Lionel Boyce and Travis Bennett on Their Evolution of Taste
From scrappy starts with Odd Future to unexpected success in Hollywood, Lionel Boyce and Travis Bennett have grown up together. The pair first stepped in front of the camera for Adult Swim sketch comedy series Loiter Squad, when they still went by rap monikers L-Boy and Yung Taco. For Boyce, it was a point of no return. In The Bear, Boyce plays level-headed and steady-handed pastry chef Marcus, whose character arc deepens in the standout episode “Honeydew,” which sees him traveling to Copenhagen in order to sharpen his skills in the kitchen. After calling up current Dave star and close confidante Bennett, who came prepared with a list of rapid-fire questions, the pair talk humble beginnings at Hollister, evolving palates, and desserts galore.
TRAVIS BENNETT: I’m interviewing my best friend in the entire world, Lionel Boyce. What’s it like having a best friend like me?
LIONEL BOYCE: Are all your questions literally just that?
BENNETT: No, I have a few random questions for you that I wrote.
BOYCE: You wrote questions?
BENNETT: I wrote a bunch, lowkey. I’ll start with how did you get the role in The Bear?
BOYCE: It was a normal process. I knew Chris [Storer] through homies, but I didn’t even know Chris wrote at that point. I knew he produced. I read the script and I was like, “Damn, this is tight. I’m going to audition for it.” And from there I did the tape and they sent it up the chain, and then we shot the pilot.
BENNETT: Did the popularity of this show affect you at all in real life?
BOYCE: It actually affected me more in real life than it did on the show. It didn’t feel like the popularity of the show really affected the shooting. Obviously, there was some stuff that felt bigger than last season and if we went out, it was a bigger deal. If we went to go eat, they would recognize Jeremy [Allen White]. I’m sure it happened with you with Dave, where people start connecting dots that you’ve been this person. I got more compliments on Loiter Squad after The Bear came out.
BENNETT: I never thought about that. Obviously, I’ve been to restaurants with you, so I know, but can you tell us what happens when you go out to eat?
BOYCE: I went to this spot the other day, you should try it, Detroit Tacos. When the guy brought the food out, he’s like, “Dude, I didn’t even realize, you’re from the show.'” And he starts talking about what it meant to him. He’s like, “We almost closed, but you just inspired me to go make something else.” So he brought some other dish that he makes for his homies and wanted to share that. It’s cool.
BENNETT: That’s amazing. It’s a different world for me because Dave‘s all about music.
BOYCE: Do people in music come up to you?
BENNETT: They’ll come up to me and talk about what it’s like to be a producer thinking that I’ve actually done it. Or they’ll be like, “I got some beats I want to play you.” That’s that weird moment where you’re like, “I don’t do this in real life.” I know you don’t cook cook in real life, but you can bake. Before either of us was acting, you made a yellow cake with chocolate frosting at Clancy’s house. I’ll never forget about it. That shit was fire.
BOYCE: If there’s one thing I needed to learn to make it was that cake. When I was a kid, my mom used to make it and I would eat it all in three days and I would get my ass beat. So she was like, “I’m not making it no more.” That was devastating. So either I make this cake or I’ll never have it again in my life.
BENNETT: What’s the best dessert you had before the show?
BOYCE: I have an aunt who makes this thing called a strawberry pizza, I don’t know what the fuck is in it. It’s not a strawberry cheesecake, but it’s something in that world. And the chocolate cake at Jon & Vinny’s. Also, in May of 2016, Shake Shack released an oatmeal cream pie shake, and it was a shake of the month. They only did it one time and it never came back.
BENNETT: I remember you talking about it.
BOYCE: I still think about it from time to time.
BENNETT: Has your dessert perspective changed after the show?
BOYCE: Courtney, the culinary producer on the show, I would go to her house and we would make desserts, a lot of things I didn’t know existed or never tried. One time, we were making honey buns and trying out different fillings, and I was always against fruit-filled honey buns. But we found a way to make a vanilla raspberry filling, and I was like, “Damn, this is good.” So it changed my perspective.
