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With Ted Lasso, Hannah Waddingham Trades ‘Shame Nun’ for ‘Iron Queen’

Photo: Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images

With Schitt’s Creek’s brass-filled departure from television complete, Vulture would like to officially nominate Ted Lasso as its spiritual successor for warm and fuzzy programming. The comedy series, starring Jason Sudekis as a folksy American football coach imported from the States to shake up a middling British football team, exudes joy and cheer at pretty much every turn on “the pitch” — despite ulterior motives from the club’s newest owner, Rebecca. She (played by a perfectly accessorized Hannah Waddingham) isn’t trying to innovate the Premier League with new ways of strategy, but rather wants to see the club reach spectacular levels of failure as revenge for, well, we should really let her explain it in her own words: “My ex-husband only loved one thing his entire life: this club. And Ted Lasso is going to help me burn it to the ground,” she says in the first episode. “I want him to feel like he’s going to be fucked in the ass with a splintered cricket bat, just in and out, over and over, in a constant loop. Like a GIF.”

Quite unsurprisingly, though, Ted’s charm, humility, and daily biscuit delivery wears Rebecca down, and by the finale, she’s genuinely crushed when her team is relegated to another league. She also admits to Ted why she hired him in the first place, news that he takes in empathetic stride. (This man is too damn nice!) With the duo united in power and season two confirmed by Apple, Vulture recently called up Waddingham to learn more about playing Rebecca, which she acknowledges is the complete opposite of one of her biggest television roles to date, Septa Unella in Game of Thrones. We also discussed her ideal future cameos, if those biscuits were actually good, and why she believes Ted and Rebecca are each others’ “saviors.”

It’s been fun to see people realize that you, as this glamorous football club owner, were also the “shame nun” in Game of Thrones. How has it been to witness this shift in public perception?
Well, trust me, I did wonder if that day was ever going to come — of people being able to see me without my wimple. [Laughs.] It’s a thrill for me for people to realize sometimes what you see isn’t what you get on television. People can be old-school comedians and be able to do different things if given the chance. I’m so glad that the show gave me a chance to go outside the box. Not about changing from the “shame nun” to a newer role, but allowing this woman in heels to be vulnerable.

Ted Lasso is one of the nicest shows on TV right now, but for most of the season you try to ruin that vibe with sabotage. Was there ever any weird tension for you with that?
I initially thought, Oh God, the audience is just going to hate me. And I also thought that I should find the line — because the writing is so good and clever — of giving little nuggets about why Rebecca is the way she is. She’s not Darth Vader. There are moments where you’re like, Aw, bless her, alright. Poor her. The people that I’m in the room with, particularly Jason, were getting to know me as a person and getting to know what I was capable of throughout filming the season. I would find things in the script that he and I had talked about and I would share misgivings and insecurities. I felt those things made Rebecca very realistic, that she’s not this vile woman trying to take the club down. They made her, and all the other characters, so three-dimensional that even in my moments of thinking, Oh, I’m beating a very different drum here, I still felt that the drum I was beating was relevant and counted.

How did you work on finding the best “line,” as you put it, with Rebecca’s character?
Bill [Lawrence] and Jason have been open about the fact that they wrote and cast the roles, but very early on, you’re respectfully put in the loop of things like, Do you think your character would say that? Does this sit well with you? There would be times I’d be sitting at my office desk with Jason and I’d go like, Well, that sentence makes me feel funny for this reason. And always, 100 percent it was a subject of debate and compromise. Even if we were literally just about to film the scene, he’d call everyone in and we’d talk it over. To have people trusting you like that makes you want to produce the best work that you can, because they then want to demonstrate that your contribution was right. It makes it like a theater company rather than a television show. Having come from theater like I did, you don’t get into it for fame and fortune. You get into it because you want to play great characters. You’re a pack animal, and Ted Lasso was a proper pack.

Can you give an example of a scene or moment that went through that debate process?
Anecdotally, I remember telling Jason one day, Oh gosh, Rebecca is quite sweary. And he was like, Why don’t you want Rebecca to be so sweary? It’s because my parents would be watching. Jason just laughed that off, and then I became more sweary. I wasn’t any Mary Poppins.

