Ted Lasso is taking everyone by storm. Based on an NBC character concept, the show is about an earnest American football Coach (played by Jason Sudeikis) who takes his Kansas City charm all the way to London to manage a British football team.
While the show could’ve easily slid into a formulaic sitcom, with Lasso bumbling through his first time coaching UK football, viewers are treated to a much more human character who just so happens to be funny and throws down a mean dance move or two.
For most, the extremely likable and affable character Ted Lasso radiated inherent goodness and optimism that Americans were hungry for amid six months of lockdown. Something that actor Jeremy Swift (Higgins) says the writers couldn’t predict. “It was being edited but it had already been shot way before the pandemic started to kick in.”
Swift continues, “It’s serendipity really, that it could do that, and if it helps anyone through this awful, awful time, that’s great, it’s all you could hope for…it does go against a lot of great comedy..but as well as politically with what has happened here and in America, people wanted that, too. They wanted something that would sort of calm the waters and be positive.”
With the wave of love coming in over Twitter, the underdog Ted Lasso became a word-of-mouth hit, which later turned into a golden award season, nabbing a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award, and as we’ve predicted, will most likely clean up at the Emmys.
That infectious charm extends to Jeremy Swift’s Higgins, a nervous “yes man” and Director of Communications of AFC Richmond. While that ordinarily might have been a huge position, his boss Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), lets him function as an assistant, using him to tarnish Ted Lasso’s tenure at AFC as well as trashing the club.
Awards Radar sat down with Jeremy Swift to discuss one of the most binge-worthy shows to date and much more.
Niki Cruz: Ted Lasso is such a joyful show, and your character Higgins has that joy in spades. There are little facts we learn throughout the season. What has it been like playing him?
Jeremy Swift: Great, because I don’t necessarily know what the facts are in advance, so I just have to take each script as it goes along and play with some truth and try to be funny at the same time. There are increasingly more characters in the show — I don’t want to give any spoilers away about the new [season], but I realized some actors I didn’t get to do any scenes with in the first season. The dynamic always changes when you mix these people up, and you have a different vibe going on, so that’s very enjoyable to do. That pulls another aspect of that character out, which someone might not have done in other scenes.
NC: The show has gotten all of this deserved critical acclaim. When you were reading the script, did you know you had struck gold with Ted Lasso? Was that something you could even anticipate?
JS: Not really; it’s the public as much as anything at the end of the day. I’ve been in things, in theater, in particular, where things were raved about, and people go, “Eh.” I never know quite what the public is going to think. I can never anticipate it really…because there were a couple of slightly stinky [Ted Lasso] reviews in the beginning, and then you go, “Oh, okay,” and then there were less so. There was one magazine that said, “Sorry, we’re taking another look at Ted Lasso.” But looking on Twitter, which I try not to do.. but I was scrolling and scrolling, and everybody was adoring it..everybody totally unanimously loved it, and people are still discovering it. That’s one of the things about streaming shows; it filters and filters, as opposed to a show that might be on CBS or The BBC that’s like, “Look at us now! It’s on NOW! Awards now, please!”
NC: When we look at other popular comedies, the main character is often a jerk, or he’s goofy, but he’s usually coming at it from some ulterior motive. We’ve seen those characters, but with Ted he’s inherently good.
JS: A lot of people have said that they’re waiting for the kind of reveal of, “Ohh, he’s doing it because..” But it doesn’t happen. Of course, you see, he has moments that affect him and crumple him. He’s human, and he has a fragility that we have in our hearts when something affects us, so there’s that, but at the same time, he bounces back.
I think it’s a testament to the writers that they don’t fall into tropes, or, “Let’s have a flashback of Higgins a10-year-old old.” There’s none of that. It’s all moving forward and changing, and at the end of the day… It’s about moving the game forward…everybody is trying to motivate everyone else to meet the challenge.
NC: As far as fan reception, have people come up to you for some good old fashioned Diamond Dog support?
JS: To be honest, I think it’s bigger in America. Also, we’ve been in so many lockdowns [in London]. I don’t usually get recognized anyway very much. People just stare at me as if I may have killed a member of their family, but I actually did [get recognized] last year, when we had a bit of an ease down despite wearing a mask, so there you go. Maybe that’s to come, I really don’t know [Laughs]
NC: The thing I love about Higgins is he has such a nervous energy about him that’s endearing, especially in his interactions with Rebecca. He just seems like he’s constantly walking on eggshells. How was it developing those comedy beats with Hannah?
