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Anthony Head Is Proud to Be Ted Lasso’s One True Villain

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Rupert Mannion comes up as “The Devil” in his ex-wife’s phone. Really, can you blame her? The guy dumped her, claimed he didn’t want children, and then married another woman with the same name … and then had a daughter. But Ted Lasso’s third season made the case for just how inherently villainous Rupert was capable of being, beyond vacationing with his “dear friends” the Sacklers. He’s hit by unsavory allegations of sexual impropriety, has no issue continuing his cheating ways behind closed doors, and then, in the finale, shoves his team’s coach to the ground when he refuses to play dirty on the pitch — losing his precious West Ham United in the aftermath. It’s all so diabolical, his name might as well be Rupert Minion.

Anthony Head, who was “scared of being a spoiler” throughout the season, thinks it’s a hoot that Rupert was Ted Lasso’s only character to regress back to his old ways. He’s also pleased that viewers got to see a little bit more humanity in Rupert at certain points in the narrative, which made his 360-degree turn back all the more satisfying. “A lot of us are very insecure,” Head explains. “So it’s such fun being able to play someone else who isn’t.”

I know we have more important matters to discuss, but can we start with Rupert’s Darth Vader–esque coat? It exuded authority and you looked fabulous in it.
Well, thank you. At the end of season two, when Rupert gets Nate onto his side, Jason Sudeikis whispered into my ear that there was something similar to the Emperor and Darth Vader, and how the Emperor brought Darth Vader onboard. I then whispered that same thing into Nick Mohammed’s ear. Wearing a coat like that is wonderful. When you walk away, you know you’re flowing and have a cloak behind you. It was a fun little twist to put in there.

Your character ends Ted Lasso as the sole villain who doesn’t redeem himself. This is a pretty pointed narrative decision, since the show made great effort to transform the behaviors of a lot of unlikeable people. Are you happy with this outcome?
Yes, I am. I loved episode ten, the Super League scene, where the whole thing with Rupert and Rebecca happens. You can see part of the younger Rupert, how they fell in love, and the relationship they had. What I found fascinating about the whole deal was, for me, it was about playing someone with a heart and soul who sometimes might get viewers to manifest into thinking he might work out. But then, no. Let’s have a spinoff series.

What does this man’s heart and soul look like?
He’s a narcissist. Jason and I were talking about how there are elements of him being a sociopath. It’s like everything in the show: It’s based on how characters have grown and have been built. It may have been his childhood or his teenage years. When I got the part, I decided to make Rupert an entrepreneur who had money early on, probably from the telecommunications boom in the ’80s and ’90s. It made him into a rich man, but not somebody who was necessarily productive. He’s very good at seeing things and making people feel enriched.

It seemed like Rupert was heading toward a good light in the final few episodes, but then he implodes in such spectacular fashion during that final Richmond game. How did you want to approach this loss of control so it didn’t seem unbelievable?
I played it with the feeling of being displaced. His sexual behavior, which he always thought he could get away with, was suddenly in the light. It was a very clever piece of writing that Miss Kakes and Bex, his wife, come together and go to Rebecca. People like Rupert, thankfully, are less and less these days, but they still get away with a lot of stuff. I wanted to play it like he finally realized he wasn’t going to get away with it. That’s the core: He’s lost it and he doesn’t know how he’s going to be able to pull it back together.

There was a quote earlier in the season from Rebecca that has stuck with me: “Rupert always gets what he wants.” We’ve primarily seen that in a material sense, both what he owns and his choice in trophy wives. But how do you think that applies to a level of fulfillment? What does he want out of life itself?
There are a lot of people out there who think about others, How could you do that? Why would you do that? How is that going to be good for anyone? But they believe the world revolves around them. If he wants Miss Kakes, he’ll get Miss Kakes. He’s bored with Bex because she’s dealing with his [daughter] now. It’s hard to say what he wants, because he just wants to win. He thinks that winning Nate over is giving him a flashy car and giving him a beautiful woman to have an affair with. He doesn’t really think twice about anything. He just assumes he’s right.

The whole thing with narcissism is until a narcissist actually owns it, they don’t know who they are. It’s a mental journey. The whole show is about the way that we’re all becoming who we are. We shouldn’t be scared of building and learning. That’s what makes life. But someone like Rupert isn’t going to go through that. He’ll probably feel like he’s been prosecuted and singled out. He’ll say Miss Kakes came on to him.

The tenth episode revealed another side of Rupert when he took the moral high ground for that proposed Super League. This was the only time we got a better understanding of why Rebecca used to be attracted to him. In what ways did you want to ensure you humanized him?
I allowed warmth to come through. Any part is about playing a person, not a character. All of us have a lot of levels. In the second season, Rupert was talked about a lot, but we didn’t need to see him until right at the end when he took Nate. The third season was about allowing us to see more of him and his manipulation. But he wouldn’t think he’s being manipulative. He would think he’s helping people do what was right for him.

When I read the script for episode ten, I thought it was so lovely. Jason and I talked about it early on. I chatted to him a lot about where I was headed. We talked about how sociopaths don’t cry. You think, Oh, that’s really sad. But then when they actually cry, you think, Oh, they’re doing it for a reason and to feel sympathy. I don’t think that’s true with Rebecca and Rupert. The moment where he goes in for a kiss, the original line before he leans in was, “What was I thinking?” Basically like, what was he thinking when he dumped her. But that said too much. It needed to be more fragile, so we went with nothing at all.

Are you of the opinion that he never fell out of love with Rebecca?
There’s probably a little bit of love lurking. But it goes back to him wanting to have power. I don’t think he ever thought to himself, Oh, I wish I had Rebecca back. But perhaps he thought he could win her back one day if he needed to.

I had a nice conversation with Nick last week, and he told me about the discussions he had with Jason about the direction of his character over the course of this season. Did you also feel it was necessary to get further reasoning from the writers about Rupert’s behavior?
It’s not necessary for me. You play what you feel. A number of people were always on set, and if they had an idea, they would come out and say, “Well, what about this?” Jason would throw in all of these nuances and explain where a line would come from, because some lines had come from a place of authenticity in his life. I didn’t feel like, Oh, I need to talk this over. If someone wanted to, I was very happy to do so. I remember several years ago I went to an acting school in Los Angeles called Beverly Hills Playhouse. The teacher’s whole ethos was: The words will take care of themselves. Just play the emotions. Try them out in the air. When you get a whisper in your ear, “Why don’t you try it?” you should respond, “Okay.” If you leave yourself open to that, it doesn’t restrict you in any way.

Nick’s journey was more specific and potentially more complex. I can understand why he wanted to know further details. But with Rupert, the course was cleverly set. Him dropping out of sight was essential. You kept thinking to yourself, Where’s Rupert? Sometimes you feel things are played on-camera so the audience can see it all. But here, it didn’t all play on-camera. Not all is said. The show asks us to have a thought about that.

The last time we see Rupert is him being taunted by a “wanker” crowd chant as he leaves the pitch —
The American word is “jerk,” isn’t it? But it’s not as powerful as “wanker.”

And a newspaper headline a few days later confirms he was ousted at the club. What would’ve been your ideal ending for him if this wasn’t it?
I thought he might go down for fraud. Something that would undermine the core of his business. Because there has been a bit of that. People who have lots of money can be pulled to that sort of thing.

Anthony Head Is Proud to Be Ted Lasso’s One True Villain