Ted Lasso’s Brendan Hunt Clarifies (a Little of) the Mystery That Is Coach Beard

Photo: Colin Hutton/Apple TV+

The second season of Ted Lasso has broadened its scope to share more about the people in Ted’s orbit, including Ted’s semi-mysterious right-hand man, Coach Beard, played by the Emmy-nominated, reliable comedic straight man Brendan Hunt. This season has provided more glimpses into Beard’s life when he’s away from Ted, including his on-again, off-again relationship with Jane, which seems, um, a little dysfunctional, as well as some hints as to why Beard might be, in the words of Hunt, “more interested in riding with Ted than he is in trying to nurture a relationship.”

On a recent Zoom call from his home in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, Hunt — also co-creator, writer, and executive producer of Ted Lasso — shared what might be behind that devotion to Ted, as well as some other details about Coach Beard’s backstory. (If you assumed that the band Phish somehow figured into Coach Beard’s life before he arrived in England, it turns out you are correct.) He also got into the thought process behind what happened to poor Earl in episode one of the season, and his expectation that there would be Ted Lasso backlash, even before the current backlash.

Let’s talk about Ted Lasso’s second season. It’s still an upbeat show, but there’s also an effort to add some complexity to that and, for lack of a better way of putting it, raise questions about what it really means to be nice. When you and the other writers were plotting out the second season, was that something you talked about?
In a manner of speaking, maybe. I mean, there is a sense that the show is inspiring and positive. But people have always been going through shit on the show. We’ve referred to The Smurfs, but we’re not actually doing The Smurfs. We’re not doing anything that we weren’t already doing, we’re just exploring it a little more. I presume you’ve watched eight episodes [that were provided to critics in advance]?

I have, yeah.
For me, a big thing was, “Okay, this guy has panic attacks. We know this.” I think it’s kind of cool that we just had it and we put it aside, because I think that’s accurate. Like, you have an episode and then you kind of forget about it for a while. But we can’t leave it alone forever. In fact, it would be borderline irresponsible if we did not get into that a little bit. So part of that was just my thinking in a room full of people who all think different things. But that certainly led us a bit toward an avenue of, “Well, we gotta have Ted confront stuff a little bit,” and that got us toward having a sports therapist come in, which then opens the door of how there are still stigmas about that, especially among men and especially in sports. And especially among English men in sports, to the degree that Prince William has a whole campaign about it now. So if we’re exploring things more deeply, it starts from exploring Ted more deeply. Which is kind of odd given how much we are doing with the supporting characters this season.

When you first introduce the therapist and the concept of therapy, Ted is so against it. Viewers might expect him to be like, “Yeah, this is great,” because he usually wants to do whatever’s best for the players, but he has a personal issue with it. Then later, you start to see that some of his niceness and easygoing nature may be a Band-Aid covering up things that might be going on underneath.
Anything’s a problem if you do it too much. I don’t necessarily believe in moderation, but I do believe in the dangers of excess, and that’s with some good things too. I remember the first time — sorry, this is a tangent.

That’s okay. I love tangents.
This is so silly, but while I was doing improv in Chicago — we’re making ten bucks a show or whatever, and then immediately going to the bar to spend that 20 bucks after two shows, judiciously. Someone brings up a dare of, you can’t drink a whole gallon of milk. And like, I was raised on milk. It was good for my teeth. It was good for my bones. I’d dip my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in it. The full-on vitamin D whole milk. Someone had actually tried it and they couldn’t get all the way through it. They wanted to die, and they loved milk, too.

Now we have a slightly more nuanced view of milk, so milk isn’t necessarily purely good. Obviously, we know this, but at the time I thought so. I think Ted certainly thinks being nice is good, but you just can’t do anything all the time, including positive stuff. Even love and, as many European films featured on such networks as Cinemax have told us, sex! As good as that is, you can overdo it! So kindness is not immune to that sense.

