Ty Burrell's acting career is on the upswing

Ty Burrell's acting career is on the upswing

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — From the balcony of his room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Ty Burrell can see two young girls darting across traffic-filled Wilshire Boulevard. His attention is drawn away from talking about his work in "Muppets Most Wanted" until it's clear they've safely crossed the street.

It's that paternal instinct that drives Burrell's life these days. Not only is the Southern Oregon native the father to two girls, but he stars in the top network TV comedy "Modern Family." And his latest work includes the family-friendly Muppets movie and the voice of the dog inventor in the animated "Mr. Peabody and Sherman."

In "Muppets Most Wanted," Burrell plays a French detective who tries to unravel the mystery behind a series of break-ins at museums that happen to be at the same location where the Muppets are performing.

Even Burrell's connection to the Muppets is a family matter.

"The first time I can remember seeing the Muppets was watching the TV series. My first memory of the show is my dad laughing at Statler and Waldorf. I remember my ears perking up at my dad laughing and thinking I have to really pay attention to this because he thinks this is funny," Burrell says.

Born in Grants Pass, Burrell says the first time he tried to make people laugh was when he and his younger brother would do comedy bits for the family. Generally, it was the same two characters — his much smaller brother as a domineering boss to a very naive and innocent character played by Burrell. He smiles and says that character eventually grew up to be his "Modern Family" character of Phil Dunphy.

For "Muppets Most Wanted," Burrell called on the "Pink Panther" films he watched growing up to find the right level of silliness to play the French detective.

"There is a very conscious nod to Clouseau in this," Burrell says. "James Bobin, our director, was very clear from the beginning that this is meant to be a sort of collection of French characters and other French inspectors. But there was no way to play a French detective with a pencil-thin mustache and not be ripping off Clouseau to a degree.

"I was lucky because Jim told me that this is the Muppets, so anything goes. Just have as much fun with the character as I want."

Family duties don't let up just because Burrell's in the middle of promoting the movie. He receives a text from his former "Out of Practice" co-star, Christopher Gorham, to arrange a playdate for their kids.

The way both "Out of Practice" and "Back To You" were canceled so quickly almost turned Burrell off to television. He couldn't understand how he could be part of two shows with such strong casts and support from the critics that didn't survive. It was "Modern Family" that restored his faith. Not only did the series show him a good show could last, the award-winning ABC series also opened up a lot of opportunities for Burrell.

He had always wanted to do voice work, but he couldn't break into that world. He admits that it isn't a coincidence that as soon as "Modern Family" became a hit, he started getting calls to do voice work for TV shows like "Doc McStuffins" and the upcoming feature film "Finding Dory."

Between family, a successful TV show and two movies in theaters at the same time, Burrell feels like he's having one of those great moments he doesn't want to forget.

"Not that you aren't always feeling grateful, but in times like this you have to take a beat to be consciously grateful and be really mindful of how lucky this is," Burrell says.

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