From the balcony of his room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Ty Burrell can see two young girls darting across the traffic-filled Wilshire Boulevard.
His attention is drawn away from talking about his work in Muppets Most Wanted until it’s clear the pair are safely across the road.
It’s that paternal instinct that drives Burrell’s life these days. Not only is he the father to two girls, but he stars in the hit TV comedy Modern Family. And his latest work includes the family-friendly Muppets movie and the voice of the talking-dog inventor in the animated Mr Peabody And Sherman.
In Muppets Most Wanted, Burrell plays a French detective who tries to unravel the mystery behind a series of break-ins at museums that happen to be at the same location where the Muppets are performing.
Even Burrell’s connection to the Muppets is a family matter.
“The first time I can remember seeing the Muppets was watching the TV series,” Burrell says.
“My first memory of the show is my dad laughing at Statler and Waldorf. I remember my ears perking up at my dad laughing and thinking I have to really pay attention to this because he thinks this is funny.”
Burrell began trying to make people laugh as a child, when he and his younger brother would do comedy bits for the family. Generally, it was the same two characters – his much smaller brother as a domineering boss to a very naive and innocent character played by Burrell. The actor smiles and says that character eventually grew up to be his Modern Family character of Phil Dunphy.
For Muppets Most Wanted, Burrell called on the Pink Panther films he’d watched growing up to find the right level of silliness to play the French detective.
“There is a very conscious nod to Clouseau in this,” Burrell says. “James Bobin, our director, was very clear from the beginning that this is meant to be a sort of collection of French characters and other French inspectors. But there was no way to play a French detective with a pencil-thin moustache and not be ripping off Clouseau to a degree.
“I was lucky because Jim told me that this is the Muppets so anything goes. Just have as much fun with the character as I want.”
Family duties don’t let up just because Burrell is promoting the movie. He receives a text from his former Out Of Practice co-star, Christopher Gorham, to arrange a playdate for their kids.
Burrell was almost turned of television because of the way both Out Of Practice and Back To You were cancelled so quickly, even though they had strong casts and support from the critics.
Modern Family restored Burrell’s faith – and also opened up a lot of opportunities.
He had always wanted to do voice-work, but couldn’t break into it. He thinks it’s no coincidence that as soon as Modern Family became a hit, he started getting calls to do voice-work for TV shows such as Doc McStuffins and the upcoming feature film Finding Dory.
Between family, a successful TV show and two movies in cinemas at the same time, Burrell feels he’s having one of those great moments he doesn’t want to forget.
“Not that you aren’t always feeling grateful, but in times like this you have to take a beat to be consciously grateful and be really mindful of how lucky this is,” Burrell says.
*Muppets Most Wanted opens in Victoria and Queensland on April 7; and in the ACT, NSW, South Australia, West Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory on April 10.
*Mr Peabody & Sherman is out now