Ebon Moss-Bachrach Has Perfected Playing Dirtbags—Now, He’s a Dirtbag in Space
Ebon Moss-Bachrach has perfected the art of playing the dirtbag. You probably caught him as Cousin Richie over the summer, filling a sizzling restaurant kitchen with the sounds of his Chicago-accented yelling in the FX smash hit The Bear. Or you remember him as Marnie’s good-for-nothing musician boyfriend Desi in Girls. (He reunited with Lena Dunham this year in her movie Sharp Stick playing, yes, a dirtbag friend.) Now, Moss-Bachrach is taking his skills to a galaxy far, far away, as the character of Skeen in the acclaimed Tony Gilroy-created Star Wars series Andor.
Moss-Bachrach talked to us from his Brooklyn home about how he looks back on the legacy of Girls, working with Gilroy, and why The Bear was more dangerous to film than Andor.
GQ: You spent most of your summer in Greece. What was it like to watch The Bear explode from afar?
It was strange. It felt really nice. There were moments where I was like, “I would love to go and be with Jeremy [Allen White] and everyone and raise a glass,” because it was obviously so unexpected for all of us. But it felt very luxurious to be on a two-month long vacation to begin with and to spend a month on those beautiful islands in Greece. So that already felt incredible. And then to be having this thing going on back in the States—I felt like I was living somebody else’s life.
I know there’s a Bear group chat. What’s your role in it?
I think Jeremy said that I was informing them of, I can’t even remember what they’re called … thirst tweets? Does that sound right? Is that what they’re called?
I don’t think that’s super accurate. What I’ve been doing most of the time in that group chat is sending music that I like. I’m sending little Spotify links.
In the first season, Richie is so threatened by Carmy and Sydney, and by the end of it, you realize it’s because he’s been disguising so much of his pain. Do you have a sense of where we’re going to find him in season two, and if he’s going to be more comfortable?
I hope not. I don’t think that those kinds of issues are so easily resolved, and I don’t think we find him very resolved at the end of the first season. So I don’t know why, when the second season picks up, he would be some well-adjusted dude hanging out in the hot tub. I think he’s got just as much work to do in the second season. Especially because, from where it seems like it’s headed from that last episode, they’re trying to build something which is more progressive, contemporary, and in direct opposition with the more traditional neighborhood institution that Richie wants to protect. If anything, I think he might be even more conflicted, but I don’t really know.
Can you cook, by the way?
Yeah, I can cook. I love to cook.
What’s your go-to?
Oh, man. I really love to make ceviche. I really love ramps. I love ramp season. I brought back home this pozole from New Mexico that I got at the farmer’s market in Santa Fe, this really amazing dried blue corn. I had to boil it for four hours the other night, and I made a chicken stew with pozole and green chilies. I’d never done anything like that before, but that was really fun. That was the last thing I cooked.
Okay, so you can cook.
Yeah, I can really cook. When I’m not working, I’m not really doing anything, and I have a family. [Cooking] is a great thing to be able to do. It’s not something I always did. It’s something I probably started doing when I had kids, but it’s something that works very well with my life and my career.
Did you not have to do any of the culinary training some of the other actors did going into The Bear?
I did zero training. They actively kept me from doing anything, which was a relief. Their job was three times as hard as what I do. I had to keep track of where my cigarettes were, and I had to make sure I wasn’t yelling too loud that it was going to screw up the sound department. And that was it.
There’s this ongoing argument that Richie, not Carmy, is the true dirtbag king of the show. What do you make of that?
Oh, 100%. I don’t even see how that’s a controversy. Carmy’s got bespoke jeans. He’s got a lot of issues, and he definitely needs to sleep more, but I can’t even think how that’s even a close call.
Thinking back to your role on Girls, what do you think makes you particularly well-suited to playing the dirtbag?
The obvious answer is some ability to access dirtbagginess, but maybe it’s just a deep theatrical training that I have.
And now, in Andor, you’re playing a dirtbag in space.
Yeah, he is a dirtbag too, now that I’m thinking about it. Gosh. You’re giving me things to think about. He’s definitely dirty. I can say that much.
Tell us a bit more about your character, Skeen. He’s a member of some kind of underground group.
