Dan Snierson
December 08, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EST

Image Credit: ART STREIBER FOR EWThe term “family comedy” does not usually bring to mind laughs that are sharp or surprising. Corny-syrupy is more like it. But in 2010, Modern Family proved that you can’t always judge a series by its genre, as the show took home the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, among other accolades. Of course, as we toast Modern’s impressive collection of comedic talent (Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), it’s easy to overlook an important part of the show — the part that’s not legally old enough to toast yet. That’s why in EW’s Entertainers of the Year Issue — on newsstands now — we raise a glass of sparkling apple cider to Rico Rodriguez (Manny), Nolan Gould (Luke), Ariel Winter (Alex), and Sarah Hyland (Hayley). (And, sure, a sippy cup to twins Ella and Jaden Hiller, who play baby Lily.) “Even at the thought of doing a family show, there’s an initial instinct to say, ‘Ummm, let’s make this animated,’ so we don’t actually have to work with real kids, because there are so many pitfalls,” chuckles Steven Levitan, who created the series with Christopher Lloyd. “We were really nervous about it. But we were unbelievably surprised at how good they are, and how they can pretty much do whatever we write for them.” To learn more about these young actors, check out these bonus quotes from our interviews: 

Rico Rodriguez on the best perk of stardom: “Probably when we go to Chick-fil-A — a couple times they gave us a free meal. And we had three people, so it’s like two chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, fries and drinks — I mean, it’s not a lot of money, but it’s so nice of them to do that because we’re willing to pay. We still ask, ‘Are you sure you don’t want us to pay?’ And they go, ‘No, it’s on us!’ It’s pretty darn cool.” Christopher Lloyd on Rodriguez: “There’s a lot of kids who would play this lothario with a wink to the audience and a slickness, and there’s nothing slick about him. It just seems like his heart is right out on his sleeve.”

Nolan Gould (who’s a member of Mensa) on the fun of playing Luke (who’s definitely not): “The best thing is that he’s not like me and I get to do a lot of physical comedy. It’s difficult but also is really fun. I get to run into walls or screen doors, things that I’ve always wanted to do — yes, I’ve wanted to run into a screen door or go on a trampoline with a pogo stick. Those are things I don’t usually get to do. I get to be another person when I go to work.” Lloyd on Gould: “He’s a brain-first kind of guy. He’d listen to you and process it, even when you were talking to him about what expression you wanted him to have on this face when his head was caught between two banisters and his father’s greasing him up with baby oil to pull him loose. It was all very serious business for him. But then we discovered the more practical joker side of him. And you never really knew who you were dealing with — is he Luke or Nolan? He’s just a brilliant kid.”

Ariel Winter on her dream episode for Alex: “I would like to see Alex get involved in music. She could start a band or sing on the show, and we could do an episode like Glee. It would be cool to show how a smart girl can be really popular and fun in real life. I write music, but of course if we had to do someone else’s song, it would probably be Bruno Mars’. If I could do a duet with Bruno Mars — oh my god, I would be the happiest person in the world.” Steven Levitan on Winter: “She’s as every bit as smart as Alex. She’s vulnerable and likeable, so the vulnerability allows her to be acerbic — and for you to still go along for the ride and feel Alex’s pain a little bit when she sometimes feels like she doesn’t belong there.”

Sarah Hyland on playing Hayley: “My favorite types of scenes are when Haley is just plain stupid. She’s oblivious to the fact that she’s saying something that’s completely either irrelevant to the conversation or just the opposite of what she means. Like when Alex says, ‘You have to drive me to the Museum of Tolerance,’ and I go, ‘Okay. Where’s Tolerance?’ It’s like, are you kidding me? But I think it’s hilarious. I love to play the dumb girl.” Lloyd on Hyland: “Sarah could have just been a Valley girl gum snappy superficial kind of girl if done the wrong way, and she’s found a way to really humanize the character. She shows the right amount of concern towards her brothers and sisters and a little sassiness towards her parents – a little bit of intelligence when you least expect it.”

Time to weigh in: What are your favorite under-21 moments and punchlines from Modern Family? (We’ve always had a soft spot for Manny’s “You have a laugh that makes science lab seem like recess.” )

For more about the kids of Modern Family and EW’s 14 other 2010 Entertainers of the Year, pick up the Dec. 10 issue of the magazine, with Taylor Swift on the cover.

Read more:

EW’s 2010 Entertainer of the Year: Taylor Swift

Gallery: 15 EW Entertainers of the Year

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