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The Transformation Of Ariel Winter From Modern Family To Now

As part of an award-winning ensemble cast, Ariel Winter portrayed Alex Dunphy on all 11 seasons of ABC's "Modern Family." The bespectacled, nerdy character was a stretch for Winter, but she was up for the challenge. Cast as a child, she already had an impressive résumé with guest spots on Fox's "Bones" and CBS' "Criminal Minds." She'd even flown to Germany to film the 2008 movie "Speed Racer." Winter quickly became a fan favorite on the popular sitcom, as well as a teen icon (even if her storylines weren't always the best).

At age 11, Winter was thrown into the limelight not only for her portrayal of Alex on the show, but also for her own personal style. Over the years, she went from sweet to sultry, and always appreciated the support she got from her castmates. "I was surrounded by so many great people that were really supportive of me and really, you know, wanted me to thrive," she told ET Online. "[They] told me all the time that they believed in me and thought I should be confident."

By the time "Modern Family" wrapped in 2020, Winter was all grown up. It was hard to say goodbye to the very real family she'd formed with the cast, but she was ready for new roles and a new look, too. Here's how she's changed since.

The Starks are always right in the end: Ariel Winter is coming

When "Modern Family" ended, Winter wasted no time moving forward. First, she changed her look from Alex Dunphy's dark brown to a bright red shade she'd been dying to return to ever since sampling it between seasons in 2019. At the time, she'd reveled in the change, even though she couldn't keep it. She was utterly unrecognizable and, according to Allure, over the moon about the disguise. 

"Dyeing it this color was something I was really excited to do," she told Allure the first time around. "But the day after I dyed it, I felt like a different person. I walked past my bathroom mirror and was like, 'Oh my god! Who's in my bathroom?' And it was literally me. But I love it. It's my favorite style I've done so far."

Winter certainly looked nothing like Alex Dunphy once she left "Modern Family." A few months later, she transformed her appearance once again, popping up on Instagram as a beautiful platinum blonde. She debuted the look in dramatic fashion, playfully captioning her new photo gallery, "Winter Is Coming!!!!!!!!!!!"

Fans loved it, and so did she. But what about Winter's acting career? Was she set to take a break after growing up on a hit sitcom?

Ariel Winter won't be Alex forever

Winter may look different these days, but there's no denying she's still the same stunning and skilled actress, with devoted fans eager to see her in new roles. And she's already off to a great start. Her experience on "Modern Family" was positive and life-altering. Now that it's over, she's looking to move on, and is open to discovering — as opposed to forcing — her next step.

"I'm excited to play new roles and to do things that challenge me a little more. Alex is a great character but Alex doesn't change a ton," she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. "I don't want to play kid to adult. I want to just play my age now."

Winter's first project after "Modern Family" was the comedy-thriller "Don't Log Off," an independent film about a girl who goes missing from a virtual birthday party. Winter plays the lead and, according to Deadline, had a role in producing the film.

Winter is targeting more grown-up roles

Even before "Modern Family" ended, Winter was breaking out as an actress and demonstrating her range. In the 2015 film "Safelight," a road trip tale involving two teens on a quest to photograph lighthouses, Winter plays a more dramatic role. Director Tony Aloupis told We Blab Entertainment Magazine she had no trouble at all managing it. "Ariel is so prepared and professional. We briefly discussed her character and she ran with it," he said. "She needed very little direction from me."

Two years later, in 2017, Winter worked with legendary actor Burt Reynolds on the film "The Last Movie Star." This time, she plays the racy Lil McFougal, wearing fake tattoos, sipping wine in a bubble bath, and appearing onscreen in a lacy black thong. According to AP Wire, Winter told "Entertainment Tonight" that she looked forward to more movie roles.

"Doing something different is definitely intentional for me because I want to broaden my horizons," she said. "I would like to do different things, because I've been doing ["Modern Family"] for 10 years next year."

Appearance in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

In yet another role that allowed her to break away from "Modern Family," Winter appeared on one of television's longest-running series, which has served as a rite of passage for many of the industry's most successful actors. In 2019, Winter had a guest appearance on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in Season 21, Episode 2, "The Darkest Journey Home." She played Raegan, a wild party girl who is assaulted and seeks justice.

