There are so many reasons why Ted Lasso shouldn’t work, it’s become something of a running gimmick for critics to analyze how the hell Ted Lasso works. The Apple TV+ show—about an American football coach transplanted to England, where he leads a soccer club—was one of the young streaming service’s first hits, a comedy that in its freshman season won praise not with crude irony but with a bloom-where-you’re-planted optimism. (Not exactly a winning recipe for most modern television.) Some of Ted‘s popularity, it’s been suggested, was due to timing: The series landed at the height of the pandemic, when spirits were universally low. Something about Sudeikis’s unshakeable cheer felt like a promise: We, too, could endure.
But, as more and more fans have acknowledged since watching (and re-watching) the first season, Ted Lasso‘s success is not entirely thanks to its titular character. Much of what makes the show “work” is a synergy throughout the supporting cast. For instance, Ted without Hannah Waddingham’s Rebecca, who starts the show as his vindictive and cynical boss, would come across naïve, perhaps even cloying. But as foils, Waddingham and Sudeikis absolutely shimmer.
Today, Waddingham will admit she had no idea if the show would hit its mark. She had to trust Sudeikis’s instincts, and it paid off—for her role, the 46-year-old actress just earned an Emmy nomination, one of an astounding 20 for the series. In retrospect, she can trace how she, as Hannah, and the character of Rebecca fit together with such alacrity. As an actress known for several of her more imposing roles, she understood that the so-called “ice queen” was, in fact, a deeply vulnerable husk, careening in the wake of her divorce and separated from any semblance of a support system. And Waddingham herself found Ted Lasso was the support system she needed. After spending decades in theater on the West End of London, she found she could store her “theater hat, lovingly, in some tissue paper”—as she puts it—and focus on a television career in London, where she could be home in time for “bath and books and bed” with her young daughter.
As the second season debuts on Apple TV+—and in the wake of a jolly celebration, following the Emmy announcements—Waddingham told ELLE.com her theories on why Ted Lasso soars, her fears of being typecast, and her greatest hopes for season 3.
What was your first reaction to the premise of Ted Lasso?
I’d heard rumblings about Jason Sudeikis doing these little mini skits. But I purposely didn’t look at them, actually, because I had been sent the sides for Rebecca, and I saw very early on, that I needed to batten down the hatches and not care about Ted. I didn’t want to see how charming [he was]. And I actually carried that on right through all the read-throughs and filming. I would just be like, “Don’t want to hear about him!”
I had signed on for it, and I had only ever seen the pilot. So I didn’t know anything about Rupert; I knew that she wanted to get back at this guy, but I didn’t know the details. I didn’t know how deep we would go with that. I didn’t know anything about her relationship with Keeley, and how important that would become. I didn’t know anything about the best friend showing up, and calling her out on giving up on her goddaughter. And I certainly didn’t know about the ramifications of being with a man who had implied that he didn’t want children.
That was a turning point for Rebecca.
And it was weird, because for myself—that revelation, about him not wanting children, comes in at episode nine in the first season—and I had decided for myself that she’d always wanted to have children, but her husband had said, “No, we’re busy working. You are the wife of Rupert Mannion.” And, for me, then to hear that he comes into the room and says, “Oh, I’m having a child; I just didn’t want one with you.” It’s like I had a sixth sense that that was the sticking point. That was like her kryptonite.
Feel-good shows have a terrible habit of edging into a territory that’s corny or, worse, preachy. Was there ever any worry that would happen with Ted Lasso? Or did you always know the heart would shine through?
No. I remember speaking to another cast mate, who shall remain nameless; we finished shooting season one, and and both of us were going, “I don’t know about this. What is this?”
And then when I saw it all spliced together—and, of course, bear in mind, I hadn’t let myself look at any of Ted’s stuff…Oh, God. It meant I could watch it as an audience member.
So, what did you think?
Well, I didn’t watch any of my own scenes, so it was quite handy that the Apple TV+ little remote, I can just zoom it along, and think, “That blonde person, I know what she says. Fast forward!” But with Nick Mohammed, for instance—Rebecca’s not meant to really give a shit about, or know who, Nate is. So I made a point of having no interest in Nick at all. And then I watched it back, and I was like, “Oh my God, I love Nate the Great.”
How much of Rebecca was created by you, personally? Were you allowed to rework your lines, or improvise?
I would say 100% now, in season 2, and I would say 97% in season 1. I wouldn’t change the lines, but almost from the very beginning, I could go to Jason or Joe Kelly or Brendan [Hunt]. I mean, it’s amazing having the writers and the creators literally standing in front of you, sharing a scene.
Certainly, with the Anglicisms, I would say, “No, she wouldn’t say, ‘I guess.'” She would never say anything other than “I think,” or “I suppose so.” So they were like, “Yeah, change it.” And even more so now, we’re not left to our own devices, but Jason has been quite vocal about it in interviews—he says that we now know the characters better than they do, which is a huge compliment.
