The Bear on FX and Hulu is a dark comedy that follows Carmy Berzatto, a fine dining chef who comes home to Chicago to run his family’s sandwich shop.
By casting mostly Chicago actors who represent the diversity of the city’s restaurant industry, showrunners ensured The Bear feels authentically Chicago.
While lead actor Jeremy Allen White, who plays Berzatto, originally hails from Brooklyn, he starred in the Chicago-set show Shameless for 10 years.
White recently joined WBEZ’s Reset to discuss what it was like to create The Bear, what he’d like to explore with his character and more.
On prepping for the world of working in restaurants:
“Before the show, I was really useless in the kitchen. So my first job when I accepted the role was to get to work, so I went to culinary school in Pasadena for a couple of weeks and learned a lot there — the basics. Then I spent a lot of time at a restaurant called Pasjoli in Santa Monica, with Chef Dave Beran, who’s a really tremendous chef who actually was here in Chicago for a long time. So he was really generous with his time. I did prep with them some days. I was kind of a fly on the wall sometimes, just really trying to watch like the movement of choreography of a kitchen and try to figure out the communication aspect. And then I got shoved on the line, so at a certain point I was actually preparing foods that was being served to customers.”
On what could and couldn’t be faked:
“Kind of the movement of the kitchen and physicality of the cooks and chefs that I spent time with, you know, that they’re always kind of hunched over because they’re always over a counter. I think in Carmy’s case, he feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders all the time, but I saw like a similar physicality with all the chefs that I spent time with. So I thought that was something I could fake and I could kind of just learn by watching. But then the stuff I couldn’t fake was like all the knife work, which really just took repetition, just a lot of hours. I had little stations set up for myself while we were shooting the pilot in my hotel room. I brought my knife with me and every night before bed I spent like 30 minutes to an hour just cutting.”
On how his experience on Shameless compares to The Bear:
“It was so nice to be on Shameless for as long as it was because I learned so much from the other actors that I worked with; it really was like a bootcamp or a gym, like I got to do so much because we shot for so long. And I got to grow with the character of Lip, which is something that not a lot of actors get to experience. I don’t know if it necessarily prepared me specifically for Carmy. What struck me about the script [of The Bear] upon reading it was just how human it felt. And I think Shameless felt human in a similar way where, you know, right now I feel like there’s so much television film that’s sort of overrun by all these franchises, which are all really exciting and fun and you’re in space or in sci-fi or superheroes, and it’s all really exciting, but I was really excited about making another show that’s like simple in a way but also the most complicated, which is just about people trying to change.”
On what he’d like to explore with his character, Carmy:
“There’s something that [show creator] Chris [Storer] and I spoke about a lot even before we shot the pilot, which is the idea of Carmy creating sort of the restaurant of his dreams for The Bear and kind of finally receiving the notoriety that I think he craves so much, but then still being kind of miserable and lonely. I think that’s an interesting thing to explore when somebody is focused on something so specific, and they’ve been so driven in one direction and then they finally get that thing that they think they want, but it doesn’t fill whatever hole that they have.”
On how he orders Italian beef:
“Hot peppers and wet, just like totally dipped.”
Bianca Cseke is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @biancacseke1.