Winter was excited to have a part in one of her favorite shows, and she took the opportunity seriously. Working closely with TV legend Mariska Hargitay, she felt she was able to do right by the character and grow as an actress. Reflecting on the experience, she shared with Entertainment Weekly, "It's weird to say, like, doing an episode of something was life-changing, but for me it was mildly life-changing working with her." She continued, "I left there and I felt completely different because I had a new outlook on so many different things, that were not all related to acting."

Thriving in a women-led project

As a budding actor using every opportunity as a chance to refine her craft and further discover herself, the 2023 road trip comedy "Tripped Up" emerged as the ideal venture for Ariel Winter to continue her career evolution. Having never previously worked on a women-led project, Winter found this new experience a refreshing change from what she was used to from "Modern Family." Speaking with Screen Rant, Winter opened up about what drew her to the role, saying, "Ever since 'Modern Family' ended, I just have wanted to play as many different characters as I could and kind of establish myself as an actress that is my age [and] is no longer a kid."

Certainly, Winter's portrayal of Kai in "Tripped Up" was an effective departure from her iconic Alex Dunphy persona. While Alex epitomized a no-nonsense intellect, Kai allowed Winter to explore a laid-back character with a positive life perspective. This subtle yet significant shift underscored Winter's skillset that went beyond audience expectations.

Continuing voice acting

Beginning her career as a child actor, Ariel Winter initially got her start by lending her voice to various background characters in animated projects. However, it was her portrayal of Gretchen in the Disney Channel series "Phineas and Ferb" that truly defined her early years in the industry. Even as she secured a role on the popular show "Modern Family," Winter continued down the path of voice acting.

Her animated film credits include titles such as "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" and "Smurfs: The Lost Village." Additionally, she brought life to characters like Marina the Mermaid in "Jake and the Never Land Pirates" and the title character in "Sofia the First." Transitioning from her adolescent years in "Modern Family" to adulthood, Winter has remained connected to her voice-acting roots with guest appearances in episodes of shows like "American Dad," "Star Trek: Lower Decks," "Elena of Avalor," and "Firebuds." In a 2017 interview with Conan O'Brien, Winter showcased her unique talent by revealing her "weird" baby voice, making it easy to see her knack for the art form. For Winter, voice acting is just one of the many challenges she enjoys taking on as an actor.

Transitioning from TV to video game acting

Along with voice acting for film and television, Ariel Winter has also ventured into video game acting. Her first gig dates back to 2010 when she voiced Young Kairi in the sixth installment in the "Kingdom Hearts" series, "Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep." More recently, Winter has delved deeper into video game acting, with a role in the horror video game "The Quarry." Within this interactive experience, Winter plays the character Abigail, one of nine camp counselors tasked with surviving their final night at a summer camp amid supernatural creatures and hostile locals.

In a departure from traditional voice acting, Winter not only lends her voice to the character but also contributes her likeness and movements through motion capture, providing a wholly immersive experience for both the actor and the audience. "It is so, so different because usually, regular voice acting, I just go into the studio, I'm in my PJs and I just go for it and we record, nobody sees me, there's nothing crazy," she told Pop Culture in an interview. "With this, it was like full days of body scans, face scans, everything." As a horror fan herself, participating in the project — despite how new and different it seemed — was a no-brainer.

Stepping behind the camera with boyfriend Luke Benward

In 2021, Ariel Winter and her boyfriend, Luke Benward, collaborated to bring the short film "Boys" to life, with Benward taking on the directorial role and Winter assuming the position of producer. Despite their familiarity with being in front of the camera, the dynamic duo seized the opportunity to venture behind the camera for a change.

