Update on February 6, 2019, at 11:20 A.M. (GMT):
It was announced late on Feb. 5 that ‘Modern Family’ had been renewed for an eleventh and final season.
In a world saturated by frivolity and pretend, it’s nice to have a voice like Ariel Winter’s. Having begun acting at only four, Winter has become a fixture in global entertainment: from her multiple Disney appearances to dozens of voice-acting gigs. But it was without a doubt her role as Alex Dunphy in the comedy series Modern Family that jet-propelled her to stardom. A decade later, Winter is still in Alex’s shoes and she does not plan on stopping (if they let her, that is) but she’s also become a beacon for body-positivity in her own right. With the tenth (and reportedly last) season of Modern Family in full swing, we catch up with the actor to talk about growing into her own skin, her education and what we can expect from Alex Dunphy in the near feature.
When we chat on a transatlantic call, Winter is just ten days short of her momentous 21st birthday and her partying plans are still up in the air, though she assures they probably won’t be anything “fancy” since the occasion falls on a Monday (in the end she settled for a cake-less Dominos pizza bash). But she has clearer intentions of what to do once she’s reached her age of majority. “I want to spend my birthday week volunteering in animal shelters. I don’t know which one exactly yet,” she reveals. “I’m [also] having a birthday party in February in Vegas, because that’s where our families are from. I can finally walk on the carpet there and play a bit of poker, so that’s exciting.”
You can tell Winter is more excited about the first part of her birthday arrangement. A quick look at her social media and it’s evident to see her love for animals. “I love all animals, but especially dogs. They are the best things in the world.” Having four of her own, whom she describes as “her everything,” Winter is an ardent advocate for animal rights, often promoting animal rescue and supporting organizations such as Smiley Tails Rescue to her almost 4 million followers on Instagram.
“We have a lot of people that follow us and it’s great to talk about mundane things, but if I can talk something important that can either help a person or help an animal or just start a dialogue on something, I think that’s really important,” Winter admits of her relationship with social media. Though she declares that it has been one that’s proven to be fitfully toxic over the years.
Having been in the spotlight from a very young age, Winter has never shied away from the fact that growing into her own skin has been a journey, one she’s still embarked on. Though it may seem like she’s built up her confidence to a point where she exudes it on her social media, she’s quick to remind us we’re all human in the end. “I don’t think anybody ever becomes a hundred per cent unwaveringly confident,” Winter says. “Just because we’re human beings and we will never be perfect, and that’s better. It’s better that we never strive for perfection, and we just understand that we’re all people. Everybody has flaws, and those flaws are great. Of course: you should work on yourself as much as possible — work on loving yourself and being the best version of who you want to be. That’s what matters.”
“Growing up in this industry being young is really, really difficult because you’re very malleable as a kid,” she continues. “You want to be accepted [so] you do what other people think is cool.” Winter admits she went through a tough phase, aged 14 to 16, where she left the industry pressure get to her head, finding it hard to hear everyone’s opinions on her persona — and she means everyone: from the media to the Internet, and thus the world. “I really struggled. It really breaks down your confidence when a lot of people you don’t know have an opinion of everything you do and the way you look, and their opinions are never really positive,” she admits. “That really [pushed me] but I really learned to only focus on myself.”
Winter confesses she did lose a little faith in herself during that time period, changing her physical appearance to appease the media. “I was trying to work off what they said and, you know, I didn’t feel better. Their comments didn’t change. They still thought that I wasn’t perfect. I still needed to change something. After a while, I was just like ‘OK, I’m never going to please anybody. I feel good in myself. And I don’t feel like listening to people who say that I’m not what I should be, but I feel I am what I should be. It’s a struggle. I think it’s a struggle for everybody. And like I said, I don’t feel like I’ll ever be fully confident [but] I think I’m in a pretty good place with my confidence, with myself and I’m proud that I got there. I’m really proud that I got there.”
Indeed, we’ve all been in that place and, ultimately, it’s what makes us human, but for Winter this process was aggravated by social media — leading her to even fight for the rights of her own image with paparazzi on Instagram. However, despite the commonplace invasion of privacy she’s subject to, the actor has found the perfect balance on what to share (and even more so what not to) on her own social media channels.
