It seems very fitting that Nick Mohammed has performed an amazing feat of magic on Ted Lasso right before our eyes. The actor has transformed his character, Nate Shelley from the loveably, timid A.F.C. Richmond kitman into he rival team’s head coach – and also one of the series’ most reviled characters through some villainous actions towards his former team and Ted himself. The magic act he pulled off is quite fitting for the actor whose career in acting started with his love of magic, which led to comedy and eventually his star-making role in the hit Apple TV+ series, Ted Lasso.
I had a chance to speak with Mohammed about his work on the series. Our conversation time was short (unfortunately cut shorter by a technical glitch) preventing me from asking the slew of questions I had hoped to ask about Nate’s arc, fan reactions, and such – but I did learn plenty about his Ted Lasso origin story, big onscreen romance, and even some hints at where he sees Nate in ten year.
The biggest question, one that will probably remain unanswered until the season finale is this: does Nick have enough magic left up his sleeves to bring Nate’s redemption full circle? Find out for yourselves as Ted Lasso closes out its (final?) season on Apple TV+ with its three remaining episodes; starting with episode 10 which premiered today. Enjoy my conversation with the pleasant trickster, Nick Mohammed.
How did your Ted Lasso story begin?
I was going up for Higgins. Didn’t get that obviously. The brilliant Jeremy Swift got that and I didn’t really think anything of it. It’s just one of those things you get for castings; you try and do your best, especially when it’s something that you think is good. But, it doesn’t always go your way for whatever reason. So, I kind of forgot about it. And, it wasn’t until I was sort of in the thick of filming the first season of Intelligence where I got asked to go in again, for Nate. I actually sort of resisted a little bit because I was just a bit like, ‘I’m sort of in the middle of Intelligence‘ and didn’t really want the distraction.
In the end, I sort of said, ‘Oh, well, I can’t really come in because I don’t really have the time because we’ve sort of filming ours, but I can do a self tape in my lunch break,’ – which I cobbled together and it’s very slapdash – and must have appeared quite arrogant, because I think I only did one of the scenes out of the three that they want him to do. About a week or so later, I had got the part and was doing the read through, doing the pilot and stuff. It was a strange, odd way those things kind of work, because it undoubtedly has been life changing. I just feel so grateful and so lucky that it kind of came about at that time. I could have very easily just been like, ‘I just don’t have the time,’ and, ‘I’m not even going to put myself forward for it again.’ So yeah, a strange old thing.
Even I remember sort of thinking, ‘oh, this is clearly a great show.’ Sort of bucking the trend in that it wasn’t a snarky cynical comedy. It felt refreshing in that regard. Thematically, it just felt just really nice. I was a huge fan already of Jason’s (Sudeikis) work and (Bill) Lawrence and knew Brett (Goldstein) as well from the comedy circuit. Not that I knew that Brett was then to go on to play Roy Kent, but I was aware of it as that he was on the writing team for it. So, it sort of just fell into place. I’m so grateful for it.
So you’re under a new wing. Now Nate’s working with Rupert. How does that relationship differ from the Nate and Ted relationships?
Oh, gosh. The similarities are that Nate is sort of craving some kind of leader /father figure in his life, because, clearly he has a difficult relationship with his real dad, quite toxic. I think we’re going to sort of explore that even more in season three in the later few episodes as well. I feel like when Ted arrives on the scene, he becomes that father figure for Nate. Obviously, we know that that kind of goes awry, and we see the downfall of Nate in season two, and ultimately, that ends in him betraying Ted. What I think Nate sees in Rupert now is a father figure. Even though Ted and Rupert are obviously so different. And Rupert is such a sort of toxic force in, well, everyone’s life, but Nate sort of weirdly looks up to him. He’s been seduced by the power and the glamour of now being a coach of a fancy club. He’s getting the kind of flashy cars, he’s dating models that Rupert is setting up. He’s being seduced by all the things in social media, all the things that we know are absolute red flags, in terms of actually something that’s going to lead to something positive and good and satisfying. They’re obviously two very different figures in Nate’s life, but I think only we, as an audience, see Ted and Rupert as that different. I think that Nate sadly replaced Ted with Rupert but that’s obviously a big, big, big no, no, he shouldn’t be doing that.
Steven Prusakowski: Then you started this relationship this season with Jade, it finally came to fruition. Would Nate’s parents approve of her?
Nick Mohammed: I think that Nate is so concerned about what everyone else thinks, particularly his dad. He feels like he’s forever disappointed his dad, that his dad has always constantly put him down for 30-plus years. He never feels like he can do right in his dad’s eyes. I think that Jade is such a great addition to his life. Jade is the one who is going to be the one who allows him to see his own self worth, and ultimately, allow him to have that moment of self realization where he can start to make the right decisions, maybe start to account for some of his bad decisions and his actions that we saw mostly in season two. I guess he does worry that his parents maybe weren’t accepting, because he’s never known anything but being a bit downtrodden, and like, ‘Oh, you’ll never get a girlfriend and you’ll never be how I need you to be in my eyes.’ He’s never been able to satisfy his Dad’s needs in that regard.
Steven Prusakowski: Was this your first full onscreen romance?