BENNETT: Has your palate grown in general?
BOYCE: Yeah. As you know, I eat like a child. I ate six ingredients before the show. Just various chicken and various dips. But when I worked in Copenhagen, I got to eat at the restaurant Noma. It was crazy. I was with people from the bakery I was working at, Hart, and they were geeking out. And I was like, “I can’t be a fucking child and not eat this.” I went so far left and ate things I never would’ve eaten in my life, to a point where I sent my mom photos of some of the stuff and she was like, “You done lost your motherfucking mind.” They’ve found a way to make these ingredients palatable and tap into these familiar tastes from your childhood. Fucking wizards.
BENNETT: What’s a dish that you think everybody on earth should try? It could be simple.
BOYCE: There are two answers. At Noma, they had a piece of deer heart that tasted like the greatest piece of steak that I’ve ever had. Would you try that if I said, “Do you want to try some deer heart?”
BOYCE: You’d say no, but then you would have it and I guarantee you would look at everything else differently. You’d be like, “Damn, if they did that, I’ll eat anything.” So I choose that just for the sake of opening people’s minds, but on the other end of that spectrum, I would say a marble cake from Hansen’s. That’s my favorite cake and I want everyone to experience what I get from that. What about you?
BENNETT: My mom’s fried chicken and French toast. Simple.
BOYCE: Yeah, that is good.
BENNETT: Let’s get a little deeper. What moment in the show has been the most Lionel version of Marcus?
BOYCE: There’s a lot of those. I feel like this character is like me but in a different profession. I discovered passion for this industry in a way that was unexpected, and it’s the same thing with Marcus. He’s just working a job, but it turns into a passion when Carmy feeds that and helps him grow. Season two is even more of that where he’s learning to get better at it and express himself in it. But I feel like the most me is the jokes. Whenever he jokes, it’s like me. It’s just stupid shit.
BENNETT: Yeah. For me watching, the scene that made me feel like it was the most you was when you and Ayo [Edebiri] were talking. That is the most grounded version of yourself in the show. Not saying your character’s not grounded, but that was like, “Oh, that’s Lionel.”
BOYCE: That’s funny. People love that scene.
BENNETT: Because it feels so human. What scene was hardest for you to do?
BOYCE: Filming the food stuff is super technical because it’s like running a football play or dance choreography. There’s one episode in the upcoming season where Marcus is making a dessert with so many steps to it, but they want to get it all together so they’re like, “Make sure you don’t do this until the camera comes over.” You got to watch in your peripheral for the camera.
BENNETT: The scene that was hard for me to watch was when Jeremy knocks the donut out of your hand. Because I know you’re never aggressive. You’re honestly the most gentle guy of all time.
BOYCE: I’m a villain.
BENNETT: [Laughs] I remember a story where you got really upset when they made you get off the go-kart track. Everybody’s like, “Lionel is the nicest.” Yeah, until you tell him he can’t drive a car.
BOYCE: Dude, shut the fuck up. It’s funny because I went to the L.A. County Fair last weekend and I was trying to explain that to somebody.
BENNETT: You were like 21 years old, 6’3″, 220, and some little man my size is like, “You can’t ride the kart.”
BOYCE: Okay look, it was the way he did it. We were all riding go-karts and you and Tyler [the Creator] were hitting each other and crashing into shit. I think I bumped into something once and he gets in front of my go-kart. He asserted his authority over me in a way that was unbelievable.
BENNETT: That’s not what happened. You were racing and you had hit something. He said not to hit it. You said something like, “I don’t care,” and put one hand in the air and drove the whole track like that and he kicked you off.
BOYCE: It’s crazy how memory works because in my mind, that’s not what happened at all. But when you said that, I do remember having my hand in the air.
BENNETT: What’s your best memory from season one?
