Jesse Tyler Ferguson (left) and Justin Mikita
State legislators should prepare for an invasion of bow ties at the capitol today—Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson is bringing some flair to Springfield to promote Bow Tie Lobby Day. The initiative, launched with Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, hopes to rally support for the impending marriage equality bill. Ferguson and his fiancé have already donated money in support—the proceeds from their Tie the Knot bow tie collection go to marriage equality groups across the country—but now they’re giving their time as well. Ferguson spoke to Chicago Wednesday night before making the trip down to Springfield.
What is Bow Tie Lobby Day?
Justin Mikita, my fiancé, and I started a foundation called Tie the Knot. We partnered with The Tie Bar, which is a great company based here in the Chicago area. We’ve developed a line of bow ties, and 100% of the proceeds from the bow ties go toward our foundation. From there, we funnel the money out to different organizations that are on the frontlines fighting for marriage equality. The lieutenant governor contacted us saying, “My father was such an advocate of marriage equality, but also was a huge lover of bow ties.” And we sort of brainstormed this idea to do a bow tie lobby day in support of the marriage equality bill.
What’s your biggest goal for the lobbying day?
I hope to approach the day with a sense of humor and a sense of levity. If you can accomplish anything with a personal story and humor, you’re going to get a lot farther. That’s what, I think, has made Modern Family so successful, and I hope to bring some of that sensibility to Springfield tomorrow.
Mitt Romney mentioned during the campaign how much he loves Modern Family. Did that surprise you?
It did. I’m not going to lie, it did, but I was thrilled to see that. That can only be seen as a good thing. I don’t know what happens behind closed doors. I’ve been around politics enough to know that people have to say things at times just to keep people happy, and I don’t know, maybe he is more of a supporter than he said he is. Whether or not he is a supporter of marriage equality, I think he has wonderful taste in television.
Speaking of television, when he came out in support of marriage equality, Joe Biden mentioned how watching Will & Grace changed people’s minds. How do you think shows like Modern Family and The New Normal affect broader perceptions of gay couples?
I think any time we have another gay couple on television, it’s a great thing. I have a very good friend on The New Normal, and I’m thrilled for him that not only does he have a great job, but there’s power in numbers. He just adds to the conversation. Marriage equality is certainly a hot topic right now, and any time there’s a cultural touchstone to reference, whether it’s Modern Family or The New Normal, it’s a great thing.
At this point, between the two of you, how many bow ties do you and Justin own?
It’s countless. We had 20 in our first collection that we designed ourselves, and beyond that, we have probably about 100 other kinds of bow ties that we’ve worn at different events or purchased for ourselves. Many of them from the Tie Bar, many from other companies. It’s a fun way to spruce up a tuxedo. Guys don’t get a lot of fun when they get dressed up, so it’s a fun way to punch up a suit and a tuxedo.
How did you come up with the designs?
We would take photographs of things we were inspired by. For example, I had an afghan in my living room that I took a photo of that I loved, and we designed a bow tie based on those colors. I think there’s a chair fabric we used at one point. It’s been kind of a mismatch of different things, but just stuff that means something. We tried to stick with fabrics and designs that had a story.
Tie the Knot obviously has a lot of famous supporters. Which of them just can’t pull off a bow tie?
Eric Stonestreet really hesitates to wear a bow tie. He doesn’t think he has the right face for it, which is completely false. I made him buy a bow tie that night, and made him put it on, and he looks fantastic in it. I don’t think there’s anyone who can’t wear a bow tie. People are just scared of it. I think it’s a little too quirky for some people.
Do you have any plans for when you and Justin are going to tie the knot yourselves?
We are getting married this year, and we’re doing it in New York, because that’s where it’s legal for us. And I love New York. I lived there for 12 years, so I feel like it’s a second home to me. That’s the plan so far. We haven’t picked colors and knives and forks yet, but we’re early in the process.
Anything you’re for sure not going to be doing at your wedding?
The beautiful thing about being a nontraditional couple is we are embracing the fact that we don’t have to be traditional with our ceremony either. We’re not doing a wedding party, we are trying to include friends and music and things that we love, and we have a great friend of ours officiating. We’re trying to tailor it to us. I’ve been to so many beautiful weddings, and I’ve only been to a few weddings. I want to make this one very special and unique to us.
Mitchell said in a recent episode of Modern Family that he could totally see Julianne Moore play him in a movie. Who would play you?
I think Julianne Moore is a great choice. Or James Franco.
Well, ok, that’s everyone. Come on.
I know, I know. I can’t have everything.
Who would play Justin?
I don’t know! I’d like to read the script first before I start casting.
You have a lot going on in life. What do you to unwind?
Those times are few and far between. I try and read, I watch other television programs that aren’t mine, watch movies, stay cultured. It’s nice to turn it off every once in a while. One of my favorite things to do is just spend the night in and have some dinner and stay at home.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Bow ties, of course. I love reality TV. I love Top Chef and Project Runway, but who doesn’t?
Are you a Housewives fan?
You know, I actually have not watched many of the Housewives. I hear they’re very addicting, which is why I’m staying away from them.
There’s a lot of news in marriage equality this week. Anything else people should know about Illinois, or Rhode Island now?
I just heard about that. It’s all incredibly exciting. Tomorrow we’re asking for people to come out and have their voices heard, call their legislators, tweet, Facebook, and show their support by wearing a bow tie.
It looks like you may have to revise your marriage equality song.
I know! It needs a few more verses. Make it really super long.
Photograph: Courtesy Zapwater Communications