Whether you have a scheduled date with Modern Family every Wednesday or have just heard about it from everyone else’s water-cooler commentary, you know that Julie Bowen’s performance as Claire is pretty much the main prime-time feature of everyone’s dream: That certain character who consistently dishes out those deadpan looks and funny lines.
Of course, being a comedian and Emmy-award winning star is not Julie’s first time at bat. It’s been a hard-to-believe 18 years since she hit the big screen as Adam Sandler’s love interest in Happy Gilmore, followed by various films and memorable roles in ER, Ed and Boston Legal. This summer, she’ll voice the main character in Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue an animated aviation flick that’s a spin-off of Pixar’s Cars franchise.
And, then, there’s her current role as beauty spokesperson to one of the biggest powerhouses in the beauty biz: Neutrogena. Anyone who has ever dabbled with self-tanners in the past two decades undoubtedly turned to Julie for some beauty inspiration. She previously had been with the brand from 2001–2008, as the face of the company’s self-tanner lotion (as well as its Healthy Skin Liquid Makeup campaign), which featured her enviable sun-kissed glow in its ads, an unforgettable marketing crusade that clearly wasn’t built on bluffing.
“My mom really enjoyed herself in the sun with a tinfoil reflector and some coconut oil,” Julie says. “Of course, this was also the time when people smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. So I would see that, but she would say ‘don’t do this’ and ‘you should probably wear sunscreen.’ I was surrounded by people who loved a deep, dark savage tan. I don’t look great with that, but luckily there are wonderful self-tanners on the market that can make me look good.”
The Past + The Present
She may be in the business of beauty (as well as a business that is admittedly obsessed with it), but that doesn’t mean Julie has always been completely comfortable there. The Baltimore-born and Brown University alum admits she grew up with a very “liberal education,” one that involved all-girls schools and more emphasis on smarts over sex appeal. “It was the ’90s, and there was a little bit of a disdain for pretty,” Julie explains. “If you focused on that, it sort of meant you had nothing else going on.”
“There was no lipstick. I never highlighted my hair until I was in my 20s; I never even got a manicure until then. Shaving my legs was about as exotic as I got. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I was smart enough and I didn’t need to buy into either side of this, the side that said I’m an idiot if I wear makeup or somehow smarter if I don’t. So I started wearing a tinted moisturizer and I realized I looked better. I realized I didn’t need to be afraid to be a girl.”
Regardless of how simple her own approach to beauty is, she is very open to getting glammed up on this particular day—and, almost on cue, that’s where Sofia comes up. Sofia is, of course, Vergara, Julie’s co-star and a cosmic force when it comes to all things “pretty”—to put it lightly. The duo is different (a testament to what makes their characters “click”), but they are also so in sync with each other, sharing an energy that emanates both on and off the set.
“Sofia is a great influence for me. She is a great influence on being a woman, she’s a great influence on accepting the power of pretty and she’s a great influence on having a sense of humor,” Julie says. “She doesn’t go out without putting on lipstick and she is the first person to say to me: ‘Where is your lipstick? Put it on!’ She’s always at award shows telling me that, and I always feel so weird, like someone will think I’m trying too hard. She tells me all the time, ‘Who cares?’”
But, for as much as Julie praises Vergara, that’s where her positive thoughts toward the subject of red carpets end. “What an assembly line they are! There are people shoving you out there and yelling. As someone at home watching the red carpet show, it looks so glamorous, but it is very much a factory.”
“No matter what you do, somebody will get ‘the picture’ of you—that one with you bending the wrong way or the one with one eye closed. Then they run it and say, ‘she’s drunk, she’s fat.’ Then the next page says, ‘she’s too thin.’ The person in front of you is Cate Blanchett and the person coming up behind you is 12, so there’s always someone who is going to look better. It’s a bummer, knowing there are knives out there waiting for you too. And, at the same time you are wearing something magnificent, something you used to dream about as a kid—but it’s always gone at midnight.”
Gone now too is the wall and building that only a few hours earlier caused so much chaos behind the scenes. In its place, a clear view of the Hollywood sign, and a much calmer, quieter air, one that Julie’s philosophy—and parting words—on the spotlight mesh perfectly with. “You just kind of have to love who you are, but I think I’m pretty happy in my skin right now, literally and figuratively, so it’s not terrible.”
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