BOYCE: One of my favorites was when we shot the pilot, and we all still didn’t know each other but we rented a boat on a three-day weekend. I’ve never really been on boats like that and we went out on the lake and we stopped and just swam. It was cool because I was still getting to know them. You don’t really make new friends that often, especially when you’re an adult, but when you do, you can connect off your specific interests. That’s how it was with Ayo, we were talking about the new Fast and Furious. Then me and Ebon [Moss-Bachrach] were talking about music,—he loves ‘90s rap and New York rap. Even Jeremy was talking to me about Westside Gunn and stuff. Everyone did that with each other individually.
BENNETT: That shows when you guys are together. I always think about when I met you, you were wearing cargo shorts exclusively. I don’t know if you want to include that.
BOYCE: You can say whatever you want. I stand by that. I made a vow that I was going to wear shorts for a year. Why? I don’t know.
BENNETT: And I remember the transition to pants. Every time you wore pants, people were like, “Oh, Lionel with pants.”
BOYCE: That was so crazy. Like dude, I wore pants before I wore shorts.
BENNETT: You can fly in shorts which I think is the most psychotic thing of all time. That’s like flying in open-toed sandals. Get the fuck out of here. If you could tell Lionel at Hollister or at El Camino that he would be on a show making cakes, what do you think he would say?
BOYCE: He’d say, “Why the fuck are you lying to me?” I always think about it. There’s no way I saw any of this coming, because working at Hollister and playing football, my life was going into the direction of sports. I’d think of scenarios of running into you guys while you were on tour and I’m playing in that state. But I didn’t passionately believe in that either. It was passive.
BENNETT: When did acting become your passion?
BOYCE: When we did Loiter Squad, I was like, “Man, this is tight. I like being in front of and behind the camera. I want to figure out how to keep doing this.”
BENNETT: Complete opposite for me, but okay.
BOYCE: Because you hated it.
BENNETT: I was so young and and anxious and insecure. I look back at it like, “Oh god, this little kid was such a little kid.”
BOYCE: When did that switch for you?
BENNETT: When I auditioned for Edelman. The acting coach I had there thought I was talented, she’d sent me a text I still have a copy of because it was so important for my mental. Doing Dave was amazing. The first season was hard because I had to give up the Igor tour, which we had worked for. But the fulfillment I got out of it was a whole different feeling. DJing is fun, but it’s not as fulfilling. There’s no satisfaction you take home with you.
BOYCE: I remember when you were DJing and wanting to work in music, but I never felt like you really cared about it. You would bring it up as if you had to run to the doctor’s office.
BENNETT: It was like going to the dentist every fucking day. It was brutal, but my teeth looked good. How do you feel about Marcus’s arc this upcoming season?
BOYCE: It’s the next step. Him finding a way to make things his own. Everyone finds something they love and learns how to do it, but they don’t always find their own expression in it. And that’s what he’s doing this season.
BENNETT: That’s amazing. I never thought about it like that. With shooting a second season, did you find it hard to deal with not only fan expectations but also your own expectations?
BOYCE: With Odd Future, I watched so many people experience extreme success. It’s easier to not think about it than to try to live up to an expectation that doesn’t matter or exist. More than anything else, it’s just fear of things you can’t control. What’s cool is that Chris [Storer] already knew where he was going with the second season of the show. He didn’t adjust to the success of the show. Was it like that for Dave? Because after season one it got super popular.
BENNETT: Season two, there was pressure put on us. The show started airing while everybody was sitting at home, so it was the only new thing that was coming out at the time. Season two was during my most stressful year personally, and there was so much going on that I couldn’t really give myself to the show. Season three, I walked into it so beyond grateful for being able to do this for a living. That was the number one takeaway. I feel fulfilled, I feel gracious, I feel light on my feet about it.
BOYCE: That’s a reminder that the success of the show doesn’t change anything about your actual life. It’s the peripherals of your life that change. I can be in the group text like, “Yo, anybody trying to eat?” And no one fucking responds. I guess I’m going to go eat alone today.
