Emmys 2012: Drunk Fans, Axed Spinoffs and Awkward Auditions at the Comedy Actors Roundtable

 Joe Pugliese

Who got cornered by Spielberg at a party? Who starred in the failed "Golden Girls" followup? Who is harassed regularly by belligerent viewers? Six of TV's funniest men come clean.

THR: What’s the hardest part about fame for all of you?

Cheadle: I don’t get enough recognition at home. (Laughter.)

Greenfield: Thank you, Don.

Cheadle: I’m expecting [a big announcement]: “Now coming home … it’s Don!”

Burrel: “Ladies and gentlemen!”

Helms: You get in a fight with your wife, and you’re like, “But I’m Don Cheadle!” (Laughter.)

Cheadle: Doesn’t work on the kids, either.

THR: Speaking of kids, Ty, you adopted two children in the past couple of years. It’s impressive how privately you were able to do it.

Helms: So tell us all about it! (Laughter.)

Cheadle: Pictures!

Burrel: It’s been intense, but the bulk of fan feedback is really positive. Luckily, I’m on a show where I’m not playing a serial killer, so I don’t get that energy back from people on the street. I think the biggest adjustment for me is the lack of control. When you go out, your situation isn’t controllable; other people are controlling your experience. That was a real shock, especially with kids. It’s this weird kind of back-and-forth.

Galecki: You’ve done a great job of it. You have your own parameters, and you don’t lay a welcome mat down for the press and for people to ask questions that you’re not comfortable answering. You also don’t march your family down a red carpet and then complain about your lack of personal privacy.

Helms: It’s funny because we’re all familiar with being fans of other people. For me as a kid, it was Eddie Murphy, Martin Short, Mike Myers. And now, it’s this weird brain contortion to get that energy from strangers. It’s important to recognize that’s pretty wonderful. I derived so much joy from Phil Hartman and people like him, and so it’s exciting to think that I might play that role for some kid out there who’s a comedy nerd. Fame has baggage, but it’s forced me to evaluate what I really care about. Like, if I walk into a public place and I’m spotted and pictures start happening, do I really care?

Burrel: It’s an interesting head game, isn’t it?

Helms: Like you said, it’s the loss of control that causes fear and anxiety and frustration.

Cheadle: Well, it’s really human to be around people you don’t know, who are strangers coming up to you, and feeling that way. But we are antithetical to normal. You guys are on TV at least 24 times a year. You’re in people’s bedrooms.

Helms: Tell me about it.

Greenfield: This is where it gets bad: When somebody comes up, and you prepare yourself for them to tell you how much they love the show, and they’re like, “We have your car.”

Ferguson: I was walking in Greenwich Village, and this girl goes, “Would you please take a picture?” and I was like, “Absolutely!” And she’s like, “No, of me in front of the Sex and the City brownstone.” Humiliated. (Laughter.)

THR: Eric Stonestreet has talked about the added element of gay people coming up to him and saying how much the show means to them. But there was some negative feedback, too. Do you get that as well?

Ferguson: The negative feedback I get is, “You need to be nicer to Cam!” And I’ll be like, “OK, I’ll pass that on to the people who tell me what to say.” I honestly don’t hear a lot of the negative. Maybe at the beginning, some people were worried that Cam’s character was maybe a little too flamboyant?

Cheadle: Too campy.

Ferguson: Campy, right, and my argument was: “We’re representing a specific gay couple. It’s not representing every gay couple in the world.” Let’s be happy with what we have here, and on another show, we’ll tackle the other ones. I mean, 99 percent of it is really positive feedback from kids who are able to come out to their parents because they sort of have a pop culture touchstone to point to. Their families enjoy Modern Family, so it’s safe to say, “I’m like Cameron,” or, “I’m like Mitchell.” At the same time, we’re just making a comedy. We’re not changing the world.

THR: Modern Family is going through big salary renegotiations. Is this something you ever talk about on set?

Ferguson: No.

Galecki: I find it odd that this is one of the few, if not only, industries where it just seems OK to talk about salaries openly. People just go ahead and ask, or put it in print, and often it’s incorrect. But it’s information that should be private. I have family members I’d rather not know. (Laughter.)

Cheadle: “Hey, just saw about the renegotiation. What’s up?!”

Helms: “Congratulations!”

Galecki: It’s inappropriate to ask the dentist what he makes every year.

Cheadle: It’s entertainment … like sports.

