Ted Lasso exclusive interview: Theo Park on the magic of casting the Apple TV+ series

Ted Lasso
Theo Park as cast a brilliant mainly UK ensemble for Ted Lasso. Pic credit: Apple TV +

There were very few good things about 2020, save for the American fish out of water TV series Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. The feel-good sleeper hit took a character already established by lead Jason Sudeikis and just ran it down the field to a massive worldwide goal.

Fans in America and the U.K. and beyond can’t get enough, loving every minute of Ted’s earnest efforts to shape up a wealthy woman’s team and get them to the top of the league.

It takes a village to make an excellent ensemble television series, and one of the key people to thank for this heartwarming and riotously funny series is the casting director, Theo Park.

Building the cast of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso was a team effort for Park. She shared her inside scoop on the process with Monsters & Critics about how the London Premier League soccer team came together and how she found incredibly gifted actors who had skills on the pitch, too.

Theo worked with series star and co-creators Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt to find the right people for each role. Hunt also shines as Coach Beard, the laconic straight man to Sudeikis’ Ted. 

For those uninitiated, Lasso is a home-spun coach of American football hired by Rebecca (Hanah Waddingham) to manage the Tottenham Hotspur, one of England’s most loved teams. 

The magic of Lasso is that it reminds us that kindness counts even in the face of cynics and dismissive sorts and is more important than being just clever.

If you have not experienced Ted Lasso, be curious, that’s what Ted would counsel. It’s utterly charming and without guile, but never boring or schmaltzy; it’s perfectly wrought entertainment and perfect for family viewing.

Is Ted Lasso a new character?

No. The Apple TV+ series began as a character from an NBC Sports campaign that promoted the U.S. coverage of the Premier League. Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis in the spot and show, is an American Division II college football coach hired to manage a beloved soccer team in the U.K. with scant knowledge or experience of the game. 

It worked and has made stars of an ensemble cast who hum in a scene together with flawless comic timing, often illuminating the elusive bond between Americans and their British cousins. We usually don’t speak the same English, but this series underscores the affection between the two worlds.

Casting director Theo Park has worked on other profile projects, such as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Paddington, and Far from the Madding Crowd.

She has helped shape a top-notch cast in a series that has blossomed into an award-winning juggernaut. Along with Jason and Brendan Hunt, the series stars Hannah Waddingham, Jeremy Swift, Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein, Phil Dunster, and Nick Mohammed, and delightful newcomer Cristo Fernández.

She also talked about Sarah Niles, the new cast regular cast as Sharon, a sports psychologist hired to work with AFC Richmond.

Interview with Theo Park

Monsters & Critics: I feel like casting directors don’t get their due for the success of shows that have big ensembles. I think that that casting is an art. How did you become a casting director?

Theo Park: Yes, and where’s my invitation to the SAG Awards. Hey! [laughs]

Well, actually, when I was a child, I wanted to be an actor, but then as I grew up, I realized that I’d be poor a lot of the time, and I didn’t want that to happen because I wanted to earn proper money!

So I went to university, and I studied film. I got into film and television generally. But it was, for me, it was all about the performance, I think, cause I was always interested in acting. I thought about getting into casting after that. I actually started as an agent.

Because again, you earn more money as an agent and I was lucky enough to just get into casting and learn the ropes with Nina Gold, who’s the best casting director, I think, in the U.K.

I’m really fortunate enough to have worked with her, and she trained me essentially. Now I’m doing it on my own.

M&C: Jason had established his character well before the Apple series. Brendan Hunt, too, they had worked out their two leads. How did you introduce Hannah as Rebecca to offer her this role?

Theo Park: I’ll be perfectly honest. I think she was [co-creator and co-star] Brendan Hunt’s idea. Yes, she was, and that’s it. That’s why you’re right, because sometimes casting directors don’t get their due, but I do feel that I’m just part of a team. We’re all working together to make an excellent show or project film.

And Jason and Brendan came over to London. I was so lucky to spend a whole day with them and also get to learn more about the role of Rebecca because I read episode one, and I had spoken to Jason a bit, but I didn’t know who or what or the arc of her character or where it would go.

We saw a whole load of actors, and none of them were quite right.

But we were like, who could it be? Who could it be? And Brendan said. ‘Hannah Waddingham,’ and we were like, yes! He gets due for that.

M&C: What’s the ratio of British actors to American actors in this particular production?

Theo Park: They’re all Brits apart from Brendan and Jason. Everyone’s British. 

M&C: What was the reception of Ted Lasso in the U.K.?

Theo Park: I think a bit of a sleeper. Everyone who had the Apple subscription enjoyed it, but anyone who hadn’t yet bought the Apple subscription didn’t know much about it.

I think the Americans have cottoned onto it more than the Brits.

But I don’t know anyone who has seen it who has not liked it. I don’t know anyone. No one.

M&C: I think that once people see it, they’re sold. What particular character was a challenge for you, and what was the most effortless character to cast for this ensemble?

Theo Park: The easiest one was probably Nate, Nick Mohammed. I just knew it had to be him. And when he did his tape, he was just, he just totally nailed it. And everyone felt it was unanimous.

Everybody saw the tape, and then that’s it. He’s it. He is it. Dani Rojas was a challenge because the Jamie Tartt role played by Phil Dunster was originally called Danny Rojas.

So the Richmond star player was arrogant star player Danny Rojas from South America. Still, we could not find him, we saw loads of people, and in that search, we got this fantastic tape from Cristo Fernández, who’s just the genius, but not the arrogant star player at all, he’s just so exuberant and fun and lively and excitable.

And, so we all thought, ‘Oh, he’s great, but he’s not really the arrogant star player? What can we do?’

A totally different part was written, and we decided to write him a new role. Phil Dunston became the arrogant star player, but for himself and just to play it British. It’s an exciting way of just making the scripts work to the talent that we found.

M&C: Cristo Fernández nailed Danny.

Theo Park: He is so funny! He was just brilliant. They created that role to suit him. 

M&C: Casting-wise, what can we look forward to for the next round of Ted Lasso? Are there any surprises up your sleeve?

Theo Park: Well, no spoilers. I think I am allowed to say that we cast because it was in the press, a fantastic actor named Sarah Niles and she’s playing the new regular in season two, which we’re filming right now.

And then we’ve got lots of other new guest roles, and what’s exciting about season two, even before it started the process, Jason was texting me saying ‘heads up. I want to get as many people back from season one as I can,’ which is excellent.

Like even some of the day players, we’re bringing back for exciting episodes in season two, which I’m sure the fans will enjoy, ‘Oh, it’s him from season one.’

And some of them have more significant parts this time and more to do, but it’s great.

M&C: Season two is, is in production right now, correct?

Theo Park: That’s right. Yes. We finished shooting at the end of May, and hopefully, I think it will be on Apple in July.

M&C: Does the action still stay entirely in England? 

Theo Park: Yes, it does. It’s all Richmond. We’re based in Richmond.

M&C: How excited were you when you heard there was a season three already greenlit.

Theo Park: I’m so excited. I mean, apart from loving working on it, I just can’t wait to see it. It’s just so great. I love it.

M&C: Is there anything else that you are casting right now?

Theo Park: I’m doing a couple of things and another series for Netflix as well.

M&C: And your favorite part of Ted Lasso is?

Theo Park: Jason. Jason, Jason Jason’s performance is Ted. I love it.

Production on Season 2 is currently underway. The series received an early Season 3 renewal in October.

Apple TV+ announced Season 2 of the Jason Sudeikis comedy is set to premiere Friday, July 23. 

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