The social satire Butter is set in the cutthroat world of professional butter carving. Iowa’s long-reigning champion butter carver Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) has just retired, which doesn’t sit well with his obsessively ambitious wife Laura (Jennifer Garner), who decides to enter the competition herself, vowing to do whatever it takes to win. From director Jim Field Smith and screenwriter Jason Micallef, the film also stars Olivia Wilde, Alicia Silverstone, Rob Corddry, Ashley Greene, Kristen Schaal, Phyllis Smith, Yara Shahidi and Hugh Jackman.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Ty Burrell talked about his first reaction to the script, what made him decide to sign on, and how much fun it was to work with Jennifer Garner. He also talked about what the recent Emmy win for Modern Family means to him, how the process of making the show has changed over the years, and voicing the title character for the animated feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman, about a young boy and his dog, that happens to have a genius-level IQ, who spring into action when their time-travel machine is stolen and history begins to be changed. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When someone comes to you and says, “We want you to read this script that’s a social satire set in the world of professional butter carving,” what was your first reaction?
TY BURRELL: Well, I guess, at first, I have to admit that I didn’t know that that existed. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as butter carving. But then, I poked around a little bit. A quick Google search will show you 55,000 images of butter carvings, and they’re extraordinary. They’re not messing around. They will blow your mind. And then, I got a little bit of a sense for the subculture, which is the equivalent of any subculture, really. The stakes are high, even if you live in a small town. It’s like the annual bass fishing contests, or whatever it is. The stakes are always absurdly high, and this is no different. The competition at this butter carving things, from what I understand, is not that far off from what we’re depicting in the movie.
What was it that finally made you decide to sign on?
BURRELL: Honestly, the script was just different, which is nice. It was just something I hadn’t really read before, and it was an opportunity to do something different. There are elements of the character that are similar to Phil Dunphy, but he’s just such a passive, introverted, reticent guy, and I’ve never played that before. That seemed really fun. The other thing that made me want to do it was the idea that anybody wanted me to be in this movie, full of all these people that I admired. I was shocked. I was like, “Wow, really?! Did this script come to the right house?” I was really flattered and honored that anybody wanted me to be a part of this movie. So, there was that, as well. I was excited to be on the same set with everybody. That was a big motivator.
Was it also fun to get to address so many themes and topics that you probably wouldn’t be able to address without offending the audience or making them uncomfortable, if the film didn’t have the tone that it does?
BURRELL: Well, that’s the great thing about indie film, in general. If it’s not subject to the constraints of too much pressure from the studio or marketing, and all of that, you get to actually present fuller characters and you get to have the dark side of the characters. That’s usually what gets cut out. Even the fact that Bob Pickler is a simple man who likes simple pleasures, like going to a strip club and essentially paying for prostitutes, in the form of Olivia Wilde, paints a more complete picture of the person. It is nice to be able to do that, and that’s an independent film thing that sometimes larger budget movies just can’t do.
How much fun was it to work with Jennifer Garner and have her to play off of?
BURRELL: She is just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, in or out of the business. She’s just a deeply good person. That’s enough, actually, to crack you up when she’s playing this person that’s so opposite from her, and playing that person so well. You already feel a little bit mischievous when you’re in a scene with her doing that. But also, she’s just really funny and smart. It’s a lot of fun to just be in any scene with her, or be goofing off with her, which is really what I felt like we were doing for six weeks.
What does the recent Emmy win for Modern Family mean to you? Does it reaffirm what you guys are doing and make you feel good about the direction things are going in?
BURRELL: Yeah, it really does. You hope that it doesn’t happen, but you wonder sometimes, if there’s going to be a backlash about the show’s success. But, I was very, very pleased to know that people are still enjoying the show and enjoying what we’re all trying to do. I certainly don’t ever want to have to over think that. We’re just really feeling so lucky. That was just another confirmation that we have a really once-in-a-lifetime job.
Has the process of making the show changed, over the years?
BURRELL: It still feels the same. We may move a little bit faster because there’s a little bit more of a shorthand now. Certainly, everybody knows the process better. We know the camera set-ups. I’m not a technical person, at all, but you get a little bit more of a sense for how to get something done a little bit more efficiently. I think everybody is in that place where it’s a little bit more efficient, but the process is still the same, which is still loose and collaborative. Working with an incredibly strong script is the thing that gives you the most confidence. If you go into an episode knowing the script is strong, I just feel like that’s where it all starts. All collaborations that happen, in addition to that, are just bonuses, at that point.
With the popularity of the show and the Emmy wins, another season is probably as close to a sure thing as anything on TV. What would you like to see happen, over the next few years of the show?
BURRELL: I really don’t think about that. I don’t believe, in a show like ours, that you really want to see character growth. That’s just my opinion. Maybe to a small degree, but nothing serious. To that end, it doesn’t have the same importance that it would have, if you were on an hour-long show. I think an audience gets really hungry for a character to grow and change on an hour-long show, and I think I would be more antsy. But, I think it’s the opposite on a sitcom. People crave the character to not learn from their mistakes. They want to just see the situation, and then see how that character is going to react to that particular chaotic catastrophe. That’s just my take on it, anyway. I don’t really get too hung up on what the future of the show is.
Has there ever been a storyline or a plot point that got cut, for some reason, that you were sad to see go?
BURRELL: That’s a good question. None that I can think of, actually.
Since you have a limited time to do other work because of your TV show, do you get really picky about the work you do between seasons, and do you have to always be thinking ahead to what you want to do during the next hiatus?
BURRELL: Yeah, you do, a little bit. The scheduling thing is really weird with TV shows. Certain projects haven’t been able to work out because of the schedule, so some of it is out of your control. You don’t have very many opportunities. There isn’t much time, so you want to make sure you’re going to be doing something that you really feel good about or that you’re going to have a good creative experience doing. You’re taking up vacation time from your job, so you want it to be meaningful.
Do you know what you’ll be doing next, then?
BURRELL: I’m in the middle of doing this thing, called Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It’s an animated film for DreamWorks, and I’m playing Mr. Peabody. That’s been really fun. I have a couple of movies, one of which is called The Switch, which is from an Elmore Leonard novel. We’re just trying to figure out the scheduling.
How much fun is it for you, as a comedy actor, to bring a character to life using only your voice?
BURRELL: It’s just so much fun. I’ve never done it before. I’ve done animated TV stuff, but I’d never done animated film work, which is much more involved and much more labor intensive. The animators are much more meticulous and detailed. It’s just been really fun and really satisfyingly creative.
Butter opens in theaters on October 5th. Modern Family airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.