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Nick Mohammed on Watching Ted Lasso’s Nate “Break Down in Real Time”

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images

Over the course of Ted Lasso’s first season, we saw Richmond kit-man Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed) go from team punching bag to coach in his own right, a leader encouraged to suggest new plays and even roast his fellow teammates to pump them up before a big game. (The performance earned Mohammed his first Emmy nomination.) In season two, Nate continues to learn to advocate for himself, demanding a window seat for his parents’ anniversary dinner and taking charge during the big quarterfinal game after Ted (Jason Sudeikis) has a panic attack. Nate’s unconventional triple substitution wins Richmond the game — and wins Nate viral fame, along with the nickname “Wonder Kid.”

In episode seven, “Headspace,” we see Nate’s newfound confidence curdle into cruelty: first when he brutally dresses down Colin (Billy Harris) for gently ribbing him about his newfound popularity, and later, when he sees a mean tweet online and takes out his pain on new equipment manager Will (Charlie Hiscock). Mohammed talked to Vulture about Nate’s surprising-yet-inevitable flirtation with the dark side.

Nate’s big team roast scene from the first season was episode seven, and now, we get another big moment for Nate in episode seven of season two. It’s another roast, in a way, but more of a genuine heel turn. How would you describe Nate’s journey over the course of this season so far?
It’s absolutely a different journey from the one he was on in season one. I think it’s challenging for the viewers, because this is not the Nate we grew to love. He’s making quite a few bad decisions. He’s growing an ego. The thing with Nate is that he is the same guy as season one. He’s just been given this little bit of responsibility and power, having someone beneath him doing the job he used to do. He doesn’t really know what to do with it. He sort of feels lost.

I think before, Nate had a leader in Ted, this catalyst for good. But now he feels this sense of abandonment. He’s still got his own ideas, but he’s not really getting the support or the recognition from the coaches — at least, not in the way he feels he deserves. I’m not condoning his actions or behavior, but he’s deeply, deeply frustrated, and he’s taking it out on the people that he feels he can: Will, because that’s the job he used to do; Colin, because he’s an easy target. We’ve seen in episode five and seven that a lot of this is tied to the relationship with his dad. He’s never been able to do good in his dad’s eyes. He can’t live up to this reputation of being this golden-boy son, almost regardless of what he does now. So I think that Nate is certainly on a downward spiral.

It’s surprising, and disturbing, to hear someone being so cruel on this show that’s known for being so warm and full of kindness. It’s a real shock to the system.
It’s really interesting, because in Ted Lasso, that’s not what we’re used to seeing, characters going in that direction. We’re used to seeing them start off being mean, or superficially not being nice or kind, and through their interactions with Ted, people become better people. Nate is, I think, the only person in the show now who’s actually heading in a different direction. We’re sad for it, as an audience, because we were meant to love Nate. And hopefully we’ll still love Nate!

The show is still about kindness, and thematically, those themes are very much the top of the agenda, but it makes it a bit more human and realistic that we explore the flaws in people’s personalities, rather than just being saccharine and sort of endlessly charming. We see that not just in Nate. There are other darker moments in the show that we get to. It’s so layered.

It also seems like part of this comes from him feeling threatened by Roy, who’s back as coach now. Nate has spent so long not having much confidence, and now that he’s getting some attention, he’s clinging to it fiercely.
Absolutely. When Nate would make suggestions to Ted and Coach Beard in season one, they would be like, “Hey, this sounds like a really good idea. Let’s try it out.” Now they almost expect it of him, so he doesn’t get the praise he wants anymore. And now that Roy is back on the scene but as a coach, Nate is back to feeling like a spare part again. He just can’t deal with it. He’s not ever been in this position before. We’re seeing him break down in real time.

I was rewatching episode five to see how Nate’s arc builds, and it’s interesting, because at the time, his big moment at the restaurant felt empowering. Rebecca even says to him at one point, “Don’t back down. You deserve whatever you want.” You can see how he could perceive that the wrong way and become a little entitled.
Completely. I’m glad you mentioned that. Those things are in the script, and then when we come to film them, Jason is underlining those lines: “This is really important. This line is really, really important for what’s going to happen in two episodes’ time.” We all try to communicate as much as possible. I hope that by episode 12, we’ll be able to go back and join all the dots.

