Modern Family, Modern Guy, Modern Dog
Eric Stonestreet is a modern guy with a very modern and very lucky dog, Coleman Hawkins. On Fox’s hit television show, Modern Family, Emmy-nominated Stonestreet plays the hilarious Cameron, partner to Mitchell and adoptive father to infant Lily, and Stonestreet is as unable to hide his affection and enthusiasm for his real four-legged best pal, a feisty Parson Russell/mystery mix as Cameron is legendary for his inability to tone down his flamboyant, enthusiastic, and nurturing nature. Modern Dog decided to find out just how Stonestreet’s own family, a dog-inclusive one, measures up to the almost pitch-perfect (and endearingly dysfunctional) portrait presented in Modern Family.
“Coleman Hawkins came into my life at a really perfect time,” Stonestreet says. “It just dawned on me one day that I should rescue a dog. I started looking, but I lived in an apartment, so I couldn’t justify getting a big dog like a Labrador. [Coleman’s] picture came up on this website for rescue and I went and got him. He was named Coleman Hawkins at the rescue. Apparently, the people who found him on the street must have been jazz musician fans. I did a little research on Coleman Hawkins and found out that he’s from Topeka, Kansas. I’m from Kansas, so I felt it was an appropriate name for him.”
“Coleman thinks he’s, like, 150 pounds, a tough guy, and if he was able to see himself in the mirror and know he was only 22 pounds, he’d be astonished,” Stonestreet adds, when asked what Coleman is like. “He’s kind of an independent dog. I always say he doesn’t need you to feel good about himself; he’s got his own spirit and his own mind. If you want him to cuddle with you too much, he won’t do it, but as soon as you stop paying attention, he’ll jump up with you and sit for a while.”
We know that a proper modern dog and his modern guy must have characteristics in common, and Stonestreet laughs when asked which traits he shares with Coleman. He thinks for a moment and then says, “We’re relaxers. He likes to lay around, I like to lay around. He’s sleeping right now. He’s protective. I think I’m protective, too. He’s always on guard and on patrol.” Then he consults his girlfriend and, laughing, adds, “Cuteness, too. I’d say we both probably took cuteness lessons.”
It hasn’t been all cuteness lessons and relaxing for the actor and his mischievous pup, however, and Stonestreet confesses, after some prompting, that there have been some embarrassing moments such as an incident in a California dog park when he was a new, single doggie father hoping to use Coleman’s adorableness to charm fellow dog-lovers.
“I was sitting next to this girl who had a cute little dog,” he admits. “We were talking and getting along and it was fine. She had just moved to LA and was pursuing an acting career. We’d even already exchanged numbers to talk later, and Coleman would not stop humping her Poodle. It was funny at first, but then it became really awkward and uncomfortable. He wouldn’t stop trying to get some action on this girl’s dog! I think he kind of blew my chances.”
Though Coleman has hindered Stonestreet’s romantic chances in the past, he has kept his owner busy to make up for it.
“He goes to work with me. He hangs out in my trailer on the set of Modern Family. He loves feeling like he has a job to do. He loves to see the postman come up every day. I used to encourage that! I thought it was funny because, from his perspective, every day around the same time, some guy tries to break into the house and Coleman barks, makes a big deal, and scares him off. How tough must he feel?”
Dogs are integral to most of our definitions of a modern family, and, though Modern Family’s Cameron and Mitchell do not have one (yet), they are currently dealing with the addition of their adopted daughter.
“I think a family dog is a pretty identifiable transition in the family,” Stonestreet says. “Since we always try to reflect reality, if we’re lucky enough to be on the air in three years, when Lily is four, I think a perfect addition to the family would be a little puppy. That would be an awesome thing to have. I would always be an advocate for it.” Doing his best W.C. Fields impression, Stonestreet quips, “‘Don’t make the mistake of sharing the screen with kids and dogs because they’ll always upstage you.’”
For now, though, being a parent to baby Lily is enough of a challenge for Cam and Mitchell.
“There’s a lot more work involved in being a parent,” Stonestreet laughs. “Coleman’s a pretty independent guy. I feed him in the morning and I feed him in the night. He’s got a comfortable place to live. I don’t have to check in on him as much. Lily needs attention to stay alive. Coleman could live on carcasses on the road if he had to. Carcasses on the road and puddles of water.”
Despite the lack of a permanent canine on the show, one did make a brief appearance when Claire, Mitchell’s sister, became the unwilling mother of a sweet dog named Scout after her father-in-law left the dog in her care. Unfortunately, despite Claire’s inability to resist falling in love with little Scout, by the end of the episode, her father-in-law took the dog back and left Claire broken-hearted and still unwilling to admit that perhaps having a dog around hadn’t been the absolute worst thing she could imagine. “I know,” Stonestreet cries, when we ask him about how he felt about the episode. “I was so excited, we were going to have a dog around on set! I was so excited about it when I started to read the script and then I read the end. It was good, though. I bet Scout will be back. He was a good dog, really mellow and cool. Those dogs are taken such good care of on TV and movie sets. They’re just treated like kings and queens.”
Any plans for Coleman Hawkins to make an appearance on Modern Family? “You know, it’s funny,” Stonestreet laughs. “I wanted to, but there are unions for all that stuff, and professional trainers and wranglers, and while I think Coleman is perfect for TV, I wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of having him on set. I still will get him on in a cameo role at some point.”
As the saying goes, dogs are man’s best friend, but for Stonestreet, Coleman is something more than that, the very definition of his own modern family.
“It’s always a big indicator for me when people don’t like dogs,” he says. “Cameron has a funny line in one of the episodes where Mitchell says, ‘Let’s get the kid a gift card,’ and I say, ‘Who hurt you?’ That’s how I always feel about people who don’t like dogs: You don’t like dogs? Who hurt you?
“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures ever. I don’t understand how anybody wouldn’t like them.
“Coleman just sort of elevated me. Growing up at home, I had the animals to take care of every morning and after school, and it taught me responsibility. I got Coleman when I was 28, and it reminded me that there are other people to think about other than myself. He gave me focus and purpose. He’s responsible for teaching me how to love more. You cannot not love dogs, because that’s all they have for you: love. Not loving a dog back is kind of cold-hearted.”
He pauses for a moment and then says quietly, “I pity the fool who gets between me and my dog.”