So, by my count, there’s only one woman who’s a real-life owner of a Premier League club, and she’s not even the sole owner. Did this testosterone-y football culture inform or influence how you wanted to portray Rebecca?
Kind of. I thought more of it as—bear in mind, when Rebecca was still married to Rupert, she would’ve been at every match and soaked up everything. She was the wife of the owner and of course she would spend a lot of time there. Because of how eloquent she is and how she can hold her own, I imagined she was a successful businesswoman prior to the events of the show. Jason told me behind the scenes, I imagine that she comes from an old-money family. She hasn’t married above her class, if anything, she married below her and was going along for the ride. And with that, she picked up a lot from being from Rupert. In the first episode she says something like, “Nobody has seen Richmond play more than I have.” She can stand on her own two feet and is becoming an even bigger businesswoman than she knew she could be.

What surprised you most this season: That Ted instantly forgave Rebecca, or the team being relegated in a last-second heartbreak?
Ted forgiving her. It’s so awful what she was trying to do with him. That could’ve been the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back for him, but it wasn’t. His marriage is broken down, he’s not seeing his son, the team has been relegated. And the woman who has been absolutely lovely to your face is actually a monster? It’s an utter shit sandwich. To create the character that can go, in a heartbeat, Well, I forgive you because divorce is hard, wow. When he said that line, that’s genuinely Hannah Waddingham shedding a tear. Jason knows it, that bugger. It wasn’t in the script. That was a very real tear. At one point I asked Jason, “Are you cool if I try a tear?” And he was just like, Go for it! The iron queen was allowed to unleash her full vulnerability there.

When would you say was the moment when Rebecca finally succumbed to Ted’s charms?
I think it’s very clever and very early on. In the middle of episode two, Keely [Juno Temple] turns up in her sports car and they have a conversation about the lion and panda. Keely says something like, “Oh, she’s a very tall and scary woman.” Without missing a beat Ted goes, “She’s got some fences all right, but you just gotta hop over ’em.” Brilliant sentence. And then when he gives her the little army soldier after reporters try to get a rise out of her during a press conference with questions about her ex-husband. When you see her in her house after the conference, she’s debating whether she wants to post the paparazzi photos of Ted and Keely, and for a second you think she’s not going to do it. But then you see photos of Rupert’s newest flame on the screen, and she agrees to it and tosses the soldier away. She’s being sucked in to Ted, but she can’t allow herself to.

I do think Rebecca likes him very early on, and that gets in the way. She didn’t think her plan through. She saw this guy online and thought, What an idiot, let’s get him to destroy the club. She didn’t think she would actually have chemistry and empathy with this person. Think of that moment outside of the karaoke club. Thinking about the scene puts a lump in my heart. She realizes that they’re each other’s saviors. She unwittingly has saved his life by bringing him away from his toxic wife and his home life, and he has been brought into her life to bring her strength and sunshine when there was none.

Can you tell me about those daily biscuits? Were they as scrumptious as they looked?
Well, my friend, that is the hardest acting job of my life. I did not enjoy every mouthful. They were chunky shortbreads that sucked all of the saliva out of my face when I was trying to act and talk at the same time. I wish they were actual biscuits. I have no idea who made them! They weren’t inedible, but they weren’t like, Yum yum yum, give the biscuits! If you love really sugary and buttery biscuits, you would’ve loved it. But no, not for me.

I can imagine that a lot of legit, real-life footballers and owners would want to cameo in season two. Who would be the dream?
We’ve got to get Ronaldo. I’d love to see Ronaldo antagonize Jamie Tartt and give him a run for his money at some point. Personally, I’d love to see Robbie Fowler, who used to play for Liverpool when I was in my twenties. I’ll always have a soft spot for him because he was the naughty boy of the league. I used to go out with a guy around that time, and I would tag along to watch Liverpool play and be bored out of my mind. I’d just go for the thighs. [Laughs.] I’d sit there thinking which players had the best thighs.

To ask what Ted already pondered in the show: Who would win in an arm wrestling match, you or Michelle Obama?
You know why she would win? I’d be on my knees praying on the ground she walks on.

With Ted Lasso, Hannah Waddingham Is No Longer the Shame Nun