It’s a group of revolutionaries that’s trying to essentially pull off a huge heist from the Empire and take the quarterly wages for the entire Empire. And that nest egg spawned the beginnings of the revolution that would become what we see in A New Hope. So our storyline is really a very classic heist that always felt more like a Jean-Pierre Melville movie or Michael Mann’s Thief with the timing, and the practicalities of pulling this off, and infiltrating the garrison—more than the Force, or lightsabers, or any of that. We didn’t have any of that fun stuff.
Were you a Star Wars kid growing up?
Yeah, I was born in 1977, and I definitely had a bunch of Empire Strikes Back action figures that I loved. But my parents had a very strong no gun policy, even if it was a little thing. So my kind grandma and grandpa, my mom’s parents, I would stash their guns at their house. And whenever I went over there, they would pull them out for me. But they’re not guns, they’re blasters, by the way. They’re just blasters. And I had a Jabba the Hutt. That was a big deal because I think that was an expensive one.
How did the role in Andor initially come to you?
Well, they sent me a few pages. And I’m not as big a Star Wars fan anymore, but I am a huge Tony Gilroy fan and so I will do absolutely anything that he’s involved in. I made a tape and sent it off. And me and my family all packed up. We went to London for a couple of months, and then I went up to Scotland for another month.
When we were in London rehearsing Andor is when I got The Bear. I finished Andor, flew directly to Chicago, shot the pilot of The Bear. Months went by, the pilot got picked up. Went back, shot the entire season of The Bear. It came out, became a huge success, became renewed, and then Andor is just coming out now. So, I find that bizarre.
Yeah, having to swing between two very different settings in such a short time span.
And my [Andor] guy has a lot of knives. There were so many different varying degrees of knives: rubber knives, plastic knives. All safety, and there’s so much protocol on the set of Andor. And then I went straight to Chicago, and there were just so many knives. No fake knives on the set of The Bear. Everything was hot and sizzling. It was just a much more dangerous world.
Obviously Tony Gilroy has a specific sensibility he’s bringing into this world. What’s your greatest memory of working with him on set?
Tony’s one of the rare writers that can really see it through. He has the ability, when he writes, to see how it’s going to be shot. He’s a very practical writer and a very active writer. So it’s a very smooth transition from page to action. But mostly, my memories of him are that he’s just a wonderful raconteur and really, really funny man.
The wardrobe reference shots of you were, I think, some of the first images to leak from the show. What do you think of your character’s style?
I love it. It’s a Space Mongolia thing because they are on a sheep planet. There’s some hats, and there’s a lot of robes. Tons of layering. Lots of layering on Aldhani. Mongolian shepherd with really cool, spacey boots was my style.
Your breakout role was in Girls. How do you look back on the legacy of the show 10 years later?
It still seems present. People still always come up to me and say how much they love that show. And now I have some teenagers, kids of friends, who are starting to watch it. It still feels like a very alive show to me, from my perspective.
Speaking of other iconic HBO series, you played John Quincy Adams in John Adams. What are your memories of playing Paul Giamatti’s son and also a president?
Oh my god, Paul Giamatti’s so brilliant in that. It [took place] over 60 years, that show. And when John Quincy Adams was president in his sixties, John Adams was still alive. I remember we did this one scene, in Hungary somewhere, on a really hot day. And I was President John Quincy Adams, filled with doubt, unsure of public reception, not knowing if I should do what I felt was right or if I should try to appease the people that elected me. It’s a sweet little scene, where me and Paul Giamatti were just sitting in chairs. But I was playing someone who was 65, and I was 30. And I don’t know how old Paul was, but he was playing John Adams was in his 80s. And we were both in so much age makeup that we couldn’t really move. We’re both just shriveled up under all this age and crazy prosthetics. They did an amazing job, the hair and makeup people. But that was my strongest memory. That, and also some horses that didn’t want to go where they wanted to go.
Oh yeah, I remember those final scenes. Where he looks like the oldest person of all time.
Yeah, he looks like Yoda. I see Paul at the pool sometimes. We go to the same Y. And it’s nice to see my old dad. He’s a good swimmer.
Would you ever rock the low ponytail again?
I hope I don’t have to do that again, but I can’t guarantee it. I’m sure there’s a low ponytail that’s just gunning for me in some job headed my way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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