UWM grad makes a guest appearance on Modern Family

  Brittani Ebert with stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson (left) and Eric Stonestreet, on the set of Modern Family.

Brittani Ebert with stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson (left) and Eric Stonestreet, on the set of Modern Family.

Brittani Ebert, who earned her bachelor’s degree in theater from UWM’s Peck School of the Arts in 2002, has a co-starring role in the Sept. 30 episode of ABC’s “Modern Family.”

Ebert, who grew up in Sun Prairie, also has appeared on the popular series “Jane the Virgin” and “Criminal Minds” and as a semi-regular character on “General Hospital.” She moved to Los Angeles eight years ago after working in Chicago theater for four years. Ebert recently talked to UWM News about what it’s like to make a living in Hollywood.

How and when did you decide to become an actor?

Believe it or not, it was “Saved by the Bell.” I loved that show. During the commercial breaks, I would recite the lines and act it out as close as I could to what they just did or put my own spin on it. It was so much fun, and when I reached high school, I just thought “Why not?” I could do this.

What’s your role on the “Modern Family” episode?

I can’t talk too much about it because you sign a non-disclosure agreement about the plot, but I play an aggressive soccer mom ­– which is a bit different from my Jane the Virgin soccer mom and my Midwestern soccer mom from Milwaukee. I got to let an inner part of my Brittani Ebert aggression come out. It was fun to play, to make that character come to life.

How did you get the role on Modern Family?

  Brittani Ebert has been building a career in Hollywood over the past eight years. (Photo courtesy Brittani Ebert)

Brittani Ebert has been building a career in Hollywood over the past eight years. (Photo courtesy Brittani Ebert)

It’s part of my job as a an actor to keep in touch with casting directors, producers, the creative types and the decision makers in the industry When this role came up, they had a short list – maybe a half-dozen people they thought could do the job. I had the audition on Monday, got a callback on Wednesday and went in on Thursday to do it again for the director and the executive producer, who is a co-writer on the show – no pressure there (laughing). When I found out I got the role, on Friday, it was super-exciting. The whole not-knowing is exhausting. I was ready for a nap.

What was the shoot like?

We were the first shoot on Tuesday (Aug. 11), and that can make you nervous, but it also sets the tone for the day. My goal was to surprise and delight the director and not to be caught up in nerves. I got great reviews from the creator of the show, the executive producer and even Ed O’Neill (the show’s star). Man, it was just really fun.

What was your experience like on “Jane the Virgin” last spring?

It was really a guest-star size role opposite Gina Rodriguez who plays Jane. Gina is registering for gifts at Target and she’s totally lost … doesn’t know what to register for. I overhear and start giving advice. I play this talkative gal – which is pretty much how I am.

Is the role with General Hospital a recurring role?

Yes, I play Debbie the waitress. I started in 2010, and I’m just taping my 35th episode on Sept. 22 (set to air around Oct. 22). In my real life, my survival job is as a waitress/bartender so I must be pretty good at the role.

Is it as hard to make it in Hollywood as they say?

Oh absolutely, but like a lot of things, it’s mind over matter. The more you learn about the business, though, the easier it becomes. Obviously, it takes luck, but you also have to have perseverance and talent as well. It’s not a linear career like others … it’s up and down.

How did your experiences at UWM help you?

I was in the B.A. program, but we had a number of classes with faculty members from the PTTP (Professional Theatre Training Program, then based at UWM). I also enjoyed being on the swim team. One of the years I was there, the women’s team placed first in the Midwest Conference. We also had a practicum class where you learned set construction, set painting and all sorts of different crafts, and that’s helped me in Chicago and L.A. One of my professors at UWM also gave me the good advice to start out in Chicago rather than New York or Hollywood. It’s a good theater market, but smaller.

What’s next?

For now, I’m planning to keep my survival job. Of course, one of these guest roles could turn into a recurring role – I may become Jane’s friend or the daughter may have more soccer games involving the aggressive soccer mom. If that happens, I can always quit.

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