“I love to be open and honest. I love to tell people anything they want to ask me, but I realized now that there are some things that I want to keep to myself.” Winter is no stranger to seeing her name attached to crazy, scurrilous rumours — often focussing on her family affairs, her romance with actor Levi Meaden and, above all and despite her unapologetic stance, her physical appearance. “It’s just really difficult when you see everything [about your life] publicized to make stories,” Winter admits. “There are some things about my relationships, about my life, that I keep to myself and that’s actually been better for me. Not that I don’t want to share anything with people in general. I do. I want to share as much as I can and as much as I feel comfortable [with]. I’ll always share whatever I think will help somebody out. Always. I definitely will do that. There are just some things that I think should be kept private so I can have something to myself.”
And that’s where Winter draws the line perfectly. “I’ve been using social media to promote things that I care about. Not only to promote my projects but my ideas, things that I think other people might want to hear, or [even] share other people’s ideas,” she reveals. “I have a platform. I’m really lucky to have that platform. And if I’m not going to use it to talk about things that matter to me and talk about things that are important.”
Yet, despite that platform, she refuses to adhere to the “role model” etiquette, even if she does consider herself to be one for her nieces. “I never really liked the term ‘role model’. I never liked it,” she says. “I don’t like it because I don’t think we should aspire to be like anybody else. We should aspire to be like ourselves. We’re never going to be anybody else. I never really thought of [of it as a term I connect with].” Winter explains she has a clear reason to dislike the term: “everybody makes mistakes.”
“Maybe some just don’t share them as often, some of them rather they’d stay hidden so that they’re [portrayed] as this perfect being that everyone wants to aspire to be. And I don’t really believe in that.” Winter does not want to be a role model. She wants to find herself and, of course, make mistakes along the way without the added pressure of having people watching her, or even copying her, because, on the outside, it might appear as if she’s perfect. “No one’s perfect. I just want everybody to be themselves,” she admits. “Of course I’ll always advocate for being kind and compassionate, for sure, but I never think that somebody should aspire to be another person just because that’s not interesting. We’re interesting on our own.” Incidentally, Winter proves the role model label is outdated in today’s world, on and off the screen, with her beloved character Alex Dunphy. But the questions on everyone’s lips is: will she keep doing it?
The tenth season of Modern Family is currently airing and while everyone believed this would be the last season, there are rumours about an eleventh. “There definitely could be another season,” Winter teases. “I’m very lucky to have this job and to be employed, as a young actor in general or just as an actor,” she jokingly admits. “It’s really hard to continue to be employed but I’m employed with an amazing job and I work with amazing people that I love, that I’ve been working for ten years, so I would never not want to work with them. It’s an amazing job I’ve had for so many years and I would love to [keep going].”
Indeed, the #10yearchallenge that is currently populating social media is perhaps the most real with the Modern Family cast. The series premiered in 2009, and, regardless of the network’s decision to continue into an eleventh season, Winter would love to carry on playing Alex Dunphy in the foreseeable future. “I think Alex is a great character. She has always been a character I really enjoy playing,” she reveals. “It’s nice that she’s very intelligent, she’s very driven, she knows what she wants to do. I think that that is awesome, to have a character like that on TV at the moment — not that there aren’t [more out there] — but I really am grateful that I get to play [her].”
But, despite having spent a decade in her shoes, Alex and Ariel remain pretty different people in real life — though she admits there are aspects in which both are similar and she has learned more than a lesson from the Dunphy’s younger daughter. Actors have a hard time with fans often having difficulties to separate fiction from reality and Winter is adamant to remind us that Alex is just “a character I portray.”
“Alex has some social issues sometimes. I think everybody can have social issues sometimes: social anxiety or not really knowing how to take time for yourself and to relax,” Winter says. “It’s important to relax, spend time on you and not always be so driven to get to that one goal, [beacuse] you’re going to lose yourself. I think that’s something [I see in Alex that’s been] good for me. I always push and push and push because I want to get to there — I want to reach out, I want to get that job, I want to get to that place […], I want to get to whatever it is. [And in doing so], sometimes I forget that I can’t push yourself that hard. You need to just stop yourself and enjoy life. That’s a great thing for me to learn myself.”
