Apple’s award-winning series Ted Lasso stars Jason Sudeikis as an American college football coach who decides to tackle the alien world of British soccer. The show could have easily fallen into tough-guy shtick, but instead, Ted Lasso surprised viewers by bringing a sunny, upbeat approach to its fish-out-of-water premise, as Coach Lasso is determined to see the best in everyone he meets despite the animosity he often faces. Viewers quickly warmed to the character as well as the rest of the cast of the show, which has been showered with various awards and nominations, including Emmys, Golden Globes, and even a Peabody.
Production is currently underway on Season 3 of Ted Lasso, and what has been most critical to the success of the series is its extraordinary ensemble, which in Season 2 included Hannah Waddingham, Jeremy Swift, Phil Dunster, Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Juno Temple, Toheeb Jimoh, and Sarah Niles. Season 3 will introduce actress Jodi Balfour (For All Mankind), who will recur as a charming venture capitalist.
Casting Director Theo Park has worked on all three seasons of Ted Lasso, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series in 2020. Her other projects include Master of None, Mike Myers‘ upcoming Netflix series The Pentaverate, and a little Amazon show coming this fall known as The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Park recently spoke to Below the Line on a Zoom call, and I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation below:
Below the Line: You’ve worked on some big ensemble shows like the upcoming Lord of the Rings series on Amazon, but Ted Lasso has a large ensemble of its own, so it must feel pretty big in its own right, no?
Theo Park: We’re in the middle of filming the third season. It’s a lot of work. We’ve got 100-odd cast members to fit into the jigsaw, and the blocks are quite short. So we’re all very busy.
BTL: Give me an idea of how many people you’re working with on this show.
Park: First, there are the creative producers — Jason Sudekis, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly. I work very closely with our UK line producer and also with the directors. We have different directors for each block and Jason gives the final nod.
BTL: What do you work from before you send out your briefs?
Park: We’ll get story outlines, which help me prepare for the new characters coming in. When the scripts land, we’ll very quickly dissect them and get the scenes we want to start auditioning. Sometimes, the script is quite late… a lot of people work on them.
BTL: Some of the cast was already locked in when you started, like Jason Sudekis and Brendan Hunt. Did they have ideas for the other leads?
Park: It was a quite collaborative process. I hope they don’t mind me saying this, but they were not all that familiar with many British actors. So a lot of the process was presenting them with our favorite ideas and hoping they liked them.
BTL: Someone like Brett Goldstein, who plays the growling, profane Roy Kent, was originally a writer on the series, correct?
Park: I think the producers, Bill Lawrence and Jeff Ingold, helped talk him into auditioning. I had seen a few people on tape and then Brett did a fantastic self-tape. He was fighting for the role along with other really great candidates — he just happened to be brilliant.
BTL: Tell us about Hannah Waddingham, who plays Rebecca, a divorcée who owns the football club. She has a background in musical theater, yes?
Park: Hannah came in quite late. We’d been discussing many actors. At one point, we were talking about film names, for example. We went through a lot of ideas — a few people passed, a few people taped — but we just weren’t quite getting it. Then Hannah nailed. It. She rounded out that part in a way I couldn’t imagine.
I’m not sure if we sent a brief out on Rebecca, maybe we just called a lot of people and made a lot of lists. We flew Hannah out to LA to meet with Jason. They had a sort of chemistry read and it worked.
Jason also met with Phil Dunster, who plays Jamie Tartt. He graduated from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, a very prestigious drama school, and had done a bit of theater. But Jamie is his breakout role.
The role was originally written for a South American whose name was Dani Rojas. But we also found Cristo Fernández, who was totally amazing, so we swapped out the roles and gave Dani to Cristo and Jamie to Phil.
BTL: A really wonderful character shows up midway through the first season, the team psychologist Sharon Fieldstone, played by Sarah Niles. Where did you find her?
Park: Everyone had different ideas about her, what sort of type she should be. The creatives and writers were aiming younger, but after a discussion with Jason, he was like, ‘No, no, no, she has to be a really established person in this field. So she has to feel a bit older.’ I said, ‘I’ve got just the person for you.’ And he loved her. He loved her. Yeah, I wanted it to be Sarah from day one.
I’m going to make a confession. I actually used to be an agent before I was a casting director. I was an agent for a few years and Sarah Niles was my client.
BTL: So you cheated a little bit?
Park: I cheated. I cheated, yeah. But I knew what she could do. A lot of people don’t know how talented she is. When I first saw her, when I first signed her, it was maybe 18 years ago. She was in a one-woman show about a refugee coming to the UK and trying to find residence. She played, like, 25 different roles, all in this one-hour play, with different accents and characterizations. She was just unbelievable. Mike Leigh was in the theater the same night I saw her, and he cast her in his next movie.
BTL: I love the depth and humanity of this series, and its empathy is both surprising and gratifying. And of course, the level of performers is really, really high for this kind of show.
Park: That’s nice of you to say, and yeah, they’re all fantastic. I love Nick Mohammed, I think he’s amazing.
BTL: His role as Nathan Shelley has gotten a lot more complex over the first two seasons. There is even conjecture online about why his hair is turning grey.
Park: Jason told me why his character goes grey, but I can’t remember. I mean, he’s very stressed.
BTL: Could you sense that the actors here were going to be asked to do more than just be in a sports show?
Park: The mantra was, ‘people who can do comedy are really talented in other areas as well.’ So they were able to do everything they were asked. That fed down from Jason, too. He wanted really grounded, really believable, really naturalistic actors. I hope we achieved that, but it meant that everybody we’ve chosen, even down to the smaller roles, had to be able to run the gamut and do everything.
Season 2 of Ted Lasso is currently streaming on Apple TV+.