This story about “Ted Lasso” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
On the surface a fish-out-of-water comedy about a Midwestern football coach who’s hired to take over a struggling soccer team on the outskirts of London even though he has no experience with the sport, AppleTV’s “Ted Lasso” ends up being a lot more than that. The show, which set an Emmy record for a first-year comedy series by racking up 20 nominations, is in some ways gloriously optimistic and sunny, but it also stares down loss and depression as it dares to find tenderness and forgiveness. It’s a foul-mouthed comedy but also an open-hearted testament to healing, and a welcome balm in tough times.
The week of the Season 2 premiere, seven of the cast members sat down with TheWrap to talk about the show. The roster: Jason Sudeikis, co-creator, who stars as Ted Lasso himself; Brendan Hunt, co-creator and writer, who plays Ted’s sidekick, Coach Beard; Brett Goldstein, one of the show’s writers, who also plays the usually angry and always profane aging star Roy Kent; Hannah Waddingham, who plays Rebecca Weltham, the owner of the team, AFC Richmond; Jeremy Swift, who plays ineffectual director of football operations Leslie Higgins; Juno Temple, who plays former model turned Richmond exec Keeley Jones; and Cristo Fernández, who joined the cast midway through the season as electric footballer Dani Rojas.
All except Fernández, who was not on the Emmy ballot, were nominated. (Other cast members, including Emmy nominee Nick Mohammed, were prevented from traveling by other work or by COVID restrictions.)
By the way, you can assume that during about 70% of this conversation, at least one person was laughing, even though the conversation took place during a bad week for British soccer.
I apologize for bringing this up—but when England lost to Italy a few days ago in the final of the European Football Championship, were you able to echo Ted Lasso himself and say, “It’s OK, winning or losing doesn’t matter”?
HANNAH WADDINGHAM Oh, God, no.
BRETT GOLDSTEIN That’s a good question, and the answer is 100%, that line is a lie. A beautiful lie.
So does Ted’s philosophy work in real life?
BRENDAN HUNT Certainly “Be a goldfish” has a lot of real practical uses, especially if you’re constantly tripping over things. (In the show, Ted points out that goldfish have the shortest memory of any animal.)
JEREMY SWIFT I think the line “at least we’re sad together” (which Ted says after the team loses a big match in the Season 1 finale), that was a thing. I was with a lot of friends watching that match. And during the penalties, people were running out of the room because they didn’t want to look at the screen. It was like a horror film. At the end of it, I did think that if I was watching this on my own, I’d be very, very miserable or very, very drunk, very, very quickly. I was just glad that I was watching it with other people.
JASON SUDEIKIS How do you define the philosophy of the show? I don’t mean to sound like I’m challenging you, but when I’ve heard it reflected back to me, I’ve been like, “Yeah, sure.” What do you see in it?
To me, the show does something remarkable, because it deals with divorce, cheating spouses, depression, and yet viewers walk away thinking, “That’s so sweet!”
HUNT You’re spot on. It is a weird thing that people are reacting to the show in such a way that they find it inspirational, as though it was Care Bears or an Up With People album, to use a hip reference. We have people go through stuff, as you’re saying. Where the positivity really is — and if people find it inspirational, so be it — is where they are at the end of the stuff they go through. It doesn’t mean bad stuff isn’t going to happen, but you have a choice in how you feel about it once you’ve gone through it and while you’re going through it.
JUNO TEMPLE It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with it.
Brett, you were originally hired as a writer, not an actor. Did you know what you were getting yourself in for?
GOLDSTEIN I was originally brought on as a writer with the promise from (co-creator) Bill Lawrence of, “Maybe you’ll play this Higgins’ character.” And I knew I’d lost that gig the second we in the writers room saw Jeremy’s casting tape. And for the record, it wasn’t his acting. We didn’t even get to the scene before he was cast.
SWIFT If only I’d have known this.
GOLDSTEIN He said, “Hello, I’m Jeremy Swift,” and I was like, “I’m out of a gig. F—.” But then as we were writing it, I fell in love with Roy and was like, “I really get this.” The more I think about it, it was like a calling. It was like the priesthood, but much, much, much, much less important.
WADDINGHAM And much more sweary.
So Jeremy, how did you steal the role of Higgins so easily?
SWIFT By turning up, apparently. I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it. I said that to my agent, and she said, “Swift it.” I thought, “I don’t even know what that means.” So I just turned up with my take on it.
