This year marks the third consecutive Emmy nomination for Ted Lasso production designer Paul Cripps, but he’s in different company this time around. Episode six of season three, Sunflowers, takes the team to Amsterdam and clocks in at one hour and three minutes, moving Cripps from the comedy-centric world of half-hour television to the hourlong category, where he now competes with a set of (mostly) more serious dramas.
Below the Line spoke to Cripps about the limitations of time and space involved in bringing nearly all of the cast to another country to film this memorable episode, and how sets were designed to incorporate everyone and bring the necessary elements together. He spoke fondly of designing the houseboat and the research involved to make it feel authentically Dutch.
Below The Line: Congratulations on your third Emmy nomination. That’s a very exciting accomplishment.
Paul Cripps: Yeah, thank you. It was a little bit unexpected again this time because we’re in a different category this year. So it’s not something I expected, to be quite honest.
BTL: How does it feel to be competing in that different category, against some stacked competition: The Last of Us, Wednesday, The White Lotus, Poker Face, and Succession? Quite a group.
Cripps: It’s really interesting, the different shows. Wow, I mean, you’re up against Succession. It is the biggest show this year, apart from Ted, I suppose. Two shows that are ending. It’s really interesting. I haven’t seen Wednesday, but I know quite a few people who worked on it, so I know it’s quite a big show. I’ve seen the first episode of The Last of Us and it looks amazing so far, but yeah, it’s just a different category to be in, it’s quite a challenge. I was really surprised to be one of the nominees. I was very proud, but it was a lovely surprise to hear.
BTL: The episode that you’re nominated for is also quite a different installment of Ted Lasso than we’re used to. What was it like to go on this really major field trip?
Cripps: It was really enjoyable. They’d always decided to do an episode based around Amsterdam, I think mainly because that’s where they came up with the idea for Ted Lasso originally. Both Brendan and Jason were working at an improv store in Amsterdam when they had this idea originally, how many ever years ago it was. So I think they wanted to make that kind of pilgrimage back to Amsterdam to acknowledge that in a kind of unwritten way. The idea that it was it was a friendly match arranged prior to all the events of Zava arriving and then leaving was just an interesting way to spin that into the story. I really enjoyed going to shoot in Amsterdam. We had a lovely Dutch crew and it was just a really enjoyable episode to shoot.
BTL: What challenges did it present?
Cripps: There were quite a few challenges. For various reasons of people’s availability and stuff, we couldn’t take the whole team, and we couldn’t take Keeley, Juno. There was an element of having to shoot quite a lot of stuff in Amsterdam but also create interiors in London for the main part of the football team. Some of the bus shots we shot both in Amsterdam and in London, and the hotel lobby was built in London.
We shot a lot of the interiors, like hotel rooms, in London so that we could just get the most out of shooting the exteriors in Amsterdam and a few key interiors there. With others, like the house boat set, the exterior was in Amsterdam and the interior was in London, but that was challenging to make. Everything gelled together in the episode and I thought it worked really well in the end, and the way that the cast and the crew embraced it was really great.
BTL: What about the club with Higgins?
Cripps: The club with Higgins was actually in Amsterdam. We were going to shoot in a real jazz club in the red light district, but it just proved to be too small, so we used a bar that had been built into a TV studio for another show and then we enhanced that to make it a jazz club. So it was shot in Amsterdam, but it was actually shot in a studio environment. I felt we gave it the feel of a backstreet Amsterdam jazz club. It was based on a real one called Cafe Alto, and we shot the exterior of that. But the real one wasn’t a real bar.
BTL: Did you have any involvement in the storyline involving Roy and Jamie, who are sort of just wandering around outside the entire time?
Cripps: No, that was all pretty set in the script. They were going to have an adventure on their own and learn a bit more about their own past and also their own relationships with their father and grandfather. That was all pretty set in stone, apart from, obviously, the bit where Roy is learning to ride the bike with Jamie. That was the last thing we shot. It was shot very late at night on the last night, and I was there because I’d done all my work, so I was just sitting there watching it.
It was just so enjoyable to watch, because they just did take after take of learning to ride a bike and different doing different versions and falling off, and it was just hilarious. We were all trying not to laugh off-camera as they were doing it. But they did multiple passes of learning to ride the bike and then putting Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head at the end was just a classic touch, really. But it was great. We were all quite tired by the end because it was quite a late night. It was just a really lovely way to finish.
