Behind the uplifting humor of Apple TV’s hit comedy series “Ted Lasso” — about a London-based soccer team and their optimistic American coach — is a charming ensemble complementing Jason Sudeikis’ star turn as the title character. British casting director Theo Park is the woman partly responsible for that on-screen alchemy.
Sudeikis, one of series co-creators and an executive producer, was the loudest creative voice when it came to building the ensemble, which meant he had final say in every casting decision. His steadfast vision facilitated Park’s search. “It was all about how Jason perceived the roles. All I needed to do was have a quick chat with him about what he wanted and then it was clear,” she told IndieWire from London.
Even if Sudeikis had veto power, the concept lent itself to plenty of exploration, especially considering neither Sudeikis nor the other producers knew many British actors. Park, who had recently cast Amazon’s upcoming “The Lord of the Rings,” introduced them to a lot of fantastic locals regardless of their experience. “They didn’t need to be notably famous people and that was quite freeing to just get some of my favorite actors on tape,” Park said. “We just wanted a really lovely ensemble.”
The production wanted their project to reflect the real Premiere League football clubs. Since these teams are often comprised of an array of international players, diversity was organically built into the narrative. Park recalled that the majority of the supporting characters didn’t have a predetermined race or ethnicity on the page, allowing for different types of people to be considered for the roles.
One exception was Sam Obisanya, a character that had been written as having a Ghanaian heritage, but even those written specifications were not set in stone. When the creative team met Toheeb Jimoh, an actor of Nigerian descent, they immediately changed the role to fit his specific background. Similarly, the self-assured character of Jamie Tart, the top scorer at AFC Richmond, was initially supposed to be someone from Latin America. Eventually, when Park showed them Phil Dunster’s work, the character was rewritten to be a local Brit.
However, in that search Park also found Mexican actor Christo Fernandez, who made a strong impression. The role that Fernandez ultimately was selected for, Dani Rojas, was originally conceived as an Icelandic player that would come in as the club’s new signing halfway through the season. But upon seeing Fernandez’s audition tape, they decided to make yet another transformation. “It was really nice to find actors that the creators fell in love with and molded the parts to those actors,” Park added.
Fernandez had the added benefit of being a former soccer player in his home country. That was significant because all of the actors embodying professional players were tested on their athletic abilities. “It was vital that all the team really could play football, so it was absolutely part of their audition process,” explained Park. “They had to do normal scenes acting, and then they had to show us their football skills on tape as well.”
Other parts, such as that of the delightful Nathan Shelley, required persistence. Actor Nick Mohammed had first auditioned for the role of Leslie Higgins (Richmond’s Director of Communications played by Jeremy Swift), but the producers didn’t believe he was right for it. Later, as Park was focused on finding an actor to play Nathan, Mohammed’s name resurfaced. Mohammed initially passed on auditioning again. The multi-faceted performer was just coming off shooting his own sitcom, “Intelligence,” and didn’t want to be working on the post-production of one show while shooting another. But Park and the production team insisted until Mohammed agreed to audition.
Looking forward to Season 2, now that she knows the rhythms of everyone involved, one of the big challenges for Park was scheduling. Since the ensemble is so large, making sure that every cast member was available to continue the next chapter in this sports saga represented an elaborate undertaking. It’s one of the many responsibilities handled by the casting director, which despite the vital role it plays in the success of a series like “Ted Lasso,” remains underappreciated. Park has learned to deal with such obscurity.
“A lot of people don’t know that [casting directors] exist,” Park said. Even her close friends aren’t always certain about the duties of her position, so she explains it in simple terms: “You get a script and you get told, ‘These are the parts you need to cast. Now get those people,’ simple as that. Except it’s never that simple,” she added.
As a small child, Park hoped to become an actor. But once she realized rejection might be too much to handle, her aims shifted to a career that would still have her interact with performance. The worst part of her job, she thinks, is being the bearer of bad news when saying no to someone. Nevertheless, the impact casting directors have can’t be overstated.
“We are really integral to the production of a film or television show. We’re with the team right from the outset,” Park said. “It’s a really important part of the process, but it’s also a really exciting part because we’re able to mold it with the right actors.”