Eric Stonestreet wants you to know that he cares. It's why he trumpets Kansas State on Jimmy Kimmel Live, why he once wore a Powercat lapel pin on stage at the Primetime Emmy Awards, and why he sported a K-State jumpsuit on the set of ESPN's College Gameday last October.
It could be argued that in the entertainment industry, no Hollywood star wears the colors of his alma mater more frequently on his sleeve -- or on his hat, or on his chest.
Standing beside 1998 Heisman Trophy runner-up Michael Bishop on the sideline in Cowboys Stadium on Jan. 6, the 40-year-old Emmy Award-winning actor of ABC's hit comedy series Modern Family watched the final moments tick away on the Wildcats' loss to sixth-ranked Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
They stood together in momentary silence. Then Stonestreet said, softly, "They'll be back."
Seven months have passed. No. 22 K-State remains hard at work in preparing for its Sept. 1 season opener against Missouri State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Stonestreet remains hard at work as well.
It's no secret the most visible face of K-State fandom, Stonestreet, a Kansas City, Kansas, native, in his first Emmy nomination, won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series during the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards in 2010. He's earned his third nomination in as many years for his highly popular character "Cameron Tucker" heading to the Sept. 23 Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angles.
Meanwhile, Modern Family begins its fourth season on Wednesday, Sept. 26 (8 p.m. CT on ABC) and has collected a ABC-leading 14 Emmy nominations this year alone. The season premiere will mark the series' 73rd episode since its debut on Sept. 23, 2009.
So much has changed for Stonestreet since he introduced millions of television viewers to 'Cam.'
"Never dreamed it this big," he said.
Yet at least one part of Stonestreet's life remains unchanged.
"I'm proud of being from K-State," Stonestreet told GoPowercat.com during a recent phone interview. "I try to bring it up as a topic of conversation whenever I can on a national level, because it's an important part of my life. It's where I figured out what I wanted to do with my life."
Stonestreet, who as a K-State student actually worked security at home football games, hopes there'll be ample opportunity to champion his Wildcats throughout the 2012 football season. And, yes, his plan is to hopefully slip away to Bill Snyder Family Stadium to attend the Sunflower Showdown on Oct. 6 against Kansas -- the instate rival that he passionately dislikes.
But before any of that, Stonestreet heading toward the upcoming taping of Modern Family season four, spoke with GoPowercat.com's D. Scott Fritchen about a few of his passions. That includes his Modern Family co-stars, who he likens to "a cohesive offensive line," and K-State head coach Bill Snyder, who he calls "an absolute legend in the sport of football," and, of course the fond memories he treasures today as a proud member of the Wildcat Family.
D. Scott Fritchen: First off, you're living a dream that few could even imagine, maybe a dream you couldn't even have imagined when you were at Kansas State. Can you put into words what these past few years have been like, what these past few years have meant to Eric Stonestreet? Eric Stonestreet: "Well, never did I imagine this is where my career would be at this point. I always thought it was possible. You have to double-down on yourself over and over and over in this business. If you don't, you won't have any chance of having this success. So, to say I couldn't imagine it, isn't necessarily accurate, but you never bank on it. For it to actually come true and happen is pretty overwhelming and cool all at the same time. You just never think of it in this grand of terms of what the show has become, or the awards, or things like that. Like any other profession, you want to get good opportunities, and apply what it is you do with your work ethic, and hard work, and drive to it, and let the chips fall where they may. Never dreamed it this big. So now I've had to reassess and readjust what my next goals are."
DSF: In sports, entertainment and in business, everybody has goals. What are some things you'd like to do professionally or what would you like to have accomplished maybe 10 years down the road? ES: "My goal when I became an actor was to just get a job on a TV show at some point. I didn't think about it being a huge comedy hit with Emmy nominations, wins, and this sort of thing. That was my goal, and now, getting to the place where I am, because people know me as 'Cam' for the most part, now my goals are to continue to entertain people, but in ways that they don't know that I can, because they're seeing me, for the most part, play one character. Now, I want to get the opportunities to challenge people's perception of me in other ways, in movies and in other TV shows down the road, and just continue to have an affect on people, whether it be to make them laugh, make them cry, make them creeped out, or whatever it is, just to keep challenging people's perception of what it is I do, and what it is I can do."
DSF: Fourteen Emmy nominations this year are incredible. In three years, how have you seen the Modern Family cast become a family? Obviously, you guys have great on-screen chemistry. How have your relationships evolved off screen through these years, and what is it you most admire about Ed O'Neill, Sofia Vergara, Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson? ES: "Ed, Ty and I, we played on sports teams. We understand what a team is. Julie, Jesse and Sofia, they haven't really been on teams. Over the past three seasons, we have learned what it is like to work together to become a team, and how being a team and a family, and being out for the greater good for all versus just yourself, is really, really beneficial. It feels good, it's effective, and that's sort of how it crosses over from sports. We are a unit. None of us thinks of each other as anything more than a member of the team, or of the family, if you will.
