“I knew that the last season was going to involve a lot of closure, and that particular loss was really sad, in general, because I’ve worked with Fred [Willard],” Burrell, 52, exclusively told Us Weekly at iHeart Radio ALTer EGO on Saturday, January 18. “This is my second show working with Fred. So, you know, it’s kind of a professional goodbye to him. He is one of my favorite actors of all time, and I would say he’s influenced me as an actor more than anybody. Going all the way back to Spinal Tap and stuff like that. So, it was actually a pretty emotional episode.”
On the January 15 episode of the ABC sitcom, Phil (Burrell) is concerned that his father, Frank (Willard), is exhibiting early signs of dementia after he’s found wandering through a grocery store for hours. The pair share a heartwarming conversation in a barbershop before it’s revealed that Frank has died off-screen.
Burrell’s Modern Family costar Sarah Hyland was just as shocked over Frank’s death as the viewers and accidentally spoiled the show’s major plot twist.
“So I don’t read scripts of episodes of Modern Family that I’m not in, so I just found out that my grandpa’s dead along with all of you,” the actress, 29, said in an Instagram Story posted on Wednesday. “I still feel special.”
She added, “Oh, yeah, I guess I should have put a spoiler alert for Grandpa Frank dying, but I was just caught off guard. As his granddaughter, you’d think I’d be invited to the funeral.”
Modern Family cocreator Christopher Lloyd explained why Frank’s death was included in the sitcom’s farewell season in an interview with Entertainment Weekly published on Friday, January 17.
“It was a tough decision because you don’t ever want to let go of a character that you love,” he explained. “And I’ve always loved that character. However, we are in the final season, we’re looking to find more meaningful topics to deal with. And even more important than that, it gave us a chance to really take a look at how Phil came to be Phil.”
Burrell told Us that although the series is coming to a close — and tackling more serious topics — the season has “been really fun” to film.
“It hasn’t been super melancholy,” the Oregon native said. “I think, maybe because it feels right, you know? If that makes sense? I think, we, especially as actors, we often don’t get to control our endings. We’re either fired or canceled.”
He continued, “So to have the opportunity to actually end it on our terms, we decided, you know, we all with the writers decided that this was the year to end it. And in that way, I think it’s actually felt kind of nice.”
Modern Family airs on ABC Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
With reporting by Emily Marcus
For access to all our exclusive celebrity videos and interviews – Subscribe on YouTube!