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Julie Bowen: Mother of three times two, on TV and in actuality

David Hiltbrand
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Julie Bowen apologizes for conducting an interview from Los Angeles on her car phone.

"This is pretty much the only time I can call," the actress says.

At the moment, she's driving from home, where she is the mother of three, to her job on the season's breakout comedy, ABC's "Modern Family," on which she plays the mother of three.

So, yeah, she's got her hands full.

"The real-life parenting thing is tough," says Bowen, 39, now the mother of three sons under 3 after giving birth to twins this year.

Her pregnancy necessitated concealing a double baby bump when she was first working on "Modern Family", the insouciant, critically hailed sitcom that is averaging more than 10 million viewers a week.

"Did you see the pilot?" she asks. "Every shot is me hiding an 8 1/2-month belly. I was dressed in these massive shawl-like sweaters."

Camouflaged or not, Bowen brings the same extra-sparkly girl-next-door quality to her new show that she has been displaying on TV since starring opposite Tom Cavanagh in 2000 on "Ed."

From that series, she went on to "Boston Legal" while appearing in recurring roles on such shows as "ER," "Weeds" and "Lost."

How has she managed to be on the tube more than Billy Mays over the last decade?

She cites her obliging spirit.

"I'm happy to read for roles and I'll jump through hoops for producers and directors so they know it's OK to hire me," she says. "A lot of people reach a point in their careers where they don't feel comfortable auditioning anymore. Not me."

It was that willingness, and an unseemly amount of enthusiasm, that got her cast as the ex-wife of Jack (Matthew Fox) on "Lost."

"I got that job as a fan," she says. "I was such a 'Lost' geek. I sent out Christmas cards that played the 'Lost' theme. One of them ended up on the desk of a 'Lost' writer."

Bowen, adept at comedy and drama, uses a little bit of both on "Modern Family." As Claire, she acts primarily as the anchor to Phil (Ty Burrell), her flighty, desperate-to-be-hip husband.

Addressing his scene-snatching character, Burrell says, "None of my idiocy would land if it wasn't for her being so grounded. The bonus with Julie is she is incredibly funny."

A Baltimore native born Julie Luetkemeyer, Bowen broke into TV work with small roles on soap operas.

"It was good because you learn all the stuff you don't learn in acting class," she says. "They don't teach you how to get over your fear of cameras swirling around you.

"What was horrible," she adds, "was that everyone was so tiny and skinny. One wardrobe woman called me a cow. Soap people are the littlest people in the world. They are tiny, tiny people."

Despite her many high-profile acting credits since, Bowen is still often identified for her role as Adam Sandler's girlfriend in the 1996 comedy "Happy Gilmore," one of those fluky films you can find on one cable channel or another at any hour of the day or night.

"It was my first movie," she says. "I let the lovely hair people bully me into this crazy helmet of Princess Di hair. Had I known (the film) would live forever on cable, I would have fought for better hair."

Bowen is one of those rare TV actresses who will confess to being a fan of the medium. In addition to "Lost," she identifies "So You Think You Can Dance," "The Colbert Report," "Hung" and "Mad Men" as her current favorites.

"It's because I have no life," she says. "All I have is kids. There is no event worth paying $100 for babysitters that can't be beat by watching TiVo."

Of course, that only works if you remember to set the DVR. Since the twins joined the household, Bowen admits to being more than a little forgetful.

"It's kind of amazing. You can't think," she says. "I've shown up for appointments on the wrong days. I've invited people over that I forget about.

"It's gotten bad. I reminded my husband," businessman Scott Phillips, "yesterday about a party we have to go to tonight. He said, 'Honey, I mean this in a loving way: Are you quite sure it's tomorrow?'"

Real life to sitcom life. It's a short drive for Julie Bowen.

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