Last season we saw Rebecca endure the emotional landmine of her divorce, and now she’s on a dating journey that’s—
Really cringey, but in a delightful way. So many people find your character effortless to root for, despite her cold exterior in the beginning. Why do you think that is?
I think because you see very quickly that somebody needs to put an arm around her, because she’s flailing. She’s so damaged and so traumatized and lost, that you can see very early on, I feel like the audience went, “Bless her. She’s just trying to survive. She’s just trying to find a way through.” And the reason why I love where we find her in season two is—you have no question that she has become the figurehead of that team of boys, and she’d gnaw anyone’s leg off if they were horrible to them. She’s absolutely the lioness at the front of the pack.
But I love the fact that there’s the juxtaposition of her not having a clue what she’s doing, and the fact that she takes Keeley and Roy on a double date; it’s like she’s 20, and she’s just like, “Oh, I can’t do this by myself.”
You mentioned Juno Temple’s Keeley, and of course there’s already been a million stories written about the relationship your characters have: There’s not a weird competitive edge. There’s not a love triangle. That’s shockingly unique, even in today’s television landscape.
Isn’t that ridiculous that it’s shockingly unique? It’s absolutely ludicrous. And it definitely makes you realize that we’ve been indoctrinated, practically since birth, that it’s okay that women are pitted against each other.
Both Juno and I have always said, “God, if we were playing stereotypical women who are even fractionally pitted against each other, she and I would have A) struggled, and B) had an awful lot to say about that.” In fact, there was a thing in the penultimate episode of season two, and there was a moment where the [creators] wanted us to play something a certain way. And she and I both went, “Um. We don’t want to do it like that.” We don’t want that to be the vibe, because it’s stereotypically, “Oh, they’re being girls.” And both of us were just like, “Should we change that? Yeah, we would. Would you change that, please.”
That you felt empowered to do that is impressive.
They had meant to make it a generic female response. They were doing it with love, but both of us were like, “We don’t need to do that. People will love where we’re at in this moment when we do it like this.”
With a show like this, one that’s such an amalgamation of British cynicism—and dark humor—and Americans’ foolhardy optimism, I’m curious if it has shifted, in any way, your own personal worldview.
I’ve genuinely always been very accepting of others, because I know that we all have our own shit, and you never know what somebody might be feeling that day. But I do feel like it’s taught me to be vocal about your appreciation of things, instead of maybe keeping it in. And Juno coming into my life as well, I mean, she really is… Her whole ethos in life is to be kind, because you never know what somebody’s going through. She’s always very vocal about the struggles that she’s had in her life, and how you don’t know what somebody is bringing to the table. Don’t presume that they’re being like they are with any malice of forethought. You can’t get into their heads. Just be kind.
One of your best-known roles prior to Ted Lasso was as Septa Unella in Game of Thrones. Were you ever concerned that role would stick with you forever—that you’d be typecast as the terrifying woman?
Yeah. And I was for a while. Playing great roles as well, like Magdalena in 12 Monkeys. She’s really a nasty piece of work. I loved playing Septa Unella, because it was so different for me. I loved how economical with my facial expressions I had to be. Even Miguel Sapochnik, who directed so much of Thrones, was just like, “Do less, do less, do less with your face” And I was like, “You’ve literally hired somebody who’s got a massive mouth. I’m really struggling to do it less. You should have hired a white dinner plate in the place of my face. I can’t do any less.” But of course, irritatingly, when I see it on screen, the less, less, less that he asked me to do was great.
But I think also, because I’m quite silly and self-effacing in real life, I love being able to leave that part of me on screen. I was keen to marry the two things together: comedy, heart-wrenching pathos, and to maybe not look like I’d been dug up.
Well, you look quite glamorous in this show.
But that’s why I loved Rebecca, because it’s all a facade. It’s all her coping mechanism.
Speaking of which, I loved one of the early episodes in season 2, where she tries to treat her goddaughter, Nora, to a fun time. It’s another one of those moments where Rebecca is so clearly out of her element.
I think that’s why it’s brilliantly written, when she’s struggling, and she’s talking to Roy Kent about, “I had all these things planned, and she doesn’t seem interested in any of them.” Because she’s trying too hard. She’s overcompensating for the fact she hasn’t seen [Nora] for six or seven years. Roy has already talked to her about, “Don’t you dare go out with anyone that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been hit by lightning.” And he does it again about Nora. He goes, “Stop trying so hard. The kid will want to be with you just because she wants to be with you.” But Rebecca has such an in-built sadness and difficulty being around children, because it’s the one thing that’s alluded her.
So, knowing that, what do you most want for Rebecca, if this wonderful, wonderful story continues for another season?
I want her to find inner calm. And she does very much through this season—she knows who her friends are, and knows that family are the people you choose in your life, not necessarily your own family. I want her to thrive and be happy in all elements of life, not just being successful as an owner while the rest of her life is just flailing around. I think Rupert’s legacy can, absolutely now, fuck very off.
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