"Our Emmy nominations and how we submit is indicative of that. It's proof. Ed could go leading if he wanted to, and maybe he will at some point. Ty and Julie maybe could, but we think of ourselves as an ensemble. If you want to put it into football terms, we're a cohesive offensive line. We think of ourselves of just doing the grunt work. None of us carries more of the weight than anyone else on a day-to-day basis, and that's what makes us a family. We all realize that, and at the same time, we all count on each other. We had a couple things through the first three years of our show where tragedy, or incidents, or ups and downs for each of us have happened, and it's been very nice to know that I have my family outside of Modern Family, but I also have this family now.
"These are people I'm going to be forever bonded with, and I'm going to know for the rest of my life, and we're going to experience things, just like on a football team, that happen within the team, inside of a team, and only the people on that team can speak about it, because they're the ones that can relate to it from that perspective. I think it's really cool that we're all getting to do this together, and it happens to be with people who are outstanding individuals. That's always a plus, when you're dealing with high-quality people."
DSF: Fizbo was your first passion. Fizbo has been on three episodes of Modern Family, and that had to have been especially exciting for you. For fans that might not know the history, how did you develop Fizbo and what did it take for you to convince Christopher Lloyd or Steven Levitan to introduce Fizbo on the show? ES: "Well, you know, I wanted to be a clown as a kid. That was my first way of expressing myself as a young person, or as Coach Snyder would say, 'as a youngster,' that I wanted to be an actor. I didn't know that's what I was saying at the time. I didn't know I was saying that I wanted to be a performer. I just said I wanted to be a clown.
"When I won my Emmy, I said it in my speech, and I say it every chance I get, that I'm a product of supportive parents. Without my mom and dad always saying, 'Absolutely, you can do that, 100 percent, give it a try,' I wouldn't be where I am today. That's why I always encourage parents to always say 'yes' to your kid when they show interest in things and let that play out. I'm proof that you never know where that will lead you.
"Fizbo came from me just wanting to be a clown. I didn't know what that meant then. My dad named me 'Fizbo' as a clown. I don't know where that came from, it just happened. I hung it up for a while, then actually started doing it again in college. When I was in Manhattan, I did some birthday parties on the weekends, and had my first professional pictures as Fizbo shot in Manhattan, those little publicity photos. My fraternity brothers at Pi Kappa Alpha house thought I was pretty crazy -- why the heck is he putting on clown make-up for? -- but that was an opportunity, which I've always tried to do, to surround people with things that are a little different in life, and change people's perception of who I am and what I do. I wanted to play football and throw the discus and be a clown, so give me a break. What's the big deal with that?
"Then on Modern Family, going with your notion that we are a family, we just tell stories. It got cold one day. Chris Lloyd actually overhead me say that I have a clowning background. He quietly, as he does, interjected, and said, 'I'm sorry, you have a what background?' I said, 'Well, you know, I wanted to be a clown when I was a kid and was pretty serious about that stuff as an 11-year-old.' He said, 'Yeah, we're going to need to see pictures of that.' So, I brought in some pictures and some articles that were written about me. Again, when I was 11, I was performing for 5 and 6-year-olds. Brad Walsh and Paul Corrigan, two of the writers on the show, wrote an episode called, 'Fizbo the Clown,' and that's it. That's how it started.
"I mean, It just added depth and richness to Cameron. From the beginning, they didn't want Cam to be what was thought of as a clichéd gay man. They were always looking to add as much variety and depth and uniqueness to the character that they could, and that was a good way to do it."
DSF: You'd hoped that Fizbo could fill in for you at K-State basketball games. He did a great job of that this past season. During your appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, he even showed a photo of Fizbo in Bramlage Coliseum. How cool is it knowing that even if you're not in attendance, a piece of Eric Stonestreet is always on hand at basketball games in Manhattan? ES: "Well, I love it. That started, as you know, of somebody tweeting a photo of a fan at Indiana University at the Indiana-Kentucky game, I think it was, where somebody had a fathead of me as Cam behind the basket during free throws. And for the record, that's where next year I think Fizbo needs to be in Bramlage Coliseum. If Fizbo is there next year, he needs to be involved in the most distracting way possible. He needs to be behind the basket where they're shooting free throws. But it started that way, and I said, 'Hey, K-State fans, you need to get with it.' And thanks to a couple people, it got going. I think it's hilarious. I think it's great. Then Jimmy had a fathead at a game and that was really funny. That was a fun thing.
"You know man, I'm proud of being from K-State and it gives me an opportunity to talk about the school, to talk about the athletics and talk about the academics, and just what a great institution and what a great place Manhattan is. It gives me a chance to talk about all of that, and as you know, man, I try to bring it up as a topic of conversation whenever I can on a national level, because it's an important part of my life. It's where I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, and it's a good place."
