Modern Family helped make Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet household names for the past nine years while bringing back a genuinely cute and quirky family sitcom. It is even a show that former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama never missed. But, what most fans may not realize is that behind the dry wit, incredible writing, impeccable acting and comedic humor, there are and were a lot of skeletons in the closet that many may not know about.
The seemingly perfect Pritchett-Dunphy family is comically flawed weekly on ABC, but behind the scenes, the actors experienced secret pregnancies, wild activity, turmoil and much, much more. It is amazing to believe that the actors were able to keep all of this drama under wraps while continuing to perform, win multiple individual and ensemble Primetime Emmy Awards and end up in syndication after 200-plus episodes being filmed.
We have also watched the evolution of Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, and Nolan Gould from pre-teens to young adults, while Ed O’Neill has struck sitcom gold once again after his Married...With Children fame. Here are 15 secrets from behind the scenes of Modern Family you will not want to miss out on.
15 The Cast Almost Walked Off
According to TMZ, in 2012, several of the Modern Family cast members banded together and filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox in order to have their current contracts disposed of. This seems to have been with the hopes of having new contracts drawn up and put into immediate effect.
The petitioners included Julie Bowen — who plays matriarch Claire Dunphy; Ty Burrell — who plays Bowen’s husband, Phil Dunphy; Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet — who play husbands, Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker, respectively; and Sofia Vergara in the role of Gloria Pritchett.
Ed O’Neil, who plays patriarch Jay Pritchett, was said to have jumped on board at a later date. Not only did the cast presumably want more money per episode but they also wanted the ability to work on other outside projects while still involved with the ABC show as well as outside of FOX.
These requests were not permitted based on the current contracts the cast was under and attempting to void. The fact that the family stuck together during contract issues and still remained intact is a testament to their tight bond. It has been six years since the suit, so it appears that everything has worked out for this modern family.
14 Sarah Hyland’s Hidden Kidney Struggle
Sarah Hyland is known as eldest Dunphy child, Haley, the extremely popular and wild but fun child who is always embarrassed by her parents — Claire and Phil’s — antics. But in Hyland’s real life, she couldn’t be any closer to her family after she admitted to People Magazine that she has suffered from a never-ending battle with kidney dysplasia since she was a child.
This caused the starlet to undergo a kidney transplant at the age of 21, thanks to her father, who donated the kidney: “You know that family is always going to be there for you — no matter what. My dad gave me a freakin’ kidney!”
Since the surgery, Hyland has had to deal with her weight fluctuating and has even called out CVS for closing early when they had promised her medication would be ready for pick-up. Despite what people have had to say, Hyland has continued to work hard and persevere through all of these struggles. She is showing that, like her television mother Julie Bowen, life-saving surgery in your 20’s does not have to affect your ability to live life to its fullest. Haley could take a few cues on how to love your parents from her portrayer.
13 Ariel Winter Flees From Mother
People Magazine was there when Ariel Winter, who portrays middle child Alex Dunphy, was almost fired from Modern Family on several occasions. This is according to 2012 testimony given from Winter’s older sister, Shanelle Gray, at an emergency hearing regarding where the actress should live. Just 14 at the time, Winter expressed she no longer wanted to live with her mother, Chrisoula Workman, with Gray explaining that because of their mother’s horrendous on-set antics, her sister’s job was often in jeopardy.
“She has been a terror on the set,” attorney Michael Kretzmer relayed to Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael Levanas (referring to Workman). “The producers and others there have expressed grave concern.” He went onto add, “They’re having to sneak this child food because the mother deprives the child of food” and that there are “detailed horror stories” from the Modern Family cast members.
Eventually, the decision was made to place Winter in the care of Gray, who was 34 at the time. Since the decision was made in October of 2012 for Ariel to live with her sister, she remained in her custody until she was 17 when the actress became legally emancipated, going on to enroll in university. Sounds like a happy ending there.
12 The Show Is Ending, And Not Because They're Running Out Of Ideas
The show must go on but not in the case of Modern Family. The long-running series —which just wrapped up its ninth season — is probably going to end after the upcoming 2018-2019 season, the series creators told The Hollywood Reporter back in January 2018. Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan broke the sad news as the cast celebrated its 200th episode of the hit series. "Our plan is to end it at 10. If we can leave with most of our audience wanting more, I think that's the right way to do it. Never say never, but I just can't imagine that we'd go past that," Levitan said.
