He shoots! He scores! How Jason Sudeikis won our hearts with Ted Lasso
At a TV studio in West London in late April, Jason Sudeikis is gamely attempting to re-create the iconic 1972 Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold shot of Burt Reynolds for EW's photographer. Like Reynolds, Sudeikis is sporting a mustache, which he has grown to portray the titular role of an American football coach-turned-British Premier League soccer team manager on the beloved Apple TV+ comedy Ted Lasso. But that's where the similarities end. While Reynolds was lying naked on a bearskin rug, Sudeikis is stretched atop a wooden bench in Lasso's locker-room set. The Saturday Night Live veteran is also fully clothed. The revealing part happens when a stylist asks Sudeikis if he wants to see the shots the photographer has taken. It is an opportunity 99 people out of 100 in this situation would take. Not Sudeikis. "No, I trust you. Read the sign," says the star, 45, pointing to a piece of paper his character placed on the wall of the locker room in the very first episode of the show. A piece of paper that simply yet profoundly reads BELIEVE.
Ted Lasso is about many things. Sports. Romance. Tea. But the theme of self-belief is never far away. Despite knowing almost nothing about soccer, Sudeikis' optimistic character - who's far more capable than his golly-gee demeanor would make one, well, believe - is confident he can manage the struggling AFC Richmond, with help from his soccer-savvy assistant Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt). Richmond may have been downgraded a division at the end of season 1, but Lasso succeeded in molding his ragtag group of players into a real team while inspiring an array of characters to unlock their respective potentials. When Ted Lasso premiered last August, it struck an emotional chord with locked-down viewers desperate for positive vibes after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest in the wake of George Floyd's murder, and a tense election season dividing the country. "Apple dropped three episodes and social media went mental," says Game of Thrones alum Hannah Waddingham, 46, who plays Richmond club owner Rebecca. The show was swiftly renewed for a second season, which premieres July 23 and will be followed by just one more run of episodes. "That three-season arc is one that I see, know, and understand," says Sudeikis.
Is the actor serious about blowing the whistle on the show? What can fans expect from season 2? Where does Sudeikis end and his comedy creation begin? Put on those cleats and stretch those hamstrings. It's time to tackle Ted.
"I truly think if we had not taken mushrooms that day, Ted Lasso does not exist," says Brendan Hunt, 48. In 2000, Hunt was performing in Amsterdam with an improv troupe when Jason Sudeikis visited the city. The Kansas-raised Sudeikis had been making a name in the comedy scene in Chicago, where he had met Hunt, but decided to stick around in Amsterdam for a few months. Hunt had recently become a devout convert to the church of soccer. "This was pre-streaming, you couldn't just watch the Bulls or the Bears; soccer filled that hole," he says. "One time, Jason and I had the day off so - as you do on a Wednesday in Amsterdam - we took mushrooms. Somewhere on that journey he allowed me to word-vomit all these ideas about soccer."
Flash forward 13 years. Sudeikis was finishing his decade-long stint on SNL, first as a writer and then a writer-performer, when NBC approached him about starring in a commercial to promote the network's broadcast of Premiere League matches. The pitches from the advertising agency included one about a shouty, belligerent football coach who becomes manager of an English soccer team. Sudeikis liked the idea, but not the character. "I wanted to play something sillier," he says. To help flesh out the idea, the SNL star recruited writer-producer Joe Kelly (SNL, How I Met Your Mother) and Hunt, who played Coach Beard in the commercial opposite Sudeikis' Ted Lasso. ("A name plus a noun is funny," says Sudeikis on the origins of his alter ego.) The commercial, which aired in August 2013, was a viral hit, and another ad followed the next year. Sudeikis had such a good time playing Lasso that his then fiancée, actress Olivia Wilde, suggested he develop the character further. "Liv was like, 'You should do [a] TV show or a movie,'" he says. In early 2015 he spent a week in New York with Hunt and Kelly assembling the bones of a Ted Lasso TV show. "We beat out a pilot and then it sat dormant for a couple of years," recalls the actor, whose hands were full with other projects, guesting on Fox's The Last Man on Earth and exec-producing another sitcom, Detroiters, for Comedy Central. He and Wilde were also busy raising their children, Otis, who was born in 2014, and Daisy, who arrived in 2016.
In 2017, Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence reached out to Sudeikis. "I was chasing Jason to do a project," says Lawrence. "He said, 'I don't want to do your thing, but do you have any interest in doing this thing of mine?' My ego was hurt for a second. Then I dove in." Sudeikis and Lawrence made the pitching rounds, but only the executives at Apple bit. "We pitched it to at least four places and three of them said it wasn't their cup of tea," says Sudeikis. (Incidentally, the actor, unlike his character, quite likes tea. "With enough milk and sugar, I'll drink piss," Sudeikis says. "Especially if it's caffeinated.")
In addition to Lawrence, Sudeikis, Hunt, and Kelly, the season 1 writers' room included a couple of Brits: Phoebe Walsh (who would play Beard's chess-loving love interest on the show) and Brett Goldstein. "For British stuff, everyone would turn their heads towards us," says Goldstein. "But Brendan knows all the football." Goldstein was also cast as Richmond captain Roy Kent, who embarks on a relationship with Juno Temple's social influencer-turned-branding consultant Keeley Jones. Still, Sudeikis - who has rewritten scenes on the hoof, as the English say - wears the most hats of all. "He's not just an actor, he's a writer-producer, etcetera," says Lawrence. "He's almost spread too thin, because the guy's still got to act, but there's not a department he doesn't put his hand in."
