Ayo Edebiri and Her Dog Gromit Go to the Bookstore
LOS ANGELES — Ayo Edebiri has an arresting screen presence because she doesn’t look like she’s acting. In “The Bear,” the frenetic restaurant drama that has been one of the most talked-about shows of the summer, she is usually the calm at the center of the storm.
In real life, she’s the same — unassuming, unshowy — and she speaks in an even tone. In other words, she’s not the kind of person who will break into a series of practiced anecdotes when a reporter shows up.
On a hot day in Los Angeles, she was standing outside her apartment complex in the Los Feliz neighborhood, waiting for her puppy, Gromit, to do his business. She then picked up what he had left in the grass with a biodegradable green baggy. She looked around for a trash can but couldn’t find one, so she ended up tucking the baggy into her canvas tote.
Gromit is a small dog with black and white hair. He is part Chihuahua, part minikin and part terrier, Ms. Edebiri said, adding that she knows the mix because she had his DNA tested.
“He’s a melting pot,” she said. “I think he’s the American dream.”
Ms. Edebiri, whose first name means joy in Yoruba, grew up in Boston, where she sang in a church choir and appeared in plays put on by the congregation. At 26, after a few years of writing for television and working as a stand-up comic and podcaster, she finds herself becoming known as an actress.
“I love doing the show,” she said of “The Bear.” “Even when we were making it, we all felt like it was really special and an honor to do. But also because of that, I think there was this fear that people wouldn’t get it.”
People got it. And they responded to her character, the even-keeled sous-chef Sydney Adamu, a kind of stand-in for every unflappable Gen Z-er who suspects that they might have a better idea of how to run a workplace than their chaotic boss.
Gromit started moving toward some broken glass in the street. “That’s glass,” Ms. Edebiri said in her calm voice. “We are not doing that, dude.” She gave the leash the gentlest of tugs, and Gromit heeded her command.
Before “The Bear,” Ms. Edebiri liked to make roast chicken for friends. While preparing for her role, she took courses at the Institute of Culinary Education in Pasadena and shadowed several chefs in Chicago and New York. And, yes, she learned how to prepare the cola braised ribs that become an obsession for her character.
“I made it a lot,” she said. “There was a lot of practicing. It needs to look real. And if we’re practicing it, you might as well make it taste real.”
In addition to her work on “The Bear,” she played Hattie on the AppleTV+ show “Dickinson.” She also provides the voice for Missy Foreman-Greenwald, a biracial girl feeling her way through puberty, on the animated Netflix series “Big Mouth.” So far in her acting career, the characters she plays seem to deal with anxiety by putting on a brave front, and they share a quiet confidence.
“I don’t have to dig too deep to access that anxiety,” she said.
For a time, she said, she was ready to accept that she didn’t have what it takes to be a performer.
“I remember singing in the choir and doing plays, and my god-mom, she was like, ‘You know what? This may not be your gift,’” Ms. Edebiri recalled with a laugh. “She was like, ‘You’re good, but this might not be for you.’ I was like, ‘For sure.’”
She changed her mind during middle school and high school, she said, when she started doing improv. After that, she went to New York University with the aim of becoming a teacher, only to realize it wasn’t for her. At the behest of some college friends, she started doing stand-up.
“I was definitely nervous about the idea of performing alone,” she said. “I didn’t like being onstage and was very nervous at first.”
After graduation, she moved to Los Angeles and wrote for the NBC sitcom “Sunnyside,” the FX series “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Dickinson.” Leaving the comfort of the writers’ room to go in front of the camera was a big adjustment, she said.
“It’s weird,” she said. “I look like this, so I might as well look like this. I don’t want to be self-mythologizing, but I do feel like, growing up, on TV, there weren’t a lot of young Black women who I felt actually looked like me or people I knew, or were allowed to have imperfections.”
“There’s a lot of Black women on TV in the media,” she continued, “and I feel like we look different, but we also still look like ourselves. I feel like that’s important and beautiful.”
She went into Bru, an airy coffee shop, and ordered a lavender lemonade with sparkling water. When asked what she has learned from her various roles, she demurred. “This is like an actress question,” she said. “I’m not used to answering questions like an actor.”
Soon, Ms. Edebiri and Gromit walked into the Skylight Bookstore, an indie shop with a huge ficus tree surrounded by walnut colored shelves. She came across “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories” by the late Finnish writer, illustrator and comic book author Tove Jansson. She tapped the cover with her index finger, ornamented with a rustic gold signet ring that reads “Libra.”
“She rules,” Ms. Edebiri said, picking up the book. “She’s like this incredible lesbian that made the Moomin comics.”
As she moved toward the checkout area, Ms. Edebiri was asked if she would like to go back in time and give her younger self some words of advice.
“I don’t think I would say anything, because that messes with the rules of time travel,” she said. “Everything you learn is in the time and in the season that you’re supposed to.”
Near the cash register, she spotted a cookbook, “Black Food: Stories, Art and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora,” edited by Bryant Terry. She set Gromit on top of the checkout table — along with the Tove Jansson book — before she squatted down to open the cookbook.
While she flipped through its pages, her dog was becoming a star of the store. He wagged his tail on the makeshift stage, ears pointed upward, as three store employees fussed over him, petting him and giving his ears a scratch. After Ms. Edebiri set the cookbook near the cash register, one of the workers started reading to Gromit from the Jansson book.
“He is loving it,” Ms. Edebiri said with a laugh.