"I was pregnant with twins, and I kept thinking they weren't going to hire me," says in the current issue of PEOPLE. "They kept bringing me in over and over and sort of staring at my humungous belly, and I thought, 'I'm never getting this job.' "
Distraught that she might miss out on "the best script I'd read in pilot season in years," Bowen, now 46, says she "went home and cried and cried and cried."
Flash forward six years (and two Emmy wins), and Bowen is now the happy mom of three – though she does admit raising Oliver, 8 and Gus and John, 6, with her real-estate investor husband Scott Phillips, 42, sometimes has her living in "survival mode."
"If we're going to the park, I'm going to be mud-splattered so I'm not thinking about how I'm going to have to physically present myself," she says.
As she looks towards the future, Bowen is grateful for her time spent on Modern Family, but the actress – who is nominated again this year for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy – says she's also interested in stepping behind the camera.
"I love Modern Family, but the reality is, it is a very safe place," she says. "I think to get that feeling of pride back, I need to feel a little unsafe again."
RELATED VIDEO: How Julie Bowen Landed the Role of a Lifetime – While Pregnant with Twins!
For more on Bowen and more of this year's Emmy-nominated actresses, including exclusive portraits, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE