In Butter you play a freakishly talented butter carver in Iowa. Do you have any skills that are similarly impressive without being remunerative?
I am not burdened with a skill set. Acting was my only way to make a living. Everything else had been eliminated through a long process of failure and firings.
You grew up in a small town in Oregon. Did the characters in Butter seem real to you?
My grandfather was a farmer in Oregon, and he's partly why we moved out to this town of 200 people. When you get out there, the things that people get excited about, like the annual competition to pull the biggest steelhead trout out of the river, get real. The stakes are as high as if you were an Olympic sprinter. There's sobbing and screaming, guys fighting and accusations of cheating.
This movie is a political parody, and you were also in the Valerie Plame movie, Fair Game. Do you lean one way politically?
Not really. I'm a registered independent. I love when somebody comes along that I get excited about--just like any human.
Not many TV stars live in Salt Lake City. Why there?
My wife is from there, and I've grown to love it. I spend a lot of time with Mormons in her family, and I love them so much. There's an earnestness that isn't conducive to Hollywood. That's a really valuable thing that I love my kids are growing up around.
You seem to get cast a lot as the well-meaning ... What's the word I'm looking for?
I was going to say idiot.
I used to get cast as the oblivious jerk. And now I'm the oblivious nice guy. But oblivious is the running theme.
Before being cast in Modern Family, you were in Black Hawk Down, The Incredible Hulk and Dawn of the Dead. You had a budding action-hero career. What went wrong?
I don't have the constitution to deliver lines in the way a leading man in an action film can do it, with no irony. I'm not a guy who can stand unblinking and say some perfect thing. I'm too blinky, too flawed.
Sometimes TV families are used to identify a period, like the Ozzie & Harriet era or the Cosby generation. Is this the Modern Family era?
I really don't know. I think that the [same-sex parents] Mitch and Cam story line might have had a real impact, which has been amazing. In terms of comedy, I hope that we have been out in front of a movement toward having a heart in comedy. It got to the point where you were going to be made fun of if you tried to do something heartfelt.
You were 41 by the time you got onto a hit TV show. What's later-in-life fame like?
First of all, it's great. But there is a period when you can get a little jumpy. You don't really know what's coming at you when you go out. Somebody will walk up to you and your family and just be so lovely. Then there's the occasional bogey, a rogue wave, where it's not a great experience, and that can make you a little jumpy. Then that seems to kind of fade away, and you get a little more used to not feeling like you need to hide.
Right after your smallish Hulk role, you were the commencement speaker at Southern Oregon University. Was that awkward?