clown. An Auguste clown is what you consider the classic circus clown: Lou Jacobs is the most famous Auguste clown. Bozo is [another type called] a whiteface clown, Emmett Kelly was a tramp clown and then there are other types of clowns. But an Auguste is what I am on the show and what I always wanted to be: Flesh-tone makeup with white features around your eyes and your mouth — the buffoon of the circus.
The sad clown.
No, no, the tramp clown is the sad clown.
You don’t have to tell me I’m right on clowning stuff! [He laughs.]