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How Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein Found the Softer Side of Roy Kent

Photo: David Fisher/Shutterstock

When one door closes, another opens. Or in Brett Goldstein’s case, when one series ends for the season, another one premieres … just three days later. The actor, who stars as grumpy soccer legend Roy Kent in Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso — for which he also serves on the writing staff — will see Lasso’s October 2 season finale followed on October 5 by the premiere of the AMC anthology series Soulmates, which he created and writes with Emmy-winning Black Mirror writer Will Bridges.

An outpouring of love for Lasso, which stars Jason Sudeikis as a super-optimistic American football coach hired to move to England and coach a hapless British soccer team, and high hopes for the high-concept Soulmates (about a world where people can take a test to be matched up with their meant-to-be partner), mean both shows have already received season-two renewals. And that means Goldstein, who’s also a stand-up comedian and host of the Films to Be Buried With podcast, is spending his pandemic fall working in writers’ rooms day and night.

“I basically work all day on Soulmates and then all night on Zoom on Ted Lasso, and I can’t complain because I appreciate how absolutely insanely lucky I am,” Goldstein says. “All my dreams came true, but they came true at the same time.”

And still, Goldstein found time to have a chat with Vulture about both series, how writing Roy made him want to play the character, and the real-life footballer who inspired him to write Lasso’s best episode.

Light spoilers for season one of Ted Lasso ahead.

So for Ted Lasso, you had helped write the whole season when you decided you wanted to play Roy, right?
So what happened was — and I still can’t believe it worked out, and I also can’t believe that I did it — basically, as we were writing it, I just started to think I could play Roy; I really get it. I really get this part. But I also knew it was not the sort of part I would usually play. I usually play a softer character. It’s probably my typecast up to that point. So I didn’t want to say anything because I thought, No one’s thinking of me for this role. And I didn’t want to embarrass anyone and make it awkward. So on my last day in the writers’ room, the night before, I [recorded a tape], five scenes as Roy, without telling anyone, and then I sent an email to Bill [Lawrence] and said, “I’ve been thinking I could play Roy … but if this is embarrassing, you can pretend you never got this email, and I will never ask you about it.” Then I got a message from him at like three in the morning, going, “Oh! This is good. Let’s see.” And then very luckily it all went ahead.

What about Roy, as you were writing him, made you want to play him?
I think I completely understood his anger and his repression, but also there’s a real softness underneath it all. I think at the beginning of this series, Roy is really depressed. He’s given up on everything, and he’s just playing out this probably last year or two, and he’s disappointed he’s at this club that isn’t very good, when he used to be a legend. I grew up around a lot of footballers, and I’ve always had sympathy for them. There’s something interesting about this life where, to be a [Premier League] player, you probably start at 3 and then you train and you train and you train and then, at best, on average, you have ten good years. You make loads of money, and I’m sure it’s very exciting, and then suddenly it ends. And then what? You haven’t learned anything else. Your experience of life has been so unusual, then to be spat out the other end — listen, obviously, there are people much worse off. It’s not like I’m going, “Oh, poor very rich footballers.” But there’s no way when you’re young you can understand that inevitability. You just think you’re invincible.

We always said this thing [in the writers’ room]: I bet if you asked Roy at 20 “What’s the plan?,” he’d say, “I’ll play football until I can’t and then I’ll kill myself.” There was no post-football for Roy. There’s a real tragedy to him, I think. But there’s stuff in there that has been buried for various reasons. Ted and Keeley (Juno Temple) and what happens over the season cracks him open a bit. I like that: what it takes to get some emotion out of him. I love the relationship he has with feelings.

