Abby Elliott Is the Calm in the Storm of 'The Bear' Season 3

The actress discusses bringing a maternal energy to the chaotic restaurant, and keeping the Berzatto family together.

Abby Elliott as Natalie 'Sugar' Berzatto.
(Image credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX)

Abby Elliott was looking to make a very different type of comedy when she joined The Bear. The Saturday Night Live alum and Upright Citizen Brigade-trained actress had found herself drawn to the show about James Beard Award-winning chef Carmen "Carmy" Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), who returns home to Chicago to run the family beef joint after his older brother Michael (Jon Bernthal) dies by suicide. In the process, he reconnects with the character Elliott would land: his loving sister Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto.

“I immediately wanted to sign on because it really seemed like something different for me, and a departure from the stuff that I had been doing, the broader, more sitcom-comedy stuff,” Elliott tells Marie Claire ahead of the June 26 premiere of The Bear season 3.

10 years after Elliott’s stint on SNL from 2008 to 2012, The Bear became a pop culture phenomenon when it debuted on FX on Hulu in 2022. In the second season, as Carmy and sous chef Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) start to transform a chaotic kitchen into a fine-dining restaurant named The Bear, Sugar—or Shuggie as Elliott has fondly nicknamed her character—also goes full-in on the journey, serving as the establishment's project manager. From day-to-day operations to the standout flashback episode “Fishes,'' we see that Sugar is the Berzatto sibling who tries to keep the family together, even as she, Carmy, and their mother Donna (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) choose to deal with past trauma in very different ways.

Abby Elliot as Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto

Elliott says that for Sugar, working at The Bear is "an opportunity for her to be with this new, chosen family of the restaurant crew. As much as they are dysfunctional, they love each other."

(Image credit: Chuck Hodes/FX)

Her peacemaker attitude even provides a reprieve from the anxiety-inducing pace that the Emmy-winning show is known for. She says, “[Showrunners] Chris [Storer] and Joanna [Calo] had intended for Carmy and his sister to have these more quiet moments. A little room to breathe to be in contrast with the hectic, chaotic restaurant.”

Going into season 3 of the series created by Storer, Sugar is on the cusp of facing a major life change, as she gets ready to give birth to her first child. Elliott’s real-life pregnancy was written into the show for season 2, and though she welcomed her child during the show’s production hiatus, she had to get back into that physicality when the cameras started rolling again. “I think [Sugar’s pregnancy] added this layer of complexity because she's so torn up about her own childhood and her own mother,” she says. “I felt really lucky that it just clicked and worked, and then there's also people bringing you M&M’s every day on set and asking how you're doing constantly. I really loved that.”

Below, Elliott chats with Marie Claire about her out-of-body experience while filming the Berzatto’s Christmas dinner, how an off-set injury helped her perform Sugar’s pregnancy, and why The Bear should be categorized as a comedy.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto and Abby Elliott as Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto

Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and Sugar (Abby Elliott) discuss the renovation in The Bear season 2.

(Image credit: Chuck Hodes/FX)

Marie Claire: Sugar had a life outside the restaurant before she entered the fold of its business operations in season 2. Are there any pieces of Sugar's backstory that may not have been included in the show, but you've built in your head while crafting the character?

Abby Elliott: We know she worked at a bank. When we were first playing around with hair and makeup and wardrobe, we were thinking about whether she works as a bank teller, or if she works in corporate. We think she worked her way up to giving people loans, but she really worked hard and started from the bottom.

We were floating around her having tattoos. I had a neck tattoo in the pilot, and I had it on my neck for three weeks after we shot it.

There was also a special necklace that Shuggie wore during the pilot—and she still wears it from time to time—that we thought Mikey had given her. It's like a dolphin necklace; it's a Pandora necklace and has a little turquoise on it. We always thought, because Sugar's from Chicago, maybe she fantasized about the ocean growing up. She wanted to be a marine biologist at one point, and that's when Mikey gave her this necklace. It's very small; it would be hard to even make out, but that was something that we talked about in the early days of Shuggie.

Abby Elliott as Natale 'Sugar' Berzatto.

Elliott says that the turquoise dolphin necklace Sugar wears is a gift from her late brother Michael and part of the character's unseen backstory. "We always thought, because Sugar's from Chicago, maybe she fantasized about the ocean growing up," she says.

(Image credit: Matt Dinerstein/FX)

MC: You can't talk about Sugar without mentioning the episode "Fishes." It’s very stressful to watch as a viewer, but what was it like to film the episode opposite the amazing Jamie Lee Curtis as Donna Berzatto?

AE: That was incredible. Working with her was completely surreal. So many people have had that family member, or that special occasion that gets ruined by toxicity. I've had so many people come up to me and say, 'I'm the Natalie in my family. I relate to you when you're asking if she's okay. I feel like that's me.' It's also such a feminine thing, playing that role of making sure that everything's okay and keeping everything together. After that scene at the table, I remember Josh Senior, one of our producers, asked me, 'So, did you have fun?' And I could not say that I had fun.

It was fun to have this experience and to be working with John Mulaney, who I worked with on SNL, and Sarah Paulson, who's tremendous and hilarious. I had fun with them, but it really was painful. It was stressful and it really did feel so sad, especially knowing what happened to Mikey after that. It's just heartbreaking to watch him in that situation.

