WCCO film critic Rusty Gatenby played a key character in the series finale of “Modern Family” — although viewers never saw his face.
In the first part of Wednesday’s hour-long episode, Cameron Tucker (Eric Stonestreet) receives a life-changing phone call from the athletic director at the fictional University of North Central Missouri, offering him the position as head football coach.
The voice belonged to Gatenby.
The local media personality, who was a features reporter at KSTP from 1983-2014, attended the University of Wisconsin with the sitcom’s co-creator Steven Levitan. The two have remained tight.
“We know each other’s dramas,” Gatenby said minutes after the finale ended. “We have been each other’s shoulder to cry on.”
Gatenby, Levitan and two other fraternity brothers were on a ski trip together in early March. A few days after they all returned home, Levitan called Gatenby and asked if he’d be interested in contributing to the monumental episode.
The Hollywood hotshot ended up directing his buddy through FaceTime as Gatenby recorded his lines from his Twin Cities house. “Anybody watching from Missouri was probably saying, ‘What kind of crazy Missouri accent was that?’” Gatenby said.
Gatenby’s role was historic in one other way: He was the last actor listed in the final credits.
Keen observers will notice that his character’s name was Jim Alvarez, a nod to legendary Badgers head coach Barry Alvarez. The last name of Stonestreet’s character is also a nod to their frat buddy, Scott Tucker.
Gatenby was thrilled at his friend’s mega-success, although he is quick to point out that he once got a job directing a college variety show, a gig Levitan also coveted.
“I guess that means I was more talented than he was at the time,” he said.
Gatenby can be heard — and seen — Fridays on WCCO’s morning show.