Although Julie Bowen admits her starring role on one of television’s most popular sitcoms doesn’t rate high with her three sons, she hopes to increase her kid cred by voicing an animated – very animated – aircraft for Disney’s Planes franchise.
In Planes: Fire & Rescue, the sequel to last year’s Planes, the Emmy-winning Modern Family actress plays Dipper, a firefighting plane with an outsized personality whose extreme fandom for the one-time crop duster-turned-racer Dusty allows her to assume a little more intimacy with her new cohort than actually exists.
Meeting with a group of journalists, Bowen revealed how her kids are, at least momentarily, eager to watch Mom soar into a new role, her own reaction to meeting the stars she idolizes, and the celebrity parents in her PTA circle who out-A-list her.
So you really had to dial the energy down for this role.
Julie Bowen: I did! In a lot of ways, I sort of did because I only had voice and no face and body to tumble around or work with, and no other actors. All alone in the booth. But I kind of justified that. I think that Dipper's reality, unless it's about her job and unless it's about firefighting, is a lot in her head. I don't think her relationship with Dusty's all that real, so it's appropriate that she's alone in the room.
Your director [Roberts Gannaway ] was saying he wanted somebody that could talk faster than him to play Dipper. Have you always had the skill to talk really fast?
Get out! He never said that to me! I'm going to beat that little – I loved Bobs. And he was so kind and great and let me just go. And I think he understands -- he has that kind of energy, too, that anxious energy, that needs to kind of burn off and get to the part that might be usable. And he lovingly allowed me to do all of that, and I was so grateful for it, because I think the result was a character, and a character voice that wasn't trying to be, like, a funny voice – because I'm not good at that. But that was the result of him just letting me play and play.
How happy are you with Dipper's physical appearance?
I love her. She's a big, beautiful plane, because originally, she was a Super Scooper and then there was a legal thing with that. And then it was going to be like Mega Dumper, and I was like, “Now, hang on! Mega Dumper?” She's an air tanker, which is actually some sort of legally appropriate term. And she's built for capacity, for scooping up huge amounts of water. So she's big and she's round and she's strong and she's fantastic. I love it. She's built to do a job, and she's good at it. And she balances that sort of professional side with a quirky, lovable, obsession with celebrity.
With three kids, does being a Disney voice make you a rock star at home?
Oh, yeah. Well, at least it gives me a tiny bit of street cred. Any time – my kids can be fighting and screaming and throwing food at each other. And I'm yelling, and then it comes on. It's like, “Shush!” Commercial ends. And then right back to yelling again. So it gives me that street cred for exactly the amount of time that it lasts. The kids haven't seen the movie yet. They're going to see it tomorrow. And I'm really hoping that I can stretch that somehow, just to last a little longer. But kids are kids. They want their parents to be parents. They don't want their mom to be a personage. They want just a person.
So Modern Family doesn’t get you any cred at home?
I was pregnant with the twins on the pilot, and so they've only known – their whole lives people come up and they say, “Oh, blah, blah, blah ‘Modern Family” But they hear those words usually accompanied by a stranger who's going to interrupt their whatever-time-it-is, because it's usually the park or the bowling alley or the movie theater, wherever we're together, and they don't like that. So they now go [ultra-bleak], “Modern Family.” They think it's just an annoying thing. And then I pick up their favorite toy and go, “You like this? Then you like Modern Family!” There's some reality! And they go to school – this is why I love raising kids in L.A,. because if I was raising my kids in Oklahoma, I'd be a huge, big star. But in L.A., I'm just this B-Level TV person who in certain circumstances gets lots of attention, but they go to school with Gwen Stefani's kids and Dave Grohl's kids. And let me tell you, no one gives a rat's ass about my kids when those kids are around. And that is the way it should be. There's an ebb and a flow, and you get that life is – you know, it's context. It's all about context.
So how are those PTA meetings?
With Dave Grohl and Gwen Stefani? People say, “Are you like Dipper with the celebrities that you admire?” I'm the exact opposite – I run away! “Oh, God, I can't believe I'm [here with] Hugh Laurie – I'm madly in love with him.” And we see him, like, at a party or event for Fox or something, and my husband goes, “Go on, go on.” I'm like, “No, no, no! Run away! I can't!” I don't want to talk to the people that I am enamored of. I just want to like look over every now and again and see, “Did they pick their nose?” But I also don't want to just be another person that came up to them that day, and they could be kind and lovely and talk to me. And they might share something lovely, but at the same time, I know. I know: I'm just number 72. … In this particular movie, people asked, was it weird not to have other actors around? I think if I was in a scene with Ed Harris, I would just be frozen. I would not know what to do with myself because he's one of those people I'm like, “Look at the ground, look at the ground.”
He's actually quite down to earth when you actually meet him.
Is he? I wouldn't know! I don't know! So sometimes it is what it is. I think I also kind of like to keep my idols up on their pedestals. They look good there. That's fine by me.
We see so many actors on TV squeezing in a movie during hiatus. You've got three guys at home wanting mom, so is that why we don't see you in films that often?
Yeah. … Honestly, movies – love movies. There's nothing wrong with movies. I love the movies, but anybody can do the math and see there's not that many roles for women over 35 in the movies. And if there are, it's going to be the A-List gal. You're going to get your Cameron Diaz. She's got that slot. I don't get cast as her [friend or sister] – “Oh, you're too similar to ...” I'm trying to think of a movie with a lot of women in it. But then you get to TV, and you get Orange is the New Black, and you go, “Oh my God. Jenji Kohan, you crazy genius, you! Look at all these roles for women.” Now, that's an extraordinary exception, but even Game of Thrones, there's a much more of a balance. There's much more of an opportunity to be a part of the story, and to be a part of the story that drives the story. I have had the opportunity to play The Wife in a lot of movies, and if I'm going to go away from my kids for six weeks to work a couple of days here and there, I have to go, “Oh, where is he? Where is Timmy?” It either needs to be really compelling and interesting, or pay a shit-load of money. There, I said it. And I don't get paid a lot of money to do movies. That goes to the big, top people. I'd rather be with the kids. That's not to say I wouldn't ever do it. I'd be happy too, but there's just not thousands and thousands of opportunities to do something different.
And your day job's treating you pretty well. Things are working out.
Yeah. It's great. I'm always thinking about the next thing. But I'm always trying to figure out, like, ITT Tech. I'm always thinking, what else can I do, because it's agonizing to be an out-of-work actor. It's agonizing to go through pilot season. It's not working in a salt mine. I recognize there are people ditching a ditch in Afghanistan right now, that there are a lot worse off. I frequently try to think about finding a marketable skill.
It's that built in mental thing that actors have had to deal with since they decided to be an actor, right? Always wondering when and if the next gig’s coming.
Right. Some people are quite sure that there will always be a next gig, or they write. I discovered that kids are the great time-suck. As well as you love them, you want to get away from them, and then you also get nothing done. I don't know what's next. But I do have ITT Tech on speed dial.
Planes: Fire & Rescue opens Friday nationwide.