“We’re all broken and trying to put ourselves back together”: Matty Matheson on season three of The Bear

We caught up with the multi-hyphenate star to talk about his journey from food consultant to actor and writer on the hit show’s latest season

By Courtney Shea
Matty Matheson and Jeremy Allen White in season three of The Bear
Jeremy Allen White and Matty Matheson in season three of The Bear. Photos courtesy of FX

We all know Matty Matheson as a key member of The Bear’s ensemble cast, but what some may not know is that he started out as a consultant on the first season of the hit FX show. The Emmy-winning series is about running a restaurant, and the Toronto restaurateur was there to offer his expertise. When the show’s producers recognized his unique magnetism, however, they cast him in the recurring role of handyman Neil Fak—a sensitive goofball who, three seasons on, has become a fan favourite. It’s been a long and unpredictable road for Matheson, who opened his first restaurant in Toronto at 26 and proceeded to nearly party himself to death. Now, a decade later, he’s a clean-living Hollywood power player who earned a writing credit for his work on The Bear’s latest season—and recently found room on his tattoo-laden body for a tribute to his character.

I’m sure you’re aware of the heated online debate about whether it’s fair to call The Bear a comedy series. Care to weigh in? I’d love to weigh in. It’s a technicality—the only reason the show is considered a comedy by all of these academies is because there isn’t a category for 30-minute dramas. If The Bear were an hour-long show, it would be considered a drama. From our perspective, we make a show called The Bear, and that’s it. Like anybody who makes anything, I think that genre can be pretty problematic. Life is funny, life is dark, life is shit, life is great. The debate about how to categorize things feels pretty archaic.

You started out on the show as an executive producer and food consultant. Then you became an actor. Now, you’re doing some writing too. How did that happen? I was always in the writers room as a consultant and as a producer. Then this season I had a chance to work with the writers a bit more. I had an idea for a season that tells this story about what makes a chef, and all of the other chefs who make up who they are. Who are your mentors? Who are the people you hate? Who taught you what to do and what not to do? When I was at cooking school, there was this chef who told a story about how there were 30 other chefs inside of him, and I thought that was really interesting—this idea that all of the people you’ve interacted with play a role in making you who you are. Those influences can be positive, but they can also be negative, and we wanted to show that with Carmy.

Carmy has always been high-strung, but season three really hones in on the torture he puts himself through in the pursuit of excellence. I thought I was going to get an ulcer just from watching. Is it really that bad? Well, I’m certainly not Carmy. I had a very different path where I worked at two bistros before opening my own place, whereas Carmy trained all over the world under some of the industry’s top chefs. And with his own restaurant he’s pushing himself to the limit like anyone else who is trying to be the very best. What does an Olympian do? What does it look like to try to be number one? That’s not something I was ever shooting for.

Ricky Staffieri and Matty Matheson in season three of The Bear
Ricky Staffieri and Matty Matheson in season three of The Bear

But do you think this level of perfectionism makes sense? There’s an episode where Carmy keeps forcing one of his chefs to redo a steak, and I found myself thinking, No perfectly cooked piece of Wagyu is worth this. Am I wrong? I think remaking a dish that isn’t perfect is totally reasonable. We do that at Prime Seafood Palace and Rizzo’s. If the chicken parm isn’t up to our standard, we’re going to do it again. I think Carmy’s level of obsession is probably not necessary, but that’s what we’re trying to show—that this is someone who picked up a lot of negative practices from some of the chefs he trained under, and who comes from a very broken home and is trying to put himself back together.

The LA Times published an article with the headline “The Bear isn’t about the pressures of fine dining. It’s about the damage alcoholism inflicts.” Does that resonate with you? I haven’t read that article because I’m trying not to read any media about the show to protect my own mental health. I don’t have alcoholic parents, so that particular experience isn’t one I relate to, but I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic. I think we’re all broken by things that have happened in our lives and are trying to put ourselves back together. The whole idea of this show is sparked from a suicide, so it’s bigger than a restaurant. The Bear could be about a shoe cobbler or any small family business. I think that’s one of the reasons so many people feel like they can relate.

When’s the last time you got a new tattoo? I got my daughter’s name. Oh no, wait, my most recent tattoo is right here: N. J. F.—Neil Jeff Fak’s initials.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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