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Leaving Lasso

After three seasons as soccer star Jamie Tartt, Phil Dunster looks back on the extraordinary, life-changing experience of being part of Ted Lasso

This year we said goodbye to Ted Lasso, the heartwarming comedy that arrived when all of us needed to feel good about humanity the most. With each season, viewers fell harder for the earnest coach played by series co-creator Jason Sudeikis and his team, both on and off the soccer pitch. Among them was Jamie Tartt, the self-centred striker of AFC Richmond, who, in the hands of actor Phil Dunster, went from insufferable jerk to a real team player that we felt and rooted for, all while laughing at revelations like, “It’s just poop-eh.” Dunster’s work did not go unnoticed. This year he was nominated for an Emmy, and TV Week caught up with the English actor on the day he received his first Hollywood Critics Association nomination. “I’m just incredibly honoured and bewildered. It’s flattering,” he says. “You suddenly realize those clichés actually make a lot of sense: It’s not the reason to do it, but it’s a really lovely recognition. Now, if they give me a bad review, then I’ll probably say, ‘Well, load of nonsense.’ ” Read on as we talk to Dunster about saying goodbye to the beloved series, how it shaped him and what comes next.

Apple TV+

TV Week: You had a fairly prolific career before Ted Lasso. What did this show change?

Phil Dunster: I think I suddenly became beholden to, or at least aware of, a viewership in a way that I’ve never been aware of before. We were making the show not just for ourselves, but also for the people who were watching it. Having three seasons of this, you suddenly become aware of what it means to people. But staying true to what we originally tried to make, and what Jason, Brendan [Hunt], Bill [Lawrence] and Joe Kelly originally had in mind, I think that’s the amazing thing. That no matter the craziness around it, they were firmly committed to telling that fish-out-of-water story.

How did working on Ted Lasso shape you as an actor?

I remember Brett Goldstein [who played Roy Kent, and was also an exec producer] said something amazing in talking about Toheeb [Jimoh], who plays Sam Obinsaya: “He never wants to win the scene because he’s always looking for the scene to win.” I think that’s something that everybody did incredibly well in the show. I really do. By that I mean, you don’t make it about yourself. Certainly, after hearing that, I tried extra-hard to live by that rule.

Apple TV+

Was there a sense that you were making something special from the very start, or was the response a surprise?

Not really, no. And I think even when we were making the third series, it was very much Jason who was leading the way and making sure that we didn’t think that we were making something special. It’s not your business what the audience thinks of your performance. You can only do what you are setting up to do. That was the intention, and I think that Jason really held that close to him and made sure that he led by that example.

There’s a hunger for this show to continue. Do you, as a group, feel like this is something you want to bring back, or are you just enjoying the year of saying goodbye?

I think we would. Absolutely, we would love to do it again. But only if it made sense. Only if it was something that, Jason, Bill, Brendan and Joe all believed was right. Also, it’s been really wonderful . . . you know, when you graduate from school or college and you’re like, “What a wonderful thing that was,” and how exciting it’s then to move on to the next thing. It doesn’t take away from the fact that we’ll always have it.

Apple TV+

What has it been like to start creeping out from under the towering shadow of Jamie Tartt?

It’s terrifying. Well, it’s funny because I think that he’s very different from me. When I meet people, I think they’re incredibly disappointed at my football skills and [lack of] coolness, and quite surprised how I am perhaps different from him. I’m so very deeply appreciative of that character and for them letting me do it, but I also don’t feel like there’s a box that I’m being put into because of it. People are being open-minded.

You’re moving into dark drama for your next project, yes?

Yeah. Surface is the next thing I’m doing. It’s a twisted thriller, and my guy, let me just say I’m not being put in a box, but he seems on the surface like a bit of a douche. There’s more going on there. There’s a lot of twists and turns, so I’m really excited.

Do you enjoy leaning into the “dick” aspect of a character? Before we knew Jamie had a heart of gold you were leaning hard into his jerk side.

Yes, I did. It’s within us all, and I am no different. I really enjoy getting to play out that side because it’s prevalent in us all. But it’s one of those where you could say the same thing about, “Do you enjoy playing someone really stupid or silly or someone conceited or proud?” Yeah, all of it. I really enjoy just being able to do it, like an appreciative child who’s received any present at Christmas.

Apple TV+

Speaking of, we didn’t know you sang. How did you performing on Hannah Waddingham’s recent Apple TV+ Christmas special come about?

They must have had lots of dropouts. [Laughs] I imagine that’s how it came about. I was very lucky to be a part of the song. I went to drama school and sung for a while, but no one’s ever taken the plunge to actually employ me to do it for a while. It was a really lovely thing. And to do it with Hannah — I would say this, but I think it’s a wonderful Christmas special. What they set out to do with it, which is just to bring a real cup of cheer, is beautiful. And Hannah is just a superstar.

You just directed, wrote and starred in your own short film, Idiomatic. Did three years on Ted Lasso prepare you for doing your own thing?

Yes, I think watching Jason create in the way that he did was really wonderful. And seeing Brett — he’s done so much in terms of producing and writing — and watching Hannah produce her show, I’ve been surrounded by these brilliant leaders. It is exciting and inspiring and it’s led me to think there’s more than one way to tell a story.

Ted Lasso, streaming on Apple TV+

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