JS: It’s the writing. Hannah and I liked each other enormously as soon as we met. We are both musical — Hannah is an exceptional singer, and I’m a bit musical, and I think that’s quite a bit of a close cousin to comedy beats. We would get the comedy of the scene quite quickly, but her character has a lot of questions that Higgins just can’t answer [laughs] which is really enjoyable to play because she wants her revenge and she wants it now, and Higgins is a hopeless saboteur and a terrible spy.
NC: And with his nervous energy, I feel like you would have to store that in your body, right? How’s that?
JS: That’s a very good question. I have to think now, physically, how I do that. I think it comes from the motivation of giving [Rebecca] attention and feeling that that’s probably enough and then not really thinking. That’s what seems to happen when we do a lot of scenes together, it’s that I’m listening, and I’m listening and agreeing and then not having an answer. When I look at myself, when I watch it, I seem to be [leans in cupping hand around ear] doing that a lot as if I’m slightly deaf or something. I suppose that’s my physicality. I haven’t talked about it until now, Niki.
NC: Oh, really?
JS: You’ve opened up a few doors! Well, we didn’t do any physical workshops or anything like that.
NC: The script has a really unique mix of being funny, witty, and moving. You find those nuggets of comedy interlaced into all of that. Would you say it’s all in the script or do you workshop?
JS: We didn’t do workshops but when we come to do scenes, quite often the rewrites are almost every day. I know Hannah has had rewrites just after the camera rehearsal, which is super late, and then people go [whispers] “I’m so sorry.” So, you’re thinking on your feet, kind of but I think the writing is amazing and it’s fresh. The writers sensibility is so smart and it’s mainly American writers who are experienced and have written for The Simpsons, Rick & Morty — a lot of great shows. So, it’s unsurprising that the standard is so high and when you get that cumulative experience, you’re gonna have a great result.
NC: Jason [Sudeikis] comes from a sketch and improv background. Was he playing around with you on set, was there that freedom to go off book?
JS: I always wanted to be in an American sitcom, and I’ve only gotten to do it a couple of times, a bit of improv. When I was a kid, I did improv drama classes from 11-years-old to 16-years-old, so I was quite grounded in that, but you don’t get to do it much in UK drama and comedy. In American stuff, it’s much more so, so I love doing that — knocking it back and forth, going off piece a little bit, but Jason, of course, that’s the wealth of his experience, and he’s AMAZING at it, so the bar is super high. He and Brendan [Hunt] come out with stuff, there’s a lot of blooper material because they’re just so so funny.
NC: I hope Apple releases that blooper reel. That’ll be a treat for fans, especially for the fans that have binge watched it a few times at this point.
JS: I know, it’s amazing! People have watched it so much. I think it does stand out — and not all comedy does. You can see, “Oh this is the gag..” [but it works] because Jason and Brendan talk so fast as well. It moves along and there’s a lot of stuff that happens where you go, “Oh, I got the vibe for that, but I didn’t quite get it intellectually.” And so, you can watch it again, and also the arc of the characters, once you watch it again, you can see, “Oh that’s where it began.” You get the impact but even more when you see it again.
NC: I know how serious Brits take football. As far as the sport goes, do you have any allegiance to a specific team? Liverpool, maybe? Is it in your wheelhouse?
JS: It really isn’t, no. Fortunately, I’m not alone. Nick Mohammed and I are both like, “Oh nooo,” but I’ve liked a lot of bands and musicians, so I understand that kind of male madness of being obsessive about everything. If I had to choose, I would support Middlesbrough. I’m from the Northeast of England. Liverpool…the sensibility of Liverpool has always been radical, so I just adore them.
NC: You mentioned music. Who are your top three artists?
JS: Oh, my goodness. Roxy Music, Miles Davis, Caroline Polachek who used to be in a band called Chairlift and she’s an amazing singer, and she’s kind of the David Bowie of now. Oh, David Bowie! How could I miss that? I’m always listening out for new stuff. My parents were music teachers so I love all sorts of stuff, really.
NC: There’s a very hot internet debate that Ted Lasso hits on, so I have to ask because it’s so quotable. How do you pronounce the word gif? Is it g-if or jif?
JS: [Laughs] Yes, well, I ended up in a gif saying that which is very meta but I think it’s g-if.
NC: How’s Higgins in season 2? Is he alright?
JS: [Laughs] There is a man standing here with a gun pointed at my head, so I can’t really talk about season 2, otherwise I would. There’s development in the show, and I would say, the standard hasn’t dropped and it has risen.
Ted Lasso is currently streaming on Apple TV+
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
[…] and Brendan Hunt as Ted’s loyal right-hand man Coach Beard – check out our interviews with Swift and Dunster, and look for Hunt next […]