US comedy star’s bizarre magic mushrooms incident
Jason Sudeikis had a couple of offbeat inspirations in shaping the title character of his new comedy Ted Lasso - psychedelic drugs and American politics.
The US actor, who shot to fame as a writer and performer on comedy institution Saturday Night Live, had first played Lasso - an American football coach put in charge of an English Premier League soccer team - as part of a 2013 promotional campaign for US network NBC, which had just gained the rights there.
The fish-out-of-water premise was a hit in raising the awareness of the sport and the elite competition in the US, and was repeated again the following year, but Sudeikis and his comedy partners knew it would be a big ask to turn essentially a one-joke concept into the 10-part comedy series that drops on Apple TV+ this Friday.
The main concern when he and comedy partners Brendan Hunt, Bill Lawrence and Joe Kelly first started kicking the idea around in 2015 was whether the far-fetched scenario was even remotely believable. But by the time the show was greenlit and they got around to writing it in 2018, a man with next to zero political experience had the highest job in the land - and suddenly it didn't seem entirely out of the realms of possibility.
"The whole question was is it believable that someone who has no idea what they are doing could be in charge of something as important as a professional soccer team," recalls Sudeikis via Zoom from his Los Angeles home. "Then it was like 'oh, someone not knowing what they are doing in charge of something important is kind of happening a lot these days' and it's no longer a high concept. It's an actual living, breathing thing, so the show almost becomes a parable and a metaphor and no one is asking that question any more about the believability - for better or worse."
But whereas the politics in the US is about as toxic and divisive as it's ever been, Sudeikis didn't want to add to the roster of dark, tormented antiheroes he had admired in shows such as Mad Men and the British version of The Office.
His Lasso - parachuted into the fictional Premier League AFC Richmond club by a vindictive, wronged owner who wants to see it burn - is unfailingly optimistic and envisages a road to success by bringing out the best in his players and those around him, despite barely even knowing the rules of the game. With his ridiculous moustache and endless supply of hilarious homilies, Sudeikis says Lasso is his ideal self, embracing curiosity instead of cynicism and kindness in the face of the abuse-chanting legions who want to see him fail.
"He's 100 per cent the best version of me," he says. "I wish I could bottle him up and spritz him on me whenever I am in one of my low points, as any of us feel daily. Especially now." Lasso's egoless equanimity was also inspired by food writer Michael Pollan's book How To Change Your Mind: The New Science of Psychedelics, as well as Sudeikis' experiences experimenting with mind-altering substances when he lived in Amsterdam - where his friend Hunt converted him to the round ball game - while performing with the improvisational comedy troupe Boom Chicago.
"I ingested that book and those interviews and having had some experience with mushrooms during my time in Amsterdam and I found it profound, especially the way he wrote about it and the egolessness people feel," he says. "I was like 'oh that is Ted - Ted is mushrooms'. "But not everybody has done that and understandably so, different strokes for different folks - but the best way I can describe it is Ted is like the way I feel after a couple of pints on an empty stomach during a bright sunny day."
Sudeikis, who is engaged to actor-director Olivia Wilde, with whom he has two children, has been fascinated by sports since childhood. He played soccer until 10, before basketball became his passion, which he says has given him lifelong friendships, earned him a college scholarship and helped broaden his mind as he travelled around the US to play. But team sport also made for an easy transition into professional comedy, especially the improvisational variety that eventually led to his break on SNL.
"Doing sketch comedy and improv comedy it's all ensemble," he says. "It's all follow the follower, we're all in this together, we're in the boat and the only way to get in the right direction is to grab the oar and paddle in the same direction. So that's just where my mind is and while the show is called Ted Lasso and I play Ted Lasso it's a lot bigger than me. There are a ton of people on camera - it is an ensemble show and we try to give everyone moments to shine."
Sudeikis got to return the sporting favour for his friend Hunt - who also plays his assistant coach on Ted Lasso - when he dragged him along for a visit to Australia in 2011 to promote his hit comedy Horrible Bosses.
"I was single at the time so Brendan was my date and he came down with me and we went to go see an Australian rules match, we got to hold a koala bear - we got to do it all," Sudeikis says. "I would have eaten eucalyptus knowing the high that it would have given me - it was a blast. That's the last time I have been down there unfortunately. It was a week and we were bounced around from city to city but I did get to go and check that out. I don't remember what the stadium was or who was playing, but get a pint into me and the sun shining on my face and I'm a good time anywhere."
Ted Lasso releases on Apple TV+ on Friday.
Originally published as US comedy star's bizarre magic mushrooms incident