David Schwimmer looks different in person. Maybe it's because I've known him as Ross Geller for so many years, or that he made such an impression in a two-piece, black-and-white wig playing Robert Kardashian in The People v. O.J. earlier this year, but when I meet Schwimmer at the London NYC, it's more than a little jarring. He looks sleeker, in several ways. His hair is closely cropped; he's traded in Ross' giant sweaters and Bob Kardashian's enormous suits for a form-fitting V-neck t-shirt and jeans. And he's confident—still quiet, but much more at ease than the characters he's most known for playing.
Maybe you've been living under a rock, but if not, you know that 2016 has been a big year for Schwimmer—maybe the biggest since he was raking in a milly per Friends episode. He came out of the gate playing the Kardashian patriarch in the best show of the year, delivering a performance that entirely changed how people saw him. He was the moral center of a show that desperately needed one. Now, he's leading a new AMC show called Feed the Beast, premiering June 5th, alongside Jim Sturgess. Following two best friends opening a restaurant in the Bronx—Sturgess plays the chef, Schwimmer's the sommerlier—the show is a mixture of tragic loss, alcoholism, food porn, and BX mobsters, and Schwimmer acts his ass off in it. If The People v. O.J. was Schwimmer's big right hook to 2016, Feed the Beast is his unexpectedly powerful left jab.
With the show premiering on June 5, and with my Schwimfan club still taxiing on the runway, Schwimmer and I got together to talk juice, wine, and the actor's surprising resurgence.
Do you care if I stand? I’ve just been sitting so much.
Nah, you can stand. Do what makes you feel good.
K, I’ll just do a little workout. [Laughs.]
Whatever works. So we’re getting a lot of you in 2016—was this a planned attack?
It wasn’t planned at all. I think it’s just coincidental, to be honest. We wrapped O.J. in the end of October; the next month I heard about this show, Feed the Beast. And then I didn’t know if anything was gonna happen. I didn’t hear anything until, like, January, I think. Then all of January was really doing press for O.J., so I hit the ground running with Feed the Beast. All of that is to say it happened really quickly—there was no great plan. Just two great shows and great characters fell in my lap at the same time.
How do you see Robert Kardashian and Tommy Moran comparing to each other?
I guess they are both fathers, and they’re played by the same actor. I think it stops there.
Do people yell “Juice!” at you on the street now?
[Laughs.] Not yet! No one has.
Have you seen the supercut of you saying, “Juice?”
I keep forgetting to. I’ve heard about it. I bet it’s fun.
So in Feed the Beast, where in the Bronx are you guys situated?
I don’t know exactly where in the Bronx the fictitious location is. The idea is that it’s really no man’s land. The "Wild West," as far as restaurants are concerned. Look, the fact that they’re opening a restaurant in New York City, one of the most competitive cities in the world, and on top of that they’re doing it in a location which is a destination, if you want to eat at this place—it’s not only ballsy, but incredibly naive. But it shows that they have a lot of confidence and a lot of guts, and the stakes are really high for these guys. If they don’t make it, if the restaurant doesn’t work, their lives are literally at stake. I think it’s good storytelling—I think it’s better for the drama that it’s set in New York, in the Wild West of the Bronx.
You have a few emotionally packed scenes in the first episode—where do you pull from for that sort of performance?
There are different points in my life where I’ve experienced great loss. I don’t consciously kind of go to those places, I just think I have access to it because I’ve been in pain before. I’ve lost before. Every actor’s got his or her own process. I’m not an actor that uses a kind of method in which I try to remember when I was four years old and I lost my dog, you know? I just try to be the guy, and hopefully because of enough experience and my age now I can draw upon more life experience.
How much did you have to learn about wine for the show?
I still feel I have a whole lot to learn about wine. In fact, the biggest realization I had working on this role, and working with this friend of mine named Josh Nadel, who’s a top sommelier in New York, was just how little I actually know. I mean, I thought I knew about wine. I know next to nothing.
So what has your homework been?
It’s everything, from just understanding taste and developing a vocabulary for describing a wine and its color. But as importantly, because it’s a TV show and it’s more visual, you have to believe that I know how to open a bottle of wine, pour it, and describe it at the same time. And ideally, it should look effortless and graceful. When I watch somms open a bottle of wine and describe it and pour it, it’s a thing of beauty.
What is David Schwimmer sipping on?
I love a good, big red. I’m a fan of California cabs. But I also love really great whites—even a nice chablis.
Have you heard the term, “Schwimmerssance?”
Just recently someone else—another reporter—mentioned that to me.
How does that make you feel?
[Laughs.] I mean, look—first of all, it’s flattering. Because of O.J. and this, I’m more actively visible. I think what it means to me is—you know, I made a conscious decision five years ago to just take my foot off the gas. I got married, I had a daughter. I wanted to work less, to be honest. I wanted to be around more and enjoy this next chapter of my life. I think what started happening was I really developed more of an itch to get back to some more meatier roles, to harder work. And purely coincidentally, some great jobs popped up.