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‘The Bear’ Star Lionel Boyce on Working With Will Poulter, Ramy Youssef and Not Taking the “Safe Route” for Season 2

[This story contains spoilers from season two, episode four of The Bear, “Honeydew.”]

In season two of The Bear, Lionel Boyce’s Marcus goes on a journey.

It’s both external and internal, as bottle episode “Honeydew” sees Marcus reluctantly leave his ailing, nonverbal mother and traveling beyond the borders of Chicago for the first time to stage in Copenhagen under a chef named Luca (Will Poulter). He’s there to create three dishes for The Bear‘s dessert menu. But the experience — like those of his fellow staff at The Beef — delivers on more than just a meal.

Marcus’ intense experiences in and out of the kitchen “ignite” the rest of his season two journey, Boyce tells The Hollywood Reporter, and help him to understand arguably his biggest lesson so far: That “you make with heart, not with skill.” It’s an emotional episode, directed by Ramy Youssef, that underscores The Bear‘s return not as the fast-paced, anxiety-inducing “punch in the face” that was season one, but something more personal, introspective and transformative for its entire cast.

It’s the most significant performance across a two-season run for Boyce, who before working on the Emmy-winning FX and Hulu show formed Bald Fade Productions with Tyler, the Creator, which saw them produce sketch comedy series Loiter Squad, animated quarter-hour adult comedy The Jellies!, and now a series of in-development projects alongside a first-look deal at Sony Pictures Television.

Ahead of season two, the actor spoke to THR about why co-showrunners Chris Storer and Joanna Calo made the tonal and pacing shift; working with director Youssef and co-star Poulter; what was behind the episode’s quietest (and loudest) moments; and why it’s worth looking at every character’s season-two journey as part of a larger story.

The tone, pacing, cinematography, music supervision — there’s so much that’s different about season two. Were you aware of those changes going in?

I didn’t know. I just know Chris [Storer]. He is a person who likes to change, and he has good instincts. So I felt like, whatever he does, season two will not feel like season one. That’s what I knew. Then, when I got the scripts, I was like, “Of course.” I didn’t know specifically how it would be different or how it would change. But I knew that he had the idea of wanting to explore people’s lives. In season one, you’re like, these are these people. Now it’s, who are these people in the second season? Why are these people the way they are? Even the way that he filmed things reflected that tonal shift, and the pace reflected each person’s home life. This is completely different, which I think is cool. It’s also a little nerve-wracking because people love the intensity of season one. It’s not starting there. So, how will people feel? I don’t know. I think that’s what’s so cool and smart. He found a way to take a risk and make it feel dangerous while creating the show. This is not the safe route of starting it right back with a fast pace that’s punching you in the face like a punk song.

What Marcus is whipping up here in this Copenhagen kitchen is different from what he was doing for The Beef. Did you do any training for this episode?

Oh yeah, 100 percent. So much training. I was so nervous about it. For season two, I worked with Courtney Storer, our culinary producer, Chris’s sister. She’s an amazing chef. I would go to her house and I think that was also helpful for building up the character for this season. Learning about her and how she approaches stuff — she’s extremely creative and very open. She’d be like, “Obviously we need to practice shaping and doing all these things, but let’s have some fun with it. What do you like to make? What do you like to eat?” It tapped into the fun of a chef getting to a certain level and having the ability to create whatever they want. It was fun, and it was also delicious. (Laughs.)

Ramy Youssef was your director for this episode. Can you talk about how you and he worked together, and the way he helped shape this episode?

It was cool because this was also the first director outside of Chris and Joanna [Calo] — someone outside of our own house. Everyone making the show before had been there since the go. This is a person coming in. I know Chris wanted this episode to feel different, like this is not even our show. We got a different DP for the episode — Adam Newport-Berra— who’s incredible. He actually shot the pilot. But I love Ramy because he has a child-like wonder in the way he approaches things. So the things he cared about were different from things that we would talk to Chris about.

[Youssef’s] approach to shooting it, how many takes he chose to do versus how Chris likes to do a few takes and move on and not let it feel stale, is I feel, the mindset. Whereas Ramy’s like, “Let’s get in the groove, and we may make a detour somewhere and then let’s explore that detour.” Also, we knew it was in Copenhagen and I know he spent a little bit more time out there just to get a feel of the city. People shoot episodes in another place, and it’s a delicate thing where he wanted it to feel very much like this is the backdrop — as if it was our hometown and we know it. The places that we choose to go are places that feel like it’s not just the five big things that you can Google. This is a place that, if you’re here, then you know this is a legit good place or has meaning to it. It was thoughtful.

Marcus goes to Copenhagen, where he’s in a local kitchen that has a completely different rhythm from The Beef. What did being in that kind of space reveal for you about your character?

