Brett Goldstein Faces Life After ‘Lasso’
LONDON — A few minutes into coffee last spring, Brett Goldstein wanted to show me something on his phone.
I leaned over and saw puppeteers sitting on skateboards while they hid behind a table, rolling into one another in apparent bliss as their hands animated a clowder of felt cats above their heads. For Goldstein this represented a kind of creative ideal, as pure an expression of fun, craft and unbridled glee as any human is likely to encounter.
“Imagine this is your actual job,” he said, his breathtaking eyebrows raised in wonder.
Goldstein shot this behind-the-scenes video during his time as a guest star on “Sesame Street,” an experience this Emmy-winning, Marvel-starring comic actor and writer still describes as the single best day of his life.
The clip is inarguably delightful, but Goldstein hardly has to imagine such a job. As the breakout star of “Ted Lasso,” the hit comedy about a tormented but terminally sunny American coach winning hearts, minds and the occasional football match in England, he is part of an ensemble that brought as much bonhomie, optimism and warmth to the set as Ted himself, played by the show’s mastermind, Jason Sudeikis, brought to the screen.
“I will be absolutely devastated when it ends,” Goldstein said last year. “I think we all will.”
And now it has ended. Or maybe it hasn’t. What is certain is that the new season of “Ted Lasso,” which starts on Wednesday, will conclude the three-act story the creators conceived in the beginning and there are no plans for more. Whether and how more tales from the Lassoverse arrive is up to Sudeikis, who told me he hadn’t even begun to ponder such things. “It’s been a wonderful labor of love, but a labor nonetheless,” he said.
So even if the new season isn’t the end, it represents an end, one that hit Goldstein hard. In a video call last month, he confirmed that while shooting the finale in November, he kept sneaking off to “have a cry.”
But even if “Lasso” is over for good, it is also inarguable that Goldstein has made the most of it. Chances are you had never heard of him three years ago, when he was a journeyman performer working on a TV show based on an NBC Sports promo for a service, Apple TV+, that few people had. (Humanity had plenty else to think about in March 2020.)
Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt and Jason Sudeikis in the third and final season of “Ted Lasso.”Credit…Apple TV+
But things have moved fast for him since “Ted Lasso” became the pre-eminent feel-good story of the streaming era, both in form — as an underdog sports tale about the importance of kindness — and function, as a surprise hit and career boost for a bunch of lovable, previously unheralded actors who have now amassed 14 Emmy nominations for their performances.
None of them have turned “Ted Lasso” into quite the launchpad that Goldstein has. His Roy Kent, a gruff, floridly profane retired player turned coach, was an immediate fan favorite, and Goldstein won Emmys for best supporting actor in a comedy both seasons. He was also one of the show’s writers and parlayed that into a new series: “Shrinking,” a comedy about grief and friendship. Goldstein developed it with Bill Lawrence, another “Lasso” creator, and Jason Segel, who stars along with Harrison Ford. (It is Ford’s first regular TV comedy role.)
Thanks to “Shrinking,” which came out in January and was just renewed for another season, you might have encountered Goldstein on “Late Night With Stephen Colbert,” “The Today Show,” “CBS Saturday Morning” or some podcast or another.
Thanks to his surprise debut as Hercules — Hercules! — in a post-credits scene in Marvel’s 2022 blockbuster “Thor: Love and Thunder,” you will soon see him everywhere.
None of this had come out when we met last year. Back then, he was still struggling to make sense of the ways “Ted Lasso” had changed his life after two decades of working in comparative obscurity in London’s theater and comedy trenches. Whatever the hassles of losing his anonymity, he said, they were more than offset by the benefits — the visit to “Sesame Street,” the opportunity to work with a childhood hero like Ford, the chance to work on “Lasso” itself.
“I would happily do it for 25 more years,” he said, but that’s out of his hands.
What Goldstein can control is what he does with his new Hollywood juice, which currently includes a second season of “Shrinking,” other TV concepts in development and whatever emerges from the whole Hercules thing. (He’s already mastered Marvel’s signature superpower: the non-comment.)
No matter how long this window of opportunity stays open, he’s still chasing the same simple thing: a slightly coarser version of what he captured in that “Sesame Street” video.