Opening up about her experience in an interview with Awards Daily, Winter expressed her initial nervousness about being an effective producer and the pressure to satisfy everyone involved. "Was I going to be able to make everyone happy?" she wondered. The challenges of producing became evident, especially the patience required during the waiting period for the project to come to fruition. She explained, "The hardest thing about producing is waiting for it to get made. I talked to other producers and they said you could wait up until seven years to get it all done. We were lucky enough to make it ourselves." The film tells the story of two young boys and their loss of innocence. "Boys" received acclaim at various festivals and earned consideration for the 2022 Academy Awards in the live-action short category, a remarkable achievement for a debut director and producer.

The pilot that didn't get picked up

Ariel Winter's return to mainstream television following her role in "Modern Family" generated high expectations when it was announced she had replaced Demi Lovato as the lead in the NBC comedy series "Hungry." Initially in development with Lovato as the producer and star, the project paved the way for Winter's anticipated comeback when Lovato exited due to scheduling conflicts. Expressing her enthusiasm in an Instagram post announcing the news, Winter wrote, "I am SO EXCITED to join the 'Hungry' fam. I love this show and everyone involved so I couldn't be happier or more ready to get to work."

The multi-camera series was set to follow a group of friends in a food-issues group supporting each other as they navigated the ups and downs of life together. In addition to Winter, the pilot featured a stellar cast, including Valerie Bertinelli, Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, Ryan McPartlin, Alex Brightman, and Ashley D. Kelley. Unfortunately, the series didn't progress beyond the pilot stage, as NBC opted not to pick it up. While setbacks are common in the entertainment industry, this decision was obviously a disappointment for Winter. Nevertheless, she persevered, moving on to pursue even greater opportunities in her career.

Becoming a reality star contestant

In true Ariel Winter fashion, the actor once again embraced the unfamiliar by participating as a contestant on the Fox celebrity reality show "Stars on Mars." The series immersed its cast in shared experiences within the confines of a simulated space station. Throughout their tenure, participants confronted authentic challenges mimicking life on Mars in a competitive setting. Each week, an elimination vote ultimately sent one crewmate back to Earth.

In an impressive feat, Winter ascended to the top 7 out of 16 contestants before voluntarily departing the show after finding herself in the bottom three during episode 10. "I came here, I didn't think I was going to make it past mission one. I've overcome a lot of things." she reflected in the episode (via Deadline). "But as you know, I love the word fair. I was not mission-critical today and I feel like I deserve to go." Who knows? Given her positive experience on the show, maybe there's a chance we might witness Winter gracing another reality series in the future.

Reprising her role as Gretchen in Phineas and Ferb revivial

While Ariel Winter's portrayal of Alex Dunphy in "Modern Family" marked her mainstream breakthrough, her true career-launching role occurred before that, and many might not immediately connect her to it. That role was Gretchen in the immensely popular Disney Channel animated series "Phineas and Ferb." From 2007 to 2014, she brought the Fireside Girl to life across 18 episodes during the show's four-season run. Fast forward almost a decade, and Winter is set to revisit her role in the "Phineas and Ferb" revival. The revival will include 40 new episodes split into two seasons, with an anticipated release in 2024. According to IMDb, Winter is featured in at least one of the episodes.

The prospect of a revival involving the return of key cast members like Winter evokes a wave of nostalgia for those who cherished the original show during its initial run. Fans can look forward to rediscovering the charm and camaraderie that Gretchen brought to the animated ensemble while new generations are presented with the exciting opportunity to embark on their first discovery of the show. Returning to the character will likely be just as fulfilling for Winter as it will be for audiences.

Another indie feature in the books

As Ariel Winter dips her toe back into the mainstream scene, she's simultaneously broadened her horizons in independent filmmaking with her role in the indie feature "Pools," helmed by writer-director Sam Hayes. The narrative revolves around a group of summer school college students embarking on a pool-hopping escapade through Chicago's upscale Lake Forest estates. What begins as a lighthearted adventure evolves into a night of self-discovery, unraveling hidden truths and fostering transformation. Winter takes on the role of Delaney, a character who, amid a love triangle, indicates conflict but harbors a desire to rekindle a lost friendship.

Although footage of "Pools" was screened for potential buyers at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival under Jackrabbit Media, there's been no word on the film's acquisition rights. The public eagerly awaits Winter's return to the big screen in what promises to be one of her most captivating roles to date.