‘The Bear’ Star Ayo Edebiri Is About To Be

Norman Ray

Global Courant

heather we like
it or not, comedian Ayo Edebiri and I are both about to learn a lesson.

For Edebiri, a California resident who’s in New York for a few whirlwind days of press, she’s about to find out that our interview is taking place at a Brooklyn pottery studio — not, as she assumed, a restaurant. My lesson is that the breakthrough actress of at least three movies this summer, one highly anticipated second season of prestige TV, and the subject of this interview very much does not want to be here.

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To be clear, Edebiri is approachable and disarming and kind in a way that even copious amounts of media training could not instill in a budding star. She ambles into the room with a cautious but gentle smile, making eye contact and cracking light jokes before introductions. She’s also adaptable. The minute she discovers our chat isn’t happening at a place with food, she troubleshoots and lands on the closest option. Which is how, instead of a soothing and empty studio smelling faintly of drying paint and clay, we spend the first portion of our interview in a cacophonous Chipotle.

“No, I just don’t know why I didn’t look it up before I came,” she says with a laugh, waving off my apologies over an order of tacos and Coke. “I just wasn’t aware it was an activity. I’ve stopped looking at things. I just assume things will work out.”

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Our current surroundings notwithstanding, things in Edebiri’s life appear to be working out just fine. The longtime lover of comedy grew up in Boston to immigrant parents from Nigeria and Barbados. She was brought up religious, and remembers attending church every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, for youth service. She says her time enveloped in religion introduced her to music, performance, and stories. After a middle and high school filled with performing arts (and one memorable role in The Wizard of Oz), Edebiri attended New York University, where she worked towards an education degree by day and pursued stand-up comedy at night. Just before graduating, Edebiri went all-in on comedy: “I just felt like, for the kids, teaching shouldn’t be a backup plan.”

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Edebiri describes toiling away for years as a stand-up comic while working odd jobs as one of the key memories that pushed her to join her fellow writers on the picket line for the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike.

“I was babysitting. I was working restaurant jobs, doing freelance, doing late-night shows where you could transcribe. I was working as much as possible,” she recalls. “There’s so much technical and practical skill that goes into everybody’s jobs, and wages should reflect that. Massive companies shouldn’t be able to just broadly take advantage of people’s hard work and skill.”

It’s her hard work that took the actress from having the occasional writing gig to being a celebrated new voice. She wrote for Dickinson and What We Do in the Shadows. Her breakout role in The Bear, however, was a delicious surprise to viewers who first met Edebiri as the brace-faced wreck Missy on Big Mouth. In the FX dramedy, Edebiri plays Sydney Adamu, a Chicago sous chef who comes to the family sandwich shop The Beef to learn under the burnt-out but talented chef Carmy Berzatto, played by Jeremy Allen White.

Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri in ‘The Bear’ Season Two; Ayo Edebiri and Rachel Sennott in ‘Bottoms.’

Chuck Hodes/FX, Patti Peret/Orion

“I love acting with him,” Edebiri says without a moment’s hesitation. “(Jeremy) was such a generous scene partner and person, and such a hard worker with very consistent energy. He’s so phenomenal.”

The pair’s TV relationship is familial, intimate, bitter, and comes together over cigarettes, screaming matches, and carefully plated bowls of risotto. And it’s Edebiri’s thoughtful performance that turns Sydney from know-it-all chef to anxious and entirely lovable, earning Edebiri an Independent Spirit Award as well as Gotham and Critics’ Choice Award nominations.


“(Sydney and I) would not be friends, even though I like her a lot,” Edebiri jokes. “She’s a bit stressful. She oscillates a lot between oversharing and not saying anything at all.”

Speaking of oversharing, it’s something Edebiri staunchly won’t do. Even though the actress is more than willing to acknowledge that acting is a constant learning experience for her, she pushes back against any questions about her career trajectory.

“I would be a complete narcissist and insane if I was like, ‘Yeah, the next few months, probably going to be my big move,'” Edebiri says, with a mocking, Hollywood lilt. “Like, that’s not real. That’s not a real human being.”

Ayo Edebiri as April O’Neil in ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles : Mutant Mayhem.’

Paramount Pictures

And yet, there’s no denying the reality of the situation: Edebiri will be on screens everywhere this summer. “It’s all stuff that’s been done over the course of two years at different points,” Edebiri explains. “For everything to be coming out now, it’s like, ‘What? What’s going on?!’” She plays opposite Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi in The Sweet East, an indie drama that premiered at Cannes. In the ensemble comedy Theater Camp, out on July 14, she portrays Janet Walch, a teacher who is hired at a failing theatrical summer camp after fudging her résumé. In director Emma Seligman’s Bottoms, where she stars alongside friend, NYU classmate, and collaborator Rachel Sennott, Edebiri manages to turn the bloody fight-club comedy into a touching reflection on queer desire.

“Ayo and I started performing together and have done comedy shows in some of the wettest, stinkiest basements of all time,” Sennott tells me. “During Bottoms, we became a whole new level of closeness where we were, like, sharing a comedy brain. We shared the same quarter of the trailer and would run our lines, then take naps and pep-talk each other on overnight shoots. Ayo is super grounded and one of the most hardworking people I know, but also doesn’t take herself too seriously and loves to laugh at the insanity of everything.”

