Meet Zava, the New Mysterious Wild Card on ‘Ted Lasso’
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Ted Lasso,” Season 3, Episode 2, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”.]
In this week’s episode of “Ted Lasso,” (almost) everyone knows what Zava can do. He’s the kind of soccer star who can inspire gasps and giddy reactions to everyone from team executives to his fellow players.
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“He merely is Zava. Much as the wind is to the cliff, he is Zava. He just has no regard for the small things that a coach may try to do. He has no disregard either. He’s a force of nature,” series cast member and writer Brendan Hunt told IndieWire.
So, to make that larger-than-life reputation feel real, actor Maximilian Osinski knew he had to make his introduction a mystery, even down to how he talks. Zava doesn’t speak much in his debut episode, and when he does, his voice is intentionally hard to pin down.
“I’m Polish and I speak fluent Polish. In my tape. when I read for it. I improvised a little bit in Polish. I didn’t do a Polish accent, but I listened to like guys like Zlatan Ibrahimović and some of these rock stars from all over Europe. I liked this vague, Eastern Baltic accent where you couldn’t really exactly pinpoint where he’s from,” Osinski said. “Maybe people will be like, ‘What accent is that?’ I kind of made that on purpose. I didn’t want to make it like he’s definitely Russian or French or Swedish. I just wanted a guy who’s just been everywhere and lived everywhere. I had that in my head and I came on set with it, and I think they dug it from from the tape because they didn’t ask me to change anything.”
While Zava the character may feel above his soon-to-be Richmond teammates, Osinski came in as a genuine fan of the show he was joining. The scenes at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge were among the first that he filmed, giving him a chance to bond with some of the main cast over some shared emotions.
“Everyone on set ended up being so welcoming and amazing, from the players on the team to the coaching staff, and everyone: crew, cast, writers,” Osinski said. “I remember when I first met Hannah [Waddingham] on the set, in Episode 2, when Zava comes down those steps. We greeted each other and I said, ‘Congratulations on your success. Your work is wonderful.’ She’s like, ‘Oh, God, every day I come on the show, especially this season, I say, ‘Don’t fuck this up.” Because they felt the pressure of two seasons and all the attention and accolades, they they just wanted to do right by the story. So you felt that energy and you fed off of it.”
With Season 3 under his belt, Osinski is now part of the bigger “Ted Lasso” crew. (He said he sent a message to the cast WhatsApp group ahead of this week’s White House trip.) The moment that kicks off that journey to Richmond is Rebecca (Waddingham) yelling at Zava in a bathroom stall.
“It was great fun, because I think he’s a brilliant actor. And I was really chomping at the bit to do something with him,” Waddingham said. “I love the fact that it’s in the urinal when he’s in a compromised position. She enters with an energy that’s like, ‘I don’t care who you are, who people think you are, who you think you are. You ain’t that to me, you join us if you want to. If you don’t? Off you pop.'”
Courtesy of Apple
That energy gets supersized by virtue of Zava staying completely silent during the whole exchange. As Osinski tells it, that wasn’t always the plan.
“The scene as written, there was a dialogue exchange between him and Rebecca. And on paper, it was hilarious. On the day of, Jason [Sudeikis] was like, ‘You know what, I’m thinking that maybe we just keep him a little bit more of a mystery and we just cut his dialogue,'” Osinski said. “It was my second day of shooting and in my head as an actor, you’re thinking, ‘They’re cutting my lines. I must suck. These lines are funny!’ But filming it felt right. The status is there. So much is said or seen without being said. Hannah did all the heavy lifting. I just listened and I tried not to laugh at the asparagus line.”
Regardless of how much he ended up speaking, Osinski wanted Zava to be one of those brash sports figures who’s an enigma by design. Much like the unplaceable accent, there’s a bit of DNA from a bunch of different soccer’s biggest egos in the character. (Some eagle-eyed fans of the show who spotted Zava jerseys in crowd shots from the Season 3 trailer picked up on some of the influences of the character just by the name alone.) What Osinski found out in trying to make a true-to-life soccer cult of personality is that a lot of Zava’s spiritual predecessors were roles in their own way.
“I approached the role like I was playing a drama or a biopic. I read all these guys’ bios, like Zlatan Ibrahimović’s book ‘I Am Football.’ I’ve watched tons of documentaries. And I have so much respect for them because the way they present themselves to the press sometimes isn’t who they exactly are at home, or even who they are in the locker room. In the character breakdown, they were looking for an Ibrahimović or Eric Cantona-type guy. Not a villain, but an agitator,” Osinski said. “In the press conference scene, it wasn’t written, but I wanted to have a moment where he smiles. Zlatan, in interviews, he’ll say something really cocky or self-assured, and then he looks away and smiles. It lets the world and everyone around him know like, ‘I’m just fucking with everyone.’ I thought it was important for Zava to have that in this introductory episode.”
This week’s episode “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” ends with a big surprise: Zava’s impulsive choice to play for Team Lasso instead of his other Premier League suitors. The show’s writers — including Hunt, who plays Coach Beard, and Brett Goldstein, who plays Roy Kent — wanted to make sure that Zava was established as someone who would not only shake up the makeup of the AFC Richmond squad but would have a reputation that made that chaos worth it.
“It’s this idea that you don’t get many like him. He’s this Michael Jordan-type player who is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. It will definitely unbalance things. But how can you say no to Michael Jordan?” Goldstein said. “It’s an interesting dynamic to take this team that is working very well together and to suddenly go, ‘Here’s this guy that’s insane and a fucking diva and is gonna be difficult.’ However, he’s the greatest player who will have ever played at Richmond.”
Even if this week was more of the show teasing the idea of Zava than putting him on full display, there’s more to come. And it’s those instincts that got Osinski the job that will keep the character as both a key player and a wild card as “Ted Lasso” continues in the coming weeks.
“He wasn’t making fun of Zava. He was just being Zava. And that’s the key,” Hunt said.
“Ted Lasso” Season 3 continues with new episodes every Wednesday on Apple TV+.
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