‘The Bear’ Star Liza Colón-Zayas Says Series Shines a Light on People Who ‘Are the Backbone of This Country’

When FX’s “The Bear” debuted on Hulu in 2022, it became a near-instant success, taking viewers into the chaotic lives of a group of Chicago cooks, soon to be high-end chefs. Since then, it’s won numerous awards, including Emmys, SAG Awards, Peabodies and more.

And, for series star Liza Colón-Zayas, who plays the sharp-edged, big-hearted Tina, the show is “a unicorn” in her career. But not just because of its critical success.

The first season’s success startled Colón-Zayas, particularly in how far the series reached.

“I was stunned that people from all walks of life — all walks of life; like, teenagers, high school kids, you know, folks from the suburbs, not just people who worked in the kitchens — I was stunned by the love this show was getting,” she told TheWrap. “So, I was really excited.”

She notes that the most common thing she hears from fans is that her character feels like family, recalling that one fan even started crying when she met Colón-Zayas because of how much Tina reminded her of her grandmother, who worked the line in Chicago.

But even with all that love and excitement, the actress did what she always does when it came time for a second season: “Honey, I temper, I curb my enthusiasm. I never take anything for granted. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, blessed, surprised, excited, wishing for more — that’s how I went into Season 2.”

The season brought a huge emotional arc for Tina, who puts herself out on a limb, makes an effort to try new things, make new friends and better herself, even at a later stage in life. And for Colón-Zayas, who got her start on the New York stage and has appeared on “Dexter,” “In Treatment,” “Law & Order” and many other series, that arc was unexpected — but more than welcome.

With an ensemble cast as strong as the one in “The Bear,” for Tina to get screen time to grow in a way that resonates with the audience, that was the proverbial horned magical creature.

“It means that it could be done. We can have depth and we can have nuance and we can be messy,” she said. “We can break out of the usual tropes or the usual stereotypes. We can have brilliant writing and a healthy set. So for me, as an actor, that’s all a unicorn, for like, my entire career.”

She continued, “And we can shine a light on people [like a kitchen staff] who are invisible mostly, but they are the backbone of this country. I love how ‘The Bear’ is saying, ‘Here, see?’”

A version of this story first ran in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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