Edebiri is also the voice of a zaftig Black version of April O’Neil in the Seth Rogen-co-penned animated movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, out on Aug. 2. And on June 22, hungry viewers got Season Two of The Bear and her awkward sous chef Sydney not as a newcomer, but as a beloved character with the chance to give Succession and Barry a run for their money during awards season. (She’ll also play an undisclosed role in next summer’s secretive Marvel superhero movie Thunderbolts.)

With this slew of star-raising roles, she’s going to have to get used to this — the photos, the attention, the probing questions from interviewers like me. But she’s not there yet. She’s more than willing to discuss her upcoming roles (interesting) and her time on set (interesting), or the many lessons she’s learned as an actor (you guessed it, interesting). Every co-worker she mentions is incredible at acting and a joy to work with, and every looming premiere is exciting.

But when the conversation slides into off-the-record, her hands flutter in front of her, moving rapidly from tucking a strand of straight hair behind her ear to adjusting the Libra ring on her hand. She is frank, effervescent, vulnerable about her fears, scathing about her process. It seems Ayo the regular person is still figuring out how to be Ayo the celebrity.

“In general, I’m a very private person,” she says. “It’s not,” she says, gesturing between us with a paintbrush, “it’s not real life right now.”

Ayo Edebiri. Outfit by Bode. Earrings and necklace by Catbird. Rings by Anthony Lent, Catbird, and The One i love NYC.

Gioncarlo Valentine for Rolling Stone

Maybe it’s her history as a writer, but Edebiri does at least seem aware that her stalemate will make my job much harder. While she gingerly paints a mug embossed with the words “Super Dad” (because “Super Grandpa” was unavailable), Edebiri helpfully narrates jokes I could put in the article instead, all of which she then immediately asks me not to print. She’s open about her rescue dog having allergies, her star sign (Libra, hence the ring), and her dislike of Hollywood types who claim they’re best friends with her — despite not knowing how to pronounce her name.

“I’m also never upfront about how I say my name,” she says with a laugh. “I make a lot of jokes about it because it makes me really laugh. I’m not helpful is what I mean.”

She also tries to dig deep into her preparation to play Sydney. “I didn’t totally understand (Sydney) as a character. And that was what was interesting to me. I didn’t have my mind made up.” But for every one answer she gives me, there are three she thinks of and then shies away before sharing.

“When you’re younger, you want to make sure that you’re … saying things,” she says carefully, considering each and every word. “But I see early Comedy Central jokes of mine, and I’m just like, ‘Damn. I wish I didn’t say this joke about being Black.’ You know? I wish I talked about other things. I wish I could just be a white guy who gets to act and talk about their art.”

All the playful banter — and her reticence to share much — doesn’t appear to be out of a fear of being misunderstood, or even disrespect for the industry of jaw-dropping, revealing celebrity profiles. Rather, it comes across as the cool knowledge of an artist who knows what fame could take, and is setting up boundaries before something gets stolen that she can’t have back.

“I mean listen, ya not gonna get (a Jeremy Strong interview),'” she quips. “I don’t read as much as him. But I’m not … tortured by what I want. And I don’t mind being not interesting. If my work is interesting, that’s good. But with me as a person, I wouldn’t call it a gift, exactly, but it’s a gift to be boring.”

Nothing about Edebiri is boring, though. In a world of nepo babies, she’s built a career by being good at her job and a pleasure to work with. With each character, she stretches the limits of what comedy and emotion can bring to the screen. And in the next five years, it’s easy to imagine her name being synonymous with a type of acting that reads as easy and actually comes from intense amounts of talent and commitment to constant, ever-present learning.

“Life is wonderful and sometimes unexpected things happen, but it’s all learning opportunities,” Edebiri says. “It’s beautiful to go through hard things when you have wonderful people in your life. It’s great to be lucky enough to learn lessons. And I haven’t narrativized it yet, but I can feel myself learning. I’m excited to be at the point where I’m looking back 10 years later. If the Earth isn’t, like, completely flooded by then.”

Since Edebiri is — as we stated earlier — busy, I pick up our finished and glazed painting projects a week later. On the back of her “Super Dad” mug, Edebiri has painted an adorable and surprisingly detailed small can of tomatoes.


In The Bear, the tomato cans are an enigma — a money drain, a frustration, a roadblock. But in the Season One finale, Carmy discovers that he’s accidentally overlooked one of the restaurant’s biggest hidden treasures. Underneath the can’s plump San Marzanos is Edebiri’s painted, shiny script with the words, “I made this in an interview.”

At the very least you’ve learned she’s honest.

Production Credits

Produced by Joe Rodriguez. Hair by Cheryl Bergamy at Exclusive Artists. Makeup by Camille Thompson Fr. The Wall Group. Nails by Midwife Onishi for See Management. Styling by Laura Sophie Cox for a frame,. Fashion assistance: Magalí Zoanetti.

‘The Bear’ Star Ayo Edebiri Is About To Be

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