Ebon Moss-Bachrach is an active, thinking, critical human. The actor has been working steadily in film, television, and on the stage for 20 years, but, thanks to the enthusiastic reception to Hulu’s hit series The Bear (streaming on Disney+), he is becoming more of a household name. With Richie, the captivating and ever-simmering wild card he plays on The Bear, Moss-Bachrach is causing a stir. Prior to this, he was best known for his roles as tech analyst David “Microchip” Lieberman in the 2017 TV adaptation of The Punisher and the folksy Desi Harperin on Girls. He’s also recently played skeezy rebel Arvel Skeen on Andor and investigative reporter John Carreyrou in Hulu’s The Dropout.
He’s mostly keeping mum about the second season of The Bear, but he lights up like a Christmas tree when asked about cooking. You see, the man is obsessed with ramps. No, not your everyday sloped surface, but Allium tricoccum, the ephemeral cousin of onions and garlic otherwise known as the North American wild leek. He’d spend most of his days gathering groceries and cooking for loved ones if he could.
On a recent afternoon, Moss-Bachrach talked to SHARP over video call about sharing life alongside another creator, how he creates backstories for his roles, and the joy of cooking.
You just wrapped season two of The Bear in Chicago, right? How are you feeling about that?
Sure did! I feel cautiously optimistic. I feel a sense of accomplishment that hopefully will continue. It’s starting to fade already. But I feel really good; I feel proud of the work we did. I think it’s a really ambitious season. Obviously, last year we came out of nowhere so there’s more pressure, I think.
Your partner, the photographer Yelena Yemchuck, is also a successful creative. How do you navigate making space for each other’s creative practices?
Our life is often quite chaotic, but we have similar struggles and successes and triumphs, Yelena and I, in terms of balancing work and finances and then ego stuff. Our lives work well together — because, for example, I’ve been in Chicago for the last three months, and as this work is winding down, she has the potential to do more on her end. This is her time.
On a very practical level, my parents are really helpful. They live a few hours from here up in Massachusetts. They don’t work anymore, and they help take care of our two daughters, bridging times when neither Yelena and I are here. If I was living with another actor, I think that would be harder.
There’s still that creative spirit where you can kind of feed off each other but there isn’t a sense of competition or overlap.
Exactly. It’s like “inside baseball.” There’s some common ground, but mostly we’re just not talking about either of our work.
When you were studying at Columbia, you initially were majoring in American history, right?
Oh, yeah. I was an American history major for a while. I was a music theory major for a while. I was in the theatre department a bit. Ultimately, English literature was what I was studying. I always loved theatre and movies, and I’d always been a big reader and kind of an escapist as a kid. I took an acting class in Columbia just out of curiosity. I learned that this is actually a potentially very academic and intellectual craft that you can work on.
Was it after that that you did a play called Dead End, where you met actors like Hope Davis?
Yeah! After I took that class, I was so inspired that I went up to the Williamstown Theatre Festival to be an apprentice and be around theatre. I wound up getting this incredible opportunity with Hope, Scott Wolf, Campbell Scott, all these wonderful actors. I was so into it. I remember having this conversation with Hope, saying, “I’m gonna go back; I’m gonna major in theatre. I’m gonna learn everything I can about American theater and English theatre.” She said, “Don’t do that. You can study that stuff for the rest of your life. Just get your classic education and learn how to be an active, thinking, critical human.” It was great advice, actually.
It seems like you still hold true to that. Does that influence how you approach roles?
I do try to live a very balanced life. My work is not the most important thing in my life. It is very important to me and has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my children and a lot of time out in the world and nature and cooking and playing music with friends and doing things that are important to me. I’m very grateful not to have to spend all day in an office under fluorescent lighting.
You’ve talked about how you build out the world that your characters inhabit, crafting backstories. Does this make you into a kind of story writer yourself?
Oh, that’s a nice way of thinking about it. I guess so. For me, that’s just the basic work of an actor, to do a lot of daydreaming and imagining. It’s like writing — actually, I do know actors that physically fill up notebooks. There’s so much stuff to be created outside of the little time we see people on screen. That kind of work and that level of detail informs the performance.
Is there something you do that helps you get into that mode? How do you build up and maintain that skill, of doing that deep dive?