That reminds me of something that Ashley Nicole Black said when I talked to her about Coach Beard, which is there’s a difference between being nice and being kind. I feel like you’re getting more into that idea this season.
Jason talks about this a lot, but taking care of yourself is kind of the first thing because if you haven’t taken care of yourself, you’re not necessarily all that able to take care of other people. When the mask comes down, when the plane’s in turbulence, you’ve gotta put it on yourself first or you’re not going to be able to do much good, even for the kid screaming next to you.

As the person who has the writing credit on the first episode of this season, I want to ask you about the death of poor Earl. Was there any conversation about whether the dog dying was pushing things too far? I’m also wondering where the inspiration for that came from. I don’t know if you took it from this, but there was a soccer game years ago where an owl died that was a mascot.
We were first thinking of a baseball player named Randy Johnson, who was — I think he still is — a 6-foot-11 stork of a man who routinely threw a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and was incredibly intimidating. One day in a regular-season game, I believe a seagull happened to fly between his pitch and the catcher’s mitt right around home plate and exploded. We had that in our heads.

We’ve been to Los Angeles Football Club games out here, and they have a falcon show that opens each game with this falcon that flies around. Somehow we got it in our head to combine those two. The Greyhounds have an owl mascot, and that mascot gets free, Dani will kill that bird accidentally. But then eventually Jason was like, “I think there’s gotta be a dog. We’re the Greyhounds.” And there was a script with an owl in it, but we were doing a lot of legwork setting up this owl. And some of that legwork is still there, we’re introducing this mascot and pretending that it’s been there the whole time. But at least it’s a Greyhound, so that at least is organic. Having this owl, Jason was like, “Well, that’s just not organic.” So looking back on it, we weren’t like, “Hey, let’s kill a dog. That’ll shock everybody,” we just wanted to have a jarring trauma, and a dog was the most organic thing.

Can you talk about the origin of Ted becoming Led Tasso in episode three? Where did the idea stem from?
Well, that is the root of the whole thing. That is us taking the chance to bring back the Ted Lasso from the original commercial. That’s when we were doing a joke of a full-on ugly American in college-football-coach form, which we then tempered a little bit in the second one and now we’ve gone pretty far away from. I think that was 100 percent the right choice. I don’t think anyone disputes that, because that was a fun sketch, but not a character who you can draw 300 minutes’ worth of material out of. Having said that, it was so fuckin’ fun to do. Oh my God. That first commercial, running around Tottenham Hotspurs’ training facility all day doing those bits, there were times when Jason was just fucking on fire doing that. The outtakes alone are just killer, they’re so, so fucking funny. So we just found an organic place to bring that back a little bit so we could touch on our origins for a moment. As before, it’s fucking hilarious. And as with that first commercial, there are outtakes that are not in the thing that are just absolutely killer.

I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but Led Tasso also felt like a little bit of foreshadowing that that we’re going to see other sides of Ted. I’m curious: If Coach Beard were to have a bizarro version of himself, what would that look like? I think it might just look like regular Ted.
It might look like Mick Fleetwood, roughly 1978. Fully, crazy-eyed lunatic with testicle necklace hanging from his belt. Final answer: Mick Fleetwood.

But a very chatty Mick Fleetwood, right? I feel like the opposite of Coach Beard would be just talking nonstop.
Yup, and also constantly interrupting people and standing in front of other people who really should have the room.

As an actor, do you have ideas about his backstory that you have in your mind that maybe haven’t been in a script yet, that you draw upon when you’re playing him?
I mean, I have notions, but all of it’s head canon until it gets typed up on a page and then uttered by someone on-camera. I’m mostly trying to draw similarities in my own life. Like, I don’t think he’s from Kansas, I think he’s from Central Illinois. I went to school in Central Illinois, so I can get with that. Like me, I think he had some adventure in Europe for a while. I lived in Amsterdam for five years doing comedy out there. I think he was a roadie for the Dave Matthews Band or something.

