Rico Rodriguez knows adults watch the Emmy-winning ABC comedy “Modern Family,” but he’s often surprised when kids half his age come up and say, “Mr. Rico, you’re really good on the show.”

“When I was their age, I used to watch ‘SpongeBob’ or ‘Dora,’?” says the 12-year-old actor. But in an era in which primetime programming for the whole family has gone on life support, Rodriguez and fellow young’uns Nolan Gould (11), Ariel Winter (12) and Sarah Hyland (19) have made “Modern Family” go-to viewing for all ages. Rodriguez quickly emerged as a “Family” favorite last fall with his performance as Manny Delgado, a boy whose grown-up interests don’t come at the cost of his innocence.

“Believe it or not, I was the shyest boy in the world,” Rodriguez says of his pre-Manny days. “I would hide behind my mom’s leg and not talk to anybody. My first audition, I wanted my mom to go in there, but acting class really made me open up my shell.”

Rodriguez says that he first voiced an interest in acting at age 8 after his older sister Raini began pursuing it and admits that his parents originally didn’t know how seriously to take his ambition — having previously heard their son tell them he wanted to be a wrestler, a NASCAR driver and a moon traveler.

Even with the success of “Modern Family,” Rodriguez’s ambitions are no less diverse. He likes to direct and edit movies at home using Windows Movie Maker. “But I also would love to be a chef, because lately I have this craving where I need to cook.”