‘Feed the Beast’: David Schwimmer and Jim Sturgess Play ‘Damaged People’ in AMC Drama

Feed The Beast
Frank Ockenfels/AMC

Actors often suffer for their craft. It’s their thing. Leonardo DiCaprio ate raw bison liver to prep for The Revenant. The Downton Abbey ladies used to squeeze into bone corsets. And on the Queens set of AMC’s new Feed the Beast, star Jim Sturgess is cheerfully pointing out what he’s sacrificed for the tale of two friends—a chef and a sommelier—who open a tony Mediterranean restaurant in a mobbed-up section of the Bronx: one of his fingertips.

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“It was so f—ing painful,” Sturgess declares, eyes widening. The accident occurred at Manhattan’s Miette Culinary Studio, where he learned to fry, julienne and season like a pro before shooting the pilot this year. (He also studied at the Brooklyn Kitchen.) The actor is still a bit shell-shocked. “They were teaching me how to chop like a chef,” he explains. “You’re supposed to curl your fingers under. I didn’t do it right and sliced the end of one, taking the nail too. Afterward, I felt almost disabled from what looked like a tiny injury. I couldn’t put my hand in my pocket. But I’m glad I learned early on how easy it is to cut yourself. Otherwise, I might’ve done it on camera and taken my whole hand off.”

Feed the Beast, David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer as Tommy Moran

On the other hand—pun intended—blood, pain and tragic accidents are pretty much on brand for Feed the Beast. Sturgess plays Dion Patras, a master cook and ex-con who has retained his bad habits: That’s not powdered sugar in his pocket, and the local heavies are stalking him for a good reason. But rather than escape to Paris, Dion moves in with his lifelong best friend, Tommy (David Schwimmer), a recently widowed wine steward with a drinking problem and a mute son. Dion soon convinces Tommy that they should revive their plan to start a restaurant—a dream they abandoned after Tommy’s wife (also a chef) died in a hit-and-run. It might have been a good idea, if the pair didn’t harbor enough secrets and animosities that, if they were eggs, you’d have enough to feed an entire borough.

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“Tommy and Dion are damaged people, people with big dreams, people going up against impossible odds, people in trouble and people who want to be happy,” says executive producer Clyde Phillips (Dexter), who adapted Feed the Beast from the Danish series Bankerot.

The son of a Boston butcher, who was a bit of a crook himself, Phillips brought his own memories and obsessions to the project. There are more than a few shots of bloody, raw meat and a clear emphasis on how Tommy and Dion’s troubles burden those around them. “They’re both these tightly wound hand grenades,” he says, “and when they explode, their shrapnel affects other people.” The hardest hit are Tommy’s love interest, waitress Pilar (Lorenza Izzo), and his son, TJ (Elijah Jacob).

Feed the Beast, Jim Sturgess

Jim Sturgess as Dion Patras

“It takes a great deal of courage, tenacity and vision to attempt [a show like] this,” says Schwimmer, who chose Feed the Beast as the follow-up to his lauded performance as Robert Kardashian in The People v. O.J. Simpson:American Crime Story. It’s also his first leading role since Friends—and his first ever on a TV drama.

“I was drawn to Tommy,” Schwimmer explains, “because of what he’s been through: his struggle to raise his 10-year-old mixed-race son [who hasn’t spoken since he witnessed his mother’s death], his battle to control his addiction to alcohol and his determination to finally open the restaurant. I like characters who strive to change their present circumstances and are willing to give everything they’ve got.”

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As bleak as it sounds, Feed the Beast does have its lighter moments. Back on the show’s set, which features a fully functional kitchen (“I want that brick-oven stove,” says Izzo, who’s a foodie) and a restaurant setup that seats 30, Sturgess is practicing his French over the sink. He, Schwimmer and the actors who play the kitchen crew are shooting a scene from Episode 10, which picks up after a big reveal threatens the duo’s partnership.

They can’t even collaborate on a menu, which Dion is supposed to quip will include saucisses feuilletées. Translation: pigs in a blanket. But Sturgess can’t seem to get out the words, even with Schwimmer’s coaching. They just make him laugh—until one of the other actors steps up with a little encouragement, holding a fancy knife and joking, “I will cut you.”

Feed the Beast, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 5, 10/9c; Timeslot premiere, Tuesday, June 7, 10/9c, AMC.