In season two of The Bear, the story comes out of the kitchen and into the world, following each of the ensemble cast in a deeper and more dedicated way as they work to flip The Beef into a high-end (hopefully Michelin-starred) restaurant. Viewers see Sydney exploring her palette through Chicago’s restaurant scene, Marcus heads to Copenhagen to learn about desserts under the tutelage of Will Poulter’s forearms, Tina and Ebraheim go to culinary school, and Richie finds self-respect while staging at an Alinea-esque dining room. All of this was done to the delight of critics, who rewarded the show’s turn with a perfect 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes — and the slight melancholy of Ebon Moss-Bachrach.
“I knew ahead of time that there was going to be less of everyone together in the restaurant, which I kind of mourned,” he said. “It’s really fun for me to have a day with everyone together, and those kitchen scenes feel very volatile alive — and it’s just a really nice group of people and I enjoy spending the day with them.”
Moss-Bachrach called the Hollywood Reporter from his European vacation, where he and family are watching an episode of season two each night (next up: “Fishes”), to dissect the most important moments of the show and offer his take on the emotionally explosive season finale.
First of all, thank you so much for doing this on your summer vacation — the timing with the release of the show, and No Hard Feelings, must be wild.
I think this is how it worked out last year, too. This is the time of year I look forward to most, when I can be greedy and take my family away and I get to spend all day with them. But they’re happy to have a break from me [for this call].
You’ve spoken about your uneasiness with watching yourself onscreen, and with both The Bear and No Hard Feelings premiering the same weekend, I’m wondering if you had a better time watching yourself within the experience of a big movie premiere?
Well the real difference is just the screen time, I think I’m mostly done by the time the title credits hit. It’s like in Law & Order, when you get shot in the head and then it’s boom “Law & Order.” But the watching myself, that’s a personal thing. There could be a million people around me and it wouldn’t make a difference.
How much did you know about the arc of this season before you started working on it?
At one point during season one, Chris laid out in broad strokes the entire trajectory of the series. So if we do go on to have another season, I know what that would be in a general sense as well. I knew ahead of time that we would be diving deeper into people’s personal lives.
I think of episode seven (“Forks”); what did shooting those scenes in the very quiet Michelin-starred kitchen feel like in contrast to the chaotic kitchen scenes you said you enjoy so much?
Well, it was lonely. I embraced it, because I think that was similar to the way Richie was feeling. I was in a very strange, inhospitable environment. For a couple of days, I don’t think any other actors were there. It felt like I was in a completely different show, and to some degree I was.
Do you remember anything in particular jumping out at you the first time you sat down and read the scripts for all 10 episodes?
One of the main things I remember is that people were talking about their feelings a lot more than the first season (laughs). I was like wow, there’s a lot of sharing going on this season.
I’m not sure how granular you get insofar as trying to predict what Chris and the writers are going to come up with, but did you have any hopes or expectations for Richie’s storyline this season?
I did want him to have some kind of victory, whether it be personal or professional. Even something tiny, you know, because I think he loses so much. And when I’m watching something I love to see a character celebrate in a full-throated way. We don’t get to celebrate much, I think victories are few and far between and I’m kind of a cynical person so I enjoy living that out. Richie is so fully committed in conflict, and in battle, and I wanted people to see that joy could also be at a very high volume.
How much of a victory do you think he got? I felt like he was quite victorious in terms of finding his place at The Bear, and coming into his own especially when Carmy (Jeremy Allen) is stuck in the walk-in and they need a leader. But that fight at the very end could be seen as a fall…
Well, life is fleeting. Wins are fleeting. Losses are fleeting. It all changes on a dime, and we slip back into old patterns. I think something that was a really insightful piece of writing was [in episode seven] when we see him feeling really good, and then he falls back into this conversation with Carmy where he accuses him of sending him to the restaurant to get rid of him. Right after he’s had this success, we find him back in his car having a dark, accusatory conversation, and I think that’s so smart and true to life.
Is there such a thing as an irreparable fight between Carmy and Richie? Some of the things they said to each other feel like they’re hard to come back from, but I’m also mindful of the fact that they have a long history together and maybe we’re just getting small glimpses of fights they’ve had over and over?
I think that to Richie, Carmy is very unknowable. He’s a man that didn’t come to his brother’s funeral, he doesn’t express much. I think they have love for each other, and there’s that moment in the first episode where Carmy does say, I’m not gonna drop your ass. But I don’t think Richie completely trusts him. There’s a line in [episode] seven where Richie says to Tiffany, he’s a strange little dude, or something like that. Donna Berzatto, Michael Berzatto, even Sugar — they’re honest to a fault and you know where you stand with them (even though with Donna it might change from second to second). And with Carmy you can’t really tell. This is a really long-winded answer, but I think there probably is a version of an irreparable fight.
