The Richmond football team — or soccer as it’s known in the States — that we’ve come to cheer on in the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso kicked its way into season 2 in July 2021. The ragtag team, led by Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard and Jason Sudeikis as Lasso and who also developed the hit series along with Bill Lawrence and Joe Kelly, seems to be doing much better on the field in their sophomore year. Their improved performance is despite owner Rebecca Welton’s (Hannah Waddingham) initial intentions to hire Lasso, an American football coach from Kansas City, to sabotage the success of the London-based footballers. Ted Lasso straddles both sides of the pond, having American Sudeikis at the heart of the story.
Casting the Emmy-nominated comedy trickles down from Sudeikis and Hunt. They gave Casting Director Theo Park a clear directive from the beginning about what personality traits each character should embody, along with backstories to flesh them out. Park brought her earlier experience of casting-to-type, namely for features such as Paddington and The Hustle and for television series such as Vanity Fair and Calibre.
In the back of her mind, Park always employed the actors who exemplified the “Ted Lasso Effect.” It’s a motto from the show that has taken on a life of its own, with a sincerity and willingness to get the job done. Park personally exhibited those qualities when fulfilling each role. Some of the requirements for the roles have mixed in naivete with a healthy dash of arrogance, but fans of the show can attest to loving them nonetheless. The actors had to be talented but not too much that they overpower the clever writing. Like a team, they had to be able to play well together.
Below The Line spoke with Park via Zoom from London, which is where the series is headquartered. She filled us in on the breakdowns for each character, and how each actor perfectly suited their role, even changing the minds of the creators to reevaluate their initial ideas. For Season Two, Park chose the newest cast member Sarah Niles as sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, who ticked all the boxes in a very specific casting call.
Below The Line: Take me back to the beginning to your initial directive in casting the series.
Theo Park: The initial directive and it stayed the same, is we just had to get really decent actors with range who aren’t doing too much because the writing is clever enough and funny enough to do its thing. They also had to work well in an ensemble.
BTL: Did you work closely with the creators, Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, on each casting?
Park: Yes, very closely, especially with Jason. He was really clear about what he wanted for each character and there was proper development. He’d been really thinking about people for each and every character and where they’re going [in the series] as well in the arc of the character. We worked closely with him to try and figure out who those people would be.
BTL: Can you describe the breakdowns for each specific character?
Park: Jason and Brendan were already on board and everybody else I had to cast. For Rebecca, he had a really clear idea that she was older in her forties and had come from money but had sort of turned away from money to try and make it herself. Maybe she was working as a waitress at a private members bar and then met this fantastic man and had this fantastic love affair. There were so many layers to her that we could fulfill and Hannah just completely embodied. Hannah did an amazing tape here in London with us and then we flew her out to L.A. to meet Jason and read opposite him. I think in the room he was, “Ah yeah you got the part.”
BTL: What were the qualifications for casting Roy Kent?
Park: For Roy, we saw a whole load of people, and Brett Goldstein was in L.A. in the writer’s room. Bill Lawrence said we’re really interested in Brett for the role and I was like, “Really?” Because I’ll be honest, I think he’s a great actor, but I wasn’t sure he had it in him to play Roy Kent, because he’s such a lovely, smiley, happy, sweet man. [laughs] And Roy Kent is such a curmudgeonly old asshole. He put his name in the hat and did a really good self-tape and he got the part. And how fantastic is he? He doesn’t really speak that way [in that low, gruff voice]. Maybe he’s got lots of lozenges in his pockets.
BTL: Did you do a chemistry test with Brett and Juno Temple, who plays his girlfriend Keeley Jones?
Park: No, and it’s really fortunate that they work so well together. Juno didn’t audition. We just offered her the part because Jason knew her and talked her through the role. I think he saw her openness. I mean she’s a fantastic actress, totally brilliant. Her range is exceptional but I think it’s her warmth that really fits Keeley. She’s putting on that accent. She’s doing it a bit like me, playing her Essex. But Juno is very well-spoken RP normally, which is “received pronunciation,” the Queen’s English. Juno is probably pretty posh in real life, but she’s playing it more like me. [laughs] We just made a straight offer to her, and I’m so thrilled that she said “yes.” She and Anthony Head were the only people who didn’t audition.
BTL: Tell me about casting Nick Mohammed as Nathan Shelley, the unassuming equipment manager?
