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Ted Lasso’s Maximilian Osinski Sees Zava As the Tom Cruise of Soccer

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

AFC Richmond just can’t catch a break. With Zava (Maximilian Osinski), they’re shit, and without him, they’re even more shit. And at the end of Ted Lasso’s fifth episode, there isn’t even Zava at all. In this week’s “Signs,” the soccer god, whom the club was able to finesse into signing earlier this season, announces his retirement from the beautiful game, trading in his scorpion kicks for a new life at an avocado farm. (“If you put your energy into the things you truly love,” he says, “the universe puts its thing back into you.”) Richmond’s Zava era had already moved past its honeymoon phase, with the team maintaining a winless streak that couldn’t be saved by a player whose genius was inspired by both Zlatan Ibrahimović and Eric Cantona. Osinski, who’s still pinching himself at joining one of his favorite shows, believes Zava’s departure is necessary for Ted Lasso’s grand scheme of things.

Zava comes in and has a pretty memorable four-episode arc before his sudden departure. What do you think his greater purpose was?
I think he was brought on as this foil, to show the team that they can’t lean on one individual. They have to work together. It’s demonstrated with the way Jamie reacts to his arrival and when he says to Ted, “We don’t need Zava.” Jamie feels like he’s ready to step up at this point in the show and feels the team is gelling.

Signing Zava, it’s exciting for the whole team and the coaching staff. And of course, he does what he does. He gives them wins. He scores all the goals. He walks the walk as much as he talks. But I think his ultimate purpose is to push. You have this lightning join the squad, but even Roy observes that everyone is just standing around waiting for Zava to do something. They’re using that as a crutch. I think that’s like a lot of stuff in life. Sometimes you’ve got to let the kid on the bicycle, let go of the bicycle, and let them figure out how to keep their balance. Zava was being treated by the team as training wheels. It’s okay, Zava will take care of it. We got Zava. The big scope of this season was to get the team to realize they have to suffer these wins and losses on their own. They can’t just sign away a run toward a championship.

I actually don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the season. I made sure not to find out, because I want to watch it like a fan.

I was thinking about how Zava’s idea of “believing” is in direct contradiction to what Ted preaches as a coach. Zava doesn’t believe, he knows. It’s a clash in ideology.
I think Zava realizes that as well. We see that starting to happen during the West Ham game, where the team really loses it at a level so deep and personal after seeing Nate tear that “believe” sign. Brendan Hunt talked to me about that scene. For Zava, this is a big moment. He’s internally like, “We’re at the pantheon of football here, and you guys aren’t playing at a level that I want to play at. This is not how we play the game.” We don’t see Zava fighting with West Ham and taking it out on them personally. We see the team completely lose track of the mission of the season and the game. I think Zava starts to realize, Is this a place for me to want to stay?

This goes with a lot of the research I did with these players who reached the mountain several times and got everything they’ve wanted in their careers. The sport means a lot to them, but also family does. And toward the end of their careers, they value, What makes my wife happy? Where are my kids the happiest? What am I doing this for at this point in my career? And seeing what happens with the team, and with West Ham, and then Manchester United — he’s still scoring points, but the team’s not cohesive and gelling. Those are motivating factors for him to reassess. And in a very Zava-esque way, he just floats away.

Even that cryptic speech he makes in the locker room, he’s using the word “you” and not “we.” Did you notice that? It’s not “we” will win because we will work together, it’s “you” will win. He’s subconsciously trying to let the team know he’s leaving.

I can’t be the only one who thought Zava was going to skip the match, force the boys to play without him, and then they win and realize they don’t actually need him to succeed.
Yeah. That’s that moment where Dad lets go of the bike and the kid falls off. I’m guessing that’s going to be a jumping-off point for the team to get their head back in the game. Even Jamie at the end of that episode tells Roy, “I’ll see you at 4 a.m.” And Roy goes, “Fuck, yeah.” They’re like, “We can do this. We don’t need a megastar right now.”

I’m curious how you feel about Zava’s various life philosophies and how he interacts with his fellow players. Do you think he’s being genuine or performative?
From researching athletes like Zlatan and Eric Cantona, I think there’s multiple versions that they present themselves as. There’s the public version, the version they present to the press, and then who they are in the locker room and with their family. For me, I’m going to commit fully to each version without judging it. The way Zava deals with managers and the press is like a lion playing with a mouse. The press needs him more than he needs the press at this point in his career, so he’s going to have fun with them. I justified that aura, attitude, and swagger with him because managers trade these players like baseball cards or pawns in a chess match. They’re dollars and pieces that they use to try and win games. Zava has this more spiritual and holistic view of the world and himself in it. He doesn’t care about teasing managers here or ignoring managers there. He knows that anyone will take him wherever he goes.

