After ”Friends” ended in 2004, David Schwimmer moved from Los Angeles, where his hit sitcom was filmed, to re-settle in New York.
In all the years since, he has never passed the West Village apartment building known to the world (or, at least, to a steady stream of photo-snapping ”Friends” fans) for its role as the exterior location shot of the title characters’ home.
Schwimmer didn’t even make a pilgrimage from a few blocks away at the Cherry Lane Theater where in 2008 he was directing a play, one of many varied projects he has pursued, onstage and on film, during the peripatetic stretch he calls his ”professional experimentation.”
Now he’s back as a regular on series television, starring in AMC’s ”Feed the Beast” as the woeful widowed father who teams up with a trouble-courting chum to open a fine restaurant on a mean street of the Bronx while mobsters and corrupt officials nip at their heels. This piquant drama debuts Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT before moving to Tuesdays.
”Now that my daughter’s going to school as a kindergartner, the timing was palatable for me to sign up for a series,” explains Schwimmer, who says that his wife and child – not working – have become his top priority.
He comes to ”Feed the Beast” on the heels of playing Robert Kardashian in FX network’s limited series ”The People vs. O.J. Simpson” where, he reports, he had a great time. ”Then I got the offer to play Tommy Moran. I loved the character, and I had a great vibe with (series creator) Clyde Phillips. So I said, `Let’s try it.”’
Schwimmer’s co-star is Jim Sturgess, the London-born actor whose wildly diverse films include ”The Way Back,” ”Fifty Dead Men Walking,” ”Across the Universe” and ”The Best Offer.”
As Tommy’s lifelong friend, Dion Patras is a petty criminal and druggie who nonetheless knows his way around a kitchen: We meet him shortly before release from jail cooking up a gourmet meal for his prison guards.
Once on the outside, he seeks out Tommy, a world-class sommelier (wine steward) who, grief-stricken since his wife’s recent death, now is forlornly selling wine while oversampling his stock.
Can these hapless gastronomes transform a ramshackle industrial space into the restaurant of their dreams?
”The first season’s journey for Tommy is from death to life,” says Schwimmer, who, at 49, looks brawny in jeans, T-shirt and running shoes.
As the restaurant takes form, it reflects Tommy’s return to the living. But the journey won’t be smooth. One big problem: both the mob and the cops, as well as drugs, all have their hooks into Dion, who doesn’t always act in the best interests of Tommy, or anyone but himself, as he scrambles to stay above water.
”He’s a bit of a train wreck and he makes bad decisions – and long may that continue,” laughs Sturgess, animated and affable at 38, though he could pass for half that age without the scruffy beard his character sports. ”Playing him, you have to find moments of vulnerability to make sure the audience stays on his side. But he keeps doing more and more terrible things.”
Besides the rough and tumble of ”Feed the Beast,” an important counterpoint is the culinary focus.
”That’s the poetry,” says Schwimmer. ”Even though our lives are so dreary and dark, the food and wine draws on our knowledge and passion, and it’s elevated to art – even if it’s fleeting.”
Viewers who can barely tell red wine from white will savor seeing Tommy in action, a bloodhound of an oenophile who can pinpoint the year and region of a wine with just a sniff and a swirl.
”I’m fascinated by how someone becomes a `somm,”’ says Schwimmer, who, before working with the show’s consulting sommelier, had imagined he had a bit of wine savior-faire. ”Then I discovered I actually know next to nothing.”
The food-and-wine pairings introduced by Tommy on the show are actually conceived by its resident expert, and, says Schwimmer, ”I want viewers who know wine really well to think, `Wow! That’s a really fascinating choice to go with that dish.”’
Dion is no less adept in his own specialty than Tommy, which makes Sturgess laugh when asked about his real-life experience slinging hash.
”I had never really cooked at all until shortly before the series came along,” he confides.
He has since gotten schooled.
”But I don’t need to know recipes. THAT doesn’t read on camera,” he notes. ”I have to know how does a chef move, how does he look comfortable with his pans, how does he hold his knife realistically.”
Meanwhile, Sturgess has incorporated Dion’s manic drugginess into his drive as a chef.
”He’s got a lot of pain he’s trying to escape, and the kitchen is a perfect place,” explains Sturgess. ”A chef I spoke to says that, in the kitchen, everything else just disappears. You’re in that moment, and life outside, it just doesn’t exist. So it’s perfect for a man who has a troubled past and a difficult future ahead of him.”
But as ”Feed the Beast” will demonstrate with both its would-be restaurateurs, a kitchen can only cook up temporary relief.