Park: He originally taped for Higgins, the director of communications. For every part, even though sometimes there’s a clear directive, I do try and mix it up and bring a variety in because you just never know. For Higgins, I saw a dozen really great people who all came in differently but of course, Jeremy Swifts totally nailed it. They loved Nick and asked him to tape for Nate, but he said, “I think I’m gonna be too busy, because I’ll be editing my show Intelligence, and I’ll be exhausted going from one studio to the other so let’s forget it.” And then we begged him to do a tape, because he was perfect for Nate. He was filming Intelligence so he didn’t really have time to do a full audition so he did a tiny little self tape and it was totally perfect in every way, mic drop.
BTL: There is a character who exemplifies the stereotypical “dumb blonde” in a male character. Talk about casting the role of Jamie Tartt.
Park: How perfect is Phil Dunster? He’s so funny as well and really good at playing a bit of an asshole. It’s like he relishes it. He’s not scared of playing a total idiot. He’s brilliant. Originally the character was written as a South American player so we switched those roles up to accommodate the actors that we met. Nobody was quite as funny as Phil Dunster just playing a Brit, and then in that search for the South American, we found this fantastic, exuberant, puppy dog, gorgeous ex-pro Mexican footballer Cristo Fernandez. Then they thought, well we’ve got to give him a part, and then they rewrote another part for him. So Phil Dunster and Cristo Fernandez changed the writer’s perception of two roles so they wrote the roles around them.
BTL: What casting choice did you fight for?
Park: I did fight quite hard for Phil Dunster because we went on this wild goose chase trying to find a South American to play Tartt’s arrogance but I kept saying, “Everybody, no one is as funny as Phil.” Everyone agreed in the end.
BTL: Did anybody have to know anything about the sport of football?
Park: [laughs] I just about know the off-side rules. The footballers had to be proper, really good footballers so they all went out and showed us their skills in video tests where we could see them kicking balls. Cristo just knocked it out of the park. He was exceptional. The real football genius in the cast is Brendan. He knows everything about football, everything. Jason doesn’t know as much!
BTL: In Season Two, footballer Sam Obisanya, played by Toheeb Jimoh, is much more featured.
Park: We probably saw a dozen people, but there’s something about his aura. He is just gorgeous in every way, inside and out. I think for the role of Sam, we definitely wanted a bright-eyed optimism almost on a par with Ted. There are some grumpy bastards on the team but not Sam. Toheeb just came in, smiled and lit up the room, and it had to be him. [SPOILER ALERT] In casting him, we didn’t know anything about his future romance in the series. Maybe Jason did, but he didn’t tell me.
BTL: How far in advance do you know about the scripts?
Park: We’re casting as we shoot, and sometimes, it’s right up to the wire where I’m waiting for a script, and it’s shooting in two weeks’ time. It’s the truth, so it keeps me on my toes. By Season Two, I’d got into a rhythm, and I knew that I had to do it really quickly and just get it cast. I’ve read it all so I know what’s coming but I’m like a proper punter waiting each week for the next episode.
BTL: Speaking of Season Two, talk about casting Sarah Niles as Dr. Sharon Fieldstone.
Park: It was really important with that role that she had a real sense of security and almost completely unflappable. That’s what unnerved Ted, and so we had seen a really fantastic group of actors to play that role. There was something about Sarah that was so steely that made it hands down it had to be her.
BTL: Can you describe the “Ted Lasso Effect,” and how it might affect everyone working on the show?
Park: He just turns everyone towards him rather than against him. He’s such a special human. It’s just being part of a team where everybody cares. I think the Ted Lasso Effect ripples down through all departments. We do really care about it and making it good and being nice to each other.
BTL: Would you say this is the most joyous job you’ve ever had?
Park: I mean, every job has its joys but there is something so special about the finished product. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the show. People are talking about, “I’m gonna be more like Ted and just change my life.” It’s a life-changing show which doesn’t happen a lot. I will say some of my British friends are telling me some of the glitches when it comes to the football stuff but I don’t think it really matters. You’re not watching Ted Lasso for the football facts. You’re watching it for the heart.
You can watch all of Season 1 and most of Season 2 of Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. The “Ted Lasso Effect” will continue into Season Three, which begins casting at the end of 2021, to start shooting January through June 2022.
All pictures courtesy Apple.