How Josh Hartnett wound up guest starring on The Bear 5

When Josh Hartnett appeared onscreen in the new season of The Bear, revealing himself as one of this year’s surprise guest stars, fans experienced it as a delightful and seemingly random casting. But, like everything in the world of The Bear, it was actually a highly strategic decision several years in the making. Hartnett first met series creator Chris Storer years ago — like most of Storer’s friends and collaborators, he no longer remembers how exactly they first crossed paths but says they had friends in common in the New York and Los Angeles food scenes — and the two were in talks about a potential role in Storer’s first film. “I remember him mentioning that he was trying to make this other film about chefs, because his sister [The Bear producer Courtney Storer] was a chef, and then years went by and I started hearing all this hype about The Bear,” Hartnett explains from his UK home. “It sounded really familiar, so I checked it out and saw Chris’ name and was amazed. I called him immediately to say congratulations and tell him the show was incredible.”

Now, two years later, Hartnett is Frank — affable, considerate fiancé to Tiffany and, depending on who you ask, Richie’s worst nightmare. Here, the actors spills on what it was like to see behind the curtain of the beloved series and the Easter eggs he worked into the episode.

So you call Chris to congratulate him; does that conversation turn into a job offer?

It was organic, but not that organic. (Laughs) He was like, thanks man, we have to work together at some point, let’s make this happen. And then maybe a year goes by and he called my agent and said we’ve got a role for Josh. I said yes right away, before I even read the script, because I wanted to work with him. Our business can be cruel at times, and sometimes you get really lucky and meet people you really admire. Chris and I always got along, so I was just delighted that he asked. And I have to say that they have so much fun making that show. It shouldn’t be called work. Actors just come to set and hang out even on their days off. It feels like a group of friends making a show at University or something. Yet it’s this phenomenal success.

Before you read the script and learned about Frank, had you thought about the character? I know that I would imagine what this guy was like or why Tiffany chose him.

I thought about, who does Tiff move on to after Richie? And what kind of a person gets into this situation knowing Tiff’s past with Richie. The guy’s got to be relatively confident. And there has to be an opposition to Richie’s character. And then when I got the script my reaction was just what a delightful sort of interaction this was between the two of them. I also knew it would be fun to work with Ebon [Moss-Bachrach] because we knew each other from a long time ago in New York and have never been in a project together.

How much of the blocking of that scene was written in? The way Frank is sort of crowding in on Richie, and Richie looks like he’s trying to sink into the wall.

It wasn’t written in. What I love about Ebon as an actor is that he’s very reactive — he knows where his character’s at, and he allows the character to react in a wonderful way. But something that I thought was useful was they started me coming out of the house and standing two steps higher than him, so it gives you that dynamic. But I also think Frank really needs something from Richie. He needs to feel like this is all above board, that there’s not going to be any friction between them. He’s genuinely in love with Tiffany but doesn’t want to make anything difficult for his new stepdaughter, or for his wife or for himself. This is a really tricky thing to navigate. It’s very high stakes, all set to Taylor Swift. And there were a few other things I did to maximize how intimidating he would be to Richie. Like the fingernail polish: My girls are constantly painting my fingernails and I thought, that’s something Frank would be proud of as a stepdad. And Richie would see it and be like oh this makes me feel terrible. I also wanted it to look like even though he has this big beautiful house, that he’s been working on it himself.

It did look like Richie caught Frank in the middle of buffing the floors or something…

Exactly. All of these things would make Richie go, I want to hate him but I can’t, and what an awful position to be in. It highlights his predicament, and adds more drama. Richie needs more drama. (Laughs)

On the note about the nail polish, Gillian Jacobs said she imagined Frank having a stockpile of Taylor Swift friendship bracelets, does that resonate?

Oh, sure. Of course you’d have the friendship bracelets especially since they got those concert tickets last season. Funnily enough, I went to the Eras Tour with my daughters recently and it was wild. I’ve never experienced anything like it. 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium losing their minds, including my two daughters. And people were so respectful, my daughters were given so many bracelets and everything was really sweet. It was a good event for my daughter’s first concert.