DSF: It could be argued that Ashley Judd of Kentucky and Eric Stonestreet of K-State are the two most vocal supporters of their alma maters in the entertainment industry. Is there anybody I'm leaving off that list? ES: "Josh Hopkins on Cougar Town is a big Kentucky fan as well, and he talks about Kentucky. I can't really think of anybody else, man. Ty went to Oregon and he's a big Ducks fan.
"You know, am I always going to be able to talk about Kansas State in every interview? Probably not. But my life wouldn't be what it is without me having gone to Kansas State. When people want to talk to me, it's very hard not to include that portion of my life. People want to talk about Fizbo, or Chicago when I lived there, whatever it is, all paths led to here, and Kansas State is one of them."
DSF: Many of the Wildcat Nation follows you on Twitter, and a ton of Modern Family fans obviously follow you on Twitter as well. What do you like and dislike about Twitter? ES: "What I like about Twitter is I can entertain myself. It's never about entertaining anybody else. I just like Twitter because sometimes it's a distraction for me and I can say something I want to say. Other times, it's just about having contact with followers, fans, and friends on Twitter. It's interactive and it's business. Honestly, in today's world, if I'm not on Twitter as me, somebody else is going to be on Twitter as me. Then I've got to hope, 'Man, I hope the fake Eric Stonestreet is cool to people and has my sense of humor.' I have to control it. I love it. It's a tool, a resource, and I enjoy it. It gives me pleasure to share pictures of my life. I say all the time that I'm living my life, but I'm also observing my life, as well. Twitter gives me that opportunity to say, 'Hey, look how absurd this is! I'm standing next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Gwyneth Paltrow right now! How did this happen?' It's an opportunity to give people, who don't get the chance to do some of the cool stuff that I get to do, stuff that I never dreamed I would do, a little peek into my life.
"The negatives of Twitter are stupid people. There are no people meaner than anonymous Internet folk. People can go on a message board, the K-State board, or whatever it is, and anonymously attack people on Twitter. People will call you names. People misunderstand what you're saying. That's the frustrating part is knowing I can't control how people react and respond to what I have to say. But that's the way the sword cuts, so I have to accept that."
DSF: You and Michael Bishop stood together on the sideline in the final minutes of the Cotton Bowl, watching an unfortunate conclusion to an otherwise remarkable season. Looking back now, what was that ride like watching the 2011 team and what did you appreciate most about last season? ES: "Well, listen, I've been a K-State football fan since I was a kid, but actively since 1990-91 when I went to college, and I don't think we've ever had a team that more exemplified what it is to be a team. And that's not to put any team down. Rallying, getting behind each other, and just not giving up. I'm not good with stats and try to forget things as they happen, but how many times did it not seem like we weren't going to win, and just keep driving and pushing and blocking and tackling, and whatever, and rallied behind Collin Klein and got the job done? I'd just never seen a team like that.
"I've gotten to know Kirk Herbstreit pretty well through all of this stuff. He texted me, 'I'm a believer. I can't believe this team. This team is amazing.' It was just so easy to be proud of telling people, 'Watch my team play football and tell me you don't love them.' The Oklahoma State game? Are you kidding me? The consistency in never giving up was unparalleled as far as I was concerned."
DSF: To back up, last October you came back to Manhattan and met with Coach Snyder. When you think of Coach Snyder, what first comes to you mind, and what to you appreciate about him? ES: "I live a life where people say things to me that you don't necessarily think about yourself, and I prefaced that to him. I said, 'I know you're not anybody that likes to talk about yourself, but I have to tell you, as a K-State fan and graduate of the school, I appreciate everything you've done for this school, the athletic department and the football team. I have to tell you, person-to-person right now, that I appreciate you and what you've done. We don't need to talk about it, and you don't need to address it, but I have to say it for myself.'
"People say things like that to me. They appreciate what I do on the show. I get it. It was just an honor to meet with him, to talk with him, to sit in his office with him, and talk about everything other than football. Most people at his level that I've met, the last thing Coach wants to talk about with me is football. And I appreciate that. Just like the last thing I want to talk about with anybody is the day-to-day life of Modern Family. I'd much rather have a conversation about something else, because that's typically what I'm talking about. So we just talked about life, my family, what it means to be at K-State, and what a great institution it is, and how fortunate we are to be Wildcats. That's really what we talked about.
"Then I got to go down on the field, and he introduced me to the team, and I got to say a couple words to them. I just told them that me being an actor and them being football players might not seem relatable, but what is relatable is that I came exactly from where you are, and that you're in a town and will be coming from a place where you can achieve all of your goals. That's what we have in common. I told them, 'You are at a place, where you can make decisions for yourself that will impact the rest of your life. I'm not going to tell you how to tackle, or block, or throw the ball any better, but I can tell you is you can achieve all of your goals from where you are right now.'"
