Modern Family star Ty Burrell teases the big goodbye and the 'beautiful torture' of filming it
The two-time Emmy winner also revealed that filming the finale was like "being at a wedding and a funeral at the same time."
The Dunphys are done. Phil has had his fill. However you phrase it, on Wednesday night, it will be time to say goodbye to Modern Family. After a one-hour retrospective documentary titled A Modern Farewell at 8 p.m., ABC will unveil the one-hour, two-part series finale to the Emmy-decorated family comedy, which is signing off after 11 seasons, 250 episodes, and even more stair-trips. If you're wondering how the man who often took those falls — and who scored two Emmys for his impeccable work as former cheerleader/manchildish dad/indefatigable real estate agent Phil Dunphy — felt about sending off his series and filming the final installment(s), he's here to share the joy and pain.
“You can't really process it until you're there,” Ty Burrell tells EW. “I had a sense for how it was going to be, but in the end… it was like a beautiful torture. It was like being at a wedding and a funeral at the same time. We were celebrating and laughing the whole week. We had a great week filming what was a beautifully written episode. But in every scene that got filmed towards the end, it got a little tearier and a little harder. And then when we finally got to the last day, it was more of the funeral part.” (To see for yourself, check out these teary behind-the-scenes photos.)
Burrell certainly mourned the notion the loss of his work family as they all prepared to scatter to other ends of the industry. “It did feel like grieving for not being with these people every day, like we have been,” he explains. "Obviously the local authorities aren't going to keep us from seeing each other, so we can still say hello to each other, but the idea that we won't be working [together] day in, day out was kind of a tough pill to swallow for a moment there.”
The finale will center on change as well as new beginnings for the three intertwined families. “It really has to do with that feeling that this chapter of this family is over,” says Burrell. “This magical period in their lives won’t be the same anymore, and people are wrestling with a lot of the same feelings we were wrestling with.” To that end, you may see some real emotion spilling onto the screen. “I hope people will forgive us for breaking character a bit, because it was actually a little tricky to delineate.”
He describes the final chapter of the show as not just “sweet," but tonally appropriate for what the show set out to do in the previous 248 episodes. “One of the things that you worry about — and nobody worried more about it than the writers — is that you have a different show in your finale than you did the rest of your series,” he says. “And there are really big laughs in the finale, in my opinion. That I found really reassuring, that it wasn't just about us saying goodbye. It's a very funny finale.”
The hour begins with Phil and wife Claire (Julie Bowen) hiding out in the RV, as the commotion in the house is proving too taxing for them: Alex (Ariel Winter) has moved back into the house, where Luke (Nolan Gould), Haley (Sarah Hyland), her husband, Dylan (Reid Ewing), and their twin babies are also living. "We're just sick of it and we're essentially planning our escape, trying to pretend we live a pastoral existence," says Burrell, "even though we live in our driveway."
Burrell hints that later in the finale, Phil will have an unexpected personal moment with his repressed father-in-law, Jay (Ed O’Neill), the one he’s been trying to impress for (checks notes) the entire series. “I feel like I can speak for Ed in that one of our favorite things over the past 11 years [is] playing these hyper-awkward scenes between the two,” says Burrell. “As the series went on, Jay really tried harder on some level to not be awful to Phil, and Phil always was trying desperately to be loved by Jay, and we've just had such a blast playing that over the years. Chris [Lloyd, who created the show with Steven Levitan and wrote part 2 of the finale] graciously gave us one last scene where I can safely say that Phil thinks he’s finally able to give Jay advice and console him in a way that is truly helpful — and is more intimate than they've ever been.” Hinted another way: “Jay and Phil finally bond, literally.”
When 11 seasons of bonding came to a close and the Modern actors departed the soundstage on the Fox lot in Los Angeles for the last time, did Burrell take a set souvenir with him? Nope — he took three. “Steve came to my trailer and very kindly offered a painting that was made in the Paris episode of Phil and Guy (Arnaud Binard) sitting on the park bench,” he shares. “That is a lovely thing that I immediately put on my wall, and people will never know what it is.”
The second item is a real-state certificate from Phil’s office, which will be stored in Burrell’s home office. “It basically looks like me, like I achieved something in my life, when in fact I have achieved nothing,” quips the nine-time Emmy nominee. And what’s the third thing? “I've heard that it's actually going to be archived for the Smithsonian, but I put in a request for one of Phil's inventions, which was the HeadscratcherTM. I'm really hoping that I get it. I haven't heard back yet, but my fingers are crossed.”
In this age of reunions and reboots, fans might be crossing their fingers for the cast to reconvene one day. Burrell leaves those fans with just a smidge of hope for such a prospect.“In general, people are feeling right now — I certainly am — that we've played these characters for so long, and especially the writers had such a much harder job of writing these characters for so long, that it feels right to be stepping away," he says. "But it's been nothing but a pleasure, so I'm sure there's a scenario where it could work again. I would say, though, to that: I can't imagine a lot of scenarios that would feel organic and right. But if it came from Chris and Steve — they're brilliant — it probably would feel organic. So I’m open to it, for sure.”
Whether it’s for now — or forever — Wednesday night will be the last chance to get your Phil. And the rest of the bunch.