SUDEIKIS It became an audition that we watched over and over as we were casting other people. When we were questioning other parts we’d go, “Throw Swifty back on!”
GOLDSTEIN We would spend our lunch breaks watching his show reel, because he’s not only fucking funny, he’s a tremendous dramatic actor.
Hannah, did you realize how much there was to Rebecca when you came in? We see her as rich and scheming in the first episode, but she’s so much more than that.
WADDINGHAM Literally, the pilot is all I had to go on. I had no idea about Rupert (her ex-husband), certainly had no idea that the brilliant Anthony Head would be cast in that role and make such a massive difference. And no idea about the Rebecca and Keeley relationship at all. I didn’t know that Juno and I would fall desperately in love with each other, basically on sight.
TEMPLE In the ladies’ loo just before we entered the read-through.
WADDINGHAM Very classy.
Cristo, you came to the show six episodes into the first season. What was it like walking into this group?
FERNÁNDEZ I was very excited and nervous, and I think it was that combination that helped me be as energetic and positive as I could. The first day was the scene where Dani Rojas is introduced. Everything happened that day. I don’t know if you guys remember, but my face got scratched that day. We hadn’t even done my close-ups and they fixed me as best as they could. I didn’t know if I was fucking it up.
TEMPLE It was an injection of joy when you arrived!
GOLDSTEIN If I may say it, that is the greatest entrance in TV history, when he comes in. We were on the pitch, and the feeling you get as an audience is how we felt when he came out doing his thing. We were like, “Oh, s—, this is gonna be great.”
HUNT More inside baseball for you: There was a brief time when for the character of Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster’s character), we were like, “Let’s model him more on Cristiano Ronaldo. We’ll make him indeterminately Latin, call him Dani Rojas.” It was a very brief window — like, a week that we were thinking of that. But that week is when Cristo was sent audition materials. So when he auditioned, he auditioned as Jamie Tartt, with actual dialogue that Jamie Tartt says later. And by the time we got his tape, we were going to do this other thing. But the audition was so pure and so positive and so energetic. We watched it and we’re all like, “What do we do?” And to his credit, Bill Lawrence said, “I’m casting that guy! I’m casting that guy, and we are figuring it out!”
SUDEIKIS It’s similar, what you’re hearing about three of the auditions. Brett having an understanding of the role, and being like, “I’m going to go for it.” That’s one way. “Swift it up,” meaning be yourself, but also being open to having representation that encourages you to be yourself. Then there’s also the power of someone just being themselves, like Cristo.
TEMPLE With me, it was different. You thought I could play this part. I did not. If you think of my career, I have no idea what made you think about this.
SUDEIKIS I saw your name on a piece of paper and it glowed. There are only two people that didn’t audition for the show: Anthony Head and Juno Temple. I just knew the authenticity of what that role needed to be. It needed to be someone that was nonjudgmental of the role.
Lots of people have talked about needing “Ted Lasso” in this past year. Is there something about the times that helped you reach people the way you have?
WADDINGHAM My God, I think so.
HUNT But the times were so particularly bad recently that we’re forgetting that times weren’t great just before that, when we were writing the show. The season was shot before the world really went to shit, but there was already, as we talked about in the writer’s room, a toxicity of discourse. So hopefully the show would be handy for folks whenever it came out. We all wish that 2020 as it happened just didn’t happen. But since it did happen that way, and that is when we happened to come out, it’s just like, well, if we were of some help, then happy to have helped. But it makes me a little skeevy to try to find fortune in that timing.
WADDINGHAM What on earth does skeevy mean?
HUNT Context clues! You should be able to define that from the context!
SUDEIKIS It’s a tough question to answer, man. I know that those of us that enjoy having dinner in restaurants or support small businesses or have children and would like to have them go to school in person as opposed to on a tablet—we would trade the success of the show to have all those other things for not just ourselves but for everybody else. That’s no BS.
I think what we’re attempting is about kindness, forgiveness, empathy, the divine feminine. That has been in style, that will remain in style. Not like toxic masculinity, garbage ego, bullies. And so the show is what it is, and was what it was, and always will be, amen. I think and hope that elements of it will go on beyond this last year and a half that everyone on Earth had to deal with. It’s bigger than just, “Boy, what a low of a year, thank God for this.” You know what I mean?
WADDINGHAM It’s a life choice.
SUDEIKIS Yeah. It’s a life choice. Answer the phone with a smile, as Zig Ziglar would say.
SUDEIKIS But long. Too long. A bit windy.
HUNT You need less NPR, more Quibi!
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.