DSF: When you left K-State in 1996, the program was still on the climb behind four straight bowl games. What were some of your favorite K-State memories? ES: "Oh man. One of my favorite memories was listening to the Cincinnati game on the radio. Matt Miller was quarterback. I'll never forget being at the fraternity house and listening to that game on the radio. For whatever reason, that game just stands out in my head. Then the Nebraska victories, I was there for when we started to dismantle Nebraska, which was huge. The Fiesta Bowl, I was there, and it was great. I shot one of my first commercials out in Los Angeles, a Visa commercial, with Donovan McNabb. I said, 'Hey Donovan, man, it's nice to meet you. I just want to tell you where I went to college.' He said, 'Where's that, man?' I said, 'Kansas State University.' He said, 'Aw, mannnn.' I said, 'Yep, that's right, my friend.' That was a great game.
"Just going to the games, I worked on the field. I worked as a security guy. I was at all the games. I was there for all of it. It was cool."
DSF: If you were to make an All-Bill Snyder Team, give me five former or current K-State players you'd build your team around? ES: "Oh, man. Wow. All right. I would put Chris Canty definitely on my defensive squad. Ryan Lilja and Quentin Neujahr, Barrett Brooks, Ryan Young. I'd have to put Smitty -- Michael Smith -- on there and Kevin Lockett, and some of those early guys, Frank Hernandez, John Butler, just because they were there for the beginning of it.
"At that time, it took courage to come to K-State, so that means the heart and the essence of what it is to be a football player is present in those dudes. You can't not have those guys be a part of it.
"I'd put Mike Ekeler, he was that crazy dude that would run down the field, you've got to have that guy on there. At quarterback, Chad May, Collin Klein, Michael Bishop -- can I have three quarterbacks? I'd take any of those and be really happy. I love Michael Bishop. He's great. You can't not have Bishop in there somewhere. Going back to wide receiver, you've got to have Jordy Nelson, too. At running back, you've got to have Darren Sproles, Daniel Thomas, but you've also got to have a guy like J.J. Smith in there as well, because, again, that's back in the day when we were building our little deal.
"Jon McGraw, Brooks Barta, Mark Simoneau, Travis Ochs. Didn't Damion McIntosh play defense for us, too? A great athlete. Of course, Terence Newman. There's Ben Leber and Joe Gordon. There are so many great players. Who was the defensive lineman that put that giant hit on that Iowa State quarterback one year? Nyle freaking Wiren, dude! I loved Nyle Wiren and Monty Beisel, who played for the Chiefs. Darren Howard -- are you kidding me? You've got to have Darren Howard. Jamie Mendez, don't forget about him. And you've got to have Martin Gramatica, and then have Sean Snyder back there punting for us. David Allen at returner and Andre Coleman.
"You know man, we've had some great players, but more than anything, Coach Snyder makes football players into men. That's what's cool about Kansas State, because we're not getting these guys that LSU and Ohio State get, and you know what? That shows you that if you believe in yourself and your ability, good things can happen.
"Coach Snyder is an absolute legend in the sport of football. There's just no denying it. So, if Bill Snyder tells you that he wants you to be a part of his team and believes in you, you better believe it's true, because he's not in the business of wasting people's time, I don't think.
"That's how I'd recruit. If you've got Bill Snyder telling you that you could be a valuable part of the team, and that he could turn you into a great football player, I would listen to that."
DSF: K-State comes off 10 wins and was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 Conference this season. What's your outlook for K-State football in 2012? ES: "We know how my predictions went when I was on College Gameday. I didn't pick one game right that day, so maybe I should stay away from predictions, but I just know that based upon having at least 12 returning starters and various other guys that got playing time last year, if those guys are back -- I mean, those guys are coming off that season last year where they were just proving to themselves that believing in each other and being a team, I mean, look where it got them. I don't expect anything less of them. I think they're going to be just as tough, just as good, and football is a tough sport. It's a tough game. You've got to do it every Saturday for however many weeks. I expect them to be good. I expect them to be tough, and I expect to be proud of the team like I always am, no matter what happens.
"I'm really looking forward to the season. I hope I can get back. I'm shooting to get back for the KU game."
DSF: Any parting words for the Wildcat Nation from Eric Stonestreet? ES: "Be loud, be present and cheer from the top of your lungs. That's the great thing about Kansas State fans. We're proud to be from K-State and I see people wearing K-State shirts all the time, and everyone is proud to be a Wildcat. I just say, be there and be loud. There's no excuse that at home games any road team should ever be able to hear their snap count. We need to have a commitment, and really bring it hard on those home games, and give our team every possible advantage we can -- football, basketball, whatever sport. We need to be loud and crazy fanatic fans for our teams."