It has been exactly one week since my episode of Modern Family aired, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share some behind-the-scenes stories from my experience filming the 13th episode of the show’s final season, Whanex!
Getting the Part
Modern Family was my first TV audition back when I was finishing training at UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film & Television. Aside from being a milestone, that experience left an impression simply because of Jeff Greenberg (Casting Director) and Allen Hooper (Associate Casting Director). The two were so warm, and I had a great conversation talking about Carrie, UCLA, and Lainie Kazan.
I’ve since auditioned for Modern Family more than half a dozen times over the past five (or so) seasons. The show was also a cornerstone experience for me in the art of “not booking it.” I got close for several parts, even getting “pinned,” and learned the skill of moving on when things fall through from the experience.
A few auditions came my way for the final season, but having moved to New York City, I had to send in a self-taped audition — sometimes for characters with less than 10 words to prepare. By the time I filmed my audition for this episode at 8AM before a workday (still wearing pajama pants), I had come to terms with the fact that I didn’t need to prove I could deliver a perfect audition. I quickly filmed the audition, and wasn’t as hard on myself as I usually am. I didn’t even bother re-filming when I forgot the name of the character in my introduction. And it worked.
Getting to LA
I got word that I booked the job while having a wine night with our new neighbor upstairs. I felt very good about that first impression.
Very quickly after, though, I immediately started stressing about logistics. Because I auditioned like an “LA kid,” I would have to arrange my own travel and accommodations (don’t worry: negotiations were fair). After realizing airline points are essentially monopoly money worth less than a New York coffee, I scrapped together a plan. One of my dearest college friends Jane Papageorge had a sister who offered me a place to sleep at night, and I got a rental car to live out of for the rest of the time.
This side of the experience off-camera was a supreme reminder of how lucky I am to have such a great community to help enable these kinds of experiences. And also that Economy rental cars are not comfortable for naps. That said, it was great to drive around LA again, and catch up with some friends in my down time.
In a bizarre twist of fate, LA got a ton of rain on the morning I flew out. I distinctly remember walking up to the rental car with my luggage only to discover two-thirds of its wheels were underwater, thanks to the excellent drainage of North Hollywood streets. I then dropped my suitcase while trying to drop it, crane-style, into the trunk, and it got swept up in the deluge and started floating straight for the sewage drain. My socks were wet all the way to Manhattan.
Sharing the Make-Up Trailer
Between flying across the country, napping in a Kia Sorento, and worrying about the bags under my eyes, I didn’t have much spare thought for the glamour of the job. Still, working on Modern Family has a certain glitzy excitement around it, and I certainly walked away with some Hollywood memories. One that particularly stands out is how I met Sofia Vergara, whom I played against in my scenes.
The call time for my first day of filming was absurdly early. Even the crew was complaining about it. They film each episode in about 4-5 days, and that rapid pace was further compounded by a location limitation. My first scene at the mall literally took place at on location at a nearby mall, so we needed to finish filming before shops opened. (Although we still had a few bewildered retail workers wandering through an active set on their way to their shift.)
I had to get into hair and make-up around 5:40 AM, along with Sofia (who plays Gloria). Looking at the day’s schedule, I knew I’d likely run into the star in the trailer.
After I moved from the make-up char to hair, the trailer door opened. I wasn’t watching closely who was entering, because I was busy looking upwards while the amazing crew concealed my aforementioned eye-bags. The rest of the artists in the trailer exclaimed “Sophia!!,” and I didn’t think much of it other than realizing this mysterious make-up artist named Sophia must get confused for the star Sofia Vergara a lot. But nope. I was wrong. I was sitting next to Sofia Vergara, it just took me five minutes to notice.
Working with Ty
To my credit, I’m not one to get star-struck at work. While on set, I was primarily focused on being ready to knock out my scenes and help production move forward. Despite that, I unsurprisingly have already gotten most of my questions around sharing scenes with Ty Burrell — and I have to say, it was one of the most memorable and special parts of this experience.
It sounds trite, but Ty really was so generous, nice, and cool to me on set. I only had a few lines on camera with him, but he was great to chat with in between takes. The greatest impression he left on me, however, was his generous playfulness in our second scene.
In a way, it’s a shame my second scene got cut from the episode. As written, I had an exchange with Phil offering him snacks which he promptly scoffed at in true star fashion. As we were filming and resetting each take, I started riffing a bit and making “what if” jokes about the scene with Ty — which eventually turned into him looping in the directors and writers to create space for us to play. We did several versions of the scene off-the-cuff, playing to find just the right way to make the joke land. While the moment ended up on the cutting room floor, it’s honestly at the forefront of my memory of the show. I felt lucky to encounter such a great scene partner (and star, no less) who took time to play with me.
I had such a blast joining Modern Family for this episode. It was extremely satisfying to finally get on this set after so many years and attempts, but moreover I was truly touched by the interactions I got to have on set with Jeff, Allen, Sofia, Ty, Elaine, and the whole crew. It was also particularly special to share the episode with my dear friend Frankie Rodriguez, whom I performed with at Universal Studios. The whole experience — from flying to LA, to the day my episode aired — was above all a cool reminder of how many people I have supporting me in this crazy career as a storyteller. While my Modern Family moment was just a matter of seconds, it’s something I’ll remember for years to come.
Check out more of my performance work at www.kpdoh.com/performer!