Brett Goldstein Talks ‘Ted Lasso’ and the Art of Nuanced Swearing

TheWrap magazine: “I thought, ‘Well, he’s probably not a very funny character, but as long as he exists in the funny world around him, it’s fine,'” says the Emmy-winning actor and writer who plays Roy Kent

Brett Goldstein, "Ted Lasso"
Photographed by Steve Schofield for TheWrap

This story about Brett Goldstein and “Ted Lasso” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Last year, Jason Sudeikis’ Apple TV+ comedy “Ted Lasso” dominated the Emmy’s comedy categories with 20 nominations and seven wins, including Outstanding Comedy Series, and this year it led all comedy shows with the same number of noms. Half of those are for the remarkable ensemble cast that fleshes out the story of a bruised but resilient American coach at the helm of a British soccer team — and while it’s hard to single out anybody in a company this consistently strong, there’s a reason why Brett Goldstein won an Emmy last year for his performance as Roy Kent, a hilariously profane and angry footballer who has to adjust to life off the pitch in Season 2.

Hell, the guy deserves a room full of trophies just for what he does with the most expressive pair of eyebrows on TV.

On the morning nominations were announced, you pretty much won the best-reaction sweepstakes with your statement that began, “Holy fxxxing xxxx, this is fxxxing insane!” When you’re crafting that kind of statement, do you carefully calibrate how much swearing you have to do so as not to disappoint Roy Kent fans?
(Laughs) I can’t speak for people’s expectations. How many swears? It’s, you know, the amount of swears that comes from the heart. When the Emmys happened last year, it was so incredible, and obviously I swore a lot, but I didn’t swear that much. But what I didn’t realize is that the live show was silenced.

So my family was watching in England, and all they heard was the first line, and then it went to silence. They thought I was saying, “f— f— f— f— f— f—!” They thought it was much worse than the nuanced amount of swearing I did.

Brett Goldstein photographed by Steve Schofield

When we talked last year, you said you were initially hired on “Ted Lasso” as a writer with a vague suggestion that maybe you could play Leslie Higgins, the ineffectual director of football operations. Ever since then, I’ve been wondering: If Jeremy Swift didn’t exist and didn’t get that part, what kind of Higgins would you have given us?
Oh, man. That’s unimaginable. I mean, hopefully it’s all right to say I’d be a bit younger. My Higgins probably would have been less likable. But I honestly don’t know, because when Jeremy appeared it was 100% him, and the part became molded around him.

And you knew that Roy was the character for you when you sent them a self-taped audition?
I always get nervous talking about this because I’m sure I sound like a weirdo, but I’ve never felt this way before about any part. It was like a calling, like Roy is inside me. People say, “Oh, it was quite brave to send that tape,” and I knew there was a gamble because the worst-case scenario was that I make everybody feel uncomfortable and don’t get asked to come back as a writer for Season 2. But I also knew I would hate myself if I didn’t try, because I felt very, very strongly that I got this character in such a deep way.

If you look at the character in the abstract, he’s not necessarily the stuff of comedy. He’s got this enormous anger, his football career is nearing its end and he doesn’t really have much idea what to do next… Are you conscious of having to do things to make him funny?
That’s interesting, I never thought about that. I just thought, “I understand this, and I think Jason and I agree on this.” You don’t worry about the funny. I mean, maybe when we were filming, I thought, “Well, he’s probably not a very funny character, but as long as he exists in the funny world around him, it’s fine.” But also, doesn’t funny come from serious stuff?

It certainly does on “Ted Lasso,” which manages to deal with depression and divorce and suicide and panic attacks and betrayals of various kinds but also convinces people it’s a funny, feel-good show.

I definitely remember when I was seeing the social-media reaction to it, I could see that if you didn’t actually watch “Ted Lasso” but you were aware of it in the ether, you would think, “Oh, it’s this cheesy show that is cutesy and all upbeat and lovely. And it’s nice that people feel that when they watch it. But when you analyze it, Season 1 was about divorce and affairs and forgiveness and losing, and Season 2 is about suicide and depression and death and difficult love. It’s fascinating, because it’s quite dark, what is actually happening.

Brett Goldstein photographed by Steve Schofield

Did the reactions to Season 1 have any influence on what you did in Season 2?
Not at all. I think it was probably a really good thing that we’d already started writing Season 2 before Season 1 came out. As wonderful as it was that people liked it, the story wasn’t affected and we weren’t being influenced by what people wanted or what people thought they wanted. That stuff can be dangerous. Like, with the Nate storyline (in which the lovable equipment manager-turned-coach became a villain of sorts) — hearing all the love for Nate in Season 1, there’s a part of you that’s going, “Well, they’re not gonna like this.”

As a writer, do you find it easier to write for other characters, like in the “Beard After Hours” episode that you wrote, than to write for Roy Kent?
That’s interesting. I do love writing all the characters. I think maybe I get more granular when it comes to Roy’s dialogue — like all the actors with their characters, I might finesse it a bit, say, “This sounds more natural to me.” But in terms of Roy Kent plot, I tend to stay out of that.

What were the particular challenges for you in Season 2?
As a writer, Season 2 was weirdly maybe easier and more fun. You knew the actors, so it was exciting to imagine Hannah (Waddingham) saying those lines, or Jeremy, or Juno (Temple). The challenge was to get them to do something we haven’t seen them do. And then in terms of acting, I’d say Episode 1 was a bit nervy, or whatever the word was, because we’d been away for almost a year. There was that fear of, “Am I doing it? Is this the guy?” But once you were into it, the confidence grew with everyone as we went on.

You’re working on Season 3 now…
Yes we are. Over halfway.

Jason had said this was designed as a three-season show. Did you write this season to be the final one?
Whatever answer I give to this, I seem to get in trouble. But we are writing this story as a three-act story that will reach its conclusion. And whether the show continues beyond that is entirely in Jason’s hands. I know we would all love to do it forever, but I understand if he wants to stop.

Brett Goldstein in Ted Lasso

You make a cameo in the new Thor movie, and you’re working on Shrinking, an upcoming comedy series with Harrison Ford. Has the show changed your opportunities and your ideas of what to do from here?
Look, it’s changed my life 100%. It’s definitely opened a lot more doors that would probably have been closed to me before. I’m lucky to be doing exactly what I always wanted to do, but I was also doing this before “Ted Lasso,” just not at the same level. It was harder to knock on doors and have people say, “Who’s this guy?” Now at least people have seen you and are either interested or they’re not.

You have a podcast called “Films to Be Buried With,” in which you discuss key movies in your guests’ lives—and on that podcast, listeners learn a lot about your own favorite films. But do you have your own list of TV shows to be buried with?
Maybe. (pause) Yeah. My personal TV shows to be buried with would be “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Mad Men.” “Twin Peaks.” “Cheers.” Is that enough? I could obviously name many, many more.

Going back to that foul mouth of yours — we talked to Brian Cox for the last issue of our magazine, and he said that he gets a lot of people who come up to him on the street and ask if he’ll please tell them to f— off. Since you’ve been playing Roy Kent, do you get people asking you the same thing? I haven’t. I sort of expected that, but I haven’t really had a lot of it. Weirdly, Hannah and I presented an award at the Brit Awards, and we bumped into Brian because he was also presenting. I had no idea he’d watched “Ted Lasso,” but he had and he was very, very nice. And then someone said, “You two should tell each other to f— off!” And I thought, “God, that’s a great idea!”

Read more from the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue here.