The show relies on the other characters, and the audience, embracing Ted’s positivity, his guilelessness. He’s also not a rube. That’s a tricky balance to pull off. Jason’s performance is key, but what other things did you talk about in the writers’ room to make that happen?
One of the reasons I’m proud of the show and think it works is that as much as Ted is nice and he’s kind and he’s passionate, his troubles are real. He doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The world of Ted Lasso isn’t a fairy tale. He has problems in his marriage. All the characters, in fact, have something quite serious going on. So when he’s challenged, like by Jamie (Phil Dunster) in episode six, when he gets angry with him, the world doesn’t not act in a difficult way with him. He has three-dimensional problems in his family and in his head. He has panic attacks. He’s not one dimensional.

The other thing, and I’m sure Jason and Brendan [Hunt] have talked about this, is this idea that Ted is like [taking] mushrooms, in that, supposedly, so I’m told, when you’re on mushrooms, you have an out-of-body, bigger-picture experience, where you can step away from the ego and the things that tie us to anger and expectations and all that stuff and look at everything in a bigger way and a compassionate way … everything is ultimately benevolent if you apply the right compassion to it.

Speaking of Ted’s family, I think episode five, “Tan Lines,” where we find out about Ted’s marriage, and which you wrote, is the season’s best, for some of the reasons you just talked about. We get so much more of the overall Ted picture. Yet it’s pretty amazing that you manage to make us understand his wife’s frustrations with him, without making us dislike this person who is crushing this character we’ve come to love.
I’m glad you felt that way. The mission was to pull it off without [anyone] hating her. The idea for that episode came from … I’m a big supporter of [Premier League team] Tottenham. There was an incident that happened where Lucas Moura, who is a player for Tottenham, had the best game he’d had since he joined the team. He is not from the U.K. And at the end of the game, he ran over to the edge of where the fans are, and he just stood there. The commentators were like, “Oh, he’s posing.” Like he was showing off. But he also looked like he was going to cry. Suddenly the crowd parted, and his wife, carrying their baby, comes to the front of the fans and hands him his baby … he puts the baby down, and the crowd is sort of cheering, and he puts a ball in front of the baby, and the baby kicks the ball a little bit, and the crowd goes “Yayyyy!”

It’s such a beautiful thing. I mean, you should look it up. It’s really moving. But when I watched it, I put a story on it. I don’t know if there’s backstory to that scene in real life. In my head, I was like, he’s been at Tottenham a while. He was supposed to be a big deal, and I think he struggled when he came here. And then he has that game where he’s the hero, and he’s done it, and he’s home, and the fans are embracing him, and here comes his wife and his baby, who have probably had a difficult time with this move and this whole change of life, and I felt like it was him going, It’s okay. We’re all going to be okay. So that was the idea behind a turning point for Ted, after his wife comes, and then when Richmond wins the game and the crowd starts yelling “Wanker!” with pride … maybe he’s okay here.

Soulmates premieres on AMC a couple of days after the Ted Lasso season finale. What inspired this very different show?
Really, it just came out of a conversation Will and me were having. We were working on a film together called SuperBob, and he was married, about to have his first kid, and I was dating lots of people that felt really wonderful and then were disasters — that sort of thing. We were talking about true love, and does it exist, and the idea of soul mates. We also love writing about relationships. That’s always my favorite. That’s why I wanted to write [Ted Lasso] episode five. So we talked about how we could write a show about modern relationships that felt fresh, and we just came up with this idea of this test: What if science found the human soul, and therefore there was now a test that could match you with your soul mate? What happens to everyone?

The series is going to make everyone ask themselves and their partners if they would take a soul-mates test. Would you?
At the moment, I think I wouldn’t take the test, because I don’t like the idea that it’s the end. Life’s the journey, not the destination, and taking the test is very much being told what the destination is.

It’s sort of the rule of the show: Your soul mate isn’t going to fix you. Your soul mate is the person you’re going to love the most, but it doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to be a different person. And, also, your soul mate is a human, so they’re not going to be perfect. You have to sort yourself out and not expect the other person to. The thing that I’m proud of is [the show] has respect for long-term relationships and history, and how that does matter, and what you build with a person through thick and thin — it matters and counts for something.

Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein on Finding Roy Kent’s Soft Side