It’s a double whammy because on one hand, this is his first time — literally — flying. Essentially, it’s his first time leaving home. He’s anxious about the circumstances he’s leaving in. On top of that, he’s going to a place he’s never been. It’s wonder, and it’s scary. You’re going to go work somewhere in a foreign country where there’s a different language, and stepping into someone else’s kitchen. That’s sort of nerve-wracking. It’s a ship that’s moving fast, so you just got to step on the line and start.

For Marcus, he’s been comfortable working in this one kitchen a certain way. He gets in there, tries to warm up, make a joke, and he falls on his face. He’s like, “Hi, I’m here,” and the dude’s like, “I know. Get to work.” Immediately, his enthusiasm is curbed. He had to work and take it seriously. It was different in a good way, where I think he opened up Chef Luca by the end of it. He earned his respect. This is what it’s like to not only work in a restaurant but a high-level restaurant. We never disclose what the restaurant is, but you just know whatever it is, it’s at the top of the game. So you learn what that mindset is like. And it’s scary in a weird way, where it’s not fearful — it’s not horror or anything. You’re just tense. Even after I watched it, I was like, “This is crazy.” (Laughs.) There’s like no music — nothing — and you’re just tense. It felt like being on the operating table; a doctor in surgery.

Lionel Boyce as Marcus, Will Poulter as Luca in the THE BEAR

Lionel Boyce as Marcus with Will Poulter as Chef Luca. Chuck Hodes/FX

You spent much of this episode with Will Poulter. You both have great chemistry and rhythm as your characters go on a very specific journey over the course of the episode. How did you think about and approach that dual arc for your characters?

I love Will. Me, him and Ramy hung out for a day and walked around before we started working. It felt naturally like, this dude is cool; I want to hang out with this dude. I was already a fan of his work, so when I found out that’s who they got, I was like, that’s so smart. He’s the perfect person. What he brought to it was exactly the energy of that character. It’s a person who drives themselves on perfection. The three of us had a lot of conversations about that final conversation [between Marcus and Luca]. Knowing where it ended allowed us to track where it would start, where he’s more closed off. When I got to stage, I remember talking to one of the people working, and they’re like, “So many people come into a restaurant if you’re working at a place people want to stage at, and a lot of people come in and you have to decipher and filter who’s here for real and who’s here just like bullshitting”. They instantly know, and they feed the people who are actually curious. They’ll tend to them more. So the way we saw it is that Luca’s seen a lot of people come in and leave.

When Marcus first comes, he doesn’t know him. [Luca] doesn’t know if he’s serious or not, since he’s doing this as a favor or whatever. I think it unlocks Luca, getting to know [Marcus]. This guy not only takes it serious, he has potential. That leads him to the final conversation, where he says, “I see a bit of you in me. Let me impart my knowledge.” I think he’s a pivotal person in Marcus’ life, no different than Carmy [Jeremy Allen White] unlocking Marcus’ passion and Sydney [Ayo Edebiri] unlocking his creativity and drive. Luca unlocks that this is what it takes to get to the next level, to understand it’s a double-edged sword and what the pitfalls are. Also, they both shared something for the first time. I don’t think Marcus has ever talked with anybody about his mom and that whole situation — reflecting on his life, how he got there, meeting Mikey, talking about working at McDonald’s, loving sports. It’s like two different lives in one. Then Luca, you can see some of the hesitation. He’s never talked about what it feels like being second-best. That’s a crazy feeling.

There is something distinctive about Luca, who is pretty intense and exacting, that never feels unsafe for Marcus from a viewer perspective. It never feels like Marcus is one mistake away from Luca cracking or flying off the handle, which feels like it makes him a perfect match for Marcus.

I think so. It was very much about wanting it to feel like this person is a father you don’t want to disappoint. The energy of it was just, I want to live up to the expectation. This is a person who has old-fashioned high standards. I am saying it because I expect it, because I believe you can do it and if you can’t then get the hell out of here. It’s a challenge to rise to the occasion, but it’s not from a place of degradation or anything like that. It’s: I’m doing it because I’m expecting you can do it. You’re able to do it. So do it.

In the place Marcus came from — The Beef — he’s kind of the quiet in the storm. In Copenhagen, the storm isn’t so loud, but it’s just as intense. Can you talk about the significance of seeing a character like Marcus in this kind of kitchen?

Marcus at The Beef — in The Bear kitchen — is the glue. He’s like the only character who gets along with everyone. He’s the only character Richie [Ebon Moss-Bachrach] doesn’t fight with. He’s even found a way to have a rapport with him. So when you take him outside of that, he no longer has to be the glue in this place. He feeds into himself. Who am I in the kitchen when I allow myself just to be an outsider, a visitor, and soak in and absorb all this new information. With Chef Luca, it’s the conversation they had at the end.

