Swearing Is Caring: A Few Choice Words From The Breakout Star Of Ted Lasso
It has been quite the year for Mr Brett Goldstein, the actor whom I have a hard time separating from his on-screen character, Roy Kent, in this year’s standout comedy series, Ted Lasso. To borrow the chant the AFC Richmond fans sing about him, “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every-fucking-where! Roy Kent, Roy Kent.” Or so it seems.
Look, there he is, controversially swearing through his acceptance speech while picking up the Emmy for best supporting actor in a comedy series to add to the Writers Guild of America award that he shares for having co-written the show.
And there he is at ACL Fest in Austin, teaching self-help guru Ms Brené Brown the subtle nuances of British vernacular, such as “bollocks” versus “the bollocks”, during a live recording of her podcast, Unlocking Us. And there he is with his own award-nominated podcast Films To Be Buried With, in which he swearily interviews weekly guests of the calibre of Messrs Barry Jenkins, Ricky Gervais and Chris Martin about their favourite films – and their death.
Last year, he co-wrote the light sci-fi anthology series about love Soulmates, which has been recommissioned, and he’s currently co-writing a 10-part comedy called Shrinking that will star Mr Jason Segel as a grieving, straight-talking therapist. And because he’s not busy enough already, he regularly performs stand-up. “Anything to avoid a dinner party,” he quips.
Is he a) a workaholic and b) OK? “I read these things that say like, ‘Oh, workaholism is bad,’ and I’m always like, ‘Is it?’”
Yep, pretty sure it is.
“Because the work that I do is what I always wanted to do and it does make me happy. It feels like a purpose. It fulfils me and I’m very, very lucky to have something that does.”
The entire cast of Ted Lasso is so ubiquitous right now, it’s almost as if they have been cloned. Indeed, there was a conspiracy theory doing the Ted-obsessed Reddits that Roy Kent was, in fact, entirely CGI – which is why MR PORTER tongue-in-cheekily shot him in his trademark all-black against a green screen. “I still don’t know if it’s an insult or a compliment,” deadpans Goldstein. “And I still don’t know if it’s true or not.”
Ted heads will tell you the world can be divided into two types of people: those who love Ted Lasso, and those who haven’t seen it yet. If you’re in the latter category, allow me to be the 73rd person to recommend it to you. Though not faultless – a couple of episodes are a bit cringe – as a wholesome whole, it truly is worth the Apple TV+ subscription. And if it sounds like I’m fanboying, it’s because the positivity that radiates from the show is more infectious than the Delta variant.
Quick synopsis: Ted Lasso (played by co-creator and co-writer Mr Jason Sudeikis) is an American football coach hired to manage a struggling English Premier League team, the aforementioned AFC Richmond, of which Roy Kent is the ageing, angry, aggressive captain (season one) turned coach (season two). And no, Roy Kent is “not based on Roy Keane”. Apparently. Ted responds to Roy, and everyone he encounters, with radical kindness, a practice that starts to rub off on others.
Ted has been just the tonic for our times – the upbeat, heart-warming, life-affirming hug we all needed in a socially distanced pandemic. It has filled the void created by the conclusion of Schitt’s Creek, and followed in its feelgood footsteps by sweeping the board in the comedy categories at this year’s Emmys – including that personal gong for Goldstein – with a record number of nominations for a first-year show.
“It felt special while we were making it, but you never know if it will connect with people,” says Goldstein. “But I think [its success] says a lot about the state of the world. Part of the mission for the show is that public discourse was getting fucking ugly and it was becoming quite normal, weirdly normalised, very quickly that people being mean to each other publicly was fine. There were no manners, no one was polite, no one was thoughtful. It was just: who’s the meanest?”
Ted Lasso, by contrast, is all about human decency and compassion, optimism and hope. Also, football. You watch an episode and – goddammit! – it makes you immediately resolve to be a better person. A bit more Ted. “The fact that it resonates so much with people probably suggests how starved we were to see people treat each other decently in the media,” says Goldstein. “We just didn’t see it. Ted Lasso seems revolutionary, when really, it shouldn’t.”
It is a triumph of the show’s writing that it manages to be so sweet without being saccharine. Ted’s loveable-puppy-dog lines are balanced out by Roy’s bulldog snarls. The latter’s saltiness cuts through some of the schmaltz that that might otherwise have been a bit hard to swallow, at least for the more cynical British audience.
“The fact that it resonates so much with people probably suggests how starved we were to see people treat each other decently… Ted Lasso seems revolutionary, when really, it shouldn’t”
Much of that is down to the language. Roy Kent rivals The Thick Of It’s Malcolm Tucker as the sweariest TV character of all time. Even the way he says “Roy Kent” sounds like the coarsest Anglo-Saxon. But as Ted acknowledges after one particularly colourful outburst, Roy’s constant effing and jeffing is “kinda like all the nipples in that movie Showgirls: halfway through, you don’t even notice, you just kinda get sucked into the narrative.”
“I swear all the time, I really struggle with it,” Goldstein admits, ruefully stroking that bestubbled chin. Now that we’re out of lockdown and interactions with the general public are more commonplace, do people just shout profanities at him? When Brené Brown – the respected author, TED talker and podcaster who’s spent her career studying vulnerability and empathy – invited Goldstein to do her first ever live show, “it was just insane: people doing the Roy Kent chant and shouting out, ‘Say “Fuck off!”’ And I’m like, ‘Is that my catchphrase? Is my catchphrase “Fuck off”? Is that what’s happened?’”
