Why The Bear’s Mr Ebon Moss-Bachrach Doesn’t Cook For Just Himself

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Why The Bear’s Mr Ebon Moss-Bachrach Doesn’t Cook For Just Himself

Words by Mr Ajesh Patalay | Photography by Mr Clément Pascal | Styling by Ms Kristen Neillie

8 July 2024

Have you binged the new season of The Bear yet? If so, how are you feeling? Mentally fried? Emotionally broiled? Psychologically battered? The Bear can have that effect on viewers. But it’s nothing compared to the effect it must have on its actors. “I’m a little tired,” says Mr Ebon Moss-Bachrach, who plays restaurant manager Richie “Cousin” Jerimovich. “A little emotional. It was a long and intense shoot.”

We’re speaking at the end of May. Six days since season three wrapped. And Moss-Bachrach is still decompressing. “[It’s] emotional because we were working very intensely together and that’s a little family we have out there in Chicago,” he says. “Just to go from such intimacy to everyone dispersing is abrupt.”

He’s now in his Brooklyn Heights apartment, which he shares with his wife, the artist and photographer Ms Yelena Yemchuk, their two daughters Sasha, 17, and Mirabelle, 14, and their cat, Sonny. As in Sonny and Cher? “As in Sonny Corleone [from The Godfather] or Sonny from Dog Day Afternoon,” he corrects.

Sitting on a sheepskin-covered armchair in his bedroom with two guitars stacked behind him, the actor, 47, is dressed in what I might call folksy surfer mufti (did I get that description right? “That’s your job,” he replies): a faded waffle sweat and corduroy Pacific shorts.

What has he been up to since he got back from Chicago? “My family was out of town by the beach,” he says. “So, I slept a bunch. I didn’t get out of bed for like 18 hours. I rode my bike. It was a beautiful weekend in Brooklyn. I took some walks. Saw friends. Hung out with my cat.”

Has he been cooking much? (I know from previous interviews that he’s a dab hand in the kitchen: he bakes bread, makes soup, and can talk about alliums at length.) “I don’t like to cook for just myself,” he shrugs. “It’s much more fun for a family of four.”

The four-month shoot for The Bear kicked off in February, shortly after the Emmys, in which the show won every award it was up for. That included gongs for its lead actors Moss-Bachrach, Mr Jeremy Allen White (who plays Carmy Berzatto) and Ms Ayo Edebiri (Sydney Adamu). “When I showed up [on set] after, I was nervous,” Moss-Bachrach says. “It felt like there was now an expectation. An external pressure to deliver. I’m sure everyone felt that.”

To make matters worse, last year’s actors’ strike meant that he hadn’t acted since the last season wrapped back in April 2023. “I did feel rusty. Creaky in my knees. Like how you feel if you haven’t gone for a run in a while.”

He soon got back into the flow, though, which on The Bear is full-on. The show is famously high-octane viewing, partly thanks to its editing and music. But there’s huge energy on set, too. “We were going to make one season,” Moss-Bachrach says, “but that season was getting bigger and bigger and at a certain point it seemed like maybe we should write more, not feel constrained and turn it into two seasons.”

They ended up shooting season three and four together. At least, he thinks they did.

“We shot about 18 episodes,” he says. “But everything shifts. In the past, what was one episode on the page has been split into two. I just lose myself in the messiness and chaos of it. I like getting taken by a wave that’s bigger than you thought it was, tumbled around and spit out the other end.”

While season one was an introduction to the intense, behind-the-scenes world of a Chicago sandwich shop and season two served up a deeper dive, season three brings the characters back together in the heat of a new kitchen.

“It’s very chaotic,” Moss-Bachrach says of its depiction of the workings of a high-end restaurant. “I love the big scenes. Scenes with lots of moving parts. People talking over each other. A certain amount of danger and risk. And there’s a lot of that. For me, the more the messier.”

As for the camaraderie on set, it’s “just a really warm, familiar place to work,” he says. “Everyone is happy to be there, feels valued and taken care of and that their opinion matters. That translates into the work. It’s different from other sets I’ve been on.”

