Lionel Boyce on Breaking Through on ‘The Bear’ 5

On the first day of filming season three of The Bear, Lionel Boyce realized he was being watched. He was in a Chicago neighborhood shooting a scene for the chef-centric series — which also stars Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri and Ebon Moss-Bachrach — and when he glanced up at the surrounding apartment buildings, he saw “I love The Bear” emblazoned on homemade signs in many of the windows. After that, crowds swarmed every exterior location shoot. And despite the show’s attempts to maintain a level of secrecy — they used the name Windy City Law on their filming flyers — Boyce says there were X threads dedicated to following the production’s whereabouts.

It was a far cry from the obscurity in which they created the first season, and Boyce insists it felt different even from the experience of making season two after the group collectively shot to stardom (with a staggering 13 Emmy nominations). “I didn’t think more people could care,” he laughs, adopting an air reminiscent of his pastry chef character Marcus’ signature bashful sweetness. “But there’s a real hometown pride there.”

Boyce is now conducting this interview from a booth at the decidedly-not-Michelin-starred Penske Media cafeteria, days after wrapping the dizzying five-month shoot that was nearly as unfathomable off-camera. The crew reported to the Windy City a week after sweeping the Globes and the Emmys. At one point during production, they were invited down to the field during a Cubs game (subsequently setting TikTok ablaze) and the actor, 33, admits they often get recognized and showered with accolades and free food while dining at local restaurants. Which — like most parts of being famous — can be a double-edged sword. “Who doesn’t like free food, of course, but the other side of it is that sometimes I can be picky,” he says. He feels self-consciously aware of this fact, and of how easily it could become a trope in the press (“I don’t want to talk about fennel,” he says with a laugh, before adding “The anise family in general is the root of evil to me. I love Copenhagen but they like that way too much.”)

But here, in LA, as Boyce drinks his fountain soda water, you’d be hard-pressed to guess at the recent insanity. “I do recognize it all as insane,” he notes. “I’ve barely even processed my feelings about how much love the show got, but I’m also slow with my feelings.” He credits The Bear series creator Christopher Storer for fostering a workplace that remains ego-free to this day — and that being able to discuss their rising profiles with one another helps everyone stay chill. And, that if he were ever in danger of liking fame too much, his group chat would be the first to call him out. Boyce, who lives in L.A., grew up in Inglewood alongside Tyler, the Creator, founder of the hip-hop collective Odd Future. Boyce joined it to create and star in their Adult Swim sketch show Loiter Squad, which kicked off his formal acting career. “My closest friends have been really famous for a long time now,” he says, “so if I do something crazy, they’re going to be like, ‘You acting like a fool.’ ”

While he tries to maintain a youthful open-mindedness about his career — “I don’t want to hold onto things so hard that I get blinders, and miss opportunities that could lead me someplace great,” he says — Boyce does have certain goals. For a long time, doing a guest spot on Curb Your Enthusiasm was one: “I told my agents that I’d love to just, like, walk by in the background of a scene, but I’m sure everyone tells their agents that.” After the show’s casting directors saw The Bear, and he met EP Jeff Schaffer (who also co-created Dave) at an FX event, the stars aligned. Boyce played a garden center clerk in a recent Curb episode. “I didn’t know at the time that it was the last season, so it feels really special that it came through,” he says. “I’ve idolized Larry David for so long, and when we did our scene and he was making his faces — I was just like, ‘He’s doing that face at me. That’s sick.’”

Boyce (left) with Jeremy Allen White in a scene from season two of The Bear.

Chuck Hodes/FX

Boyce is not yet at liberty to reveal plot points for The Bear’s third season (stay tuned for THR’s spoiler-filled follow-up conversation once the episodes have dropped June 26) but is game to talk circuitously about the experience. He offers a single word to describe the on-set vibe — “precision” — and notes that before filming began, he brushed up on his technical skills with the help of pastry chef Malcolm Livingston, whom he describes as a “sage guru.” Boyce admits that he resisted asking Storer for advance spoilers, even in the wake of the season two finale’s reveal that Marcus’ mother likely died during a night of huge professional accomplishment for the character. “If you ask, Chris will always tell you, but I’m still a fan of this show and I don’t want to know everything,” says Boyce. “Sometimes we’ll be talking, and he’ll just drop a bomb about what’s going to happen.”

Once the new scripts came in and Boyce allowed himself to indulge, he says his primary emotion was reassurance in seeing the moments with which Storer was entrusting him. “I remember when I got season two and realized, ‘Wow, he trusts me to have my own bottle episode,’ ” he says. “There are things this season that I wouldn’t trust me to do, but Chris did.” Still hungry for more insights, I ask about Boyce’s favorite food memory from set — recalling the viral potato chip omelet from season two — and he immediately recalls the day he came to work to find they’d saved him king crab. “There was butter and lemon and these big, perfect pieces. I don’t think anything could top that for me.”

This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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