BENNETT: Our homies definitely humble us all the time no matter what. For the people who don’t know, we have a group text with like 10 of us and it’s almost like a court. That’s where everything gets approved and disapproved. It’s crazy. So who’s your favorite character on the show?
BOYCE: It’s Richie. It always was. I tell Ebon that. I love high-stakes characters. He just comes in hot, and he’s also one of the best actors.
BENNETT: He’s really amazing.
BOYCE: Dude, he’s so tight. You read the script and it’s good, and then you watch him turn it human and find jokes you would’ve never thought to do. But this is the importance of hiring a really good actor on your project because if you’re good, they make it better. And if you’re not good, then they make it good. It’s the one-liners. I love Danny McBride type characters and he reminds me of that.
BENNETT: Just over-the-top ridiculous.
BOYCE: Living by his own rules.
BENNETT: Also, he’s the best dressed to me on the show. He dresses like a construction worker who’s off for the day, but I love everything he wears. I have two pictures of his fits in my phone. Which character do you think you’d be the closest with in real life?
BOYCE: Probably Carmy because I have a passionate group of friends. He seems like I could get along with him.
BENNETT: I’m going to give you a compliment here. It’s amazing to watch somebody I’ve known for 15 fucking years of my life go from working at Hollister and playing football to what you’ve become now, and to see it has been very inspiring. And I give you so much credit for inspiring me to act. You pushed me to do it more than I would’ve done myself, and you believe in me. So credit to you, bitch.
BOYCE: Well, I’m not accepting that, I’ll tell you that.
BENNETT: Is there air blowing in there? Is there dust in there?
BOYCE: Oh, you trying to make it seem like—
BENNETT: Are your eyes crying?
BOYCE: Bruh, It’s crazy.
BENNETT: I swear I’ll start crying if I think about it more. Fuck you, I’m going to ask you a dumb question. What was your favorite spot to eat in Chicago?
BOYCE: I tried to become a regular at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, if that’s what you really want to know. I went there once this season and it was dead empty in there. I ordered a salad too because I was like, “I got to get up at 4:00 in the morning. I ain’t trying to eat a steak.”
BENNETT: If I get to set at six, I know I’m not shooting till eleven. That’s just how we are, behind no matter what. I’ll sit in my trailer, I’ll take like a shit, I’ll go to sleep, I’ll do phone calls, I’ll get a smoothie, I’ll work out. Your schedule seems a little more dialed in.
BOYCE: Yeah. You bank on the schedule moving like that.
BENNETT: What was the first thing you ate when you got back to L.A. from Chicago?
BOYCE: Either Burgers Never Say Die or Escuela.
BENNETT: What’s your dream role? I know who I want you to play and that’s Lawrence Taylor.
BOYCE: I want to play an athlete who’s done some crazy drugs. Like Lawrence Taylor while he was on crack. I love high-stakes characters in low-stakes situations and vice versa. Or something like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, that stoic character is cool. It’s more people I would like to work with than dream roles. It would be cool to be in something that I would watch over and over.
BENNETT: What’s your comfort show? Mine’s Entourage.
BOYCE: I actually rewatched Eastbound & Down recently. But it used to be whatever came on Nick at Nite. Then I would watch Adult Swim instead, so it turned into Robot Chicken.
BENNETT: Yeah, that noise puts me to sleep like a baby. That and ESPN SportsCenter Top 10. I got one. You’re on a boat, you can only save one life. Me, Tyler, Jasper. After me, is it Jasper or Tyler?
BOYCE: Myself. I jump off and swim away. I’ll die too, and we all just jump in the water.
BENNETT: What you about to do?
BOYCE: I don’t know. I was going to call you when we got off here and see what you doing.
BENNETT: I think my friend’s coming over here, but I don’t know if she had a meeting. No, a different friend.
BOYCE: Goodbye. I’m leaving on on that note.
BENNETT: No, it’s a different… Bye.