Fleetwood Mac.
Something more in the jam-band variety. Something that was more in acid culture than coke culture.

But not Phish.
I think maybe Phish!

You think Phish?
Phish! Rusted Root! You know? But then, yeah, he went to Europe and he met a gal. Then she broke him and then he tried to stick around and then drugs got involved and then he made his way back to Kansas, and Ted found out that he was in trouble and Ted came and saved him. He got cleaned up and then he became Ted’s assistant coach. The one thing that I think will be canon — however much of that ends up getting used — is he has kind of been saved by Ted, so he has seen firsthand, on a cellular level, that the Lasso way works. Like Ted is an agent of good, Ted can change your life, and I think he owes Ted a debt. He’s more interested in riding with Ted than he is in trying to nurture a relationship or anything like that.

How much of that do you think will come out at some point?
That’s a great question. I mean, there will always be breadcrumbs, but we have to be very judicious with it because now we’ve established that the mystery is the fun. And if we open the door too much, then do we risk losing what’s interesting about that character, or at least one of the main things that’s interesting about him?

Well, let me ask you this question, which, even if you know the answer, I’m sure you won’t want to tell me: Does the man have a first name and what is it?
A: We don’t know. B: We have options.

But we don’t know. We don’t know if we’ll ever say. It’s fun that people give a shit about it, but it’s not a burning issue for us right now to find out.

Of the season-two episodes, is there one that you’re especially excited for people to see?
I think 208 is pretty great. 208 is, I think, our longest-ever episode and there’s just so much happening in it. Like, a lot of times we would get the first cut of an episode — the director’s cut — and the title frame tells you how long the episode is. Usually it’ll be like 42 minutes or something like that, and something in the back of your head goes, “We’re looking for cuts here.” But the first cut of episode eight was like 54 minutes or something.

Is that the longest that you’ve ever had?
That’s crazy long. When something’s that long, you’re looking to cut scenes, basically. But watching that was like, “Oh no. There’s a lot of good shit in this episode. I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do.” I think we got it down to 44 or 45, but it’s a pretty tight 45. There’s not a lot of — I can’t think of anything less coarse than this — smelling our own shit in the episode. There’s event after event, after event, after event, and even stuff that happens early — the Roy and Phoebe stuff that doesn’t appear to be germane to everything else — technically is. So I think that episode’s great, and hopefully it won’t be a backlash of, “I give you half an hour a week, Ted Lasso! What’s up with the 45 minutes?! Boo!” I’m always waiting for the backlash anyway.

I was just going to ask: Are you worried about that? Or not worried, but just expecting it?
No, more worried than expecting. But it seems like nowadays, anything that’s good has to pay for it at some point. Pretty much everything but Marvel.

There’s been Marvel backlash.
Oh, great. Okay, good. That’s comforting. Thank youuuu. But nothing can go well forever, is how I was raised. We’re not actually worrying about it. Just got to go do our thing.

Is it true that you’re only going to do three seasons?
That was always the idea, but we never imagined that people would like the show this much. So it’s kind of like, “Oh, shoot. Everyone loves the show and we love doing it, but ohhhh, Fleabag ended pretty great.”

Well, three would already be more than Fleabag, so you may as well do four.
It’d be a parallel to The Office, which was our original analog when me and Joe Kelly and Jason were mapping out what to do with this as a possible show back in 2015. The Office is six episodes. Six episodes: It’s special. That’s what was in our head when we were seeing three chunks.

This show looks for the English way of doing things all the time. That’s why season one ends with a race to not be relegated as opposed to the American sports fantasy of these plucky underdogs somehow winning the championship. The English way on TV shows is to have your allotment and go do that allotment, and then walk away forever. All the way back to at least Fawlty Towers, in terms of the great English shows. Eventually we’ll have a crossroads to cross, but until we’re there, I’m not going to worry too much about it.

Ted Lasso’s Brendan Hunt on the Mystery of Coach Beard