BTL: Do you consider this to be the most ambitious episode of the show that you’ve worked on?
Cripps: Yeah, I guess so, in that it was a combination of quite a lot of stuff to get it all working within the limitations of who was where and shooting in two different cities to get a cohesive story going. And I think it was also a very pivotal episode in the series, because it had a turning point for Hannah and Rebecca’s character in the series, and also for Jason in terms of him twigging the secret of how to make Richmond more successful. So it was I think it was important because it was quite a pivotal moment in the series and that meant it was quite important to us all to get it right.
It was one of the scripts that I liked the most because it had so many elements to it, but everything was just working so nicely within it. There were some big scenes like the pillow fight scene, which was really a big thing to film with all the guys. But they had such a great time doing that and we had special effects blowing feathers in the air and all this kind of stuff. We really didn’t have enough time to shoot that scene, so they did a great job pulling that together as well.
BTL: That American restaurant that Ted visits, is that a real place or based on a real place?
Cripps: I think it’s probably based on theme restaurants that Brendan and Jason have visited before. Maybe there is one in Amsterdam, but we shot the restaurant in London. It’s actually a sports bar in a hotel near Heathrow Airport, and it does have a Trans Am coming through the wall and a pool table, but we obviously enhanced it. We added a lot of stuff in order to get the idea of the number three, the power of triangles, so it was enhanced a great deal, but it is a real space and it is a real bar in a hotel.
It’s actually built in the same hotel where we built the lobby. We built the lobby in a big conference room so that we could get the size and get the feathers, because we’d run out of space in our studio, basically. So we were using other spaces to enhance our capabilities. We went through a number of ideas about what the theme of the restaurant should be and should it have a character, but it was always the idea that it was Yankee Doodle’s. It was very much that fake American bar. It’s the same as the fake British pub you get some places, I suppose, but it’s a thing you experience whenever you go abroad, and I just thought it was a really interesting idea to build in.
BTL: Is there a set that you consider to be your greatest accomplishment from the show?
Cripps: I think the houseboat set was really important to me. It was my favorite set for the whole of series three, and just something I really wanted to get right. Brendan was very keen on this feeling of gezellig. I can’t say it properly, of course, either, but it’s a feeling of warmth and a warm hug. It had to have that feel within it as well as they were talking about it. But I also wanted it to be quite stylish and give a real feeling of the character of Matteo. When we get there, he’s a bit of a mystery, but there are clues about him in the layout of the of the houseboat, in some of the decoration, and you can see elements that you see later in episode twelve.
It was also quite important that I made it feel real to the houseboat that we saw on the outside, so I visited a lot of houseboats in Amsterdam to try and get references, and they’re all very different. Some of them are very super stylish, so we wanted it to be stylish, but slightly vintage and a warm feel. Kate Goodman, my set decorator, did a lovely job of bringing elements in for that. And I just think everybody really enjoyed shooting those scenes. There was quite a good feeling going on when we’re in that houseboat. And I think Hannah really enjoyed those scenes.
BTL: How has working on this show been different from all the other TV work you’ve done in the past?
Cripps: I would say mainly because of the reaction of people who watch it. I’ve been involved in other shows that have fandoms, all slightly cult shows, but nothing to the extent of Ted Lasso. After the first series came out, it was such a big thing. I read the script, the original script, and I felt there was something really, really good there, but not quite the effect that it had.
It was quite big in Britain, but in America, it seems on a completely different level of interest and care and love. But it is unusual that my neighbors know the show I’m working on. They don’t normally know that I work on a show, and now they know I work on Ted Lasso. They’re always constantly asking me about it, but also just people I talk to randomly through the job, or who interact with me through my Instagram or whatever, it’s just incredible, the effect it’s had.
It has become quite a unique show in the history of stuff I’ve done. It’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful feeling. It really is. The love for the show is amazing. Even the people who don’t really like it have heard of it and know a lot about it. It’s quite a strange thing. It’s become a big thing in my life for three years, and now it’s finished, but it’s still ongoing because of the Emmy element as well. It’s almost like the show that keeps on giving, and we’ll see how long that lasts.
Ted Lasso season three is now streaming on Apple TV+.