A versatile talent with a knack for playing egotistical heels, Emmy-winning Ty Burrell was a supporting actor and occasional lead who established himself in the industry with strong performances in the horror feature "Dawn of the Dead" (2002) and on the television series "Modern Family" (ABC, 2009- ). He was exclusively a stage actor in the late 1990s before making inroads to television and features; his turn as a smarmy yuppie in Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn" made him a go-to for that character type, but he also showed considerable comic chops on the short-lived series "Out of Practice" (CBS, 2005-06) and "Back to You" (Fox, 2007-08). Both programs were produced by the successful team of Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd - best known for their success with "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) - who were impressed enough to tap Burrell once again for his most successful TV outing, the critical darling and ratings hit "Modern Family," which showcased him as a scene-stealing comic star on the rise.
Born in Grants Pass, OR on Aug. 22, 1967, he earned a degree in theater from Southern Oregon University in 1993 before heading to New York City, where he found steady work both on and off Broadway. He soon amassed a substantial and impressive list of credits there, ranging from classical works like Shakespeare's "Richard III" opposite Peter Dinklage at the Public Theater to an off-Broadway production of Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" with his future "Incredible Hulk" co-star, Edward Norton. In 1998, he and his brother Duncan co-wrote the play "Babble," which Burrell also performed at the Broad Horizons Theatre.
Burrell's onscreen appearances began with a 2001 guest shot on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). His first feature role was a heroic one in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" (2001) - he played real-life Master Sergeant Timothy A. Wilkinson, who helped rescue the crews of two downed helicopters in Mogadishu, Somalia - but with his next film project, he established a screen persona that would stick with him for years to come. In Zack Snyder's high-octane remake of "Dawn of the Dead" (2002), Burrell was oily perfection as a yuppie whose sense of entitlement and self-preservation went unchecked in the face of a worldwide zombie apocalypse. The film's blockbuster status, as well as the layer of charm that Burrell brought to the character, helped to not only elevate the role out of stereotype, but also ensured that he would play similar parts for years to come.
Burrell logged small roles in his next features - Paul Weitz's underrated coming-of-age story "In Good Company" (2004), David Jacobson's indie drama "Down in the Valley" (2005), which marked his first screen teaming with Edward Norton, and Nicole Holofcener's smart dramedy "Friends with Money" (2006), which cast him as a man who shares not only the same name with Frances McDormand's husband (Simon McBurney), but also his apparent latent homosexuality. The 2006 comedy "The Darwin Awards" gave him a slightly more substantial role, though again as a venal, upscale type; albeit one who suffers a humiliating end via a vending machine. However, few saw that effort, as negative critical response consigned it to a short theatrical run.
That same year, Burrell returned to television with a starring role opposite Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing on "Out of Practice." The sitcom, about a dysfunctional family of medical professionals, was enlivened by Burrell's turn as a self-absorbed, womanizing plastic surgeon, but his performance was not enough to save the show from demise at the hands of the network. It was on this show, however, that Burrell made an impression on the co-creators, Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd (not to be confused with the actor), best known for their work as executive producers of "Frasier." Soon after that pink slip, he ventured back into features with a supporting role as real-life photographer and actor Allan Arbus, husband of acclaimed but troubled photographer Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman) in Steven Shainberg's fictionalized biopic, "Fur" (2006).
A minor role in "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" (2007) as a lovelorn White House curator who aids Diane Kruger in her search for the title object, a tome filled with Presidential secrets, predated another shot at a regular TV series. "Back to You" (Fox, 2007-08) seemed like a sure thing on paper - its stars were multiple Emmy winners Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton; its creators were Levitan and Lloyd. But the show, which cast Burrell as a long-suffering TV field reporter with designs on the anchor positions held by Grammer and Heaton, failed to meet critical and audience expectations, and was gone before the end of its first season.
Burrell reunited for a third time with Edward Norton in "The Incredible Hulk" (2008), a faithful big screen adaptation of the iconic Marvel Comics adventure. Burrell's role - Dr. Edward Samson, who replaces Norton's Bruce Banner as love interest to Liv Tyler's Betty Ross - was originally written as yet another "jerk," but became more sympathetic after Norton's rewrite. The character also had a long history in the "Hulk" comics due to his own super powers and adventures, and the film's success spawned rumors that Burrell would play the role as portrayed in the graphic novels in a possible sequel.
In 2009, Burrell finally struck pay dirt with a television series that was built to last. "Modern Family," again produced by the ever loyal Levitan and Lloyd, took a mockumentary approach to the traditional family sitcom, with cameras covering the ups and downs in the relationships of a father (Ed O'Neill) and his gay son (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and tightly wound daughter (Julie Bowen). The show was widely praised by critics, with Burrell receiving the lion's share of the kudos as Bowen's husband Phil, a hapless suburban dad whose attempts to relate to his children and his extended family frequently ended in disaster. For his part, Burrell committed to the hapless Phil, calling his scene-stealing character, "nothing but a big, goofy dog." He was duly rewarded with a Screen Actors Guild award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, as well as an Emmy nod in 2010. A year later, he beat out three of his co-stars - Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O'Neill - to win the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Emmy, a feat he repeated in 2014.
Between seasons of "Modern Family," Burrell continued working on films, including supporting roles in Doug Liman's political espionage thriller "Fair Game" (2010), about the Bush Administration's deliberate outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame as political payback, the Rachel McAdams-led romantic comedy "Morning Glory" (2010), the small town satire "Butter" (2011), and the quirky comedy "Goats" (2012). He provided Mr. Peabody's voice in the CGI comedy "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" (2014), had a cameo in the hit sequel "Muppets Most Wanted" (2014), and appeared in "The Skeleton Twins" (2014), an indie drama starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in atypically serious roles.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Performed in "Babble" at the Broad Horizons Theatre in New York; also co-wrote the play with his brother, Duncan
Cast in the Broadway revival of William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" at the Music Box Theater
Made TV debut playing Tom Starks in an episode of NBC's "The West Wing"
Played real-life Master Sergeant Timothy A. Wilkinson in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down"
Had breakout role of Steve Markus, a self centered yuppie, in Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead"
Played Buckingham in Shakespeare's "Richard III," opposite Peter Dinklage at the Public Theater in NY
Teamed with Edward Norton for David Jacobson's indie drama, "Down in the Valley"
Cast on the short-lived CBS drama, "Out of Practice," as Oliver Barnes, a self-centered plastic surgeon
Had a small role in Nicole Holofcener's "Friends with Money"
Cast as Allan Arbus in "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus," a fictional account of photographer Diane Arbus (played by Nicole Kidman)
Had a small role in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," starring Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger
Cast in the short-lived FOX sitcom, "Back To You," as Gary Crezyzewski, a long-suffering TV field reporter
Re-teamed with Edward Norton for the superhero film, "The Incredible Hulk"
Cast as Phil Dunphy, Julie Bowen's husband, in the ABC sitcom, "Modern Family"
Co-starred in the comedy film, "Morning Glory"
Nominated for the 2011 TV Critics Association Award for Individual Achievement in Comedy
Nominated for the 2011 Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Actor: Comedy
Nominated for the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series