Nolan Gould on the 'Modern Family' Finale, Dirty Jokes & What's Next
Nolan Gould is finding his new normal doubly jarring. He’s dealing with the coronavirus just like the rest of us, yes, but he’s also trying to accept the end of Modern Family. The 21-year-old played often spacey, always entertaining Luke Dunphy for 11 seasons on the ABC sitcom, which wrapped in February and aired its final episode April 8.
“I’m going through stages of denial,” Gould says. “ I’ve been having dreams lately about running late to work. I wake up in a panic thinking, ‘I've got to be on set—I’m going to be late!’ Then I remember that’s not part of my routine anymore.
“It has definitely been an adjustment to move from something that was basically my entire life for 11 years. One day you’re there with your family and friends. The next day they’re tearing down the set.”
With the role of the youngest Dunphy behind him, Gould says he’s ready to “show another side.” But while he’s staying at home, he talks to TV Insider about the beloved series that won 22 Emmys, launched his career—and provided the “tacky” plastic fruit bowl that went home with him from the set.
On A Modern Farewell, the retrospective that aired before the series finale, viewers saw your physical growth on the series since 2009. How did you grow working with a comedic talents like Ed O’Neill (aka Luke’s grandfather, Jay Pritchett) and your onscreen parents, Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell?
Nolan Gould: It’s impossible to gauge how much I’ve grown over the years as an actor—I’m a completely different person. I went into this show at 10 years old. You’re not a real person then. Now I’m an adult, and I’m very lucky Modern Family was a huge part of my upbringing. It shaped me into a fully formed person with opinions and interests and life goals. I’m coming out of [the show] with all those things [thanks to] the actors and crew members I worked with. I remember the kids were all sat down and [told] what fame was like and how to not let it go to your head, and how to treat everyone you meet with respect. I can think of a million stories like that about how the series influenced me.
Is there an episode that exemplifies how far you’ve come?
I will always remember “Caught in the Act,” the episode where the kids walk in on their parents in the bedroom. I was so little [and] had to make all these dirty jokes that I didn’t understand at the time. I had to have my mom do a basic explanation, to get it to where I wouldn’t really understand too much of the details of life [but] I knew how to say the lines. I knew they were funny because they were dirty, but I didn’t understand why. Watching it three years later, I still didn’t really understand. I watched it again a few months ago, and now it registers. It really shows how much time has passed.
The bond you had with your TV siblings, Ariel Winter as Alex and Sarah Hyland as Haley, was apparent, especially in the series finale when you three shared a moment on the couch. Are you maintaining that connection?
It’s hard with what is going on right now, but we are. Me, Ariel and Sarah have remained close. We’ve been interacting while safe social-distancing. Ariel knows I’m a terrible cook and haven’t been eating enough, so she’s been cooking me things. She is an amazing cook! She made me lasagna and left it on my doorstep. Me and Sarah have been playing Pokémon Go. We’ll stay on the phone and each go in our cars and drive to a spot to get a Pokémon. And after the series finale, the cast got on a giant Zoom call to see how everyone was doing.
Is there anything you took home from the set as a memento?
I took so much stuff the final day! I was taking things left and right. My two favorite things I took were a pomegranate painting that you never would have noticed unless you were paying attention and the Dunphy fruit bowl. This fake plastic fruit is so tacky, and it was old and dusty. Julie said the one thing she never wants to see again is that fruit bowl—and it’s in my house.
You have time now to look at potential projects and figure out the best next step for you. What has the process been like?
Moving forward out of Modern Family, it is cool I get to pick what kind of actor I want to be. I love comedy. It’s great and fun, and I’d like to keep doing it. Also, Modern Family was my first comedy. I’d love to do something completely different and do some serious roles. With all this free time, I’ve been doing nonstop writing. When all this ends, I’m going to hopefully try to sell a couple of projects and transition into more behind-the-camera roles as well.
Because you started out so young and played this one role for so long, are you worried about typecasting or any other pitfalls that child actors can experience later?
It is ever-present on my mind. It’s not an easy transition to go from a child actor on a popular television show to being seen as a genuine actor and someone to be taken seriously—someone who doesn’t end up being pigeonholed. I’m lucky in a couple of ways. One, Modern Family was on for so long. It wasn’t a case where I got off [the show] at 18 with people struggling to see me as anything but a kid. I was on long enough to where I’m 21 and can play more serious and adult roles. I’m also lucky it wasn’t this crazy character. I wasn’t a character actor where people can only associate me with that. I got to play a real teenage dude who has these experiences in his life. So I’m not too worried about not being taken seriously.
You play a high-schooler mentored by a drinking, pill-popping, scandal-plagued ex-child star in the dark 2019 indie film Yes. Does that exemplify the dramatic side you’re talking about?
Definitely. It is a big departure for me and something I’ve never done. I’ve never put so much thought into my acting. Not to say I didn’t do that in Modern Family, but after 11 years, it became pretty natural. There were months of prep for this, maybe 10 times more work [beforehand] than actually shooting it.
There are probably fans enjoying Modern Family marathons right now. What are you binge-watching while inside?
I’m not a TV guy at all, which is crazy for me to say as an actor. I don’t have cable. I stream. I’ll watch Last Week Tonight With John Oliver [on HBO] or The Boys on Amazon Prime, which is a fun show.