Ed O’Neill is the only member of the show’s cast to experience this type of long-running television fame after Married...With Children, which aired for an impressive 11 seasons on FOX.
If Modern Family were to run into the 11th season, storylines seemingly would not be an issue, but money might be.
Salaries for another season would be extremely costly to keep Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet. It would be excessive but, in the end, it might be worth it to keep this funny family on air.
11 Sofia Vergara Was Told To Change Her Natural Blonde Hair So She'd Appear More Latin
Sometimes, actors have to dramatically alter their looks in order to get a part. Christian Bale is known for gaining and losing significant amounts of weight for almost every role while Charlize Theron shaved her blonde locks for her role in Mad Max.
The same goes for Sofia Vergara in the hair department — minus the buzz cut. The actress, who plays Gloria Pritchett on Modern Family, is actually a natural blonde — a look we have seen her sport occasionally on the Red Carpet. But, according to an interview in Parade, Vergara went dark in order to look more Latin to get more roles. “I’m a natural blonde, like my siblings. When I started auditioning for American acting roles, they didn’t know where to put me. A blonde Latina? In L.A. they’re used to Latin women looking more Mexican. But if you go to Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, everybody is blond.”
She claims that once she went dark, it helped her career a lot but she still likes to add lighter pieces when she can to stick to her roots. Are you at all shocked to find out that Sofia is actually on the lighter side? Do you prefer her as a blonde or brunette?
10 Ariel Winter Had A Major Surgery Done
Ariel Winter’s cuppeth runneth over — literally. The actress, who plays nerdtastic Alex Dunphy, may have just turned 20 earlier this year but her body aged a lot faster than she was ready for. In an interview with Glamour, Winter opened up about her decision to follow in the footsteps of Drew Barrymore, Soleil Moon Frye, and Queen Latifah and get a chest reduction. "It really did happen overnight," Winter said of her budding breast development.
"I remember being in my sister's wedding and being so flat and thinking, I just wish I would grow [chest sizes]!' and then overnight I did. But then they kept growing and growing and growing and it didn't seem like they were going to stop. I was 15 years old with [size] F [cups]," recounts Winter. "It's like, how do you navigate that?'"
At 17 years old, the actress underwent the procedure to go from a 32F down to a 34D.
The surgery enabled Winter to stay age-appropriate in the parts that she auditioned for while staying true to herself and her body.
Though she could have gone smaller, she understands that she is curvier and embraces that. As for who she told in the cast prior to the surgery; none other than TV mom Julie Bowen.
9 Sarah Hyland’s Ex Goes Wild
Sarah Hyland’s character on Modern Family, Haley Dunphy, is quite popular with the boys but off-set, the actress has had her share of personal relationship issues. One of the most prevalent occurred in August 2014 when she and boyfriend of five years, actor Matt Prokop broke up, leading her to file a domestic violence temporary restraining order.
According to Glamour UK, the actress said she “feared for her life” when Prokop and her got into an altercation. She was granted a three-year restraining order with him staying 100 yards away from her, her home, anywhere she was working and her puppy. Prokop is also never allowed to own a gun.
Eventually, the restraining order became permanent and the actress has gone on to go behind the camera in a series of producer roles such as XOXO and The Wedding Year. It’s pretty sad that just a few years before, Hyland was singing Prokop’s praises after she underwent a kidney transplant and credited him to People as being a rock.
“He helps me with my medication and takes me to doctor appointments and all the stuff that I need to do to take care of myself,” Hyland told the magazine. “Any other 21-year-old guy would not be there, I guarantee it. I am one of the luckiest people in the world to have him be there for me.”
8 Matt Leblanc Turned Down The Role Of A Lifetime Because He Felt 'Disrespected'
Ed O’Neill was not the only actor who almost wasn’t cast on Modern Family. We talked about how Parenthood star Craig T. Nelson was initially approached for the role of patriarch Jay Pritchett but turned it down because he felt “disrespected” by the salary offered to him. Nelson went on to Parenthood success instead, and we can’t imagine anyone else but O’Neill playing Jay. But, what about the rest of the stars from this famed sitcom?
