Jason Sudeikis (left) stars as the ever-optimistic Ted Lasso; Brendan Hunt, as Coach Beard, is his Yankee cohort abroad.
Nick Mohammed (left) as Nathan Shelley (aka Nate the Great) with Sudeikis and Hunt on the pitch
Hannah Waddingham as team owner Rebecca Welton
Juno Temple, as Keeley Jones, puts Brett Goldstein, as Roy Kent, through his paces.
Talking with Ted Lasso stars Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham, it quickly becomes clear that both are terrible at receiving compliments. Which means they've had a rough time lately.
In the series, Sudeikis is impeccable as Ted Lasso, an openhearted college football coach from Kansas who finds himself far afield, managing the AFC Richmond soccer team in England. Waddingham, a British musical-theater star, is every inch his equal as Rebecca Welton, the club owner who hires him hoping he'll destroy the team — because it's the only thing her cruel ex-husband loves.
Every member of the ensemble cast is a delight, and the show, which premiered on Apple TV+ in August, has won over viewers starving for hope amid the brutality of the past year.
Of all the kind words the creators, stars and crew have received, two have been the most ubiquitous and the most moving. "People kept saying, 'Thank you,'" Waddingham notes, speaking via video chat from a London hotel room. She gets a bit emotional thinking about it. "Having strangers messaging you, just saying, 'Thank you,' was incredible."
Sudeikis has received those messages, too, but he doesn't believe it's the series that viewers respond to as much as its underlying themes. "Yes, it's a show and yes, it's a character, but actually it's a vibe," he says. "It's an accidental philosophy that has been profound to see people pick up on."
When asked to describe Ted's philosophy, Sudeikis first conjures it up in Ted's words: "'Just say whatcha mean and mean whatcha say, and above all else, listen.' Some version of that." And in his own words? "Meet people where they're at. Empathy is a superpower."
The character of Ted Lasso was born in 2013 as a promotional video for NBC when it started airing games of the U.K.'s Premier League. Sudeikis, along with friends and fellow improv talents Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt, created an excited and excitable American football coach who'd been hired by the Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to coach that other kind of football. So much hilarity ensued that a second spot was commissioned.
But the character wasn't yet finished with Sudeikis. "My [then] partner, Olivia [Wilde], said to me when we were out to dinner — back when you could go out to dinner with people — 'You guys should think about doing that as a show.'" That evening, he riffed Ted's first-season arc.
"I had it in my head since 2015," adds Sudeikis, who's sporting a short pandemic beard and speaking at a rapid clip from his home in L.A.'s Silver Lake neighborhood. In a few weeks he'll head back to England to shoot season two; season three is already greenlit.
"That was before Trump came down the escalator, that was before Time's Up and MeToo, and yet I felt a pull, a calling towards a kind of sensibility that I hadn't seen in a while."
With Hunt and Kelly, Sudeikis roughed out a pilot and a number of episodes, and then he asked veteran television creator Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) to develop the series with them, based on the format and characters they'd created for the NBC Sports spots. "It's a little hokey to say," Sudeikis allows, "but it's the truth: the show knew what it wanted to be, and we're just catching up to it."
So, just what are all those fans thankful for?
For a start, having all their expectations upended. Settling in with the first episode, viewers meet Ted Lasso, a sweet, dopey innocent; Rebecca Welton, a smoldering mountain of smiling duplicity; Keeley Jones, trophy girlfriend to star player Jamie Tartt; Coach Beard, a quiet sage; and Roy Kent, the team captain so full of fury he bites his words rather than speaking them.
We've seen these characters many times before. After all, this isn't our first fish-out-of-water sitcom rodeo. But then, before our jaded eyes, the characters take unexpected, exciting turns. That's exactly what the creators wanted.
"When you're doing something akin to a sports movie, you have two choices," Lawrence says, speaking from his home office/guest bedroom. "We can either not do any tropes from any sports movie, which is really hard — there are so many: the diva that isn't a team player, the disgruntled veteran, the mean owner. Or we take the tropes and manipulate them in a good way.
"We let the viewers think, 'Oh I've seen this before,' and then we mess with them. That became — I don't want to say the trick of the show, but — something we all embraced: wanting people to think they knew everybody right away."
Ted may look and sound like a bumpkin, but he possesses a depth of kindness and optimism that proves revelatory to those around him. As he calmly says when Rebecca's ex mocks him, "Guys have underestimated me my whole life." At their peril.
Even the actors were amazed by some of the twists.
Waddingham's stiff upper-lipped, upper-crust Rebecca is hiding a world of heartbreak, which may not excuse her behavior, but certainly makes it believable. So much so that when Waddingham read one specific plotline, "I went over to Jason and I was like, 'Have you got cameras in my house? Because I've lived this.'"
Juno Temple, who plays Keeley with charm to spare, says, "At table reads, the surprises kept coming. Then when I watched the show, I didn't expect to cry. I was part of making it, and I still wept like a baby at the end of the last episode."
Keeley may appear to be nothing more than a beautiful, vaguely employed influencer — "famous for almost being famous," as she puts it — but Temple was thrilled to discover more. "She doesn't hold grudges. She's a very nonjudgmental creature; that's probably about her past and having been judged by a lot of people for what they think she is. That was a really cool character to get into."
Not only does each character have more depth than one might expect; their relationships with each other are just as complex. "That's a feat of engineering that the writers' room has come up with," Waddingham says. "Make no mistake, the stars of this show are the writers. The ebb and flow of how they mix it all together, and what they give to each character — with no one left out, [everyone] totally fleshed out, three-dimensional — is quite extraordinary." ...
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This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2021