This story about Jeremy Allen White first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. All actor interviews in that issue were conducted before the SAG-AFTRA strike began.
Jeremy Allen White has become one of TV’s most beloved figures since last June, when a little show called “The Bear,” about the machinations of an inherited Italian beef sandwich shop, made its quiet debut on FX on Hulu. The eight episodes quickly took hold of viewers in the early summer, becoming endlessly quotable (“corner!”) and debatable (what about those tomato cans?). Before long, White, best known for growing up before our very eyes as Phillip “Lip” Gallagher on Showtime’s “Shameless,” became a household name.
White’s Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, the sensitive, tousled-haired, classically trained chef saddled with the responsibility of overseeing his late brother’s restaurant in Chicago, launched countless think pieces while the unassuming actor has amassed a collection of leading-actor comedy awards, from the Golden Globes to Critics’ Choice to Screen Actors Guild. Now he’s enjoying his first-ever Emmy nomination, and you’d be legally insane to think White and Co. won’t return for more next year, as Season 2 dropped in late June and became a sensation both in ratings and acclaim.
Soon to be seen as Kerry Von Erich opposite Zac Efron and Lily James in A24’s long-awaited wrestling family biopic “The Iron Claw” (yes, that’s why White looks especially shredded in Season 2 of “The Bear”), White chatted with TheWrap just after being nominated but before the SAG-AFTRA strike hit.
How surreal is it that Emmy voters will be evaluating an initial season while a second season has completely dropped? That’s a rarity in television.
I think it was nice that the second season came out during this time so we weren’t forgotten, you know? It was kind of on people’s minds. We made Season 1 with such little expectation, and we were all feeling very nervous about Season 2 coming out and how it was going to be received. It’s been pretty amazing that people have enjoyed the second season even more than the first.
How comfortable are you with “The Bear” being classified as a comedy, given that you all do such wrenching work on it?
I’m comfortable with it, but you know, it’s not my decision. (Laughs) So I’m OK with it. I was a part of “Shameless” for 11 years, and that fell into a similar kind of dramedy category, and I think we even submitted it as a drama for, like, the first two years, and then we changed to comedy. We just try to do justice to the writing, which can be heartbreaking and also hilarious. I think the Television Academy should perhaps consider (adding) another category. Even “Succession,” which is one of our greatest drama series ever, is hilarious. And “Barry” is as dark as it gets, but also a comedy. I just think there are so many series like that these days, and audiences really seem to enjoy that kind of series.
In your work, you gravitate toward narratives about families—even with something like “The Iron Claw” coming up, which is about a real-life wrestling family. Is that pure coincidence or something you have an affinity for?
I think that all great stories are based on family—either (the family you are) born into or the family that you find. It’s intriguing to me, and I think it’ll always be interesting for people.
You have major scenes with nearly every single actor in “The Bear,” and everyone has such a different energy. Does that change your performance at all?
I try to come into every scene with my plan but also remain really open. I’m so lucky to work with so many great actors. And the “Fishes” episode (in which the guest stars include Bob Odenkirk, John Mulaney, Gillian Jacobs and Jamie Lee Curtis) in Season 2 is a great example. With these all-stars, Carmy is a wallflower, and all of these things are happening to him. It made my job very, very easy. But we all have so much respect for each other’s processes.
There have been so many think pieces and articles written about the show. Have any opinions shaped your work after Season 1?
The success of the first season was very welcome, obviously, but it wasn’t expected, truly. I just knew that going into the second season we were going to be able to get back to our bubble and do the work that we felt was true and honest. I was definitely aware of having other people’s opinions in my head after the first season came out and then had to get it all out of my head before shooting the second, so we could all just get back to that magic spot.
Now that you have two seasons of chef-ing under your belt, how do you think you and Ayo Edebiri (who plays sous chef Sydney) would fare in a cooking competition?
I’m very hopeful that we get a third season so I can go back into the restaurants and work a little more. I was told for Season 2 that none of us would be in the kitchen much, so I kind of relaxed the training. I’ve gotten a little rusty, but Ayo has kept things pretty sharp.
Are you sick of people yelling “Yes, Chef!” at you yet?
No, I’ll take it. I’m happy.
Any new and unusual callouts lately?
I get “Carmy!”, “Bear!” and even some “Cousin!” every once in a while. All good stuff.
Do you now have carte blanche to get into any Chicago restaurant anytime you want?
Yeah, we can get a table pretty easy. It’s cool. You think you’ve got the juice, but every once in a while you walk up to that host table, and you think you’ve got it and then they say there’s a 45-minute wait. It doesn’t work everywhere. (Laughs) Not everybody’s seen “The Bear,” you know?
Read more from the Comedy/Variety/Reality/Nonfiction issue here.
Photo by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap