Ty Burrell's 'Family' expansion includes big movies

Ty Burrell, real estate every-guy Phil Dunphy from 'Modern Family,' is taking over March movie madness with roles in 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' and 'The Muppet Movie.'


LOS ANGELES - On a recent road-trip escape with his wife Holly, Ty Burrell had one of those moments of clarity about his onetime bumpy career path which is now sailing like a smooth stretch of highway.


'We were just driving along and all of sudden it hit us,' says Burrell. 'This is what we had always hoped for. It's a bit surreal and a complete miracle with my employment track record. And it's the good fortune of being on this show. All of these movies are happening.'


That show, of course, is Modern Family, on which Burrell, 46, has broken out as real estate 'ninja' Phil Dunphy. More than just a steady gig for the last five seasons (unprecedented for Burrell), it has propelled him to the awards stage with an Emmy (2011) and a SAG Award this year.


It also has landed Burrell two major films coming this month, voicing the genius dog in the animated Mr. Peabody & Sherman (opening Friday) and an Interpol agent in Muppets Most Wanted (March 21).


Even sitting down for a few minutes on the 20th Century Fox lot during a break in filming Modern Family is a logistical feat in a day that includes shooting, promoting both films and preparing for the show's excursion to Australia. At one point, a golf cart even pulls up to the lawn where he's taking a break and zips him back to the studio for more voiceover work.


Yet his slightly amused smile never leaves as the cart returns an hour later.


'I am busy, but no complaints,' says Burrell. 'The amount of time I have spent unemployed as an actor still greatly outweighs the amount of time I have spent employed. I'm just happy to put food on the table and do things I really like.'


Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd had worked with Burrell on two less successful shows (2005's Out of Practice and 2007's Back to You) before hitting gold. 'He's always had so much going for him,' says Lloyd. 'I'm just glad he didn't get discouraged by an industry that took a while to discover that.'



Sherman (Max Charles), Penny (Ariel Winter) and Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) Sherman, Penny and Mr. Peabody travel to ancient Egypt and find themselves in trouble and having to flee to the WABAC before they reverse history in a scene from MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN. HANDOUT CREDIT: DreamWorks Animation [Via MerlinFTP Drop](Photo: DreamWorks Animation)


Burrell says he tried for years for animation roles, taking voiceover classes and 'banging on a thousand doors.' Director Rob Minkoff finally answered with Peabody, the cartoon feature from the 1960s Rocky & Bullwinkle Show. Minkoff sought the Dunphy-esque paternal warmth to balance out the genius dog's intellect.


Muppets Most Wanted director James Bobin was able to tap into Burrell's irreverent humor with an over-the-top French accent.


'James said he wasn't concerned about the accent being accurate, but in the comedy French-accent range, I was like 'Done!' ' says Burrell. 'I won't blame the French at all for thinking it's terrible.'


He concedes he didn't hold out long during Muppet negotiations.


'I couldn't quite believe I was being offered that role,' says Burrell. 'To the point I was telling my agent, 'I am giving you the heads-up. If the number comes in at 14 dollars and 60 cents it's going to be a yes.' There was no reason to play hardball.'


The role in the storied franchise, and his next voice part in Pixar's Finding Dory as a beluga whale (due in 2016), might finally impress his young daughters (ages 4 and 2) who don't understand why Dad appears on-screen with Fozzie Bear.


'When the time comes, if it happens, that my daughters are impressed it will all be worth it,' says Burrell. 'They will see the evidence through a series of career choices: Dad was just trying to impress us our whole life.'


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