Nick Mohammed: Pretty much. Nate’s never really been in a relationship before at all. This is very, very new for him and quite raw, and quite defining, actually, in terms of his journey towards hopefully being redeemed. And how is it handling the romantic side of things? And was it more stressful for you as an actor? You want to make it believable, and you want to make it feel authentic. I obviously knew Edyta from when we were filming season two, but we didn’t have tons of interactions. It was great then getting to work with Edyta more. She’s absolutely brilliant and has such a unique way of playing Jade, which I think is really refreshing actually. She doesn’t give too much away, which is useful because Nate sort of doesn’t know how to take it in the first instance. Sometimes it almost comes across as, like a coldness. She’s very genuine and she’s not romanced by the kind of fame or interested in football or anything. She just sees Nate for who he is. She’s not really bothered by any of the superficial stuff that Nate is into at first. It was great working with Jade. We have to work with an intimacy coordinator for some of it as well. That was the first time I had to do that.That was a very good thing because we just wanted to create this sweet but believable, sort of real relationship.
Steven Prusakowski: Nate’s journey starts with him as Nate, the underdog. And essentially, we’ve led to kind of make the trader Do you see that way? And are there any ways to justify his actions toward the team and towards Ted?
Nick Mohammed: He has made some what can be seen as villainous decisions. He did betray Ted’s trust. It’s very cruel to have leaked information about Ted having panic attacks, at the end of season two to the press – that is that’s malicious. That didn’t happen by chance. I felt like it was important, as much as I don’t condone his behavior. You know, and his inappropriate actions towards Keeley, as well, when he goes for the kiss and betrays that friendship in that regard. I personally can’t condone that behavior or his actions, but I think it was important for me as an actor to be able to empathize with him, I guess, to a degree and sort of know where he was coming from. I spoke about it quite a lot before that he’s sort of the victim of, of a series of I guess micro-aggressions. I have to be careful using that term, because I know that’s quite a loaded term. But, it was the sum of a lot of things that Nick had put up with. Not that I think it justifies what he did, but I can sort of see how it just became a tipping point – Roy becoming a coach.
At the end of season one, Nate was so proud, so whelmed and overjoyed at what had happened to him. Ted had absolutely empowered him and had represented this huge force for good in his life. And then from Ted’s point of view, his job was done. He was like, ‘yeah, great Nate is sort of fixed. That’s great. He’s now not as insecure. But actually, what we saw was that those insecurities were still there and then Ted, not abandoning Nate, because I don’t think Ted deliberately did that. But that’s how it felt for Nate. That then just became a catalyst for just him sort of spiraling out of control and ego taking over and confidence becoming arrogance. He’s clearly depressed, is Nate – and struggled with his mental health. So it didn’t really take much for him to kind of suddenly sort of fall into this downward spiral. Even though in that final scene of season two, with him and Ted are sort of, at loggerheads, and he’s having a real go at Ted, I sort of still feel that Nate is the most vulnerable person in the room in that scene, because he’s just out of control, he’s lashing out in all the wrong directions. Because, he just struggles with his mental health.
Steven Prusakowski: Where do you see Nate in 10 years?
Nick Mohammed: That’s a good question. Well, I mean, there’s an answer, but that would possibly be a spoiler. So I can’t say that. I feel like if he manages to kind of come through this season, for the better and accounts for his actions, then maybe, maybe you’ll see him managing or coaching a great team. But then equally, maybe he doesn’t need that. Maybe it’s the life lesson in it is that we just see him be happy being a kitman, again. Do you know what I mean? He doesn’t need the praise and the pressures of being in a high powered job, or something… maybe just doesn’t really need any of that and he just needs to kind of go back to sort of where he sort of first began and to be comfortable in who he is. I’d like to sort of see Nate happy, but not necessarily, has gone sort of stratospheric with his career. Who knows though, he’s clever. Yeah, there’s so much you could pick apart, you know, and dig into Nate, and he’s not, you know, one dimensional, which is one of the things I really love about the series is these characters are flushed out and feel real. And, you know, it was just, it was amazing.
Steven Prusakowski: It was interesting to watch his physical transformation with the hair, slowly turning gray – now he’s this silver fox. And that’s changing, he’s changing, his persona and who the real Nate is kind of getting lost in the mix somewhere. I still miss the old hair. Will we ever see Nate’s black hair again?
Nick Mohammed: No, unless he actively dyes. The going grave thing was a deliberate choice for season two. My hair’s black, but I got flecks of gray in it. So they, in fact, in season one, they painted out the gray hair to make me look younger and then they progressively added more and more gray in season two. It sort of developed from the stress and the guilt and the shame, everything he was feeling. We liked the idea that it was sort of manifesting itself in what he wore as well. If you track the black suit, that sort of tells the same journey as well. He stops wearing the suit that Ted got him and stuff like that. We did the same with hair and makeup like, ‘yeah, let’s do let’s do something interesting and exciting.’ But yeah, I don’t think that once you start going gray I don’t think it starts going back once you start behaving nicely again, sadly. (laughs)
(laughs) Yes, unfortunately, I know that all too well. Thank you for your time.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity… and technical glitches – which includes his very interesting magic to comedy background story.