I’ve not found a set method that is a way for me to get in, short of like, walking around and thinking about the character and what their life is like. Sometimes I have to have the text there all the time and constantly go back and look at it and get ideas from there. Other times you can find a way in from music or from poets or — I mean, this sounds pretentious and like an acting cliché — but like maybe it’s going to the zoo and finding an animal that can represent the character.
I try to stay open to wherever inspiration can come from because it’s a hard job and anything that’s a key to unlocking the thing is really valuable. And then on the day, I try to let all that go. I put my attention on my scene partner and the circumstances. I’m not there being like, [whispers] “I’m Richie, I’m Richie, I’m Richie.” Like, that’s not helpful. You have to stay relaxed. The more work I can do ahead of time, the better — the more I can relax when it’s time to shoot or when the curtain goes up.
Before you got into acting you had done a stint as a cater-waiter. I’ve read that one of the incidents that made you shift out of that was you had dropped a large plate. There was this big, clumsy moment. Were you clumsy before you got into acting?
I was definitely clumsy as a kid. Uncoordinated. I was always into sports but I was bad at them, you know?
How did you find the physical confidence that you need as an actor?
I don’t know. There is obviously a physical component to acting. I exercise a lot. It’s not something I think about a lot. It’s definitely, like, when I stopped smoking cigarettes and started running and swimming, I think my acting improved.
For me, one of the most satisfying things about watching The Bear was seeing people in such close quarters and letting loose on each other. Was there a sense of catharsis in making something like this after so much isolation and pandemic protocol?
Absolutely. I mean, 100%. I think that level of proximity and that intimacy and that closeness and people, like, sweating on each other, is one of the reasons the show was so successful. I think we were starved for that.
I fortunately worked all through lockdown. I tried to make a movie and the woman playing my wife was like in a biohazard suit and I saw her face literally for the first time when cameras were rolling. I mean, I like this job because I like to collaborate with people and to try to work in that way, through isolation, is really, really frustrating. Directors Zooming in. It was terrible.
So to answer your question: Yeah. It was super cathartic. It felt so good.
You don’t do a lot of cooking in The Bear, but you’ve said that you really like to cook and take care of people that way. What do you value about cooking?
Oh my god, what’s not to value about it? It’s everything. I love every part of it! The whole experience of it!
I live in a neighborhood in New York with amazing food. There’s a fish store and a butcher and a greengrocer. I go around and I collect my groceries like it’s the ’20s. Like I’m in the Lower East Side in, like, the 1920s or 1930s and I talk to people. Then there’s inviting people over, cooking, sharing wine.
Do you have relationships with your fishmonger and people like that now?
Oh, yeah. My day will focus around the dinner that I’m gonna make. My wife will say that I’m lazy and I’m not ambitious about how I fill my day. My days are maybe disappointing on the level of some kind of American ideal but are fully acceptable in Europe. When my kids were little, we’d go out and find our ingredients and think about what we’re going to do and then bring it back and start preparing everything. That’s a great day!
I was just texting with a friend of mine. We were talking about what we’re going to cook tomorrow. It’s ramp season. I’m a huge fan of these wild leeks.
You ever do forays and go look for wild ramps?
Yeah, yeah! Actually, once — it was maybe when we were shooting the Marnie–Desi wedding in Girls — I remember seeing them on the side of the road as the van was driving to set up in Connecticut.
I remember I got flushed. I was so excited. I got garbage bags and I picked an absurd, absurd amount and then we had to drive back into the city with these, like, two 25-pound garbage bags filled with ramps. They smell so strong and everyone was very patient with me.
What did you make with them?
I made a bunch of pesto because there was way too much. They go bad pretty quickly. I really like to make a ramp spaghetti which is super simple, just ramps and breadcrumbs and chili flakes. If you have good spaghetti and good olive oil, that’s plenty.
The other night, for my daughters, I just scrambled some eggs and put in some sautéed ramps, folded those into the scrambled eggs, with some potatoes.
Do they know that you’re obsessed with ramps?
They know! I mean, I’ve gotten into arguments at the farmers market because ramps became such a thing and then it became like $25 for a quarter pound. So there’s a farmer that we don’t talk to anymore at the market. My little daughter told me the other day, she was like, “I really miss ramps. I love them at the beginning and by the end I’m so sick of them.” It’s like three weeks!
That’s how you know you’ve done your job as a dad.