When I was filming, the line that resonated with me to help shape Marcus’ arc for the season was specifically about being open — open to experiences and all these things. If you’re spending all your time putting your energy and effort in one place and not feeding the well, what are you pulling from? What is the source. Marcus, while he’s also the glue, he also cares. He cares about everyone, so he spent all the time caring about his mom, caring everyone as a family. This allowed him to turn it inward. He got to in the right regards, let loose and just see what can he do. How to express himself, how to feed himself — what to do with everything that he’s getting from being out in this foreign place. Because it’s so much data that’s being downloaded into him.

There’s a moment in this episode where Marcus calls up his mom after a day of work, though she can’t verbally respond. It’s emotional watching him share this moment — this success — with the person who helped get him there, but for whom he nearly passed on the opportunity because he loves and wants to care for her. Can you talk about the difficulty of that decision to go to Copenhagen and why it was ultimately important that he did?

That conversation is a bittersweet thing. It’s as if he’s asking for permission in that scene where he’s telling his mom he’s going to go. And the more happy you get about it, the more you wish they were there with you to share it. I think him getting there took a lot. That’s how much this passion — discovering something — meant to him. I feel like you watch season two and in the opening scene you understand instantly why he’s caught up in the doughnuts in episode seven of season one. He’s found an outlet. He’s found something that makes him happy for the first time in who knows how long. But I imagine there was so much internal conflict before he could even get to the idea. He probably said no. He probably wrote it off for so long, but then he was like, I have to. That relationship with his mom, if you think about it, if she were healthy, the conversation would be, “Are you stupid? Why would you not go?” It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Lionel Boyce as Marcus in THE BEAR.

Boyce as Marcus in The Bear episode “Honeydew.” Chuck Hodes/FX

This is the risk and there was so much reward on the other side of that. It’s the thing that catapults him to greatness. I think it’s knowing what it would mean to his mom if he did it and still wanting to make her proud. On the other hand, it’s the quest for going from good to great. That’s his journey for this season. I’ve thought about this a lot. In life, you can get good at a lot of things but going from good to great — good is just getting proficient at whatever you’re doing. You can learn the basics and get good at building chairs. But to go from that to great is a totally different thing. His thirst, his drive and his ambition is growing. All of that was a cacophony of things that built up to him being like, “OK, I’m going to go.” That got him to step off the cliff and now, instantly, you’re free-falling in fear. Everything in his whole life led to that step off, to him telling his mom.

You mentioned the lack of sound in the kitchen scenes, but there’s one moment in this episode where that is intentionally broken, as Marcus rescues a man caught under a fallen fence in a storm. It’s visually and aurally intense. What was that significance?

That was an interesting thing about this episode. There’s really no real conflict outside of what’s inside of him. I talked with Ramy and Chris a lot about that moment and what it means. It’s a lot about nonverbal communication. It mirrors his and his mother’s relationship. I think that hug at the end is the hug he couldn’t get from his mom, so that’s why he leans more into it. It’s the first hug he’s had in who knows how long. It was a person who needed help and he saved him. You’re in a foreign country. Having to save somebody — if I’m by myself having to save a human, that’s scary alone. Being Black in another country, thinking about that, is scary also. Being in Copenhagen — if someone walks up, and they don’t speak English, they’re going to be like, “What did you do to this person?” Getting arrested in a foreign country — that’s the ominous music. It’s those thoughts.

Marcus ends the episode in a different place than Sydney: with success. Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) and Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) also land in different places. What is underneath seeing success with some and not with others?

I feel like it’s very much all one brain split into different sections. It’s just the highs and lows of creativity, is how I took that. If you zoom out and look at it — rather than, “In this episode, it’s this and this” — you can track it. You’re just going through all this together. She needs to feed and put fuel back in, then she tries to create, and it’s like a brick wall. Then the very next day, which is the next episode, you can go through the same journey, start again and have this breakthrough.

That final beat seems positive for Marcus. How does his time here shape the rest of his arc during the season?

I think it’s extremely pivotal. That’s why I said that moment with Luca — it’s not even the full conversation, but the tail-end of it — is the thing that ignites the fire. A fire is lit in the same way at the end of the pilot. In episode one, Carmy tells [Marcus] how to make bread and do other stuff. That last moment when he’s watching Carmy cook, and he’s like, “Hand me that can?” Marcus is the first person he converts. I think it’s the same thing in that last moment [in episode four].

This season, Marcus’ journey is about expression, and he learns that there. It gives him the OK to care about himself, which catapults him. What resonates with you and, how do I create and express all these feelings that’s been bottled up inside? He learns what it feels like to share it. He has that conversation with Chef Luca, and then he goes home, and he shares with Sydney his feelings. That now allows him to create from this place and make things my own. It’s 100 percent a space he’s never felt. It’s all new. He leaves there more confident. This is what it’s about: you make with heart, not with skill.

Interview edited for length and clarity. The Bear season two is currently streaming on Hulu.



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