By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Julie Bowen is best known for her role as helicopter mom Claire Dunphy on the ABC comedy “Modern Family.”
In “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” the sequel to the hit 2013 animated feature, the actress gives voice to a character that is part of a family of firefighting aircraft whose mission is to ensure the nearby national park remains safe for visitors. She plays a spirited 1,800-gallon capacity air tanker named Dipper, who is convinced she is in a relationship with Dusty, the new plane on the crew.
Dusty, of course, is the former cropduster who followed his dream of becoming an air racer in Disney’s blockbuster “Planes.” Forced to slow down because of a malfunctioning part, Dusty (voiced again by comedian Dane Cook) arrives at Piston Peak Air Attack Base to earn his certification in fire and rescue operations to help out an old friend back at Propwash Junction. Bowen’s Dipper is a former cargo hauler from Alaska turned water scooper, who is an avid fan of Dusty’s. When he arrives to join the firefighting team, she not only welcomes him, but soon she also imagines they are a couple.
The bubbly blond, green-eyed actress is a real-life mom to three boys. She says the role in the new Disney animated feature has raised her credibility level at home, where the kids aren’t old enough to watch “Modern Family.” Vivacious but much more grounded than her onscreen character, the 44-year-old actress spoke about being part of the “Planes” universe.
Q: You’re playing an air tanker and no one bats an eye that you’re a woman. Female animated characters have come a long way, haven’t they?
Bowen: Yeah, I think the generation that’s coming up is different. My kids haven’t yet been exposed to a lot of the old ideas about “This is what men do and this is what women do.” Their textbooks at school don’t have that. I remember, growing up, even though the ideas I lived with on a daily basis were progressive, in the literature and books you would get that concept of “boys do this and girls do this.” My kids don’t have that. I don’t think they see (traditional gender roles) so much. I’m the only female in the household. My husband is a software writer who works from home. I leave the house to go to work. So they don’t see their parents as someone’s at home and someone’s not at home. It’s a mishmash. So I love that there’s no question that Dipper can be a firefighter. She’s a girl plane and nobody needs to comment on it because it doesn’t really matter.
Q: The sequel is an action movie whereas the first one was a racing movie.
Bowen: Yeah, it’s a sequel but my kids were asking me, “Which racer are you?” And I said, “Racer? Oh, because the first one was about races.” And I said, “No, this one is about firefighting planes.” And they were like, “Oh, that’s a different movie.” And I said, “Yeah, we’re following Dusty onto his next task.” And I think that’s really fun because how many races does Dusty need to be in?
Q: This “Planes” offers a whole new look from the first one, with different visuals, like the smoke and fire.
Bowen: The visuals are insane, like the embers dropping. I know it’s dangerous and I don’t want to glorify fire but it was quite beautifully animated. And how do you draw fire? I have no idea how they did that.
Q: You’re quite outgoing like your character. Did you have to dial the enthusiasm down?
Bowen: I did. In a lot of ways, I sort of did because I only had my voice to work with and there were no other actors in the recording booth. But I kind of justified that. I think that Dipper’s reality, unless it’s about her job and unless it’s about firefighting, is a lot in her head. I don’t think her relationship with Dusty’s all that real.
Q: Your director Bobs Gannaway said he wanted somebody that could talk faster than him. Have you always had the skill to talk really fast?
Bowen: Get out! He never said that to me. I’m going to beat that little… I love Bobs. He was so kind and great and let me just go. He understands me because he has that kind of energy too—that anxious energy that needs to burn off and get to the part that might be usable. He lovingly allowed me to do all of that, and I was so grateful for it.
Q: How happy are you with Dipper’s physical appearance?
Bowen: I love her. She’s a big, beautiful plane. Originally, she was a Super Scooper, but then there was a legal thing with that. Then it was going to be like Mega Dumper, and I was like, “Now, hang on. Mega Dumper?” So now she’s an air tanker, which is actually some sort of legally appropriate term. She’s built for capacity, for scooping up huge amounts of water. She’s big and she’s round and she’s strong and she’s fantastic. I love it. She’s built to do a job, and she’s good at it. And she balances that sort of professional side with a quirky, lovable, obsession with celebrity.
Q: Does being a Disney voice make you a rock star at home?
Bowen: Oh, yeah. Well, at least it gives me a tiny bit of street cred. My kids can be fighting and screaming and throwing food at each other, and I’m yelling. Then (the commercial for “Planes: Fire & Rescue”) comes on, and it’s like, “Shush!” But when the commercial ends, it’s right back to yelling again. The kids haven’t seen the movie yet; they’re going to see it tomorrow. I’m really hoping that I can stretch that (silent awe) somehow. But kids are kids. They want their parents to be parents.
Q: Does “Modern Family” quiet them down?
Bowen: They’ve never seen “Modern Family.” I was pregnant with the twins on the pilot episode (which premiered in 2009), and so they’ve only known about it from people who come up to me and say, “Oh, blah, blah, blah ‘Modern Family.’” It’s usually when we’re at the park or a bowling alley or at the movie theater. So they don’t like it. They think it’s just an annoying thing. And then I pick up their favorite toy and go, “You like this? Then you’ll like ‘Modern Family.’” But I love raising kids in L.A., because I’m just this B-list TV person who in certain circumstances gets lots of attention. They go to school with (singer) Gwen Stefani’s kids and (musician) Dave Grohl’s kids. Let me tell you, no one gives a (hoot) about my kids when those kids are around. That’s the way it should be. It’s all about context.
Q: We see so many actors on TV squeezing in a movie during hiatus. You’ve got three little guys at home wanting mom. Is that why you don’t do that many movies?
Bowen: Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with movies. I love the movies, but anybody can do the math and see there’s not that many roles for women over 35 in movies. And if there is a starring role, it’s going to go to an A-list gal like Cameron Diaz. But then you get to TV, and you get (female-centered) shows like “Orange is the New Black,” and you go, “Oh my God. (show creator) Jenji Kohan, you crazy genius, you!” Look at all these roles for women.. I have had the opportunity to play the wife in a lot of movies, but if I’m going to go away from my kids for six weeks to work a couple of days here and there, the story either needs to be really compelling and interesting, or it has to pay (a lot) of money.
Q: Do you go back to work on “Modern Family” soon?
Bowen: Yeah, at the end of the month.
Q: So do you have your scripts for the next season?
Bowen: No scripts. I’ve got nothing. We have our first table read on July 30, so we’ll get the script the weekend before, hopefully. Those are always the most fun table reads, the first couple back, because they’re so full of energy. Everybody gets really excited.
Q: So you have no idea what’s going to happen to your character or any of the other characters in the next season?
Bowen: None whatsoever. I know that everybody’s returning. I haven’t heard of any new cast members, but you never know. You never know if somebody’s getting adopted or killed.
Q: Congratulations on your Emmy nominations? Do you get up early on the morning of the announcements to watch them live?
Bowen: I don’t. I used to get really mad at my sweet and supportive manager, who would call me the day before and ask me if I wanted to have a statement ready in case I’m nominated. To me, that’s the unluckiest thing you can do in the world. So now I don’t know when the nominations are coming out and I don’t want to know. It’s much more fun to get nominated when I’m in the middle of making breakfast and I’m frustrated because somebody dropped the eggs on the floor. So when I here about the nomination, I can go, “Oh, that’s cool.” But then it’s my little secret for the next few hours because our house is just way too chaotic to mention it.