Golden Globe® winner Jason Sudeikis is Ted Lasso, an American football coach hired to manage a British soccer team—despite having no experience. But what he lacks in knowledge, he makes up for with optimism, underdog determination...and biscuits.
Who knew that a show about football (soccer in the states) and a fish-out-of-water coach from the U.S. would be the comedy show that would pull at millions of heartstrings, including yours truly. Ted Lasso is a rare show that helped pull many of us out of the mundane muck that was 2020. I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with co-creator/writer/actor Brendan Hunt about his creative journey to living his dream, finding the heartbeat of the show, and much more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: What is it like to have co-created a hit show with some outstanding TV veterans, that not only you write for but also star in as well?
Brendan Hunt: Yeah, it's incredible. [laughs] All we did was try to try to make a commercial and that was just going to make them give us a free trip to England and give us free tickets to a soccer game. That was all I was after in this deal. So, for it to have come this far, is pretty, pretty cool.
I’ve been asked a lot lately, like, “Do you prefer acting?” or “Do you prefer writing?” and what I prefer is acting in things that I'm writing. The totality of that is really dreaming in the best way. For that to be happening, and to be happening in London, a town that I've literally said to people in years past, “Wow, I'd love to live in London someday, but it's so expensive, work would have to take me there.” And yeah, so this is nuts.
Sadie: You're living the dream. With your background in comedy improv, do you think that improv background serves your writing and storytelling, especially for this kind of story?
Brendan: It must in some way, certainly. One of the best skills you learn doing improv is listening. You have to be ready to take the offer that your partner is giving you and to honor that by heightening it. And then another big skill to learn is heightening. We have a finely tuned sense of very quickly setting a direction and knowing where that direction could go. If it starts here, then boom, it's got to be here. Maybe it just helps process things quicker. But if that's all it does, that's valuable too.
Sadie: In terms of setting up your writer’s room, what were you guys initially looking for in a writer?
Brendan: Well, I was not privy to the hiring process at all. So, I couldn't say exactly. I can say that the results were fantastic. They were looking to have certainly a healthy female presence in the room, especially because this is a show that's going to take place a lot in locker rooms. And also there is a fair amount of people who don't much care about sports, be they male or female, because I'm like a soccer nut, which is sometimes helpful, but sometimes detrimental. And Bill Lawrence from early on was very fond of saying loudly, “It's not a soccer show! It is an ensemble comedy, it is a workplace comedy. Not a soccer show!” And I’m like, “Alright man, stop looking directly at me.”
Funny people coming at it from slightly different angles, all of whom even if they didn't come from an improv background, we're very good listeners, and good “yes and’ers” and all good heighteners. It was really gratifying to see the whole group come back for season two, and then we added one as well. But I thought that was a sign that maybe people had a good time with each other.
Sadie: The show definitely came at a time that I think all of us needed that sense of hope and happiness. In the show, Ted uses the word “Believe” as a motto to amp up the team, either for a game or just for personal growth, is there something you guys use as your north star in your writer’s room?
Brendan: We have things that we go to a lot, I don't know if it's quite as North starry as the “Believe” sign per se. But with almost every character we come up with or talk about, we basically always want to know, what was their dad like? We haven't explicitly said this, we may get into it maybe a little more in season two, but it's a little bit about the effects of dads. Be they good dads or bad dads. And of course, it's never as simple as that. But yeah, you know, I'm trying to figure out not just what a person is or what they're like, but why are they that way? What made them that way? And usually, parents have a pretty big role there.
Sadie: Now that you've mentioned that I can totally see that with the Ted Lasso character, he left his kid back home in the states, and now he's a dad to all of these full-grown men, and how your team deals with their underlying issues is pretty effortless. Going off of that notion, how do you think the writers and directors were able to capture that on-screen and create this “feel good” show?
Brendan: Yeah, I don’t know, it's interesting you say that people telling you that it's a show that will help you forget your troubles. There's character after character in this show having troubles. It’s not Teletubbies or anything. And I say that with no disrespect to the Teletubbies and I didn't watch enough episodes. But, just trying to just try to be relatively real to what people are liking, what people are going through and try to let the comedy come from that. And at the center of it, someone who's nice, because that's not something that has been happening for a little while now.
Sadie: We’ve had so many dark and edgy shows and movies as of late, and Ted Lasso is anything but that. Now, this show is loosely based on an ad campaign from 2013, right?
Brendan: Yeah, that ad campaign was me and Jason and Joe Kelly, who was one of the other creators of the show. And yeah, it was just a lark that we had a really great time doing and then slowly found out it was wildly more popular than it was to be expected for a commercial for a sports property. People were watching that and what they discovered, which was the most surprising thing, it was about English soccer, but it was for an American audience because NBC had gotten the rights to the English Premier League - but they found that the spots are being watched as much in England as they were in America. And that was like a “huh” kind of moment for us because we all love English humor, and you're trying to use kind of an English humor sensibility with this, you know, brash, a bit of a dickhead American. [laughs] And The Office UK is a show particularly that we all really, really love and so trying to bring that specific documentary feel to it.
Then we brought Bill Lawrence onboard – OK [laughs] and brought him on board, like we hired him or something. [laughs] Bill Lawrence kindly came on board and then he and Jason did all the pitching. But I do know that part of the pitching process was to let people know, like, OK, here's the sketches, these are funny, it's not going to be the sketches. If anything, it's going to be like this one twenty-second section of the second sketch where he’s very sensitive to the women. And as far as I know, not everyone we pitched it to basically believed that. A couple of places said “no” and the places that said, “no” were like, “Yeah, it's too broad.” It still chaps Jason's ass a little bit, “I told you, it wasn't going to be broad!”
Sadie: I know you've been very busy acting on the show, but do you have your own writing routine? Do you have time for yourself to work on projects you want to work on?
Brendan: Yeah, I don't have a routine per se. And at this moment, we are so deep in the weeds of the show, like we're in the last month of filming, and a trade secret, the script for the final episode is still coming together. So, I am not tending to other stuff, but I do still have other stuff, a pilot and sort of a play that was about to open five days after lockdown started and it was going to be at the Kirk Douglas, in LA, and that was a bummer, but we'll see how that goes.
If anything, all I have really is this phone. And anytime I have a scrap of an idea, either for something new or more often for like just a line of dialogue or a wrinkle or an event that can happen in any of the other things that I'm sort of writing background wise, I just amassed them in there and try to get them out as quickly as possible. The rule I've added in recent years and my partner willingly goes along with this is even if I'm asleep, if our now 14-week-old child is sleeping, I'm getting up, I'm saying the thing in the phone, I'm not judging it, I'm just doing it. And it's really fun. Then, I can go six weeks or whatever without going back through that list and see what I've added. And a lot of it ends up being valuable. And a lot of it ends up being not worth having woken up my child to do but you can't judge it at the time.
Sadie: Brendan, thank you so much for your time. Best of luck with the next season. And I hope you have more sparks of inspiration to whisper into your phone.
Brendan: [laughs] Thank you for having me, Sadie. It was a pleasure.
Watch the first season of the award-winning series now on AppleTV+. Season two premieres July 23.