Winter reveals, in that process, we’re always trying to “find what you think is the best version of you and that you’re happy with.” And, unarguably, we’re always finding that version — and that’s true for Alex as well. This season, we’ve seen the character grow more into her own skin: going shopping with Gloria and being more open about her sexuality (especially after being with Bill). And this is something Winter very much enjoys, breaking the stereotype that smart girls don’t care about appearance.
“I think [this] is an important point that I’ve been wanting to make with Alex. There’s always going to be a stereotype about certain things and while I was stuck a little bit into the stereotype, I like that we are taking her out as she gets older,” she says. “You can be really intelligent, you can be focused, you can be driven at your career, you can be driven at school and you can still be interested in fashion. You can still worry about if you look good or not, or what you wear or wanting to go out or wanting to spend more time with friends; wanting to do different things. I think that it’s nice that this season we’ve gotten to break a little out of that stereotype. It’s nice to be able to say anyone can be anything.”
It’s a long-held stereotype. The fact that fashion and intelligence, or even politics, are mutually exclusive and Winter is glad to be shifting the paradigm and shattering the stigma. “We’re all complex people and I think that’s nice for people to see and they can be smart and cool at the same time, or you that you can be smart and worry about your appearance at the same time — not like anyone should really worry about their appearance but, in general, as people, you know? I think it’s nice that this season they are actually letting me work with that a little bit — just stuff like adolescent sexuality. I like that [Alex’s] breaking out of all the stereotypes and just saying ‘Okay, well, I’m just me. And I am proud of my sexuality I’m interested in shopping I’m interested in trying new things.’ I think that’s fun.”
Winter herself undoubtedly breaks this stereotype as well in real life, despite the media’s effort to “typecast” her persona. Winter’s beauty and fashion sense is killer, but she’s also a fervent feminist, she’s actively encouraged voting on her social platforms and, in April 2016, even got accepted at the prestigious University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). But, to Winter’s own despair, she had to postpone her Academic pursuits due to previous commitments — but she has plans to return.
“UCLA is an amazing school. I was very lucky to get in and I’m super grateful. However, I couldn’t make it work with the show and just with life in general at that time,” she tells us. “I was actually really disappointed that I couldn’t because I loved the classes I was taking and I love being there. It was an honour to get it. I just couldn’t make it work at that time. I wasn’t being able to make as many classes and it’s harder to take exams when you can’t be there in the classroom. In university, a lot of the stuff they talk about in class isn’t usually always in the books. I just felt like I wasn’t getting my full education.”
But she does not rule out going back to UCLA “when the show ends or if the show ends.” In the meantime, however, she’s going to start online classes. “I think it’s great to keep learning, and you can do that in any way. I think online classes are great. I can just go on and learn about stuff I’m interested, [especially since] I just don’t know if I’ll be able to go to the university in person for a little bit.”
But that’s the future, and Ariel Winter is not one to worry about the future — at least not for now. “I’m not the person that has a five-year plan, goals or anything like that,” she tells us. “And for one specific reason. I feel like, for me, if I did [have those things], I’d be like ‘ok, by this age you need to do this’ and if I didn’t reach one of those things, even if I reached the other ones, I’d be hard on myself. I’d be like ‘oh, I couldn’t reach my goals’ and I get really disappointed. So, I’m just going to figure things out as I go.”
“I would love to continue working. I love to work,” she continues. “Of course I would love to do another show or do a movie. I think that would be awesome. I’d also like to take online classes. I also want to open a rescue centre for dogs that have been in shelters for over a year. There’s a lot of different things I want to do. And I plan on doing all of them. Life is never predictable. I’m hoping to obviously keep working it and doing things. Doing well.”
This Schön! online exclusive has been produced by
photography. Eric T. White @ See Management
fashion. Laura Pritchard @ See Management
talent. Ariel Winter
hair. Joseph Maine @ The Wall Group
make up. Mia Jones @ The Wall Group
production. Sheri Chiu
interview. Sara Delgado