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August 07, 2017

Second Avenue

With a dramatic turn on Modern Family, Fred Willard considers new roads.

Craig Tomashoff
  • Corina Marie Howell

When it comes to getting laughs, Fred Willard is the consummate pro. But recently on ABC’s Modern Family, the actor showed his serious side.

“I love being funny, but what I love most about being on the show is the real moments which aren’t just joke, joke, joke,” says Willard, who has had a recurring role as Frank Dunphy, father of Ty Burrell’s Phil Dunphy, since the series launched. “I’m usually the funny guy, but I don’t mind being able to do things that are dramatic. It’s a good change of pace.”

This past season, Frank found love and made plans to remarry, a situation that Willard says gave him and Burrell “much more heartfelt” moments than usual.

This deeper dive into the Dunphys didn’t happen by accident. Executive producer Christopher Lloyd, who first worked with Willard and Burrell on the short-lived sitcom Back to You a decade ago, says he’d wanted to “show more growth in the character this year.”

“We already knew that Fred can come in and be funny,” Lloyd explains. “But this year, we wanted to explore the repercussions on the family when he decides to remarry.”

The change came as Willard — whose credits range from The Bob Newhart Show, Laverne & Shirley and Roseanne to Everybody Loves Raymond and New Girl — was looking to explore new avenues in his career.

“I’d love to be the host of a variety show… one that discovers offbeat talent,” offers the actor, who has branched out into daytime dramas, winning a Daytime Emmy in 2015 for a role on CBS’s The Bold and the Beautiful. “It’d be great to highlight some obscure comic who’s performing in a little club somewhere.

“I’ve also had this idea for a Broadway show about a superhero that has retired but still wants to do something with his life. He goes out on patrol but only causes more trouble. The city is in flames and he’s at fault. It’d be kind of like Sunset Boulevard, but for superheroes.”

Pretty serious stuff, until you picture Frank Dunphy — er, Fred Willard — in tights and a cape.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2017

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