Helms: It forces you to ask yourself, “Can I just roll with this?” It’s been this lesson in Zenning out. We’re in the public eye, but it’s ultimately not the end of the world.

Galecki: But then, when I feel that way, I’m worried that that’s when I’m going to make a huge mistake because I let my guard down. Like, “Oh, these pictures will never show up online.”

Greenfield: And then your wife comes over, and you’re like, “I Googled myself.” (Laughing.)

Cheadle: That’s the worst. Don’t ever do that.

Greenfield: I really took a hard line on it when the show started. “I’m not looking at anything,” and it’s been the best move.

Helms: I don’t Google myself, but my mom does.

Burrel: You hear it from everybody anyway!

Galecki: I Google each of your salaries. (Laughter.)

Greenfield: My mom only sends me the positive, though.

Ferguson: You’re so lucky. My mother tells me everything: “I can’t believe that article said … And I just don’t agree with that.” (Laughter.) She thinks that I have absorbed everything that’s happened to me; she wants to alleviate that pain.

Greenfield: The good stuff is as harmful as the bad stuff.

Burrel: That’s true.

Cheadle: You have to look at all of it. You know what I mean?

Helms: It’s all toxic.

Greenfield: Someone will send me the bad stuff, and I’ll go, “This is what they really think?” And then you get to work,
and you go, “Well, how can I make it better?” and then you’re pushing, and then you’re doing weird stuff, and then
you realize that was just one person who’s probably …… a blogger in his living room.

Cheadle: Yeah. I’ve made the mistake of reading it all, and I came to the same conclusion. What does it mean? It’s such a nebulous job. That’s why I like to wash dishes and sweep. Because if those dishes were dirty … now they’re clean! I did
that! But you walk off the set some days, and you’re like, “I don’t know what I did today.”

Galecki: There’s something about the publicly written word that’s that much more scarring. When you do theater, you never make 100 percent of the people in the room happy — you don’t expect to — and if you do, you’re probably doing something safe. But when you see the written word … it’s pretty traumatic.

Burrel: One of our showrunners, Chris Lloyd, calls it a game show titled More! It’s a Google game show, where there will be a story on Modern Family, and you read it, and he’s like, “Do you want more?” (The whole group says, “More!” in unison.) And it’s all still pretty positive. “Do you want more?” And then there’s something from one guy who’s like, “This is the shittiest show that ever existed.” And you lose everything. (Laughter.)

THR: Ty, you’ve been endorsing orange juice.

Burrel: Thank you very much. (Laughter.) I should have brought some.

THR: What are some of the nuttiest endorsement deals the rest of you have been offered?

Helms: I got an offer from BMW for a commercial. I read the script, and it was this crazy Andy Bernard/Stu from The Hangover mashed up into the broadest, worst pigeonhole imaginable. I was like, “I can’t.”

Cheadle: When’s it coming out? (Laughter.)

Helms: It was a bummer because I thought,“Oh, this’d be cool,” and then the script was just, “Ew.”

THR: Was it hard to turn down? It was probably good cash.

Helms: Yes and no. I try to be pretty disciplined.

Ferguson: The price that you pay is more … it hurts. It scars.

Cheadle: Johnny does a ton of commercials overseas.

Galecki: Billboards in China, just billboards of me everywhere! No, because of Big Bang, I get invited to speak more often at benefits, but it all requires me to be as intelligent as my character, and that’s the mistake that they’re making. So I don’t attend because it would only mean horrible disappointment.

THR: What is the best or worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

Greenfield: I had a guy once tell me, “Don’t take it personally.”

Cheadle: That was the worst advice you got. (Laughter.)

Greenfield: As naive as it was, it got me through a lot of disappointment.

Helms: “You only get parts you’re right for.” You can be mad you didn’t get it, but you’re wrong. You weren’t right for it.

Galecki: I almost got dropped by an agency because I suggested another actor for a part. “You know who’d be good in this?”
And they’re like, “It took us a week and a half to get you in that room, and you pitched an actor and he’s not with our agency!”

Ferguson: Thank you, by the way! (Laughter.) It’s such important advice to just enjoy where we are at right now. We are always looking for the next job. I have learned to just relax and really take it in. For Ty and me specifically, we were very lucky the last few seasons with Emmy Awards, but we are not expecting that again this year or next year. We try to just accept that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. If it happens again, that’s great.

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