As a kid, Eric Stonestreet once said, he wanted to be a prison guard. But it seems that being a character was always his calling. "The first thing I did was mimicking people," the Modern Family star says. "I remember impersonating the guy who owned the bicycle shop in Kansas City where I got my first bike. I was the kid whose report card always said, 'Eric has to learn that there's a time and a place for everything.'"
And yet these days he is everywhere – in his popular TV persona as Cameron Tucker, in various film roles, and onstage in Montreal this Friday hosting Modern Love: The Relationship Show, an event at Just for Laughs featuring standups Tim Minchin, Debra DiGiovanni and more. "I'm there to showcase these guys and facilitate the show," says Stonestreet, who isn't a standup himself but will be doing short bits and introducing each comedian. (He's excited, as he's a fan of everyone on the bill.)
It'll be a step away from Cameron. Radiating love, histrionics and good intentions, the gay character and his partner Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have an adopted a daughter from Vietnam. "His sexuality falls down the line of things that define him," Stonestreet, who is straight, says about Cameron. "He's a good friend, a good partner, a good parent, he's a family man …" Stonestreet's portrayal earned him an Emmy last year for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series. This year, he was nominated again in the same category.
This recognition is payoff for years in the Hollywood trenches. Born and raised in Kansas City, Stonestreet earned a degree in sociology and moved to Chicago to study and perform improv and theatre with iO Chicago and Second City. Two years later, he relocated to Los Angeles and landed small roles on series like ER, Bones and CSI. His recent success has helped him land in movies such as the Cameron Diaz flick Bad Teacher and an upcoming remake of the Belgian hit thriller Loft.
Along the way, he's stayed close to his family – at last year's Emmys, he walked the red carpet with his mom. And Cameron Tucker, he explains, draws on her: "[I used] the way my Mom talks, the way my Mom reacts, the way my Mom gestures. The passion she has for the mundane, things like 'Where are we gonna go for lunch?' I thought that [and] my physicality – me being 6'1" and 260 pounds – would work well with each other."
Clearly, they do. But are fans disappointed to learn that Stonestreet is straight? "I think they're disappointed that I'm not Cam," he clarifies. "People hope I'm over the top."
Eric Stonestreet hosts Modern Love: The Relationship Show Friday July 29 at 7:00 p.m. at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts.
Special to The Globe and Mail