Jamie did this thing in that episode where she grabs my face and that was all improvised. She's kind of taunting me, and I'm just trying to get her to stop drinking and relax. I went somewhere else completely. I disassociated and had an out-of-body experience. Chris Storer was like, 'That was incredible when she grabbed your face, and I was like, 'What? She did what?' I truly did not remember.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, Abby Elliot as Natalie “Sugar” Berzatto, Jon Bernthal as Michael Berzatto.

Sugar (Abby Elliott, center) has a quiet moment with her brothers Carmy (Jeremy Allen White, left) and Michael (Jon Bernthal, right), in the "Fishes" episode of The Bear season 2.

(Image credit: Chuck Hodes/FX)

MC: You’ve shared that you grew up with more women in your family than men. What is it like playing Sugar as the maternal energy in this traditionally masculine professional kitchen?

AE: I grew up with a lot of aunts and uncles, but my aunts were always around. My mom always had her sisters around and their kids. I had a lot of girl cousins, and I have a sister. To play someone who has two brothers was interesting. I really felt like she deeply, deeply cares about her brothers. That's what Chris was going for too, with the first season, where this is a completely different energy coming in. When it comes to the restaurant, she can't help it. She cannot stay away. She is like, 'No, I have to take care of this.' Thinking about that, it's like, ‘Why is that? Is it to honor Mikey? Is it because she wants to take care of Carmen?’ I think it's both, and it's also a distraction. It gets her out of her head. I think Sugar needs structure and something to take care of in order to escape the pain and the trauma that she's dealt with her whole life.

In the first season, in her whole thing of getting Carmy to get help, she finally realizes that maybe the restaurant is helping him. Maybe this is going to be therapeutic. During the season 1 finale when they're all having dinner at the restaurant, I think [she] realizes it at that moment, and she gives him a smile of, Okay, I see what you're doing.

MC: Then she jumps full force into it in season 2 as The Bear’s project manager.

AE: Signing on as project manager was an internal struggle for her because she didn't want to say that she worked at the restaurant. She never wanted to say that she is helping out, but she couldn't help herself from being there. It's an opportunity for her to be with this new, chosen family of the restaurant crew. As much as they are dysfunctional, they love each other.

There's a lot of humor in real life, and in pain, and that's what the show does so well.

MC: Sugar reminds me of that saying, "Make sure to check on your friend who always seems to have it together." How do you think she takes care of herself?

AE: I think that she has done a lot of soul-searching. She's done a lot of therapy and self-help. She probably went through a really rebellious phase in high school and college and made a lot of mistakes that shaped her. She really learned from them. Then I think Pete [who’s played by Chris Witaske] is really good for her too. Choosing a partner who is stable was something that maybe came as a surprise to her—that she was able to fall in love with this person and appreciate this person, having come from such a chaotic family. She realized she had a good thing and she stuck with it with Pete. She's so determined to break the mold. She's determined not to repeat the patterns.

MC: If Sugar was someone you could meet in real life, is there anything you'd want to tell her?

AE: I think I would want to just give her a hug. I'd want to buy her a drink and take her out and have fun. I think she needs a fun night out after taking care of everybody.

MC: There's a parallel to your own life with Sugar since you were pregnant in real life as she is on the show. You welcomed your son after season 2 wrapped, but when you went back to film season 3, Sugar was still pregnant. How was that experience?

AE: I loved being able to be pregnant on the show. I told them and they wrote it in, and I think it added this layer of complexity because she's so torn up about her own childhood and her own mother. I felt really lucky that it just clicked and worked, and then there are also people bringing you M&M’s every day on set and asking how you're doing constantly. I really loved that. That was really nice.

Then being pregnant in season 3, I actually broke my ankle while filming. Not on set, but I just turned it and it broke, so I wasn't walking like I normally would anyway. The walk was one thing that I realized, 'Oh, I'm walking like my feet hurt all the time.' Having to get back into the physicality of being pregnant came easier with a broken ankle, weirdly.

Abby Elliott as Natalie "Sugar" Berzatto and Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richie

After the season 2 finale, Sugar (Abby Elliott) and Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) are set to work together managing the restaurant.

(Image credit: Chuck Hodes/FX)

MC: You previously compared the frantic vibe of filming all of The Bear's blocking to that of filming Saturday Night Live. Have you found that you enjoy environments like that in your career? Or are you ready to take a more mellow type of role?

AE: There is an element of chaos on the show that I love, and I think it's really fun how fast we move. SNL was similar in that you move so fast. You shoot something or you do a sketch, and it's over and that's that. With The Bear, our wonderful director goes so quickly and he's like, 'No, we got it.' He knows when we have it or not. and we all just really trust him.

For Sugar, we also get the opportunity to do these slower scenes, so it's not all chaos. We have beautiful, very well-written, long scenes, like the scene with Carmy in season 2 where we're sitting in the restaurant on the morning of the opening. I really love those slower, more contemplative scenes where you don't have to go so fast, and you can really take your time and let it breathe. I think I'm attracted to both.

MC: There's an ongoing debate among fans whether The Bear is more of a comedy or drama. As someone who's done Upright Citizens Brigade and more traditional forms of comedy, do you think it's important that The Bear is still considered a comedy, even though it has these intense, heartbreaking dramatic moments?

AE: I do. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments in the show, but it's unique in that it also has these beautiful, heartfelt, real moments, as well. It's not chock full of jokes like traditional comedy has been, but it's not a new thing that something is dramatic that's also funny. There's a lot of humor in real life, and in pain, and that's what the show does so well.

MC: If you could sum up Sugar's journey in season 3 in three words, how would you describe it?

AE: Pregnant. Bills. Kitchen.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.