Jeremy Allen White essentially went from a high school graduate to a husband and parent while playing “Lip” Gallagher for 11 seasons on “Shameless,” which revolved around television’s most dysfunctional family. Now, a year after that series concluded, White is again immersing himself in a series, “The Bear” (FX on Hulu) from “Ramy’s” Christopher Storer, which premieres June 23.
Like “Shameless,” this series is set in Chicago, but this time around White is playing Carmy Berzatto, who walked away from his family’s local restaurant, The Original Beef of Chicago, to make it big as an upscale chef in New York. When the show begins, his brother Michael has killed himself and left the family business in shambles and Carmy comes home to try and prove himself and save the day.
There’s still family dysfunction but much of Carmy’s life revolves around the crew at the restaurant, some of whom buy into what he’s trying to achieve and some of whom openly or secretly rebel. White’s co-stars include Ebon Moss-Bachrach, as Richie, the hot-tempered manager who is reluctant to cede control and Ayo Edebiri, who stands out as Sydney, who might be as smart and talented as Carmy if he can learn to listen to her.
White spoke by phone recently about jumping from one series to the next, what he learned on “Shameless” that he’s bringing to “The Bear” and how he prepared for the role in Los Angeles’ culinary hot spots. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. You’ve done movies like “The Rental” and limited series like “Homecoming.” Were you looking for another series or was it just something about this particular show?
White: I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after “Shameless.” Chris Storer had been a producer on “The Rental” and he approached me with this idea when I was finishing season 11. I liked the work he’d done on “Ramy” and as a producer.
I had a limited knowledge of the culinary world but the more that he told me about it—and he had me read different books—the more fascinating it seemed.
There was a period where I thought I’d take a break from series work to keep my time more open. But I fell in love with Carmy.
He has been running away from his upbringing and you meet him when the most traumatic thing has just happened. He’s really struggling and he’s still wrapped up in his identity as a chef and he’s so determined to be successful. So everything seems life or death to him all the time. The stakes just seemed so high for him.
I didn’t want to see anyone else play him. I knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t grab the opportunity even though it meant jumping right into another series.
Q. How involved did you try to get with shaping your character?
White: Even before the pilot, I was meeting with Chris to talk about his ideas and what I wanted and thought about the show. That was great and something I hadn’t experienced. On “Shameless,” everybody got along but there were the writers and the actors and they weren’t necessarily talking that much about what would happen. Chris and Joanna Calo, our other writer and director, were incredibly open to ideas and tweaks, even if it was ultimately their story and I did sometimes have to let go and trust them. It was nice to be asked throughout the process. It felt like a collaboration all the way through.
Q. In “Shameless” you’re swallowed by your dysfunctional family. Here it seems like you’re building your own dysfunctional workplace family. What are thematic similarities and differences?
White: “Shameless” is about a built-in family that would do anything for each other. This is about lonely people finding their family. When you meet Carmy he’s really at his most lonely and vulnerable. He’s just so alone and I don’t think a Gallagher has ever felt that alone. How could you when you’re living with 12 people?
Q. You started on “Shameless” essentially after high school. What did you learn that helped you on “The Bear”?
White: We were lucky on “Shameless” to have William H. Macy be our leader. I was nervous but excited now about approaching a show where I would be number one on the call sheet. But I felt confident because I’d seen Bill Macy do it so beautifully, with so much grace and respect for the show, cast and crew. So I had a north star.
Also, when you go into a show as an actor, every morning you’ll get “sides,” all the dialogue and scene work for that day. But John Wells, who created “Shameless,” doesn’t do that so we had to show up to work knowing everything and being ready to go.
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I’ve been on other shows since then where I saw actors in the hair and makeup trailer in the morning learning lines and figuring out their day. On “The Bear,” we moved so quickly that I had to come completely prepared and ready to do just two or three takes on each set-up. So that’s something I carried with me from “Shameless.”
Q. How did you prepare for this role?
White: After “Shameless” I dived into the culinary world, learning about and experiencing something I didn’t know much about.
I did a two-week crash course at the Institute of Culinary Education in Pasadena. I did that with Ayo and got to know her through cooking, which was great because that’s our form of communication on the show. She had more experience in the kitchen—she likes to cook—and she’d worked front of house at a nice restaurant, and I’d never worked in a restaurant. As we were learning skills together we couldn’t help but get a little competitive but it was friendly competition.
Then I worked a couple of days at Republique on La Brea and then spent a month in total over a couple of months at pasjoli in Santa Monica. I started out as a fly on the wall trying to understand how these guys move and asking a lot of questions. Then I came in early and would prep with them. There’s room for error when you’re prepping. After a while I was working the line, preparing food that people were actually eating.
Q. How are your chopping skills?
White: They’ve gotten a lot better since I started.