With some of these guys, when I’ve read their books, everyone in the locker room doesn’t really have anything bad to say about them because they deliver on the field. They’re there for the team. They’re not sabotaging. When Zava meets the team in that locker room for the first time, I believe he means everything he says. It’s funny because he’s esoteric, and he’s trying to get the team together in his own way. But at the end of the day, he knows he’s the Michael Jordan of the team. He knows why he was signed there and he knows what the challenge for him is.

I tried to play him as genuine in every scene and meaning exactly what he says. There’s a bit of charm to him when he meets everyone in the office. He knows who he is to those players and how those players view him. It’s like when you hear about celebrities. Tom Cruise — the stories about him. What you read in the press is one thing. Everyone I’ve ever met that’s gotten the chance to work with him said, “He’s so personable and he’s looking right at you. He asks your name and he remembers your name. He shows up in the morning early and he knows every crew member’s name.” That’s what keeps these guys likable in private and amongst the people who work with them on the field and off the field. How the press perceive them, that’s their choice. I wanted to commit to both those views without judging them.

I like that. Zava is soccer’s equivalent to Tom Cruise.
Exactly. There’s a huge mystery with Tom Cruise. He doesn’t do a lot of interviews. Everyone knows who he is. Everyone knows he’s a fantastic actor. And everyone also hears, especially if you’re in the business, how he’s one of the nicest guys on set. He cares. But he’s still Tom Cruise. He’s going to take a private helicopter to set. He’s not getting picked up with the rest of the cast. You know what I mean? I thought that was really interesting. I wanted to bring that level of confusion to the audience and to the players. It’s like, “I think I like him. He’s really charming in person.” But he has switched teams 14 times in his career. You can’t catch him. You can’t put your finger on him. He’s one of those mercurial characters, which was such a fun and challenging thing to play.

I mean this with highest compliments: I never knew if he was going to hug or slap someone.
I love that you’re saying that. I’ve had the same thought. If the audience doesn’t know how to feel about him, I feel like I did my job. I didn’t want to play a one-note unlikable character. I want people to feel like, I want to see more of him, but I know we don’t really need him. That juxtaposition for me is interesting to see play out.

Was there ever a version of Zava that was meant to be meaner?
From the very beginning — even when I was auditioning for the role — the breakdown said he’s not an antagonist but an agitator. Jason Sudeikis and the writers immediately knew this isn’t going to be an asshole who walks onto the team and is the bad villain. While the dialogue evolved in the show, that big idea of making him mercurial and an agitator was always in the back of everyone’s mind. They did a good job of keeping that idea throughout the episodes, no matter what Zava did and didn’t do with the team.

Is he indeed retired? Is that avocado farm just too good to pass up?
I hate to give you this cookie-cutter answer, but you’ll have to watch and find out. There’s definitely a lot of stuff to pull from what happens with these guys in real life. Some people do retire and open up a restaurant or start an organic farm. And some people go off and play for an American team, like Zlatan did for the L.A. Galaxy. So we’ll have to see if we hear from Zava again.

Has Zlatan or Cantona reached out yet?
I would love to reach out to Zlatan because I admire him now that I’ve read and learned so much about him. He’s an amazing footballer and such a fascinating guy. I haven’t heard from them personally, but I know hashtags on Twitter have been created, like #Zlava. Zava is getting compared to a couple other players, like Aaron Rodgers, which is a little surprising. I’m sure the internet is dying for him to say or do something, but I haven’t reached out personally to say, “Hey, let’s grab a cup of coffee.”

Hey, now’s your chance.
That’s a good idea. I’ll call my team and say, “Let’s make something happen.”

Would you ever get a tattoo of your own face?
I have one. It’s actually on my left butt cheek. It’s an old headshot that I really loved.

You played that so straight that I believed you.
[Laughs.] If you notice, there’s a tattoo in his tattoo. It’s the same tattoo. There’s another mini-tattoo in there, if I’m not mistaken. At first we were like, “Maybe it should be a lion or something Greek-inspired with a football.” And then they came up with Zava’s own self because of that pose. Originally, I was thinking of having some tattoo sleeves on my arms. But they were like, “Let’s save it. One moment, one reveal of his entire back,” which saved a lot of hours in the chair for me, but also made it pop in the moment and really funny. Jamie’s reaction to that had me rolling on the floor.

Ted Lasso’s Maximilian Osinski Sees Zava As Tom Cruise