Friends star Matt LeBlanc was the initial pick for the role of Phil Dunphy, according to ABC, who initially said no to Ty Burrell, who has become the Phil we know and love.
As for Phil’s wife, matriarch Claire Dunphy, Julie Bowen was not even a consideration, surprisingly enough. The main choices: Kristen Johnston and Lisa Kudrow, which seems completely off after nine seasons of Bowen.
Ultimately, both Burrell and Bowen were cast and went onto win Primetime Emmy’s for their portrayals of the quirky but lovable couple and parents of three. Can you imagine if Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had won the roles? Friends fans would have gotten the Joey and Phoebe romance they had always dreamed of just in a different format, but we think the show got the casting just right and has contributed to the long-running success of the show.
7 Sofia Vergara Used To Think Ed O'Neil Spoke Spanish On TV
Sofia Vergara was in for quite a big surprise when she was cast as Ed O’Neill’s trophy wife on Modern Family. The actress, who plays Gloria Pritchett, used to watch O’Neill’s long-running sitcom Married...With Children while growing up in Colombia. Because the show was dubbed in Spanish, her native tongue, Vergara just assumed that O’Neill was fluent in the language, as well.
During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the actress recounted her experience seeing Ed play Al Bundy as a kid in Colombia: “…[O’Neill] used to speak Spanish, it was dubbed, so I always thought Ed spoke Spanish,” Vergara said. “He had a very [sultry] Antonio Banderas voice, the guy who was dubbing him.”
When she met the actor who plays Jay Pritchett in person, that was when she learned that he was no more fluent in Spanish than she was a natural brunette. Dreams shattered but we are sure this mishap helped to break the ice during the auditions, meet and greets and first few scenes together. It is an easy mistake to make if you are watching these popular shows in another country, so we cannot blame Vergara for the mishap. Hey, accidents happen.
6 Nolan Gould Is A Secret Genius Child
Luke Dunphy is an extremely precocious and often obnoxious child, always getting into trouble in one way or another. However, his portrayer Nolan Gould is actually quite the opposite of his bratty Modern Family counterpart. Gould is a genius — not saying that geniuses cannot be quirky and out there.
But Gould is a member of Mensa with an IQ of 150.
"When people learn I'm a member of MENSA, they're shocked.” He even took his General Education Development (GED) test at 13, meaning he graduated high school in the summer of 2012.
How did he achieve this? “Over the summer, I did a lot of studying and I took an exam and tested out of high school," he shared with Ellen DeGeneres. "So, I'm hopefully going to go on and do some online community college courses." A kid who actually spent the summer studying in order to graduate high school early? That is definitely nothing like Luke Dunphy but more so like Alex Dunphy.
So, at 13, what else did Nolan — now 19 — feel like he had left to achieve? He shared his thoughts with Ellen, according to Us Magazine: "It's really fun, but I realized something as I was driving in my limo [on my way to the Primetime Emmy Awards in September]: 'Wait a second! I'm 13! This is my third time at the Emmys. What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?'" Gould remarked. "It's all downhill from now." We think he has still got a long way to go.
5 Julie Bowen’s Hidden Baby
Julie Bowen may have looked incredible in the pilot as Claire Dunphy, but you may have noticed she had a lot of purposefully placed food products and overloaded laundry baskets in front her. Why was this done? Because the actress was ready to pop with her twin boys, Gus and John. In fact, Bowen, who was not even an initial consideration for the role of Claire, did not think she would get cast for the part when she auditioned as she was expecting during the process.
Most actresses do not get very far in Hollywood if they audition when they are visibly pregnant and Bowen believed she was no exception, as she told People Magazine. “I was pregnant with twins, and I kept thinking they weren’t going to hire me. They kept bringing me in over and over and sort of staring at my humungous belly, and I thought, ‘I’m never getting this job.’”
She loved the script and knew that she had to be a part of the series but understandably was unsure of her fate. Fortunately, those behind the series saw past the bump and saw the talent and cast the perfect Claire Dunphy possible. No one could play the part the way Julie Bowen does.
