INTERVIEW: Emmy-Winning ‘Ted Lasso’ Casting Director Theo Park
Theo Park is a casting director who has worked on Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers and High Rise, Paul King’s Paddington, Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd, Ben Palmer’s Man Up, Susanna Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me and Julius Avery’s Overlord. She was also in the casting department of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Amazon’s upcoming epic Lord of the Rings TV show.
We met to discuss the casting of Ted Lasso – Apple’s hit comedy series about an American football coach who comes to London to coach ‘soccer.’
Ted Lasso is quite an unusual show in that three of the main actors – Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso), Brendan Hunt (Coach Beard) and Brett Goldstein (Roy Kent) are all involved behind the scenes. Did Brett Goldstein come on board as a writer first or an actor first?
He was in the writer’s room, so he was always a writer and then we got to casting the part of Roy Kent, they were like “we want Brett Goldstein to play this part” and I was (surprised) “Oh! That’s a good idea!” So yeah, writer first and then Roy.
So, was there never anyone else in consideration for Roy?
Oh no, there was. We had to audition a few people and Brett did the whole bit – put himself on tape and it was fantastic. Yeah, there was a process, but he was perfect.
With the core cast in particular, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. I’ll start with Hannah Waddingham (Rebecca) – can you tell me about her audition and casting process?
Oh yeah, she was amazing. She did a brilliant tape and then they flew her out to LA to meet Jason who did a test with her in LA and she was a slam-dunk.
And then there’s Juno Temple, who is perhaps a bigger name, in terms of film. How did you get her involved and was anyone else in consideration for Keeley?
Yeah – we searched high and low for Keeley and saw lots of people, but no one was quite right. There was a lot of brainstorming happening. In fact, Jason knew her personally through his wife (actress and director Olivia Wilde) – I think they’d work together. And then they spoke together – Jason and Juno – and she was just on board. All of us were like; “is she going to do it?! She’s amazing! She’s a film star! Wow!” but he twisted her arm and she said yes and we’re just so grateful.
Phil Dunster, who plays Jamie Tartt, of course – he’s got such a specific look that is perfect for the role, he looks so much like Christiano Ronaldo, in particular. I guess casting is always finding that balance between finding someone who has the right look for the part, as well as obviously having the acting skills to back it up – can you tell me about finding that balance when casting?
Yeah, I think, in particular with that role, that was pretty difficult because in fact he was written…there was a bit of a mix-up in what you see now. The Phil Dunster role was originally called Dani Rojas, who was supposed to be the arrogant star player and we were trying to find a Latinx actor to play that part.
Again, we searched high and low and nobody was quite right, but the most important thing about that part was that he had to be very sexy, but also have that amazing attitude. I said “look, he’s not Latinx, but he’s amazing, can’t Phil Dunster just do it as a Brit?” and they went with it. And in that big search for Dani Rojas, we found Christo Fernandez, who wasn’t right for the character as written, so they re-wrote another part to suit Christo Fernandez. So, we got both of them and I love that process because it just goes to show that when you meet the right actor, the writers were really on board with changing the creative to suit the actors, which was exciting.
Nick Mohammed (Nate) is such a find – I’ve noticed that he’s starring in a David Schwimmer sitcom now.
No! I’ll have you know that David Schwimmer is starring in a Nick Mohammed sitcom! He wrote it, produced it and co-stars in it and got David Schwimmer to do it.
So, did that happen before Ted Lasso or since?
It was directly before, he was shooting Intelligence directly before Ted Lasso was due to shoot and he was finishing the week before we were starting shooting. When I got in touch with his agent to ask him about playing Nate, he said “I’m just exhausted, I’ll finish Intelligence and then I’ll go straight into the edit, so I don’t think I can do it, I’ll be too busy, I’ll be exhausted so I’m just going to say No.”
But we begged him to reconsider and he just had a very, very busy summer because he was shooting Ted Lasso and editing Intelligence at the same time. But we’re so grateful that he changed his mind and decided to be busy! He was perfect, he was the only person who could play that part.
James Lance is a great British actor, I recognise him from lots of British telly. Trent Crimm has become quite an iconic character already, because of his introduction, his look as well is perfect. Was anyone else in consideration?
We saw a few people, not many and in fact, they were all brilliant. But yeah, there’s something about Jimmy Lance (laughs) – it had to be him.
How early on in the process did you know that you had Anthony Head, as Rupert Mannion?
Oh my God – really late! For some reason, it just took ages for everyone – because there’s a lot of people involved, lots of producers – it took everyone a while to agree on what they wanted in Mannion.
It went right up to the wire and I kept saying (whispers): “Anthony Head, Anthony Head, Anthony Head” because I knew it was him! Luckily, they all went with him. But it was a late decision.
I know your sister (producer Nira Park) is involved in the film industry as well and I wanted to ask how you got into casting and why did you want to be a casting director?
I was always interested in acting, as a child, I wanted to be an actor, but then I realised that they get paid really badly, so I changed my mind pretty quickly. In my late teens, I worked over a summer for an agent, so I got to look after actors and set them up for auditions, so I saw that side of it. That was cool and everything, but it wasn’t quite for me, it lacked the creativity that I think I was looking for.
Ever since then, I dabbled a bit in TV production, but I always thought; “I want to give casting a go.” It took a while, I worked when I was 17 for an agent and now to 20+ years on, I’m doing it myself. So, it took a while but it was a bit of luck, a bit of graft – I guess that’s how it happened.
Thank you for talking to me about Ted Lasso – a show I love and which is perfectly cast!
I’m glad you like it – the Americans have gone crazy for it, whereas for the Brits, it’s more of a sleeper thing – “have you seen Ted Lasso? Oh, you must, it’s good.” But the Americans love it! You probably don’t know that in London, we’re not all talking about Ted Lasso.