Consider Hollywood’s everyman. Jimmy Stewart was once the archetype; an actor whose open face and Pennsylvania drawl suggested a deep humility, morality, Presbyterianism. Jump ahead a generation, and the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino pushed that paradigm in a different direction. They didn’t look like matinee idols, nor did they act much like them; instead, they evoked pure id.
Those guys, plus Sam Rockwell, plus Sean Penn—instinctive actors, their talents nearly uncontrolled—are some of Jeremy Allen White’s favorites: “I like watching something and almost feeling nervous,” he tells me.
White has spoken about watching and rewatching Pacino’s “unstillness” in The Panic in Needle Park as he prepared to play Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, the painfully tense young chef at the center of FX’s The Bear. A breakout hit last summer, the series’ tautly paced action begins after Carmy, a James Beard Award–winning phenom, returns home to run his family’s flagging sandwich shop, The Original Beef of Chicagoland (known as “The Beef”), in the wake of his brother’s suicide. Dropped into a quagmire of unpaid bills, and a kitchen staff that doesn’t really trust (or like) him, Carmy wants to burn the whole place down only slightly less than he wants to save it.
Critics adored The Bear. Sales of Italian beef sandwiches soared. And Carmy was an online sensation: People took one look at his fitted T-shirts, motley tattoos, and greasy hair, and swiftly cast him as a textbook no-goodnik; the kind of emotionally unavailable jerk that your parents—and therapist—urged you not to try to “fix.”
In reality, White, 32, is friendly, attentive, and unfailingly polite. He is the doting father of two young girls, Ezer, four, and Dolores, two, with actor Addison Timlin, whom he married in 2019 but first met nearly 20 years ago, at their performing arts high school in Manhattan. (The pair recently separated.) Among his greatest pleasures, he reveals with some embarrassment, is riding his fixed-gear bike.
The rift between what he’s like and how he presents recalls that oft-cited line from Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” It also made sense for this particular project. “As much as we want to jump into a lot of the toxic and sort of gnarly things that happen in the restaurant industry, being able to couch that in somebody that’s as naturally good and kind as Jeremy was really important,” says Christopher Storer, The Bear’s creator, who has family and close friends in the business. “When you meet him he’s the sweetest kid ever, and he’s got these piercing eyes that you can’t help but be drawn to. But then you see in his performance that he can be equally charming and funny as he can be scary and tense, which is really tricky to do.”