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Much of the conversation about the breakout Apple TV+ hit Ted Lasso has revolved around Ted Lasso himself. That makes sense. The show is named for this character, after all, and a lot of its charm comes from the folksy positivity that Ted — played by Golden Globe, Critics Choice, and SAG Award winner Jason Sudeikis — shines on every soul he encounters.
But look to Ted’s right or left in any given scene and pay attention to his assistant, Coach Beard, brought to life by Brendan Hunt, who co-created the series with Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, and Joe Kelly. He isn’t as outgoing or as blatantly magnanimous as Ted. But Ted Lasso, the man and the series, wouldn’t be Ted Lasso without him.
Ashley Nicole Black, one of the stars of HBO’s recently renewed A Black Lady Sketch Show and a writer on the forthcoming second season of Ted Lasso, fell in love with Coach Beard and Hunt’s performance before she began helping to script a single episode. She recently spoke to Vulture about what makes Coach Beard such a fascinating character and what she values in Hunt’s performance.
Tell me about your Ted Lasso journey. How and when did you start watching it?
Before I came on to the show, I had only read the pilot. And then once I got hired, that’s when Apple lets you see all the episodes from season one so you know how to pitch for season two. Just like everybody else, I started watching and then all of a sudden you look up and you’re like, Oh, I just watched a whole season of television. I haven’t eaten or gone to the bathroom.
What jumped out at you about Coach Beard and Brendan Hunt’s performance?
What I love about Brendan, and knowing him, is that he’s an improviser. In improv, we have this thing called “yes, and,” which is that the only way to build a coherent scene is if your scene partner says something is true, you say yes. You accept it as true and then you add on to it. What I love about Coach Beard is he’s the ultimate “yes, and” character. He’s there to “yes, and” Ted, and for some actors, that could maybe feel like, Oh, I’m a sidekick to Ted. Brendan just fully lives within “yes, and” in the way he plays that character. Even the little shots of him, little looks that he does, are all so good because he’s just fully present in every moment in a way that, to me, also as a performer, is really inspiring.
When did you seal the deal to write on the second season?
I don’t know, but it was before the first season aired. After they’d made it but before it aired.
So when everybody started going nuts about Ted Lasso, were you like, “Oh, this is old news to me”?
Yes and no because everyone had the same experience I did. When I was approached about the show, I was like, “Oh, I’m not really a sports fan or a soccer person.” Then once I actually read the script and got into it and saw how gorgeous the relationships were, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love this. I really want to be involved.” I feel like I watched the same thing happen to the audience. When the first commercial came out, I think they were showing it after basketball games or something, and people were like, Oh, it’s a sports show. Then I watched, especially on my Twitter, people being like, “Okay, if you watch the first episode of Ted Lasso, you will be in for the whole thing and falling in love with the female characters and being like, I can’t believe I just watched this whole show about soccer.” Everyone has the same experience of thinking it was going to be about sports and finding out that it was about all these super-gorgeous relationships.
It’s been almost a year since the show came out, but it seems as if people either keep discovering it or are watching it for the fourth or fifth time.
Yeah, and every time someone discovers it, they’re like, “How come nobody told me about Ted Lasso?” I’m like, “Really? Because it’s all I see. I feel like you were told.”
One of the funny things about Coach Beard as a character is that it almost seems as though he’s called Coach Beard just because he has a beard, and that may not really be his last name. Is that true?
I don’t know, but that’s one of the things I think is funny about that character — he’s really sweet and kind, and if you met him, you’d be like, This is a nice guy, but there’s obviously an air of mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he was living under a fake name, you know what I mean? You’ve got a little bit of edge to it.
Speaking of the air of mystery, one of the big mysteries in the show is this relationship Coach Beard has with Jane. We know that they know each other from chess; we know that they like to play chess with an imaginary, invisible board; but we don’t know a ton about their relationship otherwise. First of all, is that something we might learn more about in season two?
Yes. I won’t spoil anything, but the information’s forthcoming.
I was rewatching some of the episodes before you and I spoke and realizing how completely lost Ted would be without Coach Beard. At first, Ted doesn’t seem to know who any of the players are. He has no knowledge of the rules of the game. A lot of the commonsense, detailed background information comes from Coach Beard.
What I love about it is in the pilot, when they’re on the plane flying to London, you see Coach Beard reading a book about soccer. The fact that Coach Beard plays chess without a board — he obviously has to be so smart because it sounds like he knew about soccer before. He’s reading the book on the plane, but by the time they land in London, he knows everything about the sport.
