Welcome to World Builders, our ongoing series of conversations with the most productive and thoughtful behind-the-scenes craftspeople. In this entry, we chat with editors A.J. Catoline and Melissa McCoy, and casting director Theo Park about the unseen work they do to accentuate the warm philosophy of Ted Lasso.
There are entertainments, and then there are stories that worm their way into your heart, and then your brain: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Winnie the Pooh, Ted Lasso. These programs may have begun as distractions, but eventually, they transformed into philosophies, helping us navigate the cruel world outside. For Ted Lasso, this metamorphosis came as a shock to all involved parties.
Talk to those invested behind the scenes, and they’ll tell you that’s not what they initially imagined when they joined the team. Ted Lasso was supposed to be just another gig. But as it seeped into our souls, it also seeped into the creators. But this is not just a comfort show, and the crew worked hard to move beyond Season 1’s hopeful, penetratingly optimistic view.
While actors Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, and Juno Temple represent the face of the series, their performances are equally shaped by Ted Lasso editors A.J. Catoline and Melissa McCoy and casting director Theo Park. Such power is an invisible one, contained within a myriad of offscreen decisions. Their choices steer everything from tone to action, and they extend from deep collaboration with all departments. These three give as much of themselves to Ted Lasso as AFC Richmond would.
A serious soak within the world of Ted Lasso was necessary before it clicked for casting director Theo Park (Master of None). She’s reluctant to admit it, but those early days were filled with uncertainty. She had what was on the page, but even that didn’t scream any immediate personality.
“I got the script for Episode 1,” she says. “Not much else. And then a few pages for different characters that would appear in further episodes. I had one long conversation with Jason [Sudeikis], but that’s it. And I had no concept of who was going to play what. It was a total blank slate. I wasn’t quite sure of the tone until we got properly into it.”
Melissa McCoy (Grace and Frankie) initially thought Ted Lasso would fall more in line with classic sitcoms. There would be a little character, a joke here, and a joke there. Maintaining their delivery would be her primary concern.
“It took some time,” McCoy says about the editing choices for Ted Lasso. “On Episode 1, it was really like, ‘Do we want to have a fast-paced 30 Rock style, bing bang boom show?’ But ultimately, when the dailies started coming in, it really wasn’t feeling like that’s what it needed. We let things breathe and really took our time to try to find the best character jokes.”
Almost instantly, McCoy sensed a depth to the jokes that she was not expecting. They set her brain to wandering, and she found herself having to dig into meaning to uncover the appropriate pace for the scenes.
“We had to ask ourselves what we wanted Ted to be,” says McCoy. “How out there do we want Ted to be? There were a lot of discussions, even around the joke when Rebecca asks, ‘Oh do you believe in ghosts, Ted?” and he said, ‘I do, but more importantly, I want them to believe in themselves.’ Are we saying that Ted really does believe in God? We went deep with each joke, regarding what they meant, and that helped us with what we’re trying to accomplish.”
As they advanced into the editing process, a grander sense developed around Ted Lasso. A.J. Catoline (Brockmire) saw that the series was more than a time-killer. There was meaning and emotional balance within.
“Ted Lasso is a vibe more than a show,” Catoline says. “It certainly has become that, but I don’t think I knew that, or Mel knew that, or anyone on the cast or crew knew that going in. All we had to go on were these short sketches that were done years ago. So, when I took the job, I thought that it could be a comedic sketch-type show. I had no idea until I started looking at the scripts and seeing the footage that there’s way more heart, and feeling, and pathos behind the jokes.”
Theo Park may not have been prepared for the result, but once she had it, she was in awe. Try as you might to give the Ted Lasso casting director credit, she throws it away to others. This show is no one person’s achievement.
“It’s like alchemy,” says Park. “It all came together so brilliantly. The direction, the writing, the actors, the way it looked. It all came together so lovely.”
Where Seasons 1 was a gift, Season 2 of Ted Lasso became a challenge. Everyone was now aware of the precious jewel they were tasked with protecting. Sophomore slumps are legit, and they couldn’t allow for one to occur here. They couldn’t crush their audience that way.
“Season 2 was mainly about establishing Sarah Niles’ psychologist,” Park says of casting the most significant new addition to Ted Lasso, “and then getting all the day players to the episodes. But then also, Jason was really sure that he wanted to bring a lot of people back from Season 1. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-them players. He was like, ‘Sow the seeds, bring them back!’ It was really cool to see where we could populate the episodes with these people we’ve already met.”
Melissa McCoy believes that the ability to sprinkle people, jokes, and stories as if they were breadcrumbs scattered throughout the season is key to Ted Lasso‘s success. And it’s an approach that could not happen on a traditional platform.
“Being on a streamer platform allows us to breath,” says McCoy. “We’re not under air dates — I mean, we are, but we’re not. And on Season 1 especially, we were given that time to really let things play out. We could discover something in a later episode and then go back to earlier in the season and build something to support that. We carried that strategy with us into Season 2, even though we were under more of a deadline.”
To hear McCoy tell it, Jason Sudeikis is never happier than when he’s dropping clues and references for folks to discover. Cinematic storytelling is a lifelong obsession for the actor/writer/producer. Ted Lasso is his chance to unleash his fantasies upon a hungry audience.
“Speaking of Film School Rejects,” says McCoy, “that’s Jason. What’s the one thing they always tell you, ‘Plant and payoff.’ And that’s something that’s so wonderful about this show — all those easter eggs Jason, Bill [Lawrence], and the writers plant. And the actors!”
Working on the show expresses the best parts of film education. The Ted Lasso editing bay is in full-cinema celebration mode 24/7. When Sudeikis walks in, A.J. Catoline has his ears open, and his young video rental mentality spread even wider. There’s always another movie or show out there that can help them out at a moment’s notice.
“Jason is always referencing episodes of Cheers,” Catoline says. “Shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s learned about movie magic, and he’s always asking us, ‘What movie magic can we do here to make this work?’ Be it in editing, be it visual effects, or sound. He loves to see the power of that come through.”
By jamming inspiration into Ted Lasso, Ted Lasso wishes to return the favor. The filmmakers are who they are because of the countless movies and shows they watched growing up. Through Ted Lasso, they’re looking to give back. Something they try to do on all their projects but it seems more than possible with this idiosyncratic, unexpected offering. Once the team caught their rhythm, the cheer the series expelled rushed forth with gusto.
Ted Lasso Season 2 is now streaming on Apple TV+.