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Ayo Edebiri Does Not Think The Bear Is Sexy

Photo: Frazer Harrison/WireImage

If you were anywhere near a screen this summer, you may have developed a crush on a certain artfully tattooed chef who captured the hearts and loins of every straight woman with a Hulu account. While FX’s The Bear introduced us to Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), a discourse-laden collection of red flags, it also introduced us to Sydney, his ambitious new sous-chef played by comedian Ayo Edebiri. The only employee readily willing to abide by Carmy’s new rule that everyone call each other “chef” as a sign of respect, Sydney comes to his newly inherited sandwich shop out of reverence for his work — which quickly becomes mixed with barely contained rage at his stubborn insistence that the staff do everything his way.

Edebiri was not someone I expected to see in The Bear. She’s spent the past few years circulating the alt-comedy stand-up scene, and I first knew her as the co-host of Iconography, a podcast where she and writer Olivia Craighead used their extensive movie knowledge to examine whether various Hollywood figures were indeed iconic. She made her official entrée into television as Hattie in the second season of Dickinson, and then last year, she took over the role of Big Mouth’s Missy, a terminally horny tween who writes fanfiction about Nathan Fillion. (Missy, who is Black and Jewish, was recast in 2020 amid backlash at the fact that she was voiced by white actor Jenny Slate.)

On paper, The Bear’s premise is ripe for darkly comedic moments that Edebiri could nail as a comedian, but she plays her arc mostly straight. Instead of adding levity, she fills The Bear with emotionally charged moments of genuine connection that stand out between its rapid-fire cuts of kitchen chaos. In some ways, Sydney is a stand-in for the audience, demonstrating what it would actually be like to witness this shitshow of a kitchen, and Edebiri’s frequent “how the fuck did I end up here?” face nails that feeling. But she’s just as much a part of that dysfunction as an observer of it, and, like Carmy, she zigzags between being entirely insufferable and worthy of rooting for. The Cut spoke to Edebiri about prepping for the show, Boston cuisine, and having strong feelings about the new Elvis movie.

It was exciting to see you move into a more straightforward drama than I’ve seen you do before. Were you looking to make that pivot when you joined the show?

I don’t think intentionally there was any thought of, I’m at X place in my career and I need to do Y. It was more that I really responded to the script and the writing, and thought it would be exciting and challenging. I didn’t necessarily feel the challenge of, Oh, I’ve never done anything serious. In comedy there’s a lot of drama, and in drama there’s a lot of comedy. The two meet more than the word “genre” might indicate.

You and your co-star, Jeremy Allen White, trained at the Institute of Culinary Education and a handful of high-end restaurant kitchens after filming the pilot. What was the hardest thing to nail?

When we first started, I was more confident and more versed than Jeremy because I’ve cooked for myself. I can throw down, but on a day-to-day basis it’s more like, we’re adding peas and a little bacon to the Annie’s mac and cheese. That’s where I shine. In the pilot, I had to cut a cartouche really quickly, which is a circular piece of wax paper that’s used to trap steam, and I wasted so much wax paper trying to get it into a perfect circle. The biggest focus [of our] training was knife skills.

I was really worried for your fingers all season long, so I’m glad you had those mastered.

Yeah, one of my best friends’ moms was like, “Tell Ayo I don’t think this is safe.”

I’m sorry, but we do have to talk about how Jeremy Allen White’s presence in this show spawned lots of horny tweets. Not to put you on the spot, but what did you think of all that?

He’s got those blue eyes! I don’t know. People on the internet are into it, I’m happy for him, and it’s good for us. I don’t think I evoke that, where just a picture of his face causes somebody to divulge a very jarring memory. Or fantasy. It’s hard to say which. But he’s handling it like a champ.

There’s also some debate on whether your character, Sydney, and Carmy should get together. What are your thoughts on their dynamic?

Sydney really looks up to Carmy. She comes to the restaurant for him, she wants to work for him and learn from him because she was so moved by the food he made and wants to be able to do that one day. They have a complicated relationship. There’s a lot of places where they understand each other and where they meet, especially in terms of their background and their focus. But obviously they have very different personality types and are from very different schools of thought. As an actor it’s really fun getting to see where those tensions meet and play with Jeremy in that way.

I don’t personally think there’s anything romantic there! I don’t think the show is a sexual one. These people don’t have … very robust personal lives. They’re devoted to their jobs. If anything happened between Sydney and Carmy, nobody would be happy. It would be disappointing and jarring and weird. I don’t think people actually want that.

You are famously from Boston. What is the most Boston food?

I don’t know if the city of Boston would agree, but thank you. I have a theory that Dunkin’ Donuts tastes better in Boston. I have nothing to base this off of besides my own emotions. I’ll go to a Dunkin’ anywhere, but when people say, “Eh, Dunkin’ is okay,” I’m, like, “You just gotta go to Boston. Let me show you how good it is.” In my heart of hearts, the America that I love still runs on Dunkin’. Boston also has really good Jamaican and Vietnamese food.

I know from your former podcast, Iconography, that you have a wealth of movie knowledge. Anything you’ve seen recently that you haven’t been able to get out of your head?

I think Austin Butler should win an Oscar for Elvis. You don’t have to see it, all you need to know is I’m correct. It’s one of the craziest movies I’ve ever seen and one of the most transcendent performances that’s ever been captured on film. He really gave it his all. I wanted to listen to “Hard Rock Café” or whatever — I don’t know a single Elvis song. But he did the damn thing. I don’t need to read any critical piece on Elvis because I’ve done all the thinking that needs to be done. I don’t know the man, and I have nothing to gain. He is just very good in Elvis.

Duly noted!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ayo Edebiri Does Not Think The Bear Is Sexy