Ed O’Neill on Modern Family

We talk to the head of the Modern Family.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Ed O'Neill on Modern Family

The entire cast of Modern Family spent an hour having coffee with the Television Critics Association over the summer. I ended up hanging out with Ed O’Neill for about 40 minutes. He was wearing a nice shirt like Jay wears on the show, and still gave off a fatherly vibe to the people gathered around to hear his stories.


CraveOnline: Do you imagine any possible world where you’re more known as Jay than Al?

Ed O’Neill: [Laughs] I didn’t think about that one. I don't know. I think Al’s kind of an iconic character. Maybe Jay will be, I don't know. I hope so.


CraveOnline: What makes you laugh the most on the show?

Ed O’Neill: Again, it’s hard to say.


CraveOnline: I won’t hold you to one thing, but just to talk about things.

Ed O’Neill: Well, the first thing I remember really, really laughing behind the scenes was Ty. It was a scene where the underwear was falling on him, where Sofia was throwing the underwear and it was all over him. I was watching on a monitor and just the look on his face, it was pricelessly funny to me. Then things Sofia would do would crack me up. The gay couple is great, hilarious.


CraveOnline: Have you suggested any moments from your own family?

Ed O’Neill: Yeah, the thing that happened with Fizbo the clown at the gas station happened to me. That was a real life thing. I told the producers and then they used it with Erik.


CraveOnline: How long ago was that?

Ed O’Neill: It was about three weeks before we shot the episode.


CraveOnline: Did the person who hit you with his car recognize you?

Ed O’Neill: I think eventually he did and then he sort of stopped talking.


CraveOnline: I also love the clothes you wear on the show. Who designs those shirts?

Ed O’Neill: It’s kind of Steve Levitan’s idea. Steve’s one of our producers because he dresses like that, expensive shirts, like this.


CraveOnline: It really struck me when Jay covers for Manny’s dad. Do you agree that’s better for the child than just letting the kid realize his dad is unreliable?

Ed O’Neill: Well, first of all, it doesn’t matter. My opinion doesn’t matter at all anyway, but I would think that there’s a time that you let a child slowly discover that this is not the best parent. He doesn’t have the best parenting skills. But I think the boy is still so in love with his dad that you don’t want to mess with that. And also, the idea that we’re not done with this guy. We still have to interact with him and maybe he’s going to come around a little bit as he gets older.


CraveOnline: Is there anywhere you can go that you’re not recognized by everyone?

Ed O’Neill: I was in Africa once. I was in Kenya. I got off the plane and I thought, “Africa…” Some guy in a dashiki said, “Mr. Bundy. Oh my God, it’s you.”


CraveOnline: What were you in Africa for?

Ed O’Neill: Safari. I was in Nairobi.


CraveOnline: Did Al Bundy's love of movies like Shane and Hondo come from you?

CraveOnline: No, it didn’t. That came from the writers. That guy would have been a John Wayne guy. And I liked a lot of character guys. In terms of comedians, I loved, growing up, Jonathan Winters, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers, Carol Burnett, all those people. Then I loved the character actors like Lloyd Nolan and so many great character actors. Palance and maybe my favorite two actors of that category would have been Robert Shaw and of course Duvall.


CraveOnline:So many family comedies are just people making fun of each other. Not even talking about Married with Children because I consider that satire. Is it important that Modern Family’s humor is not at people’s expense?

Ed O’Neill: Well, that’s Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd. I think they’re just basically writing about their own families and situations that come up in their own lives. For the most part, that’s what it is.


CraveOnline: Do you ever catch an old episode [Of Married with Children] on TV and go, “I don’t remember that one?”

Ed O’Neill: No. No, every one I see I remember and we did like 265 or something. I was the only cast member in every show.


CraveOnline: Do you get a different kind of love on Modern Family than Married with Children?

Ed O’Neill: Yes, quite a bit. The difference is this show is the darling of our peers. This show has the sword on the shoulder. This show is classy. Married with Children was not and it was sort of a guilty pleasure type show. Nobody ever admitted to watching it so that’s the difference. Now I’m getting Helen Mirren saying, “Darling.” And I love it by the way.


CraveOnline:Where did you meet Helen Mirren?

Ed O’Neill: One of the award shows. I actually had dinner with her and her husband with David Milch one time, about two weeks before running into her at the SAG awards.


CraveOnline:Did Married sort of create a monster in the genre?

Ed O’Neill: I suppose if you’re worried about it could be problematic. I always thought I was the luckiest guy in the world having gotten the job. I mean, 11 years. I got out of the system. My goal was to get out of the system. My goal was never to win awards. Mine was let me get to a place where I don’t have to work. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to. That was it and I was able to help my family members out. I came from a family that didn’t have any money so that was my priority.


CraveOnline: What do you miss about retirement?

Ed O’Neill: Well, there’s plenty. Actually this is a great job because I don’t have to work that hard. I mean, I work maybe two, 2 ½ days per week. It’s all on the west side where I live. The house that Jay lives in is four minutes from my actual house, so you cannot ask for a better job. Now when I did Dragnet for example, that’s 12-14 hours a day every day, seven scenes a day. That’s like building pyramids.