Gillian Jacobs on Season Three, Josh Hartnett, Taylor Swift 5

[Warning: This article contains spoilers for season three of The Bear]

After Gillian Jacobs first debuted as Tiffany on season one of The Bear, she didn’t know if she was going to get another shot at the show. The actress recorded a voice memo from her apartment in Marseille, France — she was on location for the Netflix series Transatlantic — without any idea what was in store for the character or her future on the show. “It was uncredited voice acting work,” she says with a laugh. “But I’ve been excited about this show from the very beginning, so it did not take any convincing. I just didn’t know at the time if I would ever be onscreen.”

Jacobs was, of course, called for duty in the show’s second season, debuting in the fan favorite episode “Fishes,” to offer a glimpse at Richie’s life before audiences met him (and before the two broke up). She guest stars again in the series’ third season, as she prepares for her wedding to the (previously mysterious) Frank. Here, she speaks to The Hollywood Reporter for a spoiler-filled conversation about where Tiffany and Richie stand and finding out Josh Hartnett would play her fiancé.

Before the scripts for season two came in, did you have any theories about what happened with Tiffany and Richie? Had you filled in her backstory at all?

I hadn’t journaled out a whole backstory, but a lot of what ended up happening was in line with what I’d been thinking. I thought to myself that Richie has gone through a really hard time and he’s in grief. He’s mourning the loss of his best friend in Mikey, who is almost equal to a romantic partner in terms of importance in his life and to his identity. And you saw this in “Fishes,” but I could have guessed too, that there’s a lot of stuff between Tiffany and Richie around jobs and career. He’s not being honest about what’s going on. Once I read that in the script it made total sense to me; especially knowing they were going to have a kid and her wanting to feel like she knows what’s going on with him, of course there would be conflict around that dishonesty.

Do you have a decision in your head about what the final straw was in their breakup?

I don’t, and I almost feel like I should talk to Ebon so we can come to a conclusion about that together. I do feel like she ended it, but I don’t know what her breaking point was. Maybe that topic is for if we ever do a spinoff. (Laughs)

When you were shooting “Fishes,” did you try to get any answers out of Chris about anything in the plot?

I didn’t, because it became clear as I was shooting that episode that Tiffany really felt like she wanted to be part of this family. So I understood why it was a draw for her, despite the dysfunction and the chaos. She wanted that sense of being part of this larger group and she doesn’t really have that with her own parents. I’m an only child, and I can understand how being part of a big family is appealing, even if there’s a lot of hurt and chaos going on. I also understood more about the family from being on that incredible set they built. It was so detailed. There was this almost caricature-like drawing of Michael with a dog that I remember in one room. Donna’s room was amazing, even though you only saw little parts of it onscreen, and I remember thinking okay, I understand more about this woman after seeing this.

Gillian Jacobs and Abby Elliott in season two of The Bear.

Had you met Ebon before you worked on The Bear?

The world of actors in New York is small, and I met him a long time ago. But I also did five episodes of Girls and it was while he was on. I recently went back and re-watched it because I knew we shared an episode but couldn’t remember if we had dialogue together. In the scene, he exits and I enter. But I vividly remember shooting that whole sequence of Mimi-Rose Eleanor Howard’s art show, and that we were on set at the same time. I’m also now thinking of the really funny way that I wound up on that show. I was walking down Lafayette Street and saw a production, and I peeked in and saw Lena. I knew her a little, so they had me come in. It was a scene were Desi and Marnie were performing at a brunch. Then a few days later I got an email that said they want you to audition for Girls.

What was your first reaction after reading the scripts for season 3?

I love that Tiffany is demanding that her ex-husband come to her wedding. That feels very real for the world of The Bear and those dynamics that she’s like, I don’t care if you want to come or not, I need you there. I love that Josh Hartnett is my fiancé. What a reveal. I could watch the scene with Josh and Ebon on loop: Ebon trying to disappear into the wall and Josh cornering him with niceness and care and concern and saying all the right things. It informs so much. I also adore the Tina backstory, and watching the scene of Liza [Colón-Zayas] and Jon Bernthal in that scene together is a classic example of why I fell in love with acting in the first place. We learned so much about Tina, and her own loss when it comes to Michael. You understand why Tina’s still there at the restaurant, and the connection she feels to Mikey and Richie and everybody who had been working there for years.

When you read in the script that we meet Frank, did you know that it was going to be Josh Hartnett?

I did. He’s so wonderful and I feel like he’s really having a moment right now between Oppenheimer and starring in the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. It feels like a role I haven’t seen him do in a minute. He fit in so seamlessly with the world of the show.

Was “Long Live” by Taylor Swift playing in the background part of the original script?

