The hugely successful animated comedy The Secret Life of Pets, about the lives our pets lead when we leave them alone, is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand, featuring nearly an hour of bonus content, including the three mini-movies Norman Television, Weenie and Mower Minions. In the film, loyal terrier Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is living a perfectly happy existence until his owner, Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) brings home Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet) a big mutt that she finds at the shelter, and the two quickly find themselves lost in New York City and having to rely on each other to survive the epic journey back home.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Eric Stonestreet talked about why he wanted to be a part of an animated feature, what he was most proud of with the finished film, being a pet guy his whole life, and that he doesn’t know anything about the sequel yet (which is in the works for 2018), but that they’re likely to start recording soon. He also talked about being a part of the popular ABC comedy series Modern Family for eight seasons and his hope that they’ll make it to ten seasons, as well as the upcoming ABC series The Toy Box, a toy-making competition series that he’s hosting, debuting in 2017.
Collider: Was doing an animated feature like this one of those things that was on your personal actor bucket list, or did this opportunity completely take you by surprise?
ERIC STONESTREET: Well, I was always hoping I would get the chance to do an animated feature. That it came to fruition with me playing a dog, I hadn’t put that on my list. As an actor, doing animation is definitely on the list of most actors because it is such a freeing, fun, different experience than being on camera. There’s just something different about it that’s not more fun, but a different sort of fun. As actors, we want to challenges ourselves and put ourselves in different situations to see how we react and deliver a performance. This is just another way that we can do that.
When you got to see the finished product of the film and you saw how it all turned out, what were you most proud of?
STONESTREET: I was most proud of the talent of those artists, editors, sound mixers, the composer and the director, and what everyone else contributed to the movie. When you boil it down, me recording the voice of Duke is just a pretty tiny, small part of an overall project. I was blown away by everyone else’s abilities and talents, and the look of the movie. I thought the soundtrack was phenomenal. One of my favorite songs ever, by Bill Withers, was at the end of the movie and I was all smiles. I felt like the movie opened up so strong and it had a really great ending, and that sandwiched a really fun experience. Seeing all of that come together is what I was most proud of. Specifically with Duke, I enjoyed the sausage factory scene because I’d been told what that was going to be and look like, but seeing it for the first time was great. And then, I really loved the moments between Max and Duke, where he’s encouraging Duke and getting him revved up to find his owner and go back to his house. I thought those were really sweet moments. I’m glad Illumination put those things in the movie. A lot of people might think it’s dark, but I thought it was appropriately touched on without drawing too much attention to it.
The Blu-ray has some fun special features, with you and Kevin Hart and an animal trainer, and a dog groomer providing tips. With everything that you learned, from being a part of this film, and being a person who has pets himself, what most surprised you or gave you a new appreciation for the life of a pet?
STONESTREET: I’ve had pets my whole life, and I grew up with pigs and cows. I have a pretty good understanding of animals, as a whole, so I can’t say I was too surprised by anything, learning about pets. I think the movie functions so well because we all know our pets just sit around and sleep, get a drink every once in awhile, look out the window and wait for us to get home. They say that pets don’t really have an internal clock, so when we come back, it’s not like they go, “Oh, my gosh, you’ve been gone for three hours!” I think the reason the movie functions so well is that we all understand that. This fantastical version of what our pets do is really fun to think about. It is fun to think about your pet moonlighting as a water delivery man, or a bouncer at a bar. Thinking about your dog out in the world, instead of laying on your bed when you leave, is really fun. I think that’s what people responded to.
This film was a huge success, and they’ve already announced that there will be a sequel. Have you been given a script for the sequel yet, or have they talked to you, at all, about where things could go next?
STONESTREET: No, I really don’t know anything. I think we’re going to start recording it in the next couple of weeks, and I’ll learn a little bit then. The way the recording goes is that they give you the pieces as they come. Sometimes you might do four pages, sometimes you might do seven pages, sometimes you might just come in and do some sounds and grunts and howls. That’s why it’s really fun to be a part of. I get to watch the movie basically just like you get to watch the movie. I’m such a small part of it that I get to see it as a spectator and see how everything comes together. I’ll be anxious, just like I was with the first one, for the second one, to see what they come up with and how it all comes together.
With so many shows on TV now, it’s difficult to get a show on the air, to get a full season of episodes, and then get picked up for a second season, but here you are with Modern Family in Season 8. Are you still hoping to continue on with the show, with the hope of getting to the even bigger milestone of ten seasons on the air?
STONESTREET: I think that’s the collective goal for everyone. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn for everyone. Steve [Levitan], the studio, the network and certainly the cast all feel that a show at our level, with the critical and audience acclaim that we’ve had, has a nine or ten year run. That feels right. That’s what we’re waiting to find out now. We’re under contract to finish this season, and they’ll have to make the decision about what they want to do, but I think the cast wants to have a nice round even number of years that we’re on the air, to give Modern Family the proper place in televison history that I think, and a lot of people probably think, it deserves.
Being in a profession where you never know where your next job will come from or when, what’s it meant to you to get even this many seasons of a show and to still have so many people love it the way that they do?
STONESTREET: It means everything. If I had moved to Hollywood in 2008, and then in 2009, I got this show, I don’t know that I would have the perspective that I have on it. But people have to understand that I was an actor for 12 years before Modern Family, going on commercial auditions, TV show auditions and movie auditions, and not getting 99.9% of those parts. That’s the life of an actor. So, for me to battle through those 12 years, like so many other people do and have, and then find this kind of success, it’s very humbling. I’m very grateful and appreciative, and I remind myself every day that there are thousands and thousands of actors that have the same dreams and aspirations that I have. It’s part of my responsibility, as an actor who has been lucky enough to have this job, to take my job very seriously, show up on time, know my lines, and give the best performance that I can because I’m doing something that so many other people work very hard to have and never get. By the luck of the draw, I showed up at that audition, ready and prepared, and it just so happened that they liked what I did and I got the job. But, it could have been hundreds of other people that could have had the same opportunity. So, I look at it very seriously and I’m very grateful to have the job, and I’ve had it for eight years.
You’re also going to be hosting a toy competition series, called The Toy Box. How did that come about?
STONESTREET: We already shot that, and that’s going to be coming out in the spring or summer on ABC. I never really thought I wanted to host anything, but when they came at me with the concept of the show, the hook was me getting to talk to adult toy inventors and working with kids. I wanted to be a clown when I was a kid, so I love interacting and goofing around with kids. I have a very dry sense of humor. My sense of humor is very different than what you see at Modern Family. So, it was just an opportunity for me to let people see me on a big national scale with more of my personality and my sense of humor. It’s really fun. There are some great toys. It’s going to be eight episodes, with seven regular episodes and a finale. And one toy is going to win the whole thing and get a deal with Mattel, and then that toy will be made and available for purchase, the day after the show, which is such a cool hook to the show. I’m looking forward to people watching it. I’ve seen the first episode, and I think people are going to get a kick out of the judges and out of the people that put their life savings, life earnings and work into these toys. Unfortunately, not everyone can move on.
It sounds like you’re certainly having a tremendous amount of fun, at this point in your career.
STONESTREET: Between pets, comedy and toys, I try to surround myself with as much fun stuff as I can. That’s how I pick projects. It’s about whether I’m going to enjoy myself, enjoy the other actors, and enjoy the other people that I’m working with. One of the blessings that Modern Family has given me is the opportunity to not have to do anything that comes along. Anything that I’ve put my name to and my face to and put my time into, is something that I’m clearly passionate about, or I wouldn’t be there.
The Secret Life of Pets is now available on Blu-ray/DVD.