rules to live by

Abby Elliott Tames The Bear

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: David Needleman

“The nature of a kitchen is so orchestrated it’s almost like surgery,” says Abby Elliott. That may be true for the kitchen she shadowed while preparing for The Bear, but the fictional kitchen she hangs out in on the show is about as orderly as a tornado. Elliott’s character, Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto, is the sister of protagonist Carmy (Jeremy Allen White), the high-strung, emotionally unavailable fine-dining chef who returns to Chicago to take over his late brother’s restaurant after losing him to suicide.

At first, The Bear was a new beast for Elliott, who is a second-generation Saturday Night Live alum (her father, Chris Elliott, joined the cast in 1994). Since leaving the sketch show, she has mainly stuck to comedy, making this show the closest thing to drama that she’s done. Sugar is an audience conduit more often than not — astounded by the sheer dysfunction of her late brother’s restaurant, increasingly concerned about her other brother’s deep psychic damage, and doing her best to keep everyone afloat despite their collective determination to sink like a rock.

Although Sugar spent most of season one trying to coax Carmy into some form of therapy, Elliott takes on a bigger role in the new season: overseeing the chaotic renovation of their late brother’s beloved restaurant. She has only one foot in the door at the Bear, Carmy’s wildly optimistic vision for the new restaurant, and every new catastrophe leaves her visibly questioning why she’s even sticking around to help. Making matters more complicated, she’s pregnant — which, incidentally, was also the case for Elliott herself while filming. At home, she runs a tighter ship than Carmy does, though one unique customer keeps breaking protocol: her 2-year-old daughter, who likes to eat dinner “sitting on the table right directly in front of me, kicking my pregnant belly.”

Sugar seems to be the most put-together person on The Bear — though that’s a low bar. Do you relate to that?
I’m pretty messy. I have The Chair in my room, and I’m not great about the dishes. But when it comes to the important stuff, I’m pretty organized. I have a mental list of what needs to get done, which I think is a female trait. But yeah, Sugar is kind of admirable. She comes from this chaotic family and has this sadness with her brother, and she still just wants to keep it all together and “make it nice,” as Dorinda would say.

It’s not clear if Sugar has a natural maternal quality or that role was kind of forced on her.
I think being the only girl with her siblings and having a lot of boys around, including their neighbors, the Faks, she kind of had to take care of everyone.

What did you learn about back-of-house etiquette while making this show?
I didn’t realize it’s just so orchestrated. There’s a line: One person is plating, one person is wiping — all that stuff was new to me. Obviously, things get heated and arguments arise, but there’s a respect thing that I didn’t realize, too, like calling someone “Chef” and treating people a certain way.

What’s your No. 1 rule for being on set?
Don’t talk to someone looking at their lines. I come from a comedy place where people joke around so much on sets, but now that my character is in the kitchen more this season, I’ve been watching the actors prepare to get into that. It’s not cool to mess with someone’s thing that they do before filming, whether it’s memorizing or getting into character.

What’s the most important snack-table rule?
I feel like Crafty is the one place there are no rules. You can go for it. Take as much as you want; just don’t take the last of anything. At least leave one pack of Peanut M&M’s, you know?

What’s your No. 1 comedy rule?
Now that I’m in my mid-30s and I’m a mom, I feel like making a joke at the expense of someone else, even if it’s totally harmless, is just not worth it at all. People are sensitive about anything. When I was first starting out, I would toy with how hard I could go at someone: Can I do this impression where it’s, like, borderline mean? Will that do anything for me? I realized the answer is “no,” which was easy to learn, but it took time to really set in. I don’t even like impressions anymore unless it’s someone’s really specific campy voice, like Chloe Fineman doing Jennifer Coolidge. For me, I’ve found there are other ways to make people laugh.

What was the No. 1 rule on SNL about interacting with guests?
Don’t bring up their personal lives. I was there from 2008 to 2012, which was peak Perez Hilton tabloid fodder. Some people would disclose those things without an issue. Emma Stone was always an open book with everybody, and you could have, like, a girl chat with Anna Faris. But there were people I probably wouldn’t pry for information. Lindsay Lohan hosted when I was there, and I really wanted to know what was and wasn’t true given how much I was reading about her. It’s a gossipy environment.

What’s your stance on requesting substitutions while ordering food?
It depends on where you’re eating. If it’s a fine-dining place where the dishes are truly a product of the chef’s art, I would say don’t try to substitute anything unless you have an allergy. But if you’re at a diner and order toast instead of hash browns, I think that’s acceptable.

What’s the key to a successful dinner party?
Don’t cap anyone’s alcohol and have plenty of food. Don’t stop anyone at any time from eating or drinking something they want. Letting everyone kind of sit and enjoy everything in front of them is important.

What’s one wedding etiquette rule that should be done away with?People should wear whatever they want to a wedding. I get it if there’s a specific theme; that’s fun. But someone I know just got invited to a wedding that was black tie, then they changed it to cocktail, and then they changed it back to black tie. They just could not make up their mind. You’ve gotta stick with one thing. You’re committing to one person! It looks bad.

One wedding etiquette rule that you do support?
Plus-ones. Don’t make someone come to your wedding alone.

No. 1 gift-giving rule?
If someone registers, get something off their registry. Just stick with what we know is gonna work. I’ve been going to a lot of kid birthday parties, and I stick with classic gifts like a board game or Jenga or a yo-yo.

What’s the most controversial rule in your house?
My 2-and-a-half-year-old will not sit in a chair when we eat dinner. These days, she insists on sitting on the table right directly in front of me, kicking my pregnant belly. So that’s pretty controversial. But we’re getting there.

What’s one house rule you’ll always enforce?
I need one person to know where our tiny Yorkie-poo is at all times. There are coyotes all around our house, so I will not let him out of my sight.

What are your rules about phones when you’re with other people?
I don’t think it’s appropriate to be at a dinner or any social situation looking at your phone. I think it’s so rude. I sound like an old person, but people are so much more interesting than whatever is going on on your phone. If you don’t have the time to be at dinner and be present, you should’ve canceled.

What kind of texter are you?
My texts are all over the place. I don’t use punctuation, and I have a lot of spelling mistakes. I don’t think before I text; I just kinda go for it. I make a lot of mistakes where I’m thinking about something and accidentally type it. If I’m looking at my dog, George, or feeding him or making sure he’s not getting eaten by a coyote, I’ll type his name instead of my daughter’s and not realize until a day later.

What’s your No. 1 rule for getting dressed?
Wear one thing that has color. I go straight to black and white so often, and I find myself happier and a little lighter when I put something on that’s colorful. Right now, I’m wearing a lot of big muumuus and caftans. Every time there’s a birthday or Mother’s Day, I ask for another giant colorful piece of fabric to drape myself in.

Abby Elliott Tames The Bear