What do you want to see happen with the Carmy and Claire (Molly Gordon) storyline? Do you find it sad that he wasn’t able to make it work?
I just feel bad for him. I think he hates himself, and that makes me sad.
Let’s talk about the Christmas episode; were you told about the cameos all at once or did they sort of trickle in?
All at once would be funny, it’s like a country auction or something. Under this seat: Bob Odenkirk! No no, they came in piecemeal, I think.
Maybe this is a broader question about how much you talk to Chris about Richie’s backstory off the page, but how surprised were you by that glimpse into his history with Tiffany? Did you have a version of it in your own head?
Well, that’s the work that I think all actors do by themselves. You have to fill in so blanks, and if I have questions then I can ask Chris and he’s always very happy to talk about it. But for the most part I’m really happy to do that work by myself, and I also don’t know how important it is that it align with Chris’ idea. I think it’s nice when there is a discrepancy in interpretation.
What kind of backstory had you created for Richie and Tiffany? I personally was surprised, and a little sad, to see that there was a time when they were happy — it made me realize that I had assumed they were always a bit estranged from or foreign to each other.
I think I might have had a similar thought to you, that it was never so great. But I think this is more interesting, you know? To have something really valuable that is lost is so much more interesting than just some shitty relationship that gets shittier and then evaporates. In “Fishes,” we see how there was a fork in the road at some point for Richie. He had wanted to do something else, to move to a different neighborhood, to be responsible. There’s a lightness to him, I think he’s having a really great night and one of the few people that is really excited and happy to be there with that family. It’s a window into how far he’s fallen.
When you mentioned earlier loving to shoot chaotic, highly-choreographed scenes — where does the Christmas episode rank in comparison to season one kitchen scenes, how did it scratch your itch for that chaotic camaraderie?
Well the itch was scratched, that’s for sure. It was funny, during those scenes where Jamie Lee Curtis is cooking, there was a big line of us out in the hallway waiting to time our entrances. I think everyone walked through that kitchen at one point. It was really exciting and fun, we were laughing a lot. I was deeply relieved that I didn’t have to do all that stuff Jamie had to, that was an enormous amount of work. I really take my hat off to her, and how prepared she was. But I like those scenes, I like when you can get a little sauce and gravy on your shoes.
I had so much anxiety every time the camera panned to the kitchen timer absolutely covered in red sauce…
Oh yeah, and those tight shots of the bubbling cauldron. My family and I are up to that episode, so I think we’re going to watch it tonight.
Logistically, what was the set-up for the big fight scene in the finale?
I haven’t seen the episode yet, so maybe they didn’t use this, but they set up a shot where they literally pulled away a door and we were both in the same frame. So we were there together. Together and apart. (laughs) It’s this thing where, there’s a lot of stuff you can’t say to someone when you’re looking at them. It’s unusual to be just inches apart from each other but not be face to face.
How heavy is it to shoot those fight scenes with Jeremy?
That was a really hard scene to make. It just felt bad. For me, what got me through the scene was looking at Molly’s face right before. I just wanted to be like, why would you — why would he — do something like that? What did you do to this girl? What is wrong with you? It’s infuriating and confounding and frustrating that he would be so callous and dismissive with his feelings and with her feelings. It just felt really shitty.
I need to segue into a comparably much more vapid question.
I want to make sure I ask you about Richie’s suits.
I have pretty strong feelings about wardrobe, and Christina [Spiridakis] and Courtney [Wheeler] our costume designers and I talked about what Richie should be wearing. I had ideas for the suit, because he’s like a real Michael Mann guy. I thought he would probably want to emulate, like, Al Pacino in Heat. I liked a black suit with a dark shirt and a dark tie, that seemed fitting for him. They agreed, and were into that. You know, it’s obviously off the rack. I don’t think he spent a lot of time shopping.
Do you keep anything from set at the end of each season?
Well Courtney Storer gave me a little pair of Italian boxing gloves to hang on my rear view mirror. That was a really nice gift. I have a couple really nice knives that I use. I don’t take any of the wardrobe. I do have a ‘The Berf’ shirt, which I gave to my daughter. And I definitely take my heightened cholesterol from Chicago home with me.
People really love the shot of Richie singing “Love Story” — what sort of song would you personally put on in the car after the end of a victorious day?
It’s gotta be Hot Chip. If I’m not singing along, I’ll go windows down. If I’m extra inspired to sing, then those windows are definitely coming back up.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
The Bear is now streaming on Hulu.