Actually, there’s a lot of stuff seeded in season one, too. That roast in episode seven — Nate’s got it in him. He has the ability to be quite cruel. It was such a shock to see Nate act like that, because he’s such an introvert, and the players had been the ones bullying him, so it was taken in good spirits at the time. Even when he’s promoted to a coach, at first he thinks Will has come to replace him and he’s been fired. And he turns on Rebecca, in episode ten of season one, and says, “You shrew.” He has some anger in him, and it’s always been there. It’s just now, he’s got the confidence and the ego to be a bit more open about those feelings. He’s targeting, well, some of the easier targets at the moment, and then he’s going to go to some bigger targets later on.

Even in the pilot episode, the first time we see him is when he yells at Ted and Coach Beard to get off the grass, before he even knows who he’s talking to.
He just lives and breathes for that football team, and all he can think about is doing whatever it takes to get that football team to the top. He’ll do everything. He’s ruthless. And yeah, if that means, “don’t walk on the grass,” and him screaming — what an introduction. It’s all there, isn’t it?

What was your reaction to hearing Nate was headed in this direction as a character? You definitely get to play a new side to Nate that you hadn’t played before.
I knew quite early on, actually. When we were filming season one, Jason had outlined potentially what journey Nate was going on. I remember talking to him when we were filming the gala episode, episode four. There’s a bit at the very end of that episode when everyone gets up and starts dancing. I had a long conversation with Jason about whether Nate would get up, too, and we decided no. And you assume that’s because he’s too shy to engage. But actually — and we made a decision right there and then — the reason why Nate’s not getting up is because he’s looking around the room and taking in the power play between Rupert and Rebecca and Ted. He’s taking all this in and essentially making mental notes for when his time comes. Obviously, that’s incredibly silent — you wouldn’t get it at that point in the show. But I think in hindsight, when you watch these episodes back and see the journey Nate goes on in season two, it does all add up. That’s a testament to the writers, absolutely.

So from a story point of view, I knew where it was all going. Then I got some more information — stuff I can’t give away right now — and it was kind of crazy. I’d be like, “Hey, well, if you guys think that that’s the way to go, then I just got to trust you.” It’s quite nice now that we’re in the middle of the season, because now people are aware of a slight trajectory. I think beforehand, at the very start, they were like, “Why is he being mean to that kit-man?” and there was no explanation for it. I think we’re now starting to see the sour relationship with his dad, the fact that he’s maybe not getting the recognition that he craves. He’s getting a lot of attention from social media, and that’s going to his head.

I’m curious to see if Ted will get involved, because so far it seems like Coach Beard is the only one becoming aware of Nate’s turn. When Nate volunteers himself as the “big dog” who can help Isaac in episode five, Ted laughs at him. You can tell why that would wound Nate.
Once you start looking, you can sort of read into this, but Jason said there’s a number of almost microaggressions against Nate. When Nate says, “I’ll step up and do this,” I think he hopes that Ted and Beard will be like, “Okay, great.” But Ted actually laughs at him. There’s a series of those little things.

There hasn’t yet been a scene between Ted and Nate. That’s very important. There’ve been scenes where they’re in the same room, but there’s not been a scene just between Ted and Nate. In fact, the last time there was a scene between Ted and Nate was in season one, episode seven, which was when Ted apologized to Nate for snapping at him, before Nate then goes and delivers the roast. What makes these guys so clever at writing is that they know that.

How has your own personal connection to Nate changed this season?
Nate’s journey in season one was definitely far more in my comfort zone, especially in terms of characters I’ve played in the past — usually more of the shy one. It’s been strange, as the episodes go on in season two, to be a little more prominent and outspoken, because I love those guys so much. In those scenes with Billy, who plays Colin, and Charlie, who plays Will, when we do these scenes where he lays into them, as soon as they call “cut,” we’re like, “Sorry, sorry, I don’t mean it.” We’re all kind of shocked by Nate’s behavior, and hopefully the viewers will feel that pain a little bit. When we’ve done scenes in the past, in season one, we never got to play with that dynamic before, so it does feel new. It’s quite useful, from an acting point of view, to channel some of that familiarity into a performance. It’s certainly a challenge — episode 12 is very challenging. I’m nervously anticipating the audience’s reaction once the season ends. We’ll see what they think.

Ted Lasso’s Nick Mohammed on Watching Nate Break Down