Julie Bowen interview: A thoroughly modern Mrs

In ‘Modern Family’ Julie Bowen has one of the best comic roles around. It’s no wonder she rarely bothers with films

She stars in one of the most popular shows on television so it’s surprising when Modern Family’s Julie Bowen reveals that she has imposed a TV ban in the bedroom for more than a decade.

Arriving in New York in the 1990s, hungry for new experiences, her TV ban began as an experiment. “I wanted to see what I’d do with those hours that would otherwise be spent watching TV. Of course I didn’t do much. I didn’t write a novel, I didn’t compose poetry.”

Instead, in an odd mirroring of her other, on-screen life as Claire Dunphy, wife to Ty Burrell’s estate-agent Phil, she began dating a real-estate investor named Scott Phillips whom she married 10 years ago. They are now parents of three sons: Oliver, seven, and five-year-old twins Gus and John. “He thought my refusal to have a TV was ridiculous. When we moved in together, I surrendered and we got a TV and now we have tons. But I said, ‘not in the bedroom!’. And that’s the one room I have won.”

The middle of three girls born to Suzanne and John Luetkemeyer Jr (a real estate developer, to continue the theme), in Baltimore, Maryland, Bowen attended private schools before earning a BA in Renaissance studies at the prestigious Brown University. She spent a year in Florence from where she returned fluent in Italian. College also introduced her to acting, and she appeared in several stage productions before moving to New York and enrolling at the legendary Actors Studio. While she featured in a number of films including Happy Gilmore, An American Werewolf in Paris and Horrible Bosses, her greatest recognition came on the small screen with recurring roles in Ed, Boston Legal and Lost. “Look, I’ve had the opportunity to be the wife in a lot of movies but if I’m weighing going away from my kids for six weeks to work a couple of days and go, ‘Oh! Where is he? Where’s Timmy?’, then it either needs to be really compelling and interesting, or pay a shit-load of money – there, I said it. But I don’t get paid a lot of money to do movies. That goes to the big, top people. So I’d rather be with the kids.”

Aged 44 and under no illusions about her bankability as a movie actress, she adds, laughing: “Anybody can do the math and see there’s not that many film roles for women over 35 and, if there are, it’s going to be the A-list gal; it’s going to be Cameron Diaz. She’s got that slot. Not me.

“But then you go to TV and there’s Orange is the New Black and you say: ‘Oh my God, Jenji Kohan [the show’s creator] you crazy genius! Look at all these roles for women.’ Even with Game of Thrones, there’s far more of a balance and more opportunity to drive the story.”

She was heavily pregnant with her twins when she shot the pilot for Modern Family five years ago. Her sons have never watched the show, and they don’t enjoy the circus it has created in their young lives. “They hear the words, ‘blah blah blah… Modern Family’, and it’s almost always accompanied by a stranger who’s going to interrupt their time at the park or the bowling alley or wherever we’re together.”

Not that she’s complaining. “If I was raising my kids in Oklahoma, I would be a big, huge star but, in LA, I’m just this B-level TV person. They go to school with Gwen Stefani’s kids and Dave Grohl’s kids and, let me tell you, no-one gives a rat’s ass about my kids when those kids are around.”

Still, she has her fans. “It’s usually girls around 12 to 14, which is an age where girls travel in packs so they’re at their most dangerous and feral. That’s why The Beatles’ bus was almost flipped over. I am certainly not The Beatles. I have experienced a crumb of that and have been terrified. They start screeching and circling like wasps. But they’re always lovely, not mean and they’re not stalking me at my house.”

It was her comic timing as Claire Dunphy that convinced Disney producers to cast Bowen in her latest role, voicing a sassy air-tanker named Dipper in the animated movie, Planes: Fire & Rescue. As Dipper, she is enamoured by a famous air-racer. Has she ever had a crush? “I had a huge crush on Johnny Depp for years – l mean, didn’t every girl?” she asks, giggling over tea in Beverly Hills. “When I first moved to LA in my early twenties, Johnny had the Viper Room [nightclub] and my friend and I went there all the time. He was dating Kate Moss at the time, but I had this fantasy that when he saw me, our eyes would meet and he would know. But I never once saw him there.”

A guest role on TV’s Party of Five finally brought her into the same orbit as her idol. “I was playing a clumsy waitress and I had fallen and was covered in crackers. In the middle of the scene, everybody stopped rolling because Johnny Depp had walked in, and there I was lying on the ground and he’s shaking hands with everybody and nobody could remember my name; I was just the extra that week. And I didn’t want to get up because they’d got the crackers just right so I just grimaced, thinking, ‘This isn’t how I was meant to meet you...’.”

As for her own modern family, her husband works from home and she counts on him to juggle day-to-day life. When she’s not filming the sitcom, guilt propels her into taking over most of the duties. “But it’s also a real pleasure to kind of ‘Don Draper’ them, when you come home at the end of the day, and they’re clean and in their pyjamas and they’ve had dinner and they’re just being presented to you as these little gifts to hug and hold; that is fantastic. It isn’t really parenting your kids but it is super fun when you get to do it.”“Being a parent is really hard, and I don’t have endless stores of patience. I wish I did. Somebody, perhaps it was Reese Witherspoon, once said, ‘if you don’t yell at your kids, you’re not seeing them enough’, and I took that to heart because if I’m with my kids all day every day – there’s yelling.”

‘Planes: Fire & Rescue’ is released on 8 August

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin