It’s almost hard to imagine Jason Sudeikis starring in “Ted Lasso” next to any other ensemble of actors. From Hannah Waddingham‘s brilliant portrayal of the fictional AFC Richmond football club owner Rebecca Welton to Juno Temple‘s scene-stealing Keely Jones or Nick Mohammad as the smarter than he looks kit man (that’s an equipment manager for us Yanks), the Apple TV+ series is something of a casting marvel. But, surprisingly, the role of Rebecca’s bumbling no 2., Leslie Higgins, almost went to someone other than the spot on Jeremy Swift. Take a moment and imagine that role played by none other than Brett Goldstein. Yes, the Brett Goldstein who plays the cantankerous veteran midfielder Roy Kent.
A multi-talented comedian, actor, and, most recently, part-time podcast host, Goldstein was initially hired by “Lasso” co-creator Bill Lawrence as a member of the program’s writing staff. The pair initially met, however, on a failed pilot that Goldstein starred in. When the series began its casting process Lawrence had an idea, why not have Goldstein play the “bumbling, fumbling, assistant guy, Higgins”?
Goldstein recalls saying, “‘I don’t think I’m great as Higgins, but I also get why you thought of me for that, because I’ve played lots of sort of bumbling nice guy types.’ And anyway, when Jeremy Swift appeared on his audition take, he had the part of Higgins before he finished saying his whole set. He was so perfect for it. It was like, ‘Oh, well, that’s Higgins!’ And so then that was gone. And it was fine, I was good with being a writer.”
That being said, the “Soulmates” co-creator began to think that Roy might be the role for him.
“No one is thinking of me for Roy because they think of me as the bumbling Englishman. You know, I’m softly spoken and whatever. I’m not known for doing tough guy, angry types and so I knew no one was thinking of it and I didn’t want to embarrass anyone or make it awkward,” Goldstein recalls. “And so on my last day, when we finished in the writers’ room, the night before I recorded a self-tape and I did five scenes from the script. And I sent an E-mail when I left that said I had a good time. I said ‘I’ve been thinking for a while now that I think I get Roy and I think I could play Roy, but I also appreciate that no one’s been thinking of me. I’ve done these tapes for you. If this tape is in any way embarrassing or you feel awkward or uncomfortable, anything like that, pretend you never got this email and I will never ask about it.’ And that’s what I said. And then at three in the morning, I got an email that said, ‘This is fucking great.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa bloody hell!’ And that’s what happened.
During our conversation in April, “Ted Lasso” was still in production. It has since wrapped. Topics include Goldstein’s responsibility as one of just two U.K. writers on the series and keeping season two secret.
The Playlist: Are you surprised at the reaction to the show?
Brett Goldstein: Completely surprised. And I remember talking with Jason at the end of shooting, I think we said something like, “Well, maybe 10 people will watch it, and that’ll be nice.” And I also think because it’s such a mix of tones, and the British and American and the different kinds of comedy and there’s emotional stuff and that it felt quite risky. So, you didn’t know if it was actually going to work or connect for people. But the whole thing is, the fact that anyone watches it is amazing. And then the fact that anyone likes it is amazing. And the fact that it keeps getting bigger and bigger, it’s just incredible. It’s like winning the lottery. I don’t know. It’s like a magic trick. I think it surprised all of us, and it’s amazing.
Does it feel as popular in the UK, as it does in the US? Or do you feel it’s more of a US thing, so far?
I think it’s growing here now. I think it was definitely more in America. I hate to remind you of the pandemic, but we’ve been in lockdown, and I’ve been in my attic most of the time. So, I don’t know what it’s like outside. But then, I’ve noticed the more I go out now, I’m getting more and more messages and more and more people are saying, “I’ve seen the show, I love it.” So, I think it’s finally taking off here, as well.
Can you talk about how you were approached as a writer first?
So, I’d worked with [co-creator] Bill Lawrence before as an actor on a pilot a few years before and we’ve stayed friends. And he knew I was a writer, and he literally called me up and just said, “There’s this ‘Ted Lasso’ thing. I think you’d be perfect for it. Come and write on it, if you’re interested.” And I knew the original sketches because I’m a Tottenham fan. And that’s where Ted Lasso started out, as a Tottenham coach and, you know, I liked it. I could see the potential in it. And then I had to meet with Jason to see if we would get on. And so Jason and I did a FaceTime at like one in the morning my time. I sort of expected it to be like 20 minutes and it was an hour and a half. And at one point we got cut off and it was like three in the morning. He called me back and I was like, “Oh, this is great.” And then luckily he said yes. And then I was suddenly on a plane to LA to join this quite incredible group of people. It’s amazing. I love all of them. They’re all really, really brilliant.
Were you the only UK writer?
There was one more. Yeah, there’s a brilliant writer named Phoebe Walsh who joined us about six weeks in, who was a friend of mine who I knew from comedy in the UK, and yeah, me and Phoebe were the English people. And there was sort of a kind of running joke that because Phoebe wasn’t there at the beginning, it was like, when Phoebe gets there she’s going to tell everyone that everything I’ve said about the UK is a lie.
I was going to ask about that. Did you feel you had a big responsibility to make sure that it was as accurate as possible?
Yes. Completely. Because I also know that British people are mean. There’s a lot of things you have to get right. And there were a couple of things in season one, like the word “tie,” which in England is “draw.” We say “draw” and Americans would say “tie.” And that was a nightmare we had. But I think initially it was like, “Listen, guys, this is a show for the world for America, not for the UK. And they will understand “tie” more than “draw.”‘ And I was like, “So, then we’re going to sound stupid.” But now like all of these things have sort of become parts of the show and I can’t say anything, but this is something we directly address in the show. So, all of these things kind of work out in the end, but yes I’ve felt a big responsibility.
When you came into the writer’s room had the general idea of the show already been established or was just the idea like Ted is hired to run a football club in the UK part of it?
No, when I started at the beginning, the pilot had been written by Joe Kelly, Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Lawrence. So the pilot existed, and Jason had a very clear idea of what changed from the sketch to the show. To put it as simply as possible is that Ted Lasso is not an ignorant idiot. He is ignorant. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know about football, but he’s curious, not judgemental. And he’s open and he’s happy to learn. He isn’t there to initially go in just shouting. He’s there to meet people, learn who they are, and own that stuff. So. that was I think quite clear for Jason from the top. But then in terms of the season arc and all the things that happen with the characters? It’s always kind of hard to describe it, [it was] like a funnel. Like everyone collectively putting in all these ideas and all these thoughts, all these things, and it gets more and more streamlined until you have this big whiteboard with all the story and all the characters. And, you know, we’ve spent weeks on the characters. I think we did two weeks before we did any story where we’re literally just talking about who are these guys and what are their backgrounds? What are they like, why are they, how are they, how is each character with each character? Like, how do they feel about each other and all that stuff. We had a pretty kind of rich world before we started then doing stories and the lot, but the final say is Jason.
Obviously, Roy was a character that must’ve been in the pilot already. How did you end up playing him?
No, this was really mad. Actually, I think you won’t believe this, it doesn’t make any sense, but initially because Bill knew me as an actor before he knew me as a writer. But Bill had said, “You know, there’s this British character that I reckon you’d probably be good for. The character is Higgins. He was like this sort of bumbling, fumbling, assistant guy, Higgins. Maybe you’d be good for that. Right?” And so it wasn’t Roy. “I don’t think I’m great as Higgins, but I also get why you thought of me for that, because I’ve played lots of sort of bumbling nice guy types.” And anyway, when Jeremy Swift appeared on his audition take, he had the part of Higgins before he finished saying his whole set. He was so perfect for it. It was like, “Oh, well, that’s Higgins!” And so then that was gone. And it was fine, I was good with being a writer. But then as we were working on it, and I don’t think I know the moment, but I started to think, “I really, really, really get Roy. I really get him. I really understand this part. I love this character. I can see it. I can fully imagine all of it, but I also know no one is thinking of me for Roy because they think of me as the bumbling Englishman. You know, I’m softly spoken and whatever. I’m not known for doing tough guy, angry types and so I knew no one was thinking of it and I didn’t want to embarrass anyone or make it awkward.” And so on my last day, when we finished in the writers’ room, the night before I recorded a self-tape and I did five scenes from the script. And I sent an E-mail when I left that said I had a good time. I said “I’ve been thinking for a while now that I think I get Roy and I think I could play Roy, but I also appreciate that no one’s been thinking of me. I’ve done these tapes for you. If this tape is in any way embarrassing or you feel awkward or uncomfortable, anything like that, pretend you never got this email and I will never ask about it.” And that’s what I said. And then at three in the morning, I got an email that said, “This is fucking great.” And I was like, “Whoa bloody hell!” And that’s what happened.
Recreationally, do you play football?
I love football. I’m a huge football fan, but no, I have very few football skills. So there were a lot of things that were not ideal for this. It’s like, “Can you play football?” “Not really.” “But I think I can take this part.” But fortunately, Roy’s knee is f**ked. But there was kind of this thing [where] the show is not really about football, but the more we got into the making of it, the more and more it became a little about football. And then it was like, “Ah, f**k I’m going to have to get better at football.”
When you auditioned, the season had already been written out. Were all the scripts already done? Did you feel like you could add anything, I guess, to Roy after you were cast as the character?
Well, truthfully, I think it changed for everyone because there’s a thing. I don’t know if you’ve talked about this, but I experienced it for the first time, which is, as a whole cast, and I do take, you know, ignoring myself, I think it’s an amazing cast. And I think there’s a certain kind of, again, like, like winning the lottery, where you go here are these amazing actors, everyone in it is amazing. And also everyone in it has chemistry with each other. And that’s the lottery part where you go. You can cast good people, but you don’t know that the mix will work. I remember it happening and it was at the table read for episode four where you let everyone now gets their character. And so what happens is you start changing the way you’re writing it, because you’re now writing for that actor, rather than that character, you know what I mean? It becomes a sort of symbiosis of the two. A particularly good example of it is Juno [Temple] as Keeley. I think Keeley is the character that changed the most in the writing because Juno is so specifically funny and natural in a way there’s so much of her that we then put into the character of Keeley that wasn’t in the initial versions of it. So we were writing to that, and that’s with everyone and it is true of Roy. I think that, yes, we did change and add and all this stuff as we went along.
It’s been announced that it’s only going to be a three-season show, that there’s only going to be one more season after this. Was that part of the writing process? I’m assuming you’re also a writer on season two. Is that correct?
Has the writing staff already structured out the final two seasons? Do you know where it’s going in season three?
I think I have been told that I’m not really meant to talk about this stuff. And I’m only saying that because I don’t want to get in trouble.
Is there anything else you can tease without getting in trouble about season two and specifically what Roy is facing in the show?
I really can’t. I really can’t, and it’s annoying because I get annoyed when I’m reading too. People say, “I can’t.” And I go, “Well just f**king say sorry.” I really can’t, but I do like the idea.
You don’t have to confirm or deny this, but is there still time the season to add a last-minute Superleague joke?
It has literally been a discussion. It has been a discussion that will that be dated within three months? You know, will that be like “What is the Superleague?” “Oh, it was this mad thing that existed for just two days. Don’t worry about it.”
“Ted Lasso” season one is available worldwide on Apple TV+