As a former standout Saturday Night Live cast member, Jason Sudeikis is accustomed to creating characters and never revisiting them again. And yet, he couldn't quite shake Ted Lasso.
Back in 2013, Sudeikis was wrapping up his decade long run at SNL and beginning to headline hit comedies like Horrible Bosses. It was then when he was approached to make a promo for NBC Sports. "They had like four or five ideas and one of them was an American coach coaching soccer in London, and they had modeled the idea off of a version of a coach character I had played a few times on SNL, which is more of a yelling, screaming, kind of Bobby Knight drill sergeant vibe," recalls Sudeikis. "And I was like, 'Eh, I’ve kind of done that,' and I just saw something a little bit different, and that is what ended up becoming Ted Lasso."
Upon receiving positive feedback from the sports community, Sudeikis returned for a second spot, which is when he began thinking bigger. "The whole story of that first commercial was that he gets hired to coach a professional soccer team and he gets fired three days later, and we just thought it would be funny if he wasn’t cynical or angry about that, that he just loved the experience and he loved London and he loved soccer, and that he brought that home with him," he explains. "And that eternal optimism and like 'aw-shucks' hopefulness really spoke to me in a way that I was like, 'Okay, there might be something more here.' Because it’s a really fun character to play, a really fun character to write for, and a really fun prism to see the world through."
So in 2015, Sudeikis, Joe Kelly, and Brendan Hunt, who co-starred in both the commercial and new Apple TV+ series as Lasso's assistant Coach Beard, took a week to figure out if there was more to mine. For them, the answer quickly was yes, but Sudeikis says things were indefinitely delayed when "life happened," only for it to finally come together when Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence pitched the actor a different idea. While Sudeikis didn't believe that project to be a perfect fit for him, he didn't hesitate when Lawrence ended their meeting with "Well, if you ever have anything..."
In her A- review of the resulting comedy, EW critic Kristen Baldwin said "Ted Lasso has no right to be this funny." But even more surprising than the laugh out loud humor is the heart and sweetness baked inside of it, and that begins with Lasso, the warm, bubbly, ever-optimistic coach. "Gandhi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world,' and this creates the change you want to see," says Sudeikis. "Create the world where being nice, being uncynical, being egoless, being empathetic, and promoting forgiveness is not something that is weak and happens without consequences. Ted does see the best in people and he really is the best version of myself. He’s like me after two beers on an empty stomach on a bright sunny day, just like, 'With all of us together, what can’t we do?'"
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Like his character, what Sudeikis couldn't do at the beginning of Lasso's run was fully understand soccer, admitting to knowing "very little," considering his non-virtual playing days ended at 10. "At this point, I have a deep appreciation for the sport but still a very shallow understanding," he says, crediting Hunt for coaching him up. Starting 20 years ago when they worked together at a theater company in Chicago, Sudeikis and Hunt have been playing the video game FIFA, a tradition that has only been enhanced by this experience. "Three, four nights a week, especially over the last few months, me, other writers, and cast members are playing on FIFA Pro Clubs," reveals Sudeikis of the online mode on which they've created their Lasso club. "We are AFC Richmond and we designed the players to look like our guys as much as possible."
While Sudeikis and his team are playing soccer online, the MLS and NBA have set up bubbles down at Walt Disney World in Orlando to be able to continue their seasons in a safe, controlled environment, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As the former head coach of Wichita State University football, Lasso may have left American sports just in time, but how would he be handling such a situation?
"I think he’d be thriving," suggests Sudeikis. "I mean, he makes the best of a bad situation. He’s an indomitable spirit, so I can see him organizing trivia nights down in Orlando, or like karaoke nights and hosting it and spraying the microphone after each person. I’m sure LeBron [James] has a lovely singing voice, probably does a great '9 to 5' by Dolly Parton, and if he doesn’t, he would by the time it’s over with Ted’s guidance. He's exactly the type of person you’d want to go through something hard or heavy with."
Ted Lasso premieres Friday on Apple TV+.