The Bear’s Matty Matheson on restaurants, acting — and that Emmys kiss

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Matty Matheson never set out to be an actor — let alone deliver one of the most talked about Emmy acceptance speeches in recent memory.

Despite that, the real-life restaurateur and chef based in Fort Erie, Ont., did just that on Monday night. When The Bear took home the award for outstanding comedy series — one of the series’ six wins that night — Matheson, who co-produces and co-stars in the show, joined his castmates onstage and began to speak. 

But before he got to say much, his co-star Ebon Moss-Bachrach, interrupted him with a kiss. 

“He kissed me for a long time, and it was really nice. It could have kind of kept going I feel — he was really into it,” Matheson told CBC’s Tom Power about that moment. “I really loved it and it was really beautiful, I didn’t really expect that.”

WATCH | Fort Erie’s Matty Matheson talks to CBC’s Q about The Bear and his Emmys kiss: 

Emmy speech was ‘just passion’

When he did get a chance to speak, Matheson delivered a message that spoke both to fans of the show, and fellow restaurant workers. Because instead of focusing on his new experience as an award winning actor, he chose to speak to others in the hospitality industry.

“I just love restaurants so much — the good, the bad. It’s rough,” he said in the speech. “We’re all broken inside, and every single day, we’ve got to show up and cook and make people feel good by eating something and sitting at a table, and it’s really beautiful.”

Matheson told Power that his message was just as unplanned as the kiss. He says he got a call from a pair of The Bear‘s producers while sitting in a friend’s hot tub a few days before, letting him know they felt he should be the one to deliver the acceptance speech if the show won. 

But he told them that as a “passion guy,” if he was going to do it, it wouldn’t be scripted. So on the night of the Emmys, instead of walking up to the microphone with a pocket full of cue cards, he had far less. 

“Just passion,” he said. “Just love, and anxiety and happiness and fear.”

Taking to the stage completely unprepared may seem like a risky move, but Matheson says that attitude is what got him there in the first place.

Though he’s made a name for himself as the recognizable face of a number of cooking shows (like Vice’s Munchies, Dead Set on Life and It’s Suppertime), as well as the owner and operator of a number of Toronto restaurants, being a regular character on a scripted TV show was never his goal.

‘Make it sound not stupid’

Matheson’s involvement with the show came about after Courtney Storer, sister of The Bear‘s creator Chris Storer, tapped him for some advice.

While The Bear‘s high-profile success owes much to the performances of its actors (three of whom also won awards Monday night), the authentic depiction of working kitchens also helps. 

That is largely thanks to Courtney Storer, herself a world-renowned chef who helped guide her brother’s vision from the beginning. But she also asked Matheson to work as a consultant, effectively telling him “if something sounds stupid, make it not sound stupid.”

So he helped smooth out some of the rough edges of the script — by roughing up some of the smooth edges of the show’s kitchen.

The restaurant at the heart of the series is a struggling Chicago beef sandwich shop, which Matheson says looked a little too high functioning at first.

“They filled the walk in with food. And I was like ‘They wouldn’t have a full walk in. If you have a full walk in that means your business is doing well — they would have like nothing,’ ” he said.

“They would have just enough butter for the day, they would have just enough oil for the week … they would have like three pots and pans, and they would all be fighting over the pots and pans.”

Still frame from the TV show The Bear. Matty Matheson dressed in workwear checking a sink with a concerned expression.
Matheson, a real-life chef and restaurateur, appears as handyman Neil Fak on an episode of The Bear. (FX)

‘Acting scares the crap out of me’

Soon, they were asking him to act on the show as well. His immediate response was less than ecstatic. 

“I was like, ‘I don’t want to act, acting scares the crap out of me,’ ” he said. What won him over was the promise that he wouldn’t have to play a chef, instead taking on the role of handyman Neil Fak.

That didn’t arise from a desire to escape the cooking world, Matheson says, he just thought it would be easier to act as someone he wasn’t.

But the reason he made the speech he did at the Emmys, he said, was because of a deep love for restaurants and the people who work in them — despite how difficult it can be. 

“That’s my Super Bowl. I want that feeling, I want people to feel that excitement, I want them to smell it and feel it and taste it. Restaurants to me are still number one, always will be — unfortunately,” he said, laughing. “Because it’s so tough.”

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