That was put in because it’s a song that Annie, who plays our daughter, was really into at the time we were shooting season three. I think that’s sweet and I love that it’s a callback to the other Taylor Swift moments. It makes total sense that Frank would want to be a Swiftie dad. He has his nails painted in that scene, and I’m sure he’s got his friendship bracelets ready to go.

It feels very pointed that the scene took place at this beautiful home of his. Do you think there’s an element of financial stability that attracts Tiffany to Frank, and away from Richie?

I think he’s very different from Richie in a lot of ways. I don’t know how conscious or unconscious her decision is with there. He’s sweet, he’s vulnerable, he wears his heart on his sleeve in a way that Richie really struggles to.

Watching Tiffany and Richie on the bench, it almost felt like Tiffany’s Past Lives moment.

That’s what I love so much about this dynamic, is that they don’t hate each other. They’re not at war in that way. You see that in season two, in “Forks,” when she calls to tell Richie that she’s engaged. There’s still love between them which makes it more difficult. That push-pull is so great to play as an actor.

I want to ask about the premiere event, since you guys didn’t have one last year during the strike. What was that moment like?

I think to see the first episode [of season three] in such a beautiful theater and to have the sound system for the score in that episode in particular, was incredible. I was really struck by the second image of the episode, which was when Lake Michigan and the horizon were almost the exact same shade of blue. And just to experience that on a big screen. I texted Joel McHale afterwards to tell him again how good he is in that episode — and the whole season.

It’s really still amazing how unrecognizable he is in this performance, as this character…

I can’t stop thinking about his scene with Carmy in the last episode of the season. The restraint Joel uses, and to play that figure that has loomed so large in someone’s imagination, and now they’re having that conversation Carmy always imagined having. He probably pictured it four million times in the shower, on walks, and now it’s happening in real life. You can see how it reminded him of what that dynamic gave him. It was like a fuel, although I don’t know how healthy that fuel was.

Have you ever had a figure like that in your life?

Well, I wrote a whole essay about how I didn’t have a great time at Juilliard, so I guess I could say the entire Juilliard School. I don’t have to narrow it down to one person. I did not have a great time in acting school. But I think I now have enough distance to recognize the things they taught me that are useful. I have more of a complete view of that experience, and I can see what they were right about, even though the way they were saying some of the things was really difficult. But I’ve never run into a teacher from school or anything like that. I’ve only wrestled with it in my own mind. But after writing the essay a lot of people who went to Juilliard around the same time told me that they related to it, so I’ve found other people to commiserate with. It’s always nice to feel less alone.

What sticks out to you about Chris as a director?

He has such a deep knowledge of the show and characters but also filmmaking. He has an ability to move very quickly but it doesn’t feel rushed. He can be confident in saying, we got it, moving on. After I did my first episode I tried to warn new guest stars. Like it goes fast! You don’t encounter that very often as an actor. The whole crew is just ready to go.

That makes me think about the first episode of this season in particular, where there are just tiny flashes of scenes that of course would have required an entire setup to shoot.

He puts so much thought and care into each thing. Think about the number of places in that episode: Napa Valley, New York, Copenhagen, Chicago. You’re in the garden at the French Laundry and then on the grounds of Noma in Copenhagen, and then you’re at Daniel. It’s awe-inspiring.

As Chris has said, this season really explores legacy. What is the show’s legacy going to be for you?

I would love to bring the sense of freedom and play and feeling so in-the-moment, from this show into my other work. It’s easier said than done. It feels like my best version of me as an actor when I’m working on this show. I was very lucky early in my career to be directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who really set the bar for what I should demand of myself as an actor. I often feel like I fall short of his standards, but working on The Bear and having this experience — it’s really emotional for me, because I think about Philip — but I finally felt like I was rising to the level of what he would demand. To be able to do that for myself internally, that’s what I would like to bring forward.

I’ve completely forgotten to ask if you ever worked in a restaurant…

I haven’t! I was a nanny. That’s how I supported myself while I was auditioning.

Okay, because I was going to ask you your thoughts on whether it’s realistic that no one on the staff of The Bear is in a relationship…

Well, we’re really not spending that much time with the front of house people. We don’t know what’s going on with them. Maybe it’s like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of The Bear. Maybe we get a spinoff somewhere and it’s just the people who’ve been on the receiving end of Richie’s motivational speeches before service.

I could actually see there being a movie of The Bear a few years after the show wraps — what do you think?

As someone who’s part of a show [Community] that is trying to do that, I can say I get asked about that more often than I get asked about The Bear. We’re still trying to fulfill six seasons and a movie and we started that show in 2009. (Laughs)

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