finale thoughts

Ted Lasso’s Phil Dunster Thinks Jamie Has Become a Better Sort of Narcissist

“For me, Jamie is kind of the same person, fundamentally, but it’s his decisions that change. His traits are the same.” Photo: Luke Varley/Apple

Ted Lasso was a show that, yes, wanted to do it all, but if you choose not to think like a goldfish, the reeducation of Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) has been one of the most unexpectedly endearing arcs over the show’s three seasons. Beginning the series as a cocksure guy-in-club meme, Jamie evolves into someone who’s a little — emphasis on little — bit wiser and more perceptive, thanks in part to his friendship with Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein). It provides Jamie with the male mentor he’d always been missing in his life, and it affects him both on and off the field: Jamie ends the season with the Premier League’s most assists, not goals, and is a lynchpin for team bonding. “Thank you for your help, too, for motivating me and for encouraging me. I haven’t really had that from the older men in my life,” Jamie tells Roy in the finale. And then they get into a fistfight over a woman. Just like old times! Hey, nobody can change completely. Give him some time.

That woman, though, is just as pivotal of a figure in Jamie’s evolution. Dunster believes that Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) is owed as much credit for his redemption arc, and he also knows Jamie doesn’t end Ted Lasso fully absolved. “It’s through love that he’s able to progress and get better,” he says.

Jamie and Nate had parallel stories of redemption this season, and I feel like viewers were way more invested in your character and believe he was the only one to earn it. Why do you think that is?
Well, I can’t speak to one being worthier than the other, I’ll only speak to the integrity of Jamie’s redemption. Both of them, at their core — Nate, less so — started from a conceited place. He drank from the insidious Kool-Aid of pride and narcissism that Jamie had probably done since he was young. They’re like gladiators, aren’t they? These footballers turn up at these stadiums and thousands of people cheer their names. Jamie started from an earlier point that Nate never had. It’s a cleaner break that we see with Jamie than Nate. Eventually, there’s a zigzag line as to how he got there and became a better version of himself. Ted sets out to make these young men the best versions of themselves. He’s mostly talking about the team, and the lessons and the vibes rub off on other people through osmosis. He’s affecting the team, and that’s his raison d’être as a coach.

One of the reasons we find it particularly satisfying for Jamie is that we’ve been on the journey all the way through and we’ve seen him at his lowest. In season two, he’s acting from a place of pain and shame, and rejecting love and connection in replacement of fame and narcissism.

The Diamond Dogs have a discussion in the finale about whether people can change, and each posits their theory. Jamie wasn’t included in the scene, but it got me thinking about how he would’ve contributed. How does he think people can change, knowing what we’ve seen from him this season?
It’s largely through Keeley that Jamie has learned the lessons. Of course, Ted is the teacher of the show. Jason Sudeikis talked a lot about “uncles” when he was on Saturday Night Live, these older, in this case, men, who would take him under their wings and he would learn through their experiences of the world. There are those uncles for Jamie, but Keeley, she’s taught him so much. She’s the one who taught him to apologize and learn how to take responsibility. She’s done it through love. I don’t know how Jamie would articulate it, but I think he needed somebody there who would give him endless love and show him that he could mess up but still be better. He would say, Forgive yourself a little bit more.

For me, Jamie is kind of the same person, fundamentally, but it’s his decisions that change. His traits are the same. He’s still direct and honest and proud. But it’s the decisions he made along the way — not to argue, to listen, and to act with love rather than hate, and to forgive rather than blame. It would be boring for an audience if it was just [snaps fingers] and now he’s a much nicer dude.

It reminded me of the talk Jamie had with his mother in the penultimate episode, where she advises him that he’s “just not sure what direction” he’s going in life. What direction does he end up in, and where else could he have gone?
That’s such a great line. He’s taken on that brilliant bit of advice. What we see onscreen is Ted tells him to forgive his dad for himself. He’s acting within his own interests but from an altruistic standpoint. That’s the murkiness of what makes these characters cool and gives them a heartbeat. He’s continually learning his lessons, getting them wrong, and trying to be better again in the future. Jamie is always on an upward trajectory. I can’t imagine what it would be like when you’re 16 and you start playing in front of crowds, people are giving you contracts, and you have all of that money. It’s a poisonous thing for somebody whose brain is growing. He started from a really difficult place.

What did Jamie prove about himself in these past few episodes? Or did he have anything to prove at all?
When we see him going off to England and he goes onto the field with 24 on his back, Sam’s number, it’s a moment of self-sacrifice. He’s becoming one of 11 rather than one in a million. That’s how he now sees himself and it’s a huge shift. That’s the biggest fundamental thing for him. There are different types of narcissism — there’s the ugly side of it, which is conceitedness, pride, and selfishness. But there’s another element to narcissism, which is introspective and understanding yourself a bit better. On that spectrum, he’s peaking toward the slightly better version.

