Kansas native hits it big

Eric Stonestreet, who plays the melodramatic half of the gay couple on ABC's "Modern Family," isn't worried about being typecast.

While he was shooting the first episode of "Modern Family" he was also playing a convicted rapist and murderer on "Nip/ Tuck."

"I killed a bunch of people on TV. People ask if my parents have a problem with me playing a gay man on TV. I say they were more upset with me killing people. They say, 'Why do they see you as a killer?' "

Stonestreet, who grew up in the Kansas City, Kan., area, said he's always wanted to play colorful characters since his best friend, Paul, dared him to audition for two plays when he was a junior in college. He botched the "Hamlet" tryout but earned a tiny part in "Prelude to a Kiss."

"I wanted to be a disc jockey, a Marine, wanted to be a prison administrator, wanted to be a clown, just like all kids when they're growing up," says the 6-foot-1 Stonestreet, who's wearing a black-checked cowboy shirt and Levi's.

"My parents gave me the sage advice when I went away to college to find something interesting and not worry about what I was going to be in this world — that it would sort of come to me how it was supposed to."

The "corn-fed" Kansas boy, who raised pigs with 4-H, saved his money and headed for Chicago after he graduated from Kansas State University. His dad, who owned a Big Lots-type retail store, and his mom, who was a teacher's assistant until she retired to care for her ailing mother, supplemented his "pig" money in Chicago.

Eventually, he headed to Los Angeles. Armed with one name, that of a casting assistant on the "Dharma & Greg" show, Stonestreet started with her. "She said, 'Send me your head shot and we'll call you when you're right for something.' "

Four times he was called to try out for a small role on "Dharma & Greg" and four times he didn't score. Finally he snagged a one-liner as a prospective voter in Dharma's campaign for office.

He was more successful with commercials. He made a series for the NCAA and played the character of Phil on 12 commercials for IBM.

But those sporadic successes weren't enough to sustain him. Just before "Modern Family," Stonestreet was having second thoughts.

"I was at the point: Did it make more sense to try to get out of the business now and try to start a business? I've always wanted to have a sandwich shop or a hot dog stand or a restaurant-bar. Have I been in the business long enough to make enough traction?"

He decided to stick it out.

Stonestreet, 38, is not only thrilled with his character, Cameron, on "Modern Family," but with his new love, Katherine Tokarz, a dancer on Broadway. They bonded, he grins, over their shared passion for Brussels sprouts. "She made them for me in her apartment in Queens and brought them to me. And I thought, 'Wow, you are something else!' "