Fans of ever-smiling comedy icon Fred Willard will be pleased to learn that Phil Dunphy's father Frank will be pulling his RV back into Modern Family next season thanks to a casting match made in heaven (with a little help from series star Ty Burrell).
"They said that I should be back, because they asked me for my photo to put in the hallway there on the set — that I'm part of the family now!" Willard tells TV Guide Magazine. The actor, who rose to prominence on the 70s series Fernwood Tonight and director Christopher Guest's improved film oeuvre, credits Burrell for bringing him into the Dunphy clan.
"I worked with Ty on Back to You with Kelsey Grammer and I'd never seen him before — and I loved him!" said Willard. "He made me laugh so much. He was the on-the-spot reporter, and I got to be quite friendly with him. He's an awfully nice guy, and I think he was pretty instrumental in having me on the show. He kept talking to [co-creator] Steve Levitan, saying 'We've got to get Fred on!' So we had a lot of fun, and we have the same sense of humor. And he's just a nice guy!"
Burrell tells TV Guide Magazine that he feels Willard's trademark comic persona was essentially the template for the relentlessly upbeat, well-intentioned and un-self-aware Phil, and was the only choice to play his papa.
"I couldn't imagine a more perfect fit," said Burrell. "It was so inspired, I thought, that Phil be the son of that archetype that Fred does so perfectly, which is a really loveable guy that doesn't know the he's maybe not as funny as he thinks. I think Phil is almost like an homage to the career achievement of Fred Willard. It's kind of a perfect marriage in my mind, and I think the writers are thrilled to write for the two of us."
Throughout his career, Willard has guest-starred or had recurring roles on countless classic series — among his credits: Laverne & Shirley, The Bob Newhart Show, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, Friends, Mad About You, Ally McBeal and Everybody Loves Raymond. And he's recently become something of a no-so-secret weapon when it comes to strategic casting,
"I did a Chuck and I did a Castle" in addition to his Modern Family turn, said Willard. "They were all shown in the month of May, and people must have been like 'Oh, this guy again... Why can't they give someone else a break?' But that's how it is — it's great fun. We'll see what the new season holds!"