What else does he have to learn?
He should learn about not clashing colors on his clothes. He should think about that. Less audacious haircuts.

I’d love to learn more about what Jamie and Roy’s relationship grew to mean for you over this season. There’s been hints at both a best friend and paternal figure. What represents them best?
From a Jamie perspective, there’s those “sliding doors” moments. When Dani comes to the club, Jamie feels that he needs to beat him in order to feel good. And then when Zava turns up in season three, Jamie needs to ingratiate him into the team for everyone to feel good. In the first season, we see Roy and Jamie constantly butting heads and having arguments. They can either punch each other in the face or apologize and try to move past it. We see that pretty clearly, but we also see what he’s learned from Roy. The hug they have in season two, where Roy hugs Jamie, it’s this new family embracing him after he’s literally pushed his old family away. Then we see Jamie trying to hug Roy in season three, after he breaks up with Keeley. We see the impact that Roy has had on him.

What I really like is that it’s not a total progression. In the finale, right at the end, they have a  bloody fight. They’re two bulls locking horns. If there were a few more episodes after this one, we would see them come back, resolve that, and be better. It would’ve been boring if we tied it up into a nice bow and said, Great, everyone is sorted now. The outcome is the event and how you deal with it. The event is their pride and love for Keeley, so they fight, but the outcome is that they then sit down and realize how ridiculous it is. That’s the evolution right there.

I get the sense that you wouldn’t mind them being characterized as “reluctant best friends.”
Yeah, I think “reluctant best friends” is a really good way of putting it. They’re livid that they love each other so much. They’re two different sides of the same coin. They’re incredibly talented, self-involved, and have a lot of feelings. One is a prima donna and the other is a grumbling old man.

Were you invested in the love triangle? I know there’s ambiguity as to what decision Keeley makes between Jamie and Roy. Do you consider that story line resolved?
The whole time, it’s been “who will win” out of these two guys, as opposed to what Keeley wants for herself. There’s a world in which she tells them both, We’re just going to be friends. But there’s another world where we can put a bow on it and we go, This relationship just makes sense for us. As a card-holding member of the Jamie Tartt Fan Club, I wanted it to be Jamie. I’ll admit that. But it’s messy and there are unresolved elements to life that will always be frustrating. That’s one of the things that the writers are really good at: not giving obvious, clean answers. I mean, the team doesn’t win. We’ve said that we’ll win the whole fucking thing, but we don’t win. It’s an interesting way of not having a Hollywood moment, because that doesn’t happen in life. I think it’s cool that it’s not as straightforward. For the frustration people might feel about not having a clean resolution, there will also be an underside of these people being more “real.” We tried to hit that vein.

Did you have any other creative frustrations?
Not really. I’m amazed by Jamie’s story line and what he did. It took me to surprising depths. Even when he gave the ball to Dani for the penalty kick, all of these great callbacks were worthy of the moments. I’m sure we can find loads of different things that we didn’t touch on.

Was there anything related to Jamie that you filmed this season and felt was necessary, but ultimately wasn’t included?
The episodes were very long in the end, so I think they managed to get in everything that they wanted to. There was a bit of business about Lynx deodorant cans that they cut. Colin asks Jamie if he’s got any body spray in the locker room, and there was a nice moment of bonding between them with the deodorant. I would’ve loved to have had more stuff to do with Leanne Best, who plays Jamie’s mother, as well as Kieran O’Brien, his dad. There’s so much richness there with the two of them. That scene between me and Leanne was heartbreakingly good. From a curiosity perspective, I would’ve loved to have done more with them. He’s a complicated character because, in a large part, of his parents. We should just do a spinoff with these characters, to be honest.

We see a few snippets of Jamie’s life at the episode’s end, which includes a reconciliation with his father in rehab and enjoying a team picnic at Higgins’s house. How do you envision his immediate future?
I would love to see him doing something outside of football. We see Higgins has a lovely family unit. Jamie doesn’t have that, because he’s never had a life outside of football. It would be nice to go and see him experience something else. He travels a bit or broadens his horizons slightly.

Jamie claims that his depression became so deep that he stopped using hair conditioner. What’s your actual hair regime?
Not a lot. I did get into conditioning. The maestro of my makeup while filming Ted Lasso introduced me to hair masks. I use one of those a few times a year now. I definitely needed to do a lot while filming the show, because there was so much heat treatment on my hair. Too much blow-drying. My hair took a battering, for sure, with those huge amounts of shampoo and conditioner every day. When I would go to bed, you could hear the hair cracking when I put it on my pillow.

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Ted Lasso’s Phil Dunster on the Evolution of Jamie Tartt