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The Bear's Lionel Boyce dishes on acting, growth, and the romance on fans' minds

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The broadcast version of this story incorrectly referred to Lionel Boyce as his character’s name, Marcus. The reference has been corrected in the story available online.]

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

If you haven't already started an early weekend binge watch, you'd better get ready. Season 3 of "The Bear" on FX and Hulu dropped last night. And be warned - we're going to get into a little bit of it now. The celebrated show follows a team of Chicagoans living messy lives as they strive for fine-dining excellence. And the new season, in all of its, hey, cousin, and yes, chef-ing (ph) glory, is just as chaotic as ever.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

JEREMY ALLEN WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) Not what I said - that's not...

EBON ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) You know - uh, I still love you, bye.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) That's not what I said, OK? I was just trying to be honest.

ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) You ran away from it.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) I didn't know how to respond...

ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) It's fine.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) ...To all the crazy [expletive] you're saying to me.

ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) Non-negotiables - you need to do some negotiating with yourself.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) Oh, yeah? You tell me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) I don't like this.

ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) Changing the menu every day.

AYO EDEBIRI: (As Sydney Adamu) It's bad. That's really bad.

ROSS-BACHRACH: (As Richard "Richie" Jerimovich) To me, that sounds a little bit like running away.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) OK.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Has anybody checked in on Marcus yet, or...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Yeah, I tried.

OLIVER PLATT: (As Uncle Jimmy) Wait, wait, wait - OK - what happened...

SUMMERS: Marcus Brooks is the show's rising pastry chef who often cuts through that chaos. He's played by actor Lionel Boyce, who says his own upbringing in Inglewood, Calif., kind of prepared him for the role.

LIONEL BOYCE: I'm always, like, attracted to bigger personalities. My mom - she's always kind of been that way - very high-energy, high-strung, just exuberant. And my dad's kind of the opposite, where he's probably closer to how you see what you see me in my performance - where he's very calm, quiet. He's very, like, sweet-natured and gentle.

SUMMERS: And it's Marcus who finds his co-workers being gentle with him in Season 3. Season 2 teased a significant loss for him and a tense, will-they-won't-they romance. I asked Lionel Boyce about that and other parallels between his character and real life.

One thing that you share in common with Marcus, your character in "The Bear," is that both you and he dropped football-playing ambitions to pursue more artistic passions. What was the moment, if you can tell me - or spark that made you just know that acting was something that you really wanted to pursue seriously?

BOYCE: It's funny. It wasn't until I had, like, an opportunity to do it. I remember I had a senior drama class where I met Tyler, The Creator. And I think we connected, really, over having the same sense of humor and sensibilities. We both love, like, "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Chapelle's Show" and "Jacka**." And, like, we just were kind of able to, like, jump to playing with our abstract humor and go in the same direction and kind of like, finish each other's thoughts.

And I remember playing football came to an end for me, and an opportunity to make a sketch comedy show with him came about. And we kind of developed "Loiter Squad" and, like, wrote sketches. And that was just my first foray into all of that. And it's like shifting from second to third gear. And that's the best way I could describe it - how it felt internally. It was like, yeah - oh, yeah. I think - this makes sense. This always made sense. I can't believe I haven't done this until now. And I just want to figure out - how do I keep doing this for the rest of my life?

SUMMERS: In what many people describe as your character Marcus' breakout episode in "The Bear" Season 2, Marcus goes to Copenhagen to stage at this restaurant that isn't quite but feels a whole lot like the real-life restaurant, Noma. And you've also talked about how "The Bear's" creator, Christopher Storer, really trusted you with that episode in a way that perhaps you wouldn't have necessarily trusted yourself. So I guess I want to ask you, what was it like playing Marcus in this latest season? Did it feel different for you? Have you changed as an actor?

BOYCE: I think it definitely felt different. There's bigger scenes and bigger moments in this season that I hadn't had. Like, there's - the start of Episode 3, I remember reading the scripts and was like, whoa, this is the way to start an episode - in the church, where he's giving a monologue.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

BOYCE: (As Marcus Brooks) I always felt loved. It didn't matter what was going on or if I was in trouble or whatever. I knew she was listening. And she knew I was listening, too.

If it were up to me, I would just be like, yeah, I wouldn't throw that at lines. But I think Chris always knows exactly what he's doing, what he's going for. And he sees - I credit him 'cause he sees things in me that - with acting that I don't. So if he's depending on me, I will try my best to, like, live up to that. But there's a lot of things with this season where it's, like, Marcus exploring a little bit more of, like, grief and not being as, you know, affable. And it just kind of - it helped me. I wouldn't say it changed. It just helped me develop more as an actor, having to explore in different places that I hadn't in the previous two seasons.

SUMMERS: This is the part of the conversation, Marcus, where I'm going to give our listeners the mildest of spoiler warnings because I want to talk about when we first see Marcus again in Season 3. It is arguably the biggest and most emotional interest as we're checking back in with these characters for the first time in a while. And there's this moment that Marcus has with Jeremy Allen White's character, Carmy, that kind of refocuses their collective work.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BEAR")

BOYCE: (As Marcus Brooks) This place has got to work, and I need you to do something for me.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) Yeah. Name it.

BOYCE: (As Marcus Brooks) Take us to The Bear.

WHITE: (As Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto) Yes, chef.

SUMMERS: It almost felt to me like the start of a role reversal, with Marcus leading the way this time. I wonder if that's what it felt like for you.

BOYCE: To me, it felt like kind of - it's a mirror of the pilot, actually, to me, where Marcus is the first one on board. When Carmy comes to this kitchen, everyone was kind of, like, combative against him. And Marcus ends the episode with, like, giving him a little bit of respect, and he throws the first yes, chef, at him. And it's just like the start of his journey.

And to me, this episode kind of mirrors that in, like, an inverse way, where it's like - Carmy's like, we're going to take it up another level. He's presenting all these nonnegotiables, and everyone's kind of giving him some resistance. And Marcus is like, you're not crazy. I believe in you. Take us there. He's, like, kind of putting the battery back in his back rather than reversing the role, to me.

SUMMERS: Fans of the show have also, as I'm sure you know, been captivated by the relationship between Marcus and chef Sydney, who is played by Ayo Edebiri. And there's a ton of tension. But at least by the beginning of the third season, there is absolutely no resolution to whether the relationship is platonic or romantic. So I've got to ask you about how this show explores the connection between these two characters.

BOYCE: I think it does a good job of showing, like, just - like, they are friends. To me, they are friends, and I think, this season, it kind of clears it up. I think it's really just about, like, a platonic friendship and just, like, another person supporting him, who believes in him, like Carmy. I think she presented as, like, another force who's just kind of fueling his creativity to help him get to the place that they all believe he can get to.

SUMMERS: "The Bear" is a show that is beloved by so many. It is award-winning. People love it. People have been anxiously anticipating this new season. I am curious - for you, what do you credit the insane success that this show has had? What do you think it is about it that makes it so watchable for so many different types of viewers?

BOYCE: I think it's honest, and it's, like, truthful in the way that it shows things. The writers, Chris, Joanna - and everyone is so smart to know where to, like, cut the conversation, what to withhold. It just stays on this honest track. To me, I think that's the engine of it all - where it just feels honest and human. I think everyone has someone they can connect to. There are so many entry points. It's very porous.

SUMMERS: We've been speaking with actor Lionel Boyce. He plays Marcus Brooks in the FX series "The Bear." Season 3 is out now. Lionel, thank you.

BOYCE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.