Jeremy Allen White may co-star with Zac Efron in Sean Durkin’s new wrestling drama “The Iron Claw,” but the Emmy-winning “The Bear” actor has something to admit — he has never watched a “High School Musical” movie.
“I haven’t seen them,” White says on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “Sorry, Zac. I will watch them. I will.”
On one condition. “Only if Zac holds my hand throughout,” White cracks. “That’s how we’ll get it done.”
The two have become so close that handholding doesn’t seem so far-fetched. In fact, the day before we sit down for the “JFV” interview, White presented at Efron’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star unveiling and then reunited with his co-star again that night at “The Iron Claw” premiere at the DGA in West Hollywood.
“The Iron Claw” follows the Von Erich wrestling dynasty. Lorded over by patriarch Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany), the Von Erich brothers — Kevin (Efron), Kerry (White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanley Simons) — rose to the top of the wresting world while also facing heartbreaking tragedies.
The ensemble endured rigorous training for the film, but wrestling wasn’t completely foreign to White. “I wrestled in middle school and a little bit in high school. It really wasn’t a very big part of my life, but my father had won championships throughout high school, nationals and stuff like that,” he says. “So, it was a big part of my dad’s life. And so, I think maybe I make it a bigger part of my story in my brain than it actually is because it was a big part of my father’s life. But it was something that I enjoyed and it was something that I was good at, but I didn’t do it for very long.”
White, who grew up in Brooklyn, first made a name for himself playing Lip in Showtime’s “Shameless,” but his award-winning work as Carmy on “The Bear” solidified his star status. But before he got bit by the acting bug, White pursued dancing.
“I tap all the time,” White, who is up for an Emmy and Golden Globe for “The Bear,” says when I ask if he remembers any of his childhood dance lessons. “My fellow actors can attest to this … it’s like a nervous tic or something, or some kind of preparation. It really happens when they say, ‘Cut and reset.’ When I’m standing on my mark at reset, it’s like a meditative thing, I’ll do a shuffle as I’m staring at the ground and just shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. And I’ll do it until they say ‘action’ again, and then I snap out of whatever it is and I go back into the scene. I’ve done it for a long time. I’ve had ADs, PAs, fellow actors always ask, ‘What is going on there?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know exactly, but I am tap dancing. I don’t know why I am, but I am.’”
Was the physicality the hardest part about doing “The Iron Claw”? I understand it’s all choreographed, but it must hurt and take a lot of work.
It absolutely takes work. Yeah, we were really lucky to have Chavo Guerrero guiding us through the process. He’s a professional wrestler himself, and he comes from a family of professional wrestlers, not unlike the Von Erichs. And he was incredibly knowledgeable and skilled. And the process was incredibly daunting at first because you watch professional wrestling, you watch Chavo do what he does, and it just seems unlikely that you would be able to do anything like that. And it takes such skill to perform it. But I guess you realize in the process of learning, you’re so supported by your partner, even if you are not very good. I was not very good at it, but if my partner in the ring was skilled, and the majority of the men that we were wrestling with were real professional wrestlers. They could really support you and they could really make you look good.
Was there ever a moment where you’re jumping off the ropes and you’re like, “Am I really going to do this?”
Absolutely. I think Zac had the biggest leap, in the most literal terms, off of the corner ropes. But I definitely had moments where I was scared. I thought either I would hurt myself or make a fool of myself. But like I said, there was such trust in our partners in this thing, and you would be caught, both literally and figuratively, when we were training and doing these performances. For example, there’s this move they came up with where I’m on a corner rope and I do a somersault with another wrestler. We do it at the same time. I trusted him and I did it, and I was like, “Okay, I did it. That was okay.” We did it a couple more times, but then I did watch playback, and, my gosh, my head was mere inches from the ground as I was flipping. For me at least, there was some safety in ignorance too. I wasn’t familiar enough with the sport to be appropriately frightened. I think my ignorance might’ve looked like bravery, but the fact is it was all ignorance.
When you tell the producers of “The Bear” that you’re going to do “The Iron Claw,” are they like, “Careful with those wrestling moves. We need you to come back into production”?
No, they were really excited. They don’t care if I hurt myself. No, they’re lovely and they do care, but they knew it’d be safe. And also I had a lot of time to recover if I did get hurt. I would’ve had a lot of time to recover before Season 2.
Where are you keeping all those awards that you’ve been getting?
I’ve got one somewhere around here. There’s one in my daughter’s room. There’s one on a bookshelf. They’re scattered around. I want to make sure wherever anybody is, they can see [laughs].
When we talked a few weeks ago you told me you start shooting Season 3 of “The Bear” early next year, but you didn’t know anything that was going to happen. So what can you tell me now?
I’ll tell you the truth, which is I think they’ve written a couple scripts. I have not read any. I do know in January I’m going to spend a fair amount of time getting together with some chefs. There’ll be a menu set, I believe, that’s going to be for the restaurant in the third season. And I know that I’m going to start putting together that menu with different chefs and cooking and just trying to get prepared to do more of that stuff on camera. We all did a lot of preparation before the first season. I went to culinary school and I spent a lot of time in restaurants and stuff. And then, for the second season, so much of it was about putting the restaurant together, so there wasn’t that much cooking. But now, in the third season, I think we’re going to go back to that functioning kitchen atmosphere that we had in the first.
We have to talk about Jamie Lee Curtis playing your mom, Donna, in Season 2.
She was so excellent, so prepared. She understood Donna in this way prior to ever stepping foot on set. It’s quite a difficult thing to do, even for actors as established as Jamie to step into a world and very quickly make a choice, flesh out a character and fit into the environment that’s already been established. And she just knew. She just understood. And I remember she came up to me and it was such a wonderful moment. I hadn’t met her yet. We had texted a little bit, but it was before shooting that Christmas episode. She tapped me on the shoulder as I was in base camp. I turned around and she held my face and looked into my eyes for a while. Neither of us said a word. She gave me a big hug. And then, she just walked back to her trailer. We didn’t exchange any words, and I think it was just her way of connecting with me in a real and caring way before Carmy had to deal with Donna in the way that he had to during that time in that episode.
What does it feel like to become this fashionable man in Hollywood?
Yes. One headline I saw said, “Jeremy Allen White can’t stop wearing sweater vests.”
I guess I can’t. What can I say? I like a sweater vest. I like clothes. I don’t know what to say about that. I like sweater vests. I like cardigans. I’ll put a suit on if I absolutely have to. I just wear what feels comfortable to me. If people like that, then that’s all very nice.
Take me back to an audition for a role you really thought you were going to get.
Oh, my God. There are so many. I mean, my gosh. I’m trying to think because I’m friends with a lot of the guys that ended up with these parts. I wouldn’t say there’s one that got away, but Cameron Monaghan knows about this. When I was auditioning for “Shameless,” I was auditioning for both Lip and Ian throughout the auditioning process. I really wanted to play Ian. And then I was told, “No, you’re going to play Lip.” So, I guess that’s the best way to get bad news is like, “No, you’re not going to do this one, but you can do this one.” And then, obviously I came to really love playing Lip and getting to do it for so long. But yeah, I really chased Ian, and I remember being disappointed when they said, “Actually, it’s this guy.”
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation above or find “Just for Variety” wherever you download your favorite podcasts.