Did she play “Long Live,” the song that plays on The Bear during your scene?

Oh man, that’s more than I know.

I accidentally asked you a trick question, because now I remember that it was cut from the original set list to make room for the new era. Here’s one with no right answer: Do you think Richie goes to Tiffany and Frank’s wedding?

I do. I think Richie wants to make good on his promises to his daughter and his ex-wife from what I can tell. I don’t think he’d want to make waves just because he’s jealous. I think he’s growing up and getting more mature, as we saw in his arc in season 2 — which I thought was so good and such an interesting choice for the show. I assume that is going to continue until some disaster strikes.

How would you describe the experience of being directed by Chris?

I’ve never shot anything, including micro-budget independent films, that shoot as quickly as Chris does. I find that refreshing. He’s not overly precious. The scripts are written really specifically, and the actors are all so dialed into their characters that he gets what he wants immediately, and then just shoots a little coverage and he’s done. You can tell watching those actors on that set, that they really trust the process and it’s done an extraordinary thing for them. I also think the show is breaking ground insofar as the tension of the show, in a way that feels organic. You can’t come in and not know what you’re doing otherwise you’ll get left behind.

Did you think about the way he worked in comparison to some of the big-name directors you’ve worked with recently, like Christopher Nolan and M. Night Shyamalan?

All of the really talented directors I’ve worked with, they’re willing to trust their collaborators. They’ve got a such a clear vision, and it seems to be only the directors who are unsure of their vision that want to micromanage too much. There aren’t many top-notch directors who are overworking the dough, as it were.

Did you notice any machinations at play to keep your role a secret? There wasn’t so much as a blurry cell phone picture of you in Chicago.

I felt like the city of Chicago was really protective of The Bear. People there love that show, and it feels like it’s an unwritten rule that you don’t spoil it. And certainly nobody who is on the show wants to spoil it. It’s so much more fun to have that last minute reveal. I told my parents about it, because they love the show, and I told a couple of friends who love the show. But I don’t have social media or anything so it feels like, who am I really going to tell?

Carmy terrorizes his co-workers this season with his list of non-negotiables; do you have any when it comes to your career or what you’ll say yes to?

It’s mostly about the people. Do I respect the directors and producers, and do I feel like there’s something we can do together that’s going to be exciting and fresh? I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, I don’t want to do a film that’s been done a million times. For a long time I was working in smaller independent films with first and second time directors because I love this notion that you’ve got someone who is semi-untested within the industry and therefore doesn’t have the sort of expectations you pick up. They’re not coming from outside forces, the expectations are only coming from themselves. If you meet somebody who’s already got a really defined concept of what they want to be in this business, I find that a bit less interesting.

Are you also looking for a similar energy in the experienced directors you’re working with?

I’ve been able to work with a lot of singular directors recently, who also have, sort of, the ear of the public for lack of a better way of putting it. They are well-respected and individual, but also part of the zeitgeist. That feels like the best of both worlds. I guess I’m always looking for someone who’s at the top of their game and with whom I can do something singular.

You mentioned crossing paths with Chris in the restaurant scene — what is your favorite food- or restaurant-centric memory?

My wife and I took a trip when we first got together, to Lake Garda in Italy. We were in London making a movie together and were about to go our separate ways — I was living in New York and she was in London. We were like, we really like each other so let’s see if we should date. We decided on this super last-minute trip, since it was a quick flight over there. Her mom actually had to bring her passport to the airport. We didn’t know much about each other except from what we knew with working with each other, and we fell in love on this trip. We were at this place called Villa Feltrinelli. I was trying to impress her and it was very fancy, they had a Michelin star and it was very small, only six tables or something. They served a carbonara that to this day I can’t explain. There was some sort of brown sugar-type magic in there that amplified the cheese. It was a magical moment. That day, we’d seen this storm sweep across the lake and then we went inside and had this meal. It was like okay, one day we’re going to get married and have four kids.

Have you been back since?

No, we haven’t gone back. We talked about going there for our wedding, but it was too expensive. I have to make more movies like Trap to do that. (Laughs)

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