But most one-to-one interactions have been people saying a heartfelt thank you. Including me. As a UK-born football obsessive who has spent the last eight years living in the US, I thank Goldstein for helping Americans to finally understand and appreciate the beautiful game.
“There was a lot of talk about, ‘It’s not really about the football, don’t worry about the football,’” he says. “But it is about football. I mean it’s about lots of things, but it is also about football. Let’s stop pretending it’s not.”
I venture Ted Lasso has done more to establish the sport in the US than other evangelists who have gone before, including Pelé and Messrs George Best and David Beckham. At this, Goldstein punches the air with delight. “That is the greatest achievement of the show,” he laughs. “Forget all the kindness. We’re getting fucking Americans to get into football! They even call it football sometimes [rather than soccer].”
Goldstein, a life-long Tottenham fan from Sutton, south London, is one of only two Brits in the writers’ room – although he says Mr Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard, knows more about football and is more of an Anglophile than any of them. Lasso is the brainchild of Hunt and Sudeikis and their long-time collaborator Mr Joe Kelly, who first brought the character to TV screens back in 2013 for some NBC Sports promos after the broadcaster had bought the rights to stream Premier League football in the US. The promos, which successfully appealed to the knowledgeable football fan as well as the complete newbie, went viral on both sides of the Atlantic. A seed was planted.
“Part of the concept of Ted Lasso was taking the stereotype of an ignorant American going somewhere he doesn’t know anything and blustering his way through with arrogance and confidence,” Goldstein says. “But instead of being like, ‘Ah, fuck you all, I’ll just shout over everything’, [Ted] is curious and he’s open and he’s honest. Like, ‘I don’t know about football. Here’s what I do know. Here’s what I’d like to learn.’ And he meets people where they are. Basically, it’s this show in which people are trying to be better and trying to treat each other well.”
At 41, Mr Goldstein is an overnight success. He’d spent 20 years plugging away as a stand-up comedian – regularly taking comedy shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and as a bit-part actor, working consistently but without much spotlight. Then Roy Kent changed his life.
Goldstein was originally brought onto the show as a writer, but found himself increasingly identifying with the character of Roy, “like a calling”, and felt compelled to put himself forward. He emailed a self-recorded audition to the show’s creators and told them if they didn’t like it, they need never speak of it again. They effing loved it.
The resplendently moustachioed Sudeikis is very much the star turn and Ted gets most of the quotable one-liners that pinball around the internet like a modern-day Mr Oscar Wilde. But in keeping with the show’s core values, he shares the shine, and Roy’s character arc is especially compelling.
AFC Richmond’s club motto, “Gradarius Firmus Victoria”, means “small steps forward towards victory”. And over the course of the two series so far, we’ve seen Roy grow and evolve from rough, gruff, tough Neanderthal – a product of the toxic masculinity of the dressing room and terraces – into a complex, multidimensional, work-in-progress. A diamond being polished.
Even more important than getting Americans to shout “wanker” (with accompanying hand gesture) while watching football, vital cross-cultural work though this is, the show has also taught us a lot about life. Because, when you think about it – and I have thought about it a lot – Roy exemplifies qualities we should all aspire to have. His journey taps into some important aspects of what it is to be a man and wrestles with them.
Here is an incomplete list (in an effort to avoid plot spoilers): he deals with getting older and feeling insecure and inadequate as a younger generation comes through. He deals with depression and reinvention. He deals with anger and jealousy and forgiveness… Plus, he drinks wine while watching reality TV with his yoga group of women in their sixties. How much of all this can Goldstein personally relate to?
“Roy is this cauldron of feeling and always has been, but he’s repressed it all, which I could certainly relate to,” he says. “I have that theory of why his voice is [so strained] like that – because he’s holding it all in.”
In real life, Goldstein doesn’t speak like Roy with the constriction of the emotionally constipated. He “hates small talk” and much prefers digging deeper. Our conversation moves on to MR PORTER’s Health In Mind campaign and how important is it for our mental health not to bottle things up.
“It’s a huge, huge thing,” Goldstein says. “Look, I say this as someone who still struggles with being open and vulnerable and all that, I 100 per cent believe in it. I do think that not being able to tell your truth and be vulnerable is very damaging because everyone’s weird and everyone has embarrassing things. If you have to keep everything in, you go insane.”
It’s coming up to 9.00am in LA and Goldstein has to ring off our Zoom call and get to work. He’s back in the Ted Lasso writers’ room, crafting the next (and quite possibly last) season. “We had a three-season arc planned. We are writing the end of that story. Whether there’ll be more after that, we’ll see, I genuinely don’t know. But I do know that the story that we were telling over three years will be complete.”
As for the end of this story, Ted would no doubt have a funny yet thought-provoking parting metaphor to share, but how would Roy sign off to the MR PORTER readers? Goldstein takes a moment to get into character. The smile disappears, the scowl descends. “Make the most of every moment you have,” he grunts. “And then fuck off.”
But Goldstein can’t end the conversation like that. Because if Ted Lasso has taught us one thing, it is how to show gratitude. “Honestly, I’ve loved this,” he says earnestly, snapping out of character again. “You’ve made me think a lot. Maybe it’s too early, but I feel emotional, so thank you very much. I appreciate you.”
No, no, Roy. I mean, Brett. We appreciate you.