When she first auditioned for the role of Rebecca Welton on “Ted Lasso,” Hannah Waddingham was convinced she wouldn’t get it. The British actress loved the idea of a comedy about the human condition set in the world of English football, but she just assumed the creators would want someone more recognizable.
“I first thought, ‘Well, I can go along and enjoy this audition, because I know I’m never going to get it because it’s a honey of a role,’” Waddingham laughs, speaking from London, where the Apple TV+ series is in production on its second season. “I went in very calmly, thinking they were going to get some big old starry person. Warner Bros. flew me out to have a chemistry read with Jason [Sudeikis], and I went even more into my own head and was saying to my rep, ‘Don’t tell me who is going to be in the room.’ I’m an old-fashioned theater girl, that’s where I come from, and it has to be about genuine chemistry. It had to be about where Rebecca collides with Ted at this point in their lives. Thankfully, it worked.”
Waddingham, who admits she is not really a fan of soccer (she grew up with rugby), embraced Rebecca from the moment she was cast, convinced that although the character was initially presented as an antagonist, she needed to be understood by the audience. It was important to the actress that Rebecca be as complicated and genuinely human as possible.
“I wanted people to understand from that very first scene that just because she stands tall and she stands strong, she’s not,” Waddingham remembers. “I wanted people to immediately see the inner turmoil and inner upset and her coping mechanism. When people talk about her being the Cruella de Vil or the Darth Vader of the episode, I think, ‘Yes, but that’s an easy thing for everyone to see.’ I’m very glad to see that people have realized very early on that she’s written in a way that makes you root for her without even realizing it.”
She adds, “That’s why I didn’t think the part was going to go my way, because she’s so beautifully drawn that somebody is going to get an absolute gift.”
Although Waddingham has extensive experience in TV, including on “Game of Thrones” and “Sex Education,” she’s found that “Ted Lasso” has completely changed her relationship with the camera.
“Ever since I started playing roles like Septa Unella on ‘Game of Thrones’ — you couldn’t get a more raw-looking, grim mess — I learned to enjoy letting the camera in,” the actress says. “Even if the character is glamorous, like Rebecca is, I enjoy the moments when the façade comes down. I think it’s OK to be vulnerable on camera, because there are so many people watching who will see parts of themselves. That’s a real privilege to then receive messages from people saying, ‘Thank you for letting us in.’ And it’s my pleasure, because there’s a catharsis in it for me too.”
Going into Season 2, which premieres July 23, Waddingham wanted to ensure she kept that level of vulnerability in the character. She’s been relieved to discover that Rebecca didn’t just suddenly figure everything out after the Season 1 finale.
“It would be very easy for them to have written her as having her epiphany that she doesn’t need to feel these things about [her ex-husband] Rupert anymore and that she can stand on her own two feet and that the people she has around her now are far more worthy of her energy than he was,” Waddingham notes. “I wanted to make sure that we’re still seeing her flaws and misgivings and wobbles. And I was relieved that they’ve played another absolute blinder and given me a great deal of meat to get my teeth into.”
She was also relieved that the infamous biscuits, which Ted bakes and gives to Rebecca every day, taste maybe a little bit better this time around. After she remarked in an interview last year that the prop biscuits were nearly inedible, she says, there’s been some improvement — although her acting skills are still essential when she has to eat them on set.
“I don’t know if they’ve made them better or it’s just like seeing an old friend,” she laughs. “It was my fault in the first place, because I decided to make her an emotional eater. Nobody’s ever asked me to eat that many biscuits. I think they have made more of an effort this year. Last time it was like some home economics junior had made them. But I love the fact that everyone thinks I love them.”
Over the past year, Waddingham has been aware of the love for “Ted Lasso,” which has grown exponentially since its premiere. It’s been a balm for fans throughout the pandemic, and even Waddingham says it’s the first time she has “genuinely, absolutely” loved watching a show that she’s in.
“The thing we get more than anything is people sending us messages just saying ‘Thank you,’” Waddingham says. “What a gift to have been so happy in a job, then realizing it’s great and having a load of thanks from complete strangers because they somehow feel we’ve gotten them through a s— time. I think as a collective, because of the pandemic, people have found a new lot of friends in our characters.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.