The following interview for Backstage’s on-camera series The Slate was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.
If you’ve been as hooked on Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” as we have, you’re in luck. The sports sitcom, born of a series of NBC Sports commercials about a hapless football-turned-soccer coach, was recently renewed for a third season, and Season 2 begins filming in January after working a virtual writers’ room through the summer. In a recent Zoom webinar with Backstage, the show’s writers, producers, and stars Jason Sudeikis (who plays Ted Lasso) and Brendan Hunt (who plays Coach Beard) talked about how they developed their characters from a short-form arc into a full narrative series, their advice for comedy actors and writers, and the all-or-nothing motto behind-the-scenes of “Ted Lasso”: No turkeys.
For Sudeikis, character-building involves finding opportunities for evolution.
Jason Sudeikis: “There’s elements of what the character [Ted Lasso] is now on the show that is deeply rooted in getting to do that second [commercial] and trying to find a way to heighten it. Because at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ the way I always attack, personally, for me, a recurring character was giving it some form of evolution and don’t just turn it into a Mad Libs…. [Upon deciding to make ‘Ted Lasso’ into a show], I just started to riff: ‘Oh, he’s probably, his marriage is ending and he needs to give her space.’ I just riffed those dramatic elements of it to give it an emotional foundation as opposed to just being a show that’s jokes on goal, just boom-boom-boom-boom-boom. When we finally got into the actual making of the thing, Bill [Lawrence and I], we would just write up qualities of the people.”
Sudeikis and Hunt have messages they hope audiences take from the show.
Brendan Hunt: “Don’t judge a book by its cover. The conclusion you first draw about someone is often informed merely by what you’re bringing to it, and it will lead you to underestimating the full depth of the people you have so judged.”
JS: “It’s also, don’t allow yourself to be in those boxes. So sometimes, a great coach, a great mentor, a great partner is someone who sees more in you than you’re allowing yourself to see in yourself. Sometimes your baggage—emotional, political, what have you—gets in the way of your intuition, and sometimes it takes an outsider, whether it be a therapist, a coach, a bartender, an Uber driver to get you out of your head or shift your perspective a little bit. A thing we say in the writers’ room all the time, and this is an improv mantra, is the best idea with no support will always lose to the worst idea with full support.”
Good comedy acting (and auditioning) requires subtlety and enthusiasm in equal measure.
JS: “I like watching auditions with the sound off. Once you hear what they sound like, when it comes down to choices—because I have a theory, personally, and it stems from a lot of plane travel: Watching movies on the seat in front of you, where you’re listening to music and you’re watching people, you don’t really want anybody to be able to tell that they’re watching a comedy with the sound off. You’re looking for people that have it in the eyes, that keep a little something back, that it’s not all presentational, and that’s a big part of it. And also looking for an essence, not a type.”
BH: “[What] you can’t really get a sense of until you’re in callbacks is who’s a good hang. I don’t know if this was luck or what, but once we got there and we’d all been working together for a while, we were sitting in our office one day and we just had the observation: There’s no turkeys. Everyone’s game, everyone’s up for it, everyone’s fun to talk to and work with, and it cannot be underrated.”
Listening and being aware of surroundings is imperative.
JS: “Acting is less about the talking and more about the being, and a big part of being is listening. If you think acting is all about the talking, then I can tell you right now: You’re a shitty actor. We listen to it with the sound on, but before you play it back, watch your audition without the sound on, and see if you fucking believe yourself. Because you’ll get caught up in the words.”
First-time screenwriters: Just do it.
JS: “Just finish it. Don’t just keep writing it; finish it. Don’t brag about writing your first script; brag about [how] you’re finishing your ninth script.”
BH: “I learned this lesson too late, frankly: Do not judge it while you’re doing it. Do not go back and fix things that are 20 pages ago when you’re already 20 pages past that. You’ll do that later. Hustle to that finish line, get that thing done. It’s a lot easier to change and improve a thing that is already finished as opposed to something you’re in the middle of.”
JS: “Also, be intentional with what you’re writing. Know why you’re writing it, know what it means. You’re not just trying to fill up pages; there’s plenty of people filling up pages. Write something that matters to you.”
Immerse yourself in your craft, but find other things you enjoy, too.
BH: “Fill yourself, and for the times where you are not achieving or working enough as you might want, fill yourself. And this goes to fighting bitterness, as well. It sounds cheesy, but have a hobby you like. Fill yourself with that, distract yourself, get away from it completely—go hiking, play scary German card games, or create things. Just constantly be writing something, and again, it’s just about finishing it and getting the reps and getting in the habit of completing a script or a piece or something because even if this one sucks, you’ve made the next one better just by doing this one.”
JS: “Go see shows; that’s what I’ll say. I am a product of my mom taking me to see shows when I moved to Chicago. When you get to intern at iO or Second City, you get to go see shows for free, and I did that nonstop. Watch as much as you can and have an opinion about it. Because really, the job is mostly about having an opinion. I always say that: We’re not being paid in the writer’s room to type. You’re paid for your opinion. What do you think about the world? What do you think is funny? What do you think is sad? What do you think about good people? How should you respond to this situation? And if you don’t offer your opinion, then you are not making a living. You are taking up space.”
Watch the full interview with Sudeikis and Hunt below.
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