Case in point: Sudeikis used classic Ted Lasso-style tactics to get a reluctant Waddingham, a musical-theater veteran, to perform Frozen's ballad "Let It Go" during an episode where Rebecca takes part in a cathartic night of karaoke. "I went to Jason and said, 'I've avoided singing this song since it came out, because it's a beast,'" she says. "He's stroking the 'tache, and he goes, 'Okay, you find me a song that's better for your character.' I was like, 'Fine, I will!' Unfortunately, he knows exactly what he's doing and had chosen the right song. I had to just get on with it."
Juno Temple first knew that Ted Lasso was winning over viewers when friends and family started talking to her about the burgeoning romance between Keeley and Roy. "I've got two younger brothers, and my brothers' friends are watching the show," says Temple, 32. "They're enjoying it and I'm not having to be embarrassed about playing a naked werewolf," adds the actress, who portrayed literally that in the 2012 film Jack & Diane.
Popularity aside, Sudeikis is conflicted about his show having seemingly benefited from premiering during the pandemic. "I would trade that for kids being able to go to school," he says. "But it's been profound. Not a day goes by when I don't receive a message from someone talking about how the show affected them."
The praise hasn't been just anecdotal. The show has already garnered its share of trophies, with Sudeikis winning both a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for his portrayal of Lasso. The actor caused a storm in a teacup by wearing a tie-dyed hoodie when he remotely accepted the former, and then a "My Body My Choice" sweater when he appeared (again, virtually) on the SAGs. Turns out Sudeikis is not a fan of acting competition. "It got lost in people talking about my f---ing hoodie, but I reject the notion of winning something called a 'Best Actor' trophy," he says. "It's only a reflection of who I get to act with."
That is a very Ted Lasso opinion to hold. As the friendly, chatty, teamwork-promoting Sudeikis cracks open a Stella and sits for an interview in his unadorned trailer at the end of the day, it is clear that the actor and his creation have much in common. Yes, Sudeikis is a notch or two quieter than Lasso and more given to gnomic philosophical pronouncements ("It's all metaphors!"), but it is often easy to imagine you're talking to the Richmond manager rather than the man who plays him. Sudeikis, though, is wary of comparing himself to the almost saintly Ted. "I used to be like, 'Oh, it's me on a few beers.' I don't know, man - it's tough to live up to," he says, seemingly amazed that the character has become well-known enough that this could be a problem.
The public's perception that Sudeikis and Lasso are essentially the same person was reinforced at the end of last year. On the show, Lasso agrees to move from America to London because his wife, Michelle (Andrea Anders), with whom he has a young son named Henry (Gus Turner), has asked him to give her some space. In November 2020, news broke that Sudeikis and Wilde had split. Hunt says the idea of Lasso having problems at home predates the real-life events - the story line was conceived back in that original 2015 session with Kelly and Sudeikis, confirming that this is a case of life imitating art, rather than the other way around. Asked about what it was like to play scenes that have such strong echoes of his personal life, Sudeikis says it was "inconsequential to anything going on with me. One has nothing to do with the other," and then falls pointedly silent.
Sudeikis is much more forthcoming when he talks about his kids, at one point expressing genuine concern that he has now had a mustache for so long, his 4-year-old daughter might not know who he is without it. "She'll have to be in the bathroom when I shave this puppy off, because she won't recognize me otherwise."
Sudeikis also offers a glimmer of hope that he might continue the show after Apple inevitably backs the money truck up to his door. "It's called the iMoney truck," the actor says with a laugh. "I'm glad they are willing to pay for those three seasons. As far as what happens after that, who knows? I don't."
EW can exclusively reveal that season 2 of Ted Lasso will feature the introduction of Yoda, and the revelation that Darth Vader is Ted's father. Okay, that's not true. But Sudeikis does insist that the season is the Empire Strikes Back of the show. "People go into their caves and face their s---," he discloses. Season 2 will be a showcase for actor Nick Mohammed, whose character Nathan "Nate the Great" Shelley was promoted from team kit man to assistant coach in season 1. New cast members include Sarah Niles (I May Destroy You) as a sports psychologist named Sharon. Word is, the character will address the personal issues that led Ted to suffer a panic attack last season when he was faced with the prospect of signing divorce papers. "I think Ted surprises her," teases Niles, 44. "And she may surprise Ted."
Will TV viewers continue to be enamored with Ted Lasso now that (knock on wood) the worst of the pandemic is behind us? "I don't worry about any of it," Sudeikis says. "I didn't worry about it last [time]. Create, destroy. Create, destroy. That's one thing you learn through improv, and it's one thing you learn through SNL. As long as we know what the show is, and know why it is what it is, that's all that I could offer anybody."
Jason Sudeikis photographed exclusively for EW on April 29, 2021 in London. Styling: Tilly Harding; Grooming: Nicky Austin; Prop Styling: Josh Stovell. Look 1 (plaid jacket): Sweater: Polo Ralph Lauren; pants: Bellstaff; jacket: Burberry. Look 2 (striped sweater): Sweater: Paul Smith; pants: Bellstaff; shoes: Nike; hat: Kangol. Look 3 (brown sweater with tea cup): Sweater: Ralph Lauren Purple Label; cardigan: Tom Ford; pants: Boss. Look 4 (locker room): Shirt: Hamilton & Hare; pants: Bellstaff; jacket: Tom Ford; shoes: Nike.
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