Name: Ebon Moss-Bachrach
DOB: 19 March 1977
Place of birth: New York, United States
Mr. Moss-Bachrach, although you’ve recently been labelled a breakout star for your acclaimed role as Richie in The Bear, you’ve actually been acting for some time now. How do you look back on your earlier days as an actor?
Yeah, when I started out, I was working mostly in the theater scene, and that was a real luxurious, selfish kind of time in my life where I could afford to live on $400 or $500 a week, and just be working on these plays. I was very happy to stay in crappy hotels! It felt very romantic to me, and kind of nomadic. I felt connected to the continuum of transient actors, like these old theater troupes or companies that would go around from town to town trading on their acting — even though that's not really what I was doing. (Laughs)
It sounds like you’re coming from a very pure place, from a true love of the craft rather than a desire to get rich or famous.
I mean, listen, if I was interested in making a lot of money, I never would have become an actor! That would be the stupidest thing you could possibly do. But it’s true that I never wanted to make it big. I had many friends that were getting a lot of like notoriety, and I saw that with that came a lot of baggage, and not necessarily the freedom that they were expecting it to give them. And it didn't really appeal to me at all! What I've always been attracted to most is the variety of experiences that you can have between the three medium — film, television, and theater — but also with different kinds of writing and different kinds of parts. And that, to me, seems like a different job than the job of a movie star. Not that anyone was asking me to come and be the next Julia Roberts or anything like that. But I found my little lane of character stuff, and I liked that I could have a great time doing that. So I feel very grateful.
“My feelings about craft and truth, those things have shifted a bit. Some of my idealism has faded. I guess I’m just a lot older.”
Recently, things have changed for you in that respect, right? Since having a family, you’re having to think a bit more about the kinds of jobs you take on.
Yeah, I mean, there are realities of having a family that definitely influenced my decisions. Some of those realities are financial, some of those realities are just me wanting to spend time with my family, my children and my wife, so I can’t be doing plays all over the country, like I was when I was younger and living that more romantic lifestyle.
But would you say that romantic connection to acting is still present for you, even if it’s evolved a bit?
Well, I don't feel cynical about my work and I'm still fairly romantic, you know, I believe strongly in the power and the service of art, bringing people together and having a shared experience. That remains. But my feelings about craft and truth, those things have shifted a bit. Some of my idealism has faded. I guess I'm just a lot older.
I guess if you didn’t retain those beliefs, at least to some extent, you would end up just giving up on your craft completely, no?
You have to be a perennial! It’s very important when you work as an actor, or in any kind of collaborative media, to be able to fool yourself and trick yourself into thinking that the thing you're working on has some value or some potential. Even if it doesn't! You need to be able to fool yourself for that amount of time that you're working on it, to be able to show up and honor it and do service to your own work. One of the hardest challenges for me is when the material or the writing is not so good, or maybe when my motives are not so pure, I have to figure out ways in, ways to find inspiration. I try not to judge the material too harshly.
What other learning curves or experiences have helped you grow your craft in that way?
I spent a lot of time working with older actors who inspired me; they taught me to believe that I could make a life out of pursuing something that is kind of elusive, you know? Like, the best part of being an “artist” or an actor is that you can keep exploring and never really get there. To me, that’s a beautiful gauntlet, a beautiful challenge. I can keep climbing that hill until I fall over. That’s been an amazing thing, to see a bunch of old men and women alike with big smiles on their faces, full of energy, so happy to be in a rehearsal room, solving problems.
Apparently you’ve also learned to put less pressure on yourself to try to be Marlon Brando.
Yes! That’s something I also equate with the romanticism we talked about earlier. Letting go of those lofty ideas, that is a very freeing thing. It was not a revelation or an epiphany, or any one thing… I just learned that when you’re in a creative position, and you start letting expectations in, or you start to think about being good or being great or being something, then you're not really doing your work. You're trying to achieve something else outside of it. I have found that if I'm just in my scene, focused on the person that I'm working with and trying to go after whatever my guy needs, then all of that other all of that other noise and pressure goes away. I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last few years, that being in a state of relaxation opens you up to the unexpected. It’s just more conducive to creating and making something substance substance into then being tense and really trying to muscle your way through something.
“That was always the thing for me! I’ve always really wanted to work on things that I would like to watch; movies that I would like to see.”
Does it get difficult to tune out that pressure and noise when you’re working on a wildly successful and highly watched show like The Bear?
I was nervous, not on set, but I was nervous before the second season came out because tonally, it's a departure from the first season. And when we made the first season, I really loved making it. I watched it too, which I don't always do and I really thought it was pretty good. And then we have this response, which nobody anticipated! And then for the second season, I was like, “Okay, there's all these people that really love it, and I feel like we've made something that's kind of different. I hope that's not some kind of betrayal.” There was expectations there, but fortunately, you know, Chris Storer and Joanna Calo are a lot smarter than me! They know how to craft a story.
Does it feel like the success of The Bear is opening up doors for you to take on more roles that you really love, rather than ones that are necessary financially or time-wise? Maybe those romantic ideals are making a comeback…
(Laughs) I would say that a lot of those romantic ideals are not coming back, sadly. But I’m definitely in a nice period where I'm getting to work on things that I really want to work on, yeah. That was always the thing for me! I’ve always really wanted to work on things that I would like to watch, you know, movies that I would like to see. I've definitely done my share of things where it wasn’t clear why I did this, so it’s great to now be in a nicer position.
Is that the ultimate version of success for you?
I think so, yeah. That freedom to get to do the kind of work you really want, to control what you want out of your day… I think that's probably how I define success.