4 Lily's Recast Drama
Season three of Modern Family saw a whole new Lily, as it was out with twins Jaden and Ella Hiller, and in with Aubrey Anderson-Emmons. Cameron and Mitchell’s baby girl was initially played by twin girls for the first two seasons of the show. However, according to People Magazine, the twins were often distraught and did not find acting fun, so the decision to replace them with the then four-year-old Anderson-Emmons was made.
Jaden and Ella’s mother, Michelle, had this to say in regards to her twins leaving the show: “Ella and Jaden are enjoying new toddler adventures in swimming, dance, gymnastics, and rock climbing. They are happy with the freedom of being 3 [years old]!”
Not only was a new actress brought on for the role but she came with new responsibilities for the character of Lily: Anderson-Emmons would now be speaking as part of the character, something that had not happened in seasons prior.
Come season three that would all change, and since then, it has seemingly been smooth sailing. Lily has even become a fan favorite as Cam and Mitchell’s little princess. We think the recasting was perfect and we hope the Hiller twins found their happiness just being kids.
3 Julie Bowen’s Secret Heart Issue
Julie Bowen is known as the peppy and overly involved matriarch of the Dunphy family, Claire Dunphy, which garnered her six Primetime Emmy nominations and two wins. But, in real life, the actress has had to be overly involved in her health, having struggled with her heart for over two decades now.
When she was in her early 20s Bowen had a pacemaker put in place, she shared with WebMD, due to a cardiovascular condition that severely slows the average heartbeat.
As the Emmy winner put it, this tool “serves as a monitor for me,” and she is extremely thankful "to live during a time when the technology exists to treat my condition.”
Bowen has since gone on to carry and give birth to three healthy children — Oliver, who was born in 2007, and twins John and Gus, born in 2009. She has also pulled double duty on both Modern Family, and the big screen in films such as Horrible Bosses and the recently released Melissa McCarthy feature Life of the Party. She is proof positive that early detection, a positive attitude, dedication and healthy living can ensure anyone can go the distance. Way to go, Julie!
2 Eric Stonestreet’s Housewife Connection
Eric Stonestreet is best known as the extremely flamboyant and over-the-top Cameron Tucker. As a father to Lily Tucker-Pritchett and husband to Mitchell Pritchett, portrayed by actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, he is the ultimate family man. Eric is just as fabulous in real life with best friend Bethenny Frankel by his side.
The Real Housewives of New York City cast member and Skinnygirl creator, Bethenny Frankel, opened up to The Daily Dish about her friendship with the Emmy award-winning actor, whom she initially thought was gay upon meeting at a party. Stonestreet is “openly straight,” and even though he and Frankel never confirmed nor denied if they dated, the housewife has said she thinks the actor is a “fascinating person.”
She has made visits to the Modern Family set and that they both have the same sense of humor, which is what bonds the two of them together. The two even appeared together on Andy Cohen’s late-night Bravo television show Watch What Happens Live. Will either of them ever cross-over and make appearances on each other’s hit shows? We think Cam would be the perfect addition to the housewives and Frankel could totally rival Claire Dunphy.
1 Jay Pritchell Not To Be Played By Ed O’Neil
It is no surprise in Hollywood that the person cast is not always the first person chosen or offered the part. This goes for former Married...With Children star Ed O’Neill who was not the initial pick for the role of the patriarch of the Pritchett family, Jay Pritchett.
Initially, the part was offered to Craig T. Nelson of Coach and Parenthood fame.
However, Nelson ultimately declined after he did not deem the money for the role to be high enough. Nelson confirmed that he had a choice between Modern Family and Parenthood and, in the end, Parenthood was the winner with a higher salary, he shared with Access Hollywood. “I’m old enough to say it, I guess. That was it,” Craig remarked about the money offered. “I really wanted to do ‘Modern Family’ and I really like the script and the people. I just said, ‘You know what? I’ve been doing this too long.’ We’re in the middle of a cutback here, ladies and gentlemen, in Hollywood and salaries have gone down, way down. I felt disrespected to tell you the truth.”
We think the parts ultimately went to the right actors in the end and it all worked out the way that it should. And the rest is Hollywood history.
References: WebMD, Bravo's The Daily Dish, Access Hollywood, TMZ, People, People, Cosmopolitan, The Hollywood Reporter, Parade, Glamour, Glamour UK, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, US Magazine, People, People