He calls his co-stars White and Edebiri “lovely, smart, incredibly present, unpretentious, level-headed folk”. And of White in particular, whose cult status has reached stratospheric heights this year: “Humble is the wrong word. [He’s got an] inability to remove himself or rise above. He’s just a guy among people.”

Among the very many highlights of Moss-Bachrach’s portrayal of the hardened Richie (described in the pilot script as “40, ASSHOLE, BEEF T-SHIRT”), who can forget the heart-wrenching episode from season two in which the character – struggling with his sense of identity and in the wake of family breakdown – discovers new purpose working at a fine-dining restaurant alongside guest star Ms Olivia Colman?

“He had this redemption,” says the actor. “And he seemed irredeemable. I think that’s why people are responding. I do feel I had a front-row seat watching this man [get] a second chance.”

“I had a front-row seat watching this man get a second chance”

The character’s plight even prompted an op-ed in The New York Times about the epidemic of broken people in the world – “people in pain” who feel lost or have suffered loss. “There are millions upon millions of Richies,” the article noted. The most meaningful encounter Moss-Bachrach has had with a fan was when a woman came up to him at a restaurant in the West Village. “She had lost someone recently,” he says. “And we just talked for a few minutes about grief. That’s not something people usually talk to me about.”

Moss-Bachrach is mostly nothing like his character. He grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts. His father founded a music school. His mother ran a Big Brother Big Sisters mentoring programme. After graduating in English literature from Columbia, he made his name in theatre and landed small roles onscreen before his breakthroughs came in HBO’s Girls, Netflix’s The Punisher and Andor on Disney+.

He’s talked in the past about being “pretty insecure” and “shy”, and he still comes across as sensitive, even self-conscious. “One of the things that attracted me to Richie is just how fully expressed he is,” he says. “How he feels something and says it. I could use a bit more of that personally.”

The two do share a love of 1990s hip-hop. “[And] Richie and I are also big [filmmaker] Michael Mann fans,” he says, in reference to his character’s signature black suit (a step up from his trackie pants and adidas), which was modelled after Mr Al Pacino’s in Heat.

“I love suits,” Moss-Bachrach adds of his own style. “Hermès. Ralph Lauren. There’s a really great vintage shop in Chicago called Richard’s Fabulous Finds where the racks are organised by decade. I found a Versace suit from the 1990s. Big, black, high-waisted with shoulder pads. A little more aggressive than I normally go for. But I’ve been wearing it a lot.”

When he goes for dinner with his wife, however, he prefers something more casual: “50 to 75 per cent of the time right before we’re leaving, I’ll take the suit off and put on jeans and a T-shirt. I feel more myself.”

Like his character Desi from Girls, he’s also a fan of double denim. “Desi would do triple denim,” he offers. An important distinction.

Naturally, the success of The Bear has dramatically raised Moss-Bachrach’s profile. But let’s not get carried away, he says: “People aren’t chasing me down the street screaming ‘Ebon!’ Most people don’t know my name.”

He reckons he’s too long in the tooth and settled to become celebrity clickbait. “Hopefully, I’m not due a scandal.” Career-wise, though, he does feel “more viable or something in the marketplace”. Better quality scripts are landing on his desk.

This month, he starts filming Fantastic Four in London, a reboot of the Marvel franchise, playing Ben Grimm/The Thing opposite Mr Pedro Pascal, Ms Vanessa Kirby and Mr Joseph Quinn. “It’s literally the other end of the spectrum from The Bear,” he says of its appeal.

He’s been reading lots of comics to prepare. “It does make me feel like a kid,” he says. “You grow older, have a family, start to live in such a practical, boring, adult world. This [movie] seems like an incredible opportunity to think about space, planets, the world of magic and monsters and return to the kind of make-believe I did when I was a kid. If we do it right, [the movie] should be a really restorative and surprising experience.”

For the moment, though, he’s just feeling proud of The Bear and the work that’s gone into it. Thinking back to the Emmys, he says: “I don’t think that level of celebration happens much in life. And I’m old enough not to get cynical about it, but to enjoy it, recognise it, take it in and take my bow. I know in 15 minutes there’s going to be another new show. That’s great. I can’t wait to see what that show is. But right now,” he insists, “now is our time.”

The Bear is on Disney+ now