The 4th Annual Chicago International Movies & Music Festival debuts this weekend, with a variety of events. One Night Stand is a feature documentary about the challenge of making four musicals in 24 hours for the Exchange, a nonprofit theater company.
Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson, along with chanteuse Cheyenne Jackson, star in one of the segments (entitled "Dr. Williams"), where they play surgeons.
We talked with Ferguson about his role and the hope for an Emmy in his future.
Windy City Times: Hey, Jesse. This is perfect timing, I just watched you as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race last night.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: That worked out well. It was lots of fun to do.
WCT: I heard you are rooting for Sharon Needles or Latrice Royale.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: We filmed it so long ago that I didn't have a point of reference for anyone. My only exposure to them was that runway at the end of the episode, so I couldn't get a feel to what anyone was. Sharon scared me a little bit, but now I have grown to love her after watching the episodes before it. I think she is great.
WCT: How did you get involved with this musical idea One Night Stand?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I had done other work with Ted Sperling, and he was one of the producers on it. I had always wanted to do it and it looked like a fun thing to do. I had friends who had done the 24 Hour Plays in the past and it seemed like a crazy, communal kind of experience. Being a musical-theater performer, I was one of the people that they wanted to work with. I got involved that way.
WCT: So this is something they had done with plays but not musicals?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: They had done it with plays for years before they started doing it with musicals. It had been a big success and they were not sure if they would be able to do it with a musical because there were so many other elements involved.
WCT: Were you scared to death? This was casting, writing, practicing and performing for a live audience, so it looked crazy.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Honestly, to learn a song and the harmonies and then choreograph it would takefor me, not being the quickest learnera week. To have a handful of hours to put something together was really scary. The great thing about it was that you are doing it with four or five other actors who are just as talented and just as scared.
You get to share that experience with them and help each other through it. It is terrifying and extremely liberating at the same time because you have to throw out choices. You don't have time to really think about what are you going to do with this character and how to bring it to life. You have to throw yourself full throttle into it and do it. That is very liberating, actually.
WCT: Cheyenne sang so well.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: He is amazing. He learns music so fast so he carried us through a lot of that stuff. He was very patient, specifically with me, who is not the quickest learner. I am so grateful that we had him in our piece because he was the backbone for us, at least vocally.
WCT: Was this the first time you have played a surgeon?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Yes, my firstand last, I think.
WCT: Rachel Dratch from Saturday Night Live was in the documentary as well.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: She has done the 24 Hour Plays, so that is how she got involved. She has been working with them for a few years. We were hoping we would get paired together, which didn't happen. She was also in a really fun piece. It was fun freaking out with her because she is not totally comfortable doing musical theater, in general. At least I had done a Broadway musical, but she was new to that. It was terrifying for her on a whole other level.
WCT: Have you read her new book, Girl Walks into a Bar?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I just ordered it on Amazon yesterday. She told me she would give me a copy but I wanted to pay for it.
WCT: Do you have a favorite musical of all time?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I love Into the Woods. I'm a big Sondheim fan. She Loves Me also is another one I like. It is very good.
WCT: What are you doing on your time off from Modern Family?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I am staying really busy. I am actually busier now than when I was working. At least when I was working I had a schedule of some places to be. Now, with weeks off, I am trying to catch up on all the stuff that I put off all year, everything from the dentist to getting tailoring done!
WCT: You recently did the Dustin Lance Black play, 8, for a stage reading.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Yes, I had very little to do in it because it was an ensemble piece. There were many amazing people taking small cameo roles. I was probably onstage for about 75 seconds, but it was a really great experience for such a great cause, too. It was to support the American Foundation for Equal Rights that is fighting for marriage equality. It was a fantastic fundraiser. The play resonated in a way that I was not expecting it to. I was afraid it would be a little dry, being court transcripts and all, but it was actually extremely entertaining, moving and very funny.
WCT: Are you married currently?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: No.
WCT: But you have a partner, Justin, so maybe one day…
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Yeah, maybe one day.
WCT: You have won an Actors Guild Award but we want you to win an Emmy for playing Mitchell Pritchett.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Well, listen, we have only gone through two Emmy Award seasons so we can't be too upset right now. It's not like I am Susan Lucci or something!
WCT: No, but to me it was like giving Laverne the award and not Shirley.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Aw, that is very sweet. The first thing Eric told me was that the award was ours together. "I will take it home but I couldn't have done the role without Mitchell." I think that is true of any of the couples on our show. They are one half of a pair. It is the partnership and the chemistry that make our cast work. You can't saw those Emmys in half. Unfortunately, Eric can't be nominated for best actress when I am nominated for best actor, which is a bit of sexism if you ask me.
WCT: My favorite is when you were dressed as Spider-Man on the Halloween episode.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: That was a lot of fun to do.
WCT: How long do you have before filming more Modern Family?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I am on hiatus until August then I begin filming again. I just plan on relaxing, catching up on reading, and enjoying my summer.
WCT: I wish you could come to Chicago for this film festival and the screening of the documentary.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I wish I could too, but tell everyone I said hi!
The Chicago premiere of One Night Stand is at the Logan Theatre, 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave., at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 15; admission is $7. Also, don't miss live performances during the festival, such as group Sister Spit, which includes transgender rapper Katastrophe. For more information visit www.cimmfest.org .