Luca’s Tattoos in The Bear Have Deeper Meanings

Benny Shields

The fake tattoos in the Disney+ series The Bear have practically become a character of their own. It all started with Carmy (played by Jeremy Allen White), a fine dining chef who, after the death of his brother, returns to his native Chicago to take over the family sandwich shop. In season one, the internet went wild over Allen White’s realistic-looking smattering of tattoos inspired by the character’s backstory.

In season two, however, viewers were treated to an entirely new set of equally intricate – and equally meaningful – tattoos. Episode four introduces Will Poulter as Luca, a Copenhagen-based pastry chef who helps Marcus fine-tune his baking skills. Like Carmy, Luca has an array of tattoos scattered across his arms and hands; but rather than drawing inspiration from his character, Poulter, along with The Bear‘s tattoo artist Benny Shields, created designs based on the actor’s real life.

“He sent me a bunch of drawings, which he says are really bad, but they’re not that bad,” Shields tells POPSUGAR with a laugh. “They’re not that much different than mine. I just kind of made them a little slicker and maybe changed a couple of things.”

When all was said and done, Shields estimates that Poulter wore 22 different fake tattoos in the show, many of which were tributes to his family. The Tabasco bottle on his right inner forearm, for example, is for his brother, who has the same tattoo. “The Tabasco bottle was an early food memory,” says Shields. “[Will] used to eat bacon sandwiches with his brother.”

Another food-related family memory was memorialised with Luca’s fish and chips tattoo, a symbol of Poulter’s childhood meals with his father. Shields says he originally drew the tattoo with a lemon wedge, which is not customary in Poulter’s native London. “Because I’m not from there, my original drawing had a lemon,” recalls Shields. “He was like ‘This tattoo is great, I love it. Can you just get rid of the lemon?'” The Scotch bonnet pepper on his right hand is for his mother. “His mom eats those as a party trick,” Shields says.

Another tattoo for his mother was a sunflower, which Shields originally drew as a daisy. “We were trying to figure out some extra things because I know you’re going to need fillers,” the artist says. “It’s just good to have backups. Maybe his sleeve is up a little higher and he needs something for that. So I always send a few extras and sunflower was one of them. I originally sent him like a daisy and he said, ‘Oh, I love this. It’s funny, I was just thinking about my mom. Can we just turn that into a sunflower in a pot?’ So I just kind of modified something that I had already drawn.”

Poulter also made a tribute to his sister, Charlie, with the initials “CAP” on his right forearm.

Two tattoos speak to Poulter’s mental health advocacy. “He uses his social media, from what I’ve seen, only for good things,” says Shields. “He’s big on mental health, [so] he has the heart made of brain matter. There’s one that was supposed to be a mountain climbing guy, but I ended up doing stairs; that’s a mental health thing too.”

On his right inner forearm, Luca has the Roman numeral “IV”, which Shields says is meant to represent Poulter’s childhood illness. “He had to have an IV, so that’s why he got it there,” the artist says. “It’s also the Roman numeral four, which is his lucky number.”

A hand-poked “A” tattoo on his wrist as a tribute to Arsenal F.C., a soccer club of which Poulter is a fan. Luca also has a Roman numeral sequence on his wrist. “He wanted a Boy Better Know [tattoo], which is a UK hip hop group,” says Shields. “I think he originally sent me the logo and I was like, ‘I don’t think we can do the logo.’ And so then I just did a BBK. I think Drake has a BBK tattoo, so I didn’t want to do that either. So I just put in like a little code.”

One of few tattoos related to Poulter’s character and not his personal life is the chemical symbol for sugar on his left wrist – a nod to Luca’s career as a pastry chef. “I was so tired [when I drew it],” Shields says. “I had been doing another movie…I hadn’t been sleeping and I think I actually messed up one of the numbers.” And yes – that mistake made it into the show.

Once the tattoos were selected, figuring out their placement was the next challenge. Shields first made digital mockups and then had an in-person sizing session with the actor.

“The way it wraps around the back of an arm or how it’s gonna hang out your sleeve, you need to see all that stuff,” he says. “We knew he was going to be in short sleeves probably. What are we gonna going to see and how’s it going to read in person?”

After the design, sizing, and placement is determined, everything is sent off to the show’s makeup artist, Ignacia Soto-Aguilar, who applies the tattoos on set and helps them look as realistic as possible. “We have this transfer paper, [which] is basically like those tattoos that you get from a cereal box that you put water and they stick to your body,” Soto-Aguilar tells POPSUGAR. “The part that goes to your body doesn’t have any sort of glue, [so] I airbrush a medical grade glue on the paper. Because I work in so many states where the humidity is a big [issue], I have to put holes in it. So if they’re sweating, I need that sweat to go through it instead of lifting it.”

After the tattoos are applied, Soto-Aguilar sets them with powder as well as different sealants to ensure they don’t get disrupted between the actors sweating, moving around, and taking coats on and off between takes in the Chicago winter. The makeup artist says the entire application process took about an hour to an hour and a half.

Because Poulter was only on set for a couple of days to film his episode of The Bear, he didn’t need his tattoos reapplied at all. In fact, they ended up lasting a while; Soto-Aguilar says Poulter visited the set days later as a guest and the tattoos were still going strong. “I was like, ‘Are you just gonna keep these on?’ He’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not washing these off until they come out,'” the makeup artist says. “He was so happy with Benny’s designs and he actually wants some of them in real life.”

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