Is there a scene from the first season that stands out to you? They do a lot of fun things with puns. I think that’s in episode two.
I love the puns. I love that they do a lot of references to musicals. I just love this guy who knows everything about soccer and musicals.
There’s a scene where the team is at an away game and they’re watching, I think, Iron Giant, and Ted has to leave. He tells Beard to stay here because in about 32 minutes, you’re going to have a room full of sobbing men. And Beard goes, “I’m going to be one of them.” When you cut back to them, you see all the players crying over Iron Giant. That’s what I love about the show and also this character — it’s showing different ways of being masculine and that watching a movie and crying with your buddies over a cartoon is one of the ways you could be a strong man. I love it. And that Beard has no shame in telling Ted, “Oh, I’m absolutely going to cry to this movie too.”
His character is super-low-key, but then he’ll have these bursts of emotion that are extra delightful because he’s so low-key the rest of the time.
Yeah, like when he and Jane break up and he just goes to the dance floor and starts dancing. Up until that point in the series, he’s been pretty still. He’s always still and a step behind Ted and then he just goes nuts dancing, or he sings “Bad Romance” at karaoke. You just get these little hints of what’s going on inside.
Have you met Brendan?
No. Okay, and this is hysterical: So before I wrote on Ted Lasso, I wrote on a show called Bless This Mess, which Brendan also had a small part on. So we have now worked on two television shows together, and we’ve never met.
I wonder if this is a challenge for you all as writers. But because Beard has a kind of mystique, I want to know more about him — but I don’t want to know everything because then the mystique will be gone.
Yeah, totally. You want to point to it, but you never want to have a character that you’re not curious about. It’s so much more fun to have a character that you always want more from as opposed to, if you told the audience everything about this person, then it’s: Why keep watching the show?
Right. It’s a mistake that I feel we keep making when we reboot certain things. Like, I don’t want to know more about the Grinch’s backstory.
I feel like also it would be great if reboots sometimes would reboot a Coach Beard–style character. That’s the person we have more questions about. Of all the seasons of Friends that we watched, we don’t really need to know anything more about those people; we saw their whole life. But if they did a reboot about Gunther, I would watch that.
Well, speaking of that, if one were to do a spinoff of Ted Lasso that’s just about Coach Beard, what could it potentially be? I have one idea, but I’m curious about what ideas you may have.
Ooh, that’s an interesting question because I feel like we don’t know what Beard is like without Ted. Ted brings so much positivity and joy into everyone’s life. Would Beard’s life be less joyful without him? Is it a gritty reboot? [Laughs]
Interesting. See, I was thinking what if it’s a Queen’s Gambit thing but just about his chess club?
I mean, people love chess.
Yeah, I love that. And him just getting way too into it. Chess has just swallowed up his entire life.
Another moment that I really love in Ted Lasso is that Ted has said multiple times that he doesn’t really care about winning or losing. And finally, Beard calls him out on it and is like, “No, winning’s important. These guys are professional athletes. It means something to their life, whether they win or lose, and we should try to win.” It’s literally the only time you see a really extreme passion and anger from him. So I wonder if maybe that’s what he’s like in the chess world.
Well, the other thing that’s great about that moment is that he’s also saying, “Just thinking about this one person’s needs is selfish because you have to think about what the whole team wants and what’s better for everybody.” That’s interesting because the show is arguing that it’s good to be a nice, compassionate, kind person but also that there are times when that takes on a different form than what it may initially look like.
Yeah, and I think of that as the difference between being nice and being kind. I used to babysit, and the little kid that I babysat for, her mom had taught her that and she taught me. I learned this from a 6-year-old. I think we put such a premium on being nice, which can sometimes be fake. You’re just smiling at someone’s face or going along to get along, that kind of niceness. Being kind sometimes means not being nice.
It might not be nice to say “Take Roy out of the game,” but that might be the kindest thing to do for him if he said he cannot play. I think the show is so much about kindness, and that moment between Ted and Beard shows the difference between being nice and being kind. And Ted is set up as such a great guy, and Beard is the one person who can be like, “No, here’s actually an area where you can be better. You’re being nice to Roy, but you’re not being kind. You need to do the kind, responsible thing here.”
Have you taken anything from Brendan’s performance that you feel you could use as a performer?
You know what he’s really good at that I am not as good at? I’m a very verbal performer and improviser, and I’ll sort of talk my way to a laugh. Something Brendan’s really good at is getting it with just one word or one look. That’s definitely something I’m working on.
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