Jim Sturgess, who plays Dion Patras on AMC’s Feed the Beast, talks about learning to move like a chef, his character’s tragic backstory and playing the “irresponsible, fun uncle” of the show.
Q: You first meet Dion in the Series Premiere as he’s getting out of prison. Did you immediately think “who is this guy?” when you read the script?
A: Coming out of prison is probably the most exciting start to a character that you can have. You know that he’s obviously been in bad situations. He’s obviously flawed and made mistakes and is looking for redemption… or he’s going to continue to go deeper into criminal activity. There are just a million possibilities. The opening scene is him cooking this amazing dish for the prison wardens, and I was like, “OK, this could be very interesting.” You know very quickly that there’s a passionate but very flawed kind of person within Dion.
Q: Executive Producer and Writer Clyde Phillips has commented on his love of flawed characters. What’s your take on playing them?
A: Nobody wants to see someone who is squeaky clean. There’s nothing interesting about that. Everybody is flawed, everybody makes bad decisions; it’s how you deal with that or how you redeem yourself that’s interesting and exciting from an acting point of view. It’s great that all the characters, in some way, are going through something very traumatic. What I like about the show is everybody is dealing with loss and pain, and it’s how everybody deals with that suffering.
Tommy (David Schwimmer) is someone who has gone very deep within himself and has given up really. It looks like he’s at his lowest ever and is never going to really come back from it. Dion, who equally has been through a huge amount of suffering and pain, is very external and needs to keep pushing forward and doesn’t dare go in himself or dare go backwards. He’s like, “Right! What do we do next? We’ve got to f***ing push! We’ve got to live! We’ve got to get this restaurant on its feet! We’ve got to do this!” That’s part of his drug abuse too: It’s escapism. Cooking and cheffing and being part of that world is a huge escape. When you’re doing a chef service, the future and the past disappear. You’re completely in the moment, so that’s equally a part of his drug and his need to escape reality.
Q: Learning to cook is one thing, looking like a chef is another. How did you learn to move like a professional?
A: I went to [cooking] classes and I was like right now, at this point, I want to learn more about the choreography of a chef and a kitchen rather than a recipe. How does a chef move and is so comfortable in his own environment? How does he pick up food and work with food and chop things? It’s really the familiarity with your own environment rather than the “I know that I need to put some citrus with that dish.” I was more interested in knife skills and all the things that make a chef look like a chef. And then as time went on, I was learning how to cook the dishes we were making in the show, and that was really exciting.
Q: Dion is the food guy in the show; Tommy is the wine guy. What do you make of Dion and Tommy’s pairing?
A: They’re the yin to the other’s yang. They’re so different in personality. Tommy’s very grounding for Dion, very focused and keeps his head in the game, whereas Dion is the spirit and driving impulse that Tommy needs in his life. Dion makes things happen; he doesn’t woe, he just drives forward and makes things happen. He’s a survivor. His backstory is that his parents were killed when he was very young, and he’s always had to fend for himself and hustle. Food is very much a way of doing that for him. Tommy is very much an inward and thinking man, and everything’s all in his head. Being a sommelier is very specific and very much about the contemplation of the different flavors. It’s an interesting pairing of two characters, and their job descriptions match who they are as people.
A: He [Elijah] became my buddy. He’s a really sweet, really grounded, really beautiful young man. It was amazing to watch him grow and get better and better at what he’s doing. Dion gets to be the irresponsible fun uncle; he doesn’t have to deal with the real sh*t. He can sort of mess around with him — and Dion loves him. We very much had that relationship on- and off-screen. We hung out a lot. I took him to see The Lion King, which was his first Broadway show. I knew he was having a life-changing experience – you’re 10 years old, you’re living in New York, you’re doing this show for four months and four months for a 10-year-old is a long time. I wanted to make sure that it was fun for him because we’re all working hard.
Q: You’re a musician as well as an actor. So what would be on Dion’s kitchen playlist?
A: His music would be real delinquent music. [Laughs] The Beastie Boys — they’re also a New York band — Iggy Pop, NAS, Wu-Tang Clan. Anything that has a hard edge to it.
Read an interview with David Schwimmer, who plays Tommy Moran.
Feed the Beast air Tuesdays at 10/9c on AMC. To stay up-to-date on all the latest news about Feed the Beast, sign up for the Insiders Club.