Not every kid has parents who call her away from homework to watch their favorite show. And not every kid grows up to become a two-time Emmy-nominated director. Gail Mancuso, who grew up in Melrose Park and lives part of the year in River Forest, is up for an Emmy this Sunday, Sept. 22, for her work on the Modern Family episode, "Arrested."
If you're not familiar with the episode, the oldest of the three Dunphy children, Haley, is arrested for underage drinking while away at college and her parents and lawyer uncle try to protect her from a potentially harsh punishment.
One of Mancuso's favorite lines comes near the end of the episode. Phil's daughter suggests that a simple solution to her troubles can be found in wearing a cute outfit to the hearing like the fictional Elle Woods does in Legally Blonde. Dad tells her, "Honey, this is real life, not an excellent movie."
She breaks into laughter after reciting the line. "The whole episode has so many gems," she said. "I just think that line is really funny."
Aside from laugh-worthy one-liners, Mancuso said what she really likes about the episode is that Ty Burrell, who plays loveable dad Phil Dunphy, "steps up and becomes a strong father figure."
The child who grew up enjoying TV with her family spent a couple years at Northern Illinois University before making her way to California to pursue a degree in film.
After beginning a career in production, her first big break was on the sitcom Roseanne as an assistant director.
A position as a director opened on the show and Mancuso asked Roseanne — yes, as in Roseanne Barr — for a shot at the job. That kind of move takes guts. Mancuso partly credits her early days at Jane Addams Elementary School in Melrose Park, and the teachers who encouraged creativity, as a major confidence builder.
Her nerve earned a job directing one episode that year, which led to directing two entire seasons of Roseanne. A number of notable credits followed, including Friends, Scrubs and Community.
One would think after being surrounded by well-known actors over 20-plus years that the mere sight of a celebrity would have little to no effect on the seasoned director. But that isn't the case for Mancuso.
"I still get star-struck. When I meet certain famous people I am blown away," she said, noting TV late-night host Conan O'Brien and Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage. "I have such a deep honor for actors."
The Emmy Awards ceremony is special to her for a number of reasons beyond being surrounded by the actors and TV personalities she admires. For one, she was nominated while serving on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Board of Governors, which, she said, is "like a double scoop of your favorite ice cream."
The ceremony is also special because she is in a group of seven female directors nominated for an Emmy this year. Along with Mancuso in the comedy category are Lena Dunham for Girls and Beth McCathy-Miller for 30 Rock.
There are so few female TV directors that Mancuso is planning a dinner where they can all get together to celebrate their accomplishments.
"Sure, I'd like to bring her home," said Mancuso referring to the Emmy statue, "but I've already won with the nomination."
No matter the outcome, Mancuso said she is looking forward to her husband and children sharing the experience with her. Mancuso's balance between life in L.A. and life in River Forest proves the importance of family in her life.
"She is a phenomenal human being," said her brother Gary Mancuso over the phone. "I am thrilled to call her my sister and she is also my friend."
While L.A. is where she works, family keeps her local ties.
"Home is the Chicagoland area for me and my husband," says Mancuso. "We love Los Angeles, but we strive to be in River Forest."
For now, however, her plate is full on the West Coast.
"What's coming next is a show on TBS called Ground Floor with a couple of people from the movie Pitch Perfect," she said, naming Skyler Astin and Alexis Knapp, "and John McGinley from Scrubs." The show is set to air in November. Mancuso also has nine more episodes of Modern Family lined up.
Between now and the Emmys, part of Mancuso's time will be spent at dinners, with the press and, of course, a dress fitting to attend an occasion she calls "the best prom ever."
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