“Ted Lasso” is the perfect show at the perfect time.
The Apple TV+ series, which returns for a second season Friday, has won over critics and viewers alike with its feel-good message, as it began streaming while millions of people were sheltered at home during the pandemic.
Hannah Waddingham, who plays AFC Richmond soccer team owner Rebecca Welton on the comedy, says the show was destined for greatness.
“I actually think that this would have happened anyway, because I think it was probably long needed and much needed,” she told TODAY.
While Waddingham says its success may be a no-brainer, she does credit the pandemic with helping it.
“I think because people were feeling lost, people needed a sense of community and a sense of family,” she said. “And I think the biggest thing was they wanted, they needed to hang up their worries and their fears from it, all the uncertainty of it, all at their front door, and go and sit and lose themselves in a new group of friends for a while.”
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Waddingham has won raves for her portrayal of Rebecca, whose plan to ruin her ex-husband’s soccer team that she got in their divorce goes awry when she hires Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, only to be won over by his folksy expressions and eternally optimistic nature. The show has become a monster hit, notching an eye-popping 20 Emmy nominations, including seven in acting categories. Waddingham herself is up for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.
While Ted continues to lift everyone up, Waddingham says viewers will notice a changed Rebecca in season two.
“One striking difference with her is that you find her absolutely at the front of that team,” she said. “They are her boys. And she's become like the lioness that, if you criticize them, she will be at the front of the pack. And I love that.”
And while she is in a good place professionally, it’s her personal life that will be put to the test,
“It's like she's two sides of a coin,” she said. ‘The other side of the coin is a floundering, almost teenage mess with men and I think it's going to be really nice for the audience to feel like they want to be going, 'No, not him. Oh God, what are you doing now, woman?'”
After Waddingham auditioned for the role, she was called in for a “chemistry meeting” with Sudeikis, where they clicked.
“I could feel it in the room,” she said. “You can feel it in the room when something's right. And Jason said he felt the same thing.”
When we first meet Rebecca, she is icy, but we soon learn about her insecurities and vulnerabilities following her divorce. She says her own experience with a bad relationship helped her dig into the character.
“It meant that I knew who she was immediately,” she said. “That's what I mean about giving of myself and actually finding a way to use Rebecca as catharsis and a way through for myself.
"And that's why I don't shy away from talking about things like that, because we've all had relationships that we struggled to get past. And Rebecca, we find her at the point where she's only freshly past it physically and entirely not past it emotionally. And how the ramifications of that affect so many people.”
It’s a rich role and Waddingham can’t believe she got nominated for it.
“I still don't think it's quite sunk in,” she said, while marveling at the show’s 20 total nominations — an accomplishment she can believe, given the talent involved.
“Do you know what? That I can more because I look around every day at each department and just watch people that absolutely at the top of their game, so that I can understand more,” she said. “When it comes down to yourself, all I did was I tried to serve her, Rebecca, the best I could.”
One of the women she’ll square off against is co-star Juno Temple, who plays the spunky Keeley. She says they’re each other’s biggest supporters.
“I called her and she was my second phone call and I was hers after our family members,” she said. “And both of us just screamed down the phone burst into tears, and said, ‘Thank God we're doing this together.’”
Waddingham and Temple’s relationship is a mirror of the one they share onscreen where their characters have forged a friendship instead of being painted as adversaries. She says letting female characters be allies instead of turning them against each other is a breath of fresh air.
“Think of how ludicrous that is in the first place. The fact that the fact that I've commented on that, and the fact that it makes news means it's a problem,” she said.
“But the fact that it's been remarkable for two women to really, really dig each other. That's crazy, isn't it?” she said.