Imagining anyone but Eric Stonestreet playing the sweetly hilarious, bubbly, and quirky Cameron on ABC’s “Modern Family” may seem impossible, but Stonestreet was turned down for the part twice before being cast. He isn’t bitter; Stonestreet considers himself lucky to have the opportunity. Although he was excited to audition for any pilot, he knew that “Modern Family” and the role of Cam were special. “I just thought that whoever got that part would have a really great opportunity to make a really lasting impact on the television front because the character was well-written and so well-conceived that it was already there on page, and it just needed somebody to bring it to life,” he says. “And I hoped it would be me.”
Unlike many actors, Stonestreet embraces auditioning, looking at it as a chance to impress a casting director rather than a chance to get a job. To him, the work of preparing and auditioning is an actor’s job, and booking a role is just a bonus. In preparing for Cam, he started with what was on the page. “It said Cam is the more passionate, the more exuberant, the more emotional and parental of the two, and I just turned that into a character,” he says. “I never played Cam any different. Cam sounded and acted and looked exactly the same from my first audition on.”
After playing Cam for four years, Stonestreet loves that the writers are always coming up with fresh ideas, like having him start teaching and work on flipping a house with his sister-in-law, Claire. “I never want the audience to be able to predict what Cam is going to do and say with his hands, his face, his body. I’m a full-contact actor, meaning that I love to act in my toes and in my fingers, and I just try to keep it surprising,” he says. Stonestreet likes taking Cam right to the line, which keeps him exciting and unpredictable. And, as he points out, “the line is constantly changing given the circumstances of the scene.”
Stonestreet is aware that the situations and dialogue can be over the top, so he focuses on playing the scene as realistically as possible, though, as he says, “that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when Cam has to get hysterical and let loose a high-pitched squeal or something like that.” In fact, his favorite scene was from one of the first episodes, when Mitchell and Cam locked Lily in the car. “It was just a fun scene to play,” he says, “because there’s physicality, there’s screaming, there’s emotion, there’s yelling, there’s confusion, and from my perspective that was just so much fun.” That was the moment when Stonestreet realized that everything he’d been practicing and hoping for was coming together in that scene.
Stonestreet’s background in comedy at Second City and Improv Olympics in Chicago prepared him well for “Modern Family,” although he says the cast mainly sticks to the script. He credits “Almost Famous” with jump-starting his career—much of which was spent on procedural dramas prior to “Modern Family.” (“I killed four people the same year I got on ‘Modern Family,’ ” he says.) Whether comedy or drama, Stonestreet wants to have an effect on people and make them feel something. “I’m an actor in that I just want to create roles and characters and play parts that people remember and like or dislike or hate.”