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Jamie Lee Curtis on Keeping Her ‘The Bear’ Role a Secret

Jamie Lee Curtis on Keeping Her ‘The Bear’ Role a Secret

It’s well known that Jamie Lee Curtis is a woman of many talents. The veteran star is an Oscar-winning actress, best-selling author, entrepreneur, producer, director and philanthropist. But she’s got another skill not found on her IMDb profile that came in clutch while guest starring on The Bear: Jamie Lee Curtis can keep a secret. 

“None of us said a word to anyone — not our families, not our friends, no one,” the Everything Everywhere All at Once Oscar winner says of joining Christopher Storer’s Emmy-winning FX series for two episodes, including the star-packed flashback episode in season two titled “Fishes,” which follows the events of a Christmas dinner five years earlier. Curtis plays combustible matriarch Donna Berzatto, mother to Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy, Jon Bernthal’s Mikey and Abby Elliott’s Natalie. Says Curtis: “They changed the name on the buses, the vans — the call sheets didn’t have our names on them. We flew to Chicago. There was no connection back to the show. There was no word ‘Bear’ anywhere near me. I stayed at a hotel, the hotel didn’t know who was paying for my room. It was a secret until the day it dropped.”

When it debuted June 22, 2023, it sent shock waves across the show’s fan base, as little was known about where the storyline was going, with no press before it hit. It also came as a surprise to those who’d been watching Curtis closely to see what she would sign on for next in the wake of her best supporting actress victory at the Oscars in March 2023. As it turned out, she already had filmed her scenes in The Bear opposite guest stars like Sarah Paulson, John Mulaney, Bob Odenkirk, Gillian Jacobs and Matty Matheson.

“I am a weapon of mass promotion, someone who is really good at getting the fucking word out,” Curtis brags. “I kept my mouth shut correctly, as did everyone. That’s the power of this. I’m all for promoting, but if something needs to be kept a secret to let people find out on their own, I will turn that phone off for the rest of my life.”

Beyond her contract, Curtis had another reason to keep quiet. After showing audiences new layers to her craft in directing duo Daniels’ best picture Oscar winner by playing a frumpy IRS auditor, the “Fishes” script offered Curtis the chance to sink her teeth into a juicy part as Berzatto, who is nothing short of a tornado in the kitchen as she prepares the holiday meal while smoking cigarettes, downing red wine and leveling anyone in her path. When the episodes dropped, Curtis called it “the role of a lifetime” on Instagram, adding, “There’s not a person alive who won’t relate to what it feels like to be around someone like Donna Berzatto. I certainly have my own experiences.”

Sarah Paulson and John Mulaney

Chuck Hodes/FX

As for what the experience was like filming the show, it was a brief and solitary one, says Curtis. “To be asked to come was so beautiful. I showed up, did the work, went back to my hotel room, went to bed, woke up, went to work, did my work, went back to my hotel room and went to bed. I was there only four days, and then I flew back to L.A. I was sitting on that plane thinking, ‘Whoa, that was intense.’ ”

She credits Storer and the cast for making it unforgettable as well. “I couldn’t believe how great that show is. The writing, the storytelling — it’s all just incredible. Then bringing in actors and teams who put together something so magical. It’s the beauty of the collaborative art form.”

Jon Bernthal

Chuck Hodes/FX

Curtis long has leaned on a joke that she used to sell “yogurt that makes you shit” for years while waiting on weighty opportunities. Now that she has them, she couldn’t be more grateful. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Curtis says, referencing a career that dates back to the ’70s, when her breakout turn came as Laurie Strode in 1978’s slasher classic Halloween. “I’ve done some awful movies and I’ve done some stupid things. But I’m also patient. That to me is the beauty of being 65. I’ve been patient long enough; I’ve suited up and shown up for anything I do long enough with the hope always that there would be an opportunity to do my thing. I’ve been waiting a long time to let it rip, and this gave me an opportunity to do that. It’s also exciting because it’s so fucking good.

This story first appeared in a May standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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