Jason Sudeikis interview: Ted Lasso star on making a show that is too good for this cruel world
Ted Lasso actor Jason Sudeikis speaks to Hindustan Times about creating a show that might be too pure for this cynical world.Updated: Aug 13, 2020 21:18 IST
Jason Sudeikis is concerned if his new show, Ted Lasso, might be too good for this cruel world. Due out on Apple TV+ on Friday, the comedy drama is about an endlessly chipper American football coach who, much to everyone’s surprise (including his), is hired to manage a middling Premiere League club in the UK.
“We are in a very cynical point in our lives — what is good, what is bad, what is true, what is false is unfortunately all in the eyes of the beholder, and whatever website or app they’re looking at,” Sudeikis told Hindustan Times in a virtual interaction. “And that,” he said, “was one of the themes (of the show) — look a little further in people. Every person fights a battle. We’re all in a comedy and a tragedy and a drama — Mark Twain said that a lot better than I just did. People will think that about this show, too, to a certain degree, with everything that Bill’s done and everything that I’ve done, and wouldn’t exist without the combination of the two of us.”
By Bill, Sudeikis was referring to Bill Lawrence, who co-created the show along with the actor, and is best known for the sitcom Scrubs. Lawrence said that he’d be lying if he ignored the subtext of the show, that the United States is going through a deeply cynical period. “I find myself being immediately suspicious of anybody who chooses politics as a career,” he said. But one of the things that drew him to the show was Sudeikis’ insistence that Ted Lasso be ‘hopeful and optimistic’.
“He is an eternal optimist,” Sudeikis said, “but he’s also quite out of his depth, and he’s trying, and there’s charm in that.” The actor, best known for hit comedy films such as Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers, credited his many years working on Saturday Night Live for having prepared him to perform even when he, like Lasso, found himself outside his comfort zone. “My background was improvisation, so right of the bat I was challenged and saddled with the responsibility of creating something out of nothing,” he said. “But working in a place like SNL, the writers would write something on Tuesday and they’d whisper in your ear on Wednesday, 20 minutes before you’re about to read for (producer) Lorne Michaels or some Oscar winner or Olympic athlete and just wing it.”
It taught him trust, he said. “I believe people will pick each other up, if you’re slipping. It’s about being OK about letting other people carry the burden with you and not being like you have to do it all on your own.” And this is the approach he brought to playing Lasso, without having much knowledge about football (or soccer, as he calls it). He said that he has a better understanding of the sport now, having made a show about it, and having played a lot of FIFA during the coronavirus lockdown.
But Sudeikis said that he was first introduced to football when he was working in Amsterdam, and learned to love the sport in a ‘more grown up way’ when he was brought on board to appear in commercials for the English Premiere League, targeted at US audiences. It was for those commercials that Ted Lasso, the character, was created.
NBC, the network that aired the EPL in the US, “wanted a more harsher character — a militant yeller and a screamer,” Sudeikis said. But the challenge, Lawrence noted, is always to make characters more ‘three-dimensional’. “Jason talked about not only Ted’s optimism, curiosity but also the pathos in his heart — he’s not just eternally rose-coloured glasses; the guy’s got heartbreak and strife. I knew if I didn’t screw this up, Jason’s vision was very clean and had a great chance of working.”
And it was only because of the popularity of those commercials that Ted Lasso struck a chord with audiences. “Just like anything that carries on — a sequel of a film, or a second season of a programme, or the second album of an artist or band you like — it takes people to responding to it for the people who pay for these things to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll pay for another one’,” Sudeikis said.
The show retains many of the same elements that fans liked about Lasso in the commercials, but transforms him into a well-rounded character whose emotional journey viewers can invest in — someone whose inherent optimism could perhaps rub off on them. “Maybe people could use some of that,” Lawrence said.