The Making of The Bear’s Showstopper Monologue: “It’s a Love Letter”

Cooking is meant to be a nurturing experience as well as a bonding one. The crafting of the very sustenance that keeps us alive has been, for generations, how parents show love to their children or how those children show respect for elders’ traditions. Restaurant employees call the food they eat together before their shift a “family meal.”

Cooking is also an exhausting, high-stress experience. Those who do it professionally can spend their entire heart-pumping, gotta-make-the-deadline shifts on their feet in tight quarters. Burnout and addiction are common.

Both sides are depicted in FX on Hulu’s eight-episode freshman series, The Bear, a family drama as much as it is a raw and unabashed look at the behind-the-scenes world of an old-school restaurant trying to stay afloat in a changing neighborhood. Shameless alum Jeremy Allen White stars as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a once rising-star chef in New York City’s high-end food scene who returns to Chicago to take over his family’s sandwich shop after the death of its previous owner—Carmy’s older brother, Michael (played in flashbacks by Jon Bernthal).

While details of how Michael died, and the state of his mental health at the time, are slowly dropped throughout the season, it’s mostly left unsaid—because, after all, the characters already know what happened.

“One thing that we were really excited about was making our characters say as little as possible throughout the season, especially Jeremy’s character; especially Carmy,” says executive producer Joanna Calo, who serves as co-showrunner of The Bear with creator Christopher Storer. “I think he’s such an amazing actor that we felt like he could tell this story, but also not say everything. Because that’s not how people usually communicate; especially people who are trying to be a boss…. He’s using his cooking and his insane work ethics from him to hide all of these things that he’s struggling with; to push them further down.”

The writers initially had included more family backstory in early episodes, but ultimately cut them out—so it isn’t until Carmy speaks during an Al-Anon meeting in the season finale, “Braciole,” that audiences learn how little Carmy knew about his brother’s problems with addiction—and how greatly he was affected by Michael’s death by suicide. In an emotional, seven-minute-long roller coaster of a monologue, he covers everything from what it felt like to earn the attention of his confidant, funny older sibling him to how much it hurt when that all went away. He explains how he took that rejection and humiliation to the fiercely competitive restaurant industry, revealing in the pain of calloused fingers, abusive bosses, and skin that forever reeked of garlic, onions, and peppers just to prove a point.

The monologue was also shot almost entirely with a close-up on White’s face. Now, neither Carmy nor the audience can run from the pain he’s avoided.

The Bear‘s Grisly Backstory

White says he got a copy of the scene after the pilot was picked up to series but didn’t get to film it until his last day on set. Still, he says, “I was looking at the monologue all the time. And I feel like it really grounded me.”

“I would read it most days before work just to start getting it into my head,” he adds. “I felt like, on every read, as I was trying to memorize bits and pieces, it was helping me understand Carmy in a different way.”

Both Calo and Storer, who also directed the episode, have experience with Al-Anon. The scene is different from other TV shows or movies, where the protagonist finds new understanding with the addict friend or relative who prompted them to attend the meeting in the first place. In these moments, Carmy is angry; both at his brother his for not letting him in and at himself for doubling down on his own career and drifting away so that he did n’t know that Michael was an addict who needed help.

Storer says that something he learned from Al-Anon, and its sister program Nar-Anon, is that “alcoholism or addiction is a family disease and you just cannot cure or control that disease in the people you love as much as you would want to .”

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