“It’s a bunch of grown people having the time of their [expletive] lives being very, very silly but also creating something that’s meaningful,” Goldstein said. “And it’s [expletive] joyous.”
OK, a significantly coarser version. But to understand why, it helps to know a little about how he got here.
‘I very much relate to the anger.’
Goldstein, 42, grew up in Sutton, England, as a soccer nut by birthright — his father is a Tottenham Hotspur fanatic — who became just as obsessed with performing and movies, spending hours as a boy recreating Indiana Jones stunts in his front yard.
Improbably, all of the above contributed to his current circumstances: It was his performing and soccer fandom that led to “Ted Lasso,” and he is now writing lines for Indiana Jones himself in “Shrinking” — lines Ford says while playing a character inspired by Goldstein’s father.
But it took Goldstein a few decades to arrive at such an exalted position. After a childhood spent acting in little plays and his own crude horror shorts, he studied film and literature at the University of Warwick. He continued writing and performing through college and beyond, in shorts and “loads of plays at Edinburgh Fringe and off, off, off, off West End,” he said. A short film called “SuperBob,” about a melancholy lo-fi superhero played by a beardless Goldstein, eventually led to a cult feature of the same name.
More important, it caught the eye of the casting director for “Derek” (2012-14), Ricky Gervais’s mawkish comedy about a kindly simpleton (played by Gervais) working at a senior care facility. Goldstein played a nice boyfriend. “That was my first proper TV job, and then it was slightly easier,” he said.
Along the way he tried standup and it became an abiding obsession — even now he tries to perform several nights a week. “He’s always been the sexy, hunky dude in, like, really tiny comedic circles,” said Phil Dunster, who plays the reformed prima donna Jamie Tartt in “Lasso” and first met Goldstein roughly a decade ago, when he performed in one of Goldstein’s plays. (Dunster remembers being dazzled and intimidated by his eyebrows.)
At some point a fan of Goldstein’s standup mentioned him to Lawrence, a creator of network hits like “Spin City” and “Scrubs,” who checked out Goldstein in a failed pilot and was impressed enough to cast him in his own new sitcom in 2017.
That one also never made it to air. By then Goldstein was in his late 30s. “I had a sort of epiphany of, ‘I’ve missed my window,’” he said.
Then came “Ted Lasso.”
The show’s creators, who also included Brendan Hunt and Joe Kelly, wanted some English soccer fans on staff, and Lawrence thought of Goldstein. He was hired as a writer but soon became convinced that he was the person to play the surly, fading pro Roy Kent. As scripting on the first season wrapped up, he made a video of himself performing several Roy scenes and sent it to the creators, stipulating that if he was terrible, all involved would never speak of it again. He was not terrible.
It’s a story he has told many times. But it hits different in person, as the gentle fellow in a fitted black T-shirt recounts how he felt a bone-deep connection to the irascible Roy. The face is essentially the same, but the eyes are too friendly and the voice is smooth and mellifluous where Roy’s is a clipped growl.
“I get that you would be confused by this,” Goldstein said, setting his coffee cup neatly into its saucer. “But I very much relate to the anger. I used to be very, very miserable and had a quite dark brain, and I’ve worked very hard at changing that. But it’s there.”
Lawrence said that “of all the shows I’ve ever done, Brett is one of the top two people in terms of how different he is from his character.” (The other: Ken Jenkins, the friendly actor who played the caustic Dr. Kelso in “Scrubs.”)
In some ways the connection between actor and character is clear. Both are prolific swearers, for one thing, and Goldstein lives by the chant that defines his famous alter-ego: He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere.
Colleagues and friends are stupefied by how much he does. While shooting the first season of “Lasso,” he was also flying to Madrid to shoot “Soulmates,” the sci-fi anthology series he created with Will Bridges. During filming for Season 3, he acted in “Lasso” by day and joined the “Shrinking” writers’ room on video calls by night. He found time to interview comics, actors, filmmakers and friends for his long-running movie podcast, “Films to be Buried With.” He regularly squeezed in standup sets.
“I’m not sure when he sleeps,” Dunster said. “But I know he gets it in, because he looks so young.”
Goldstein said his workaholism predates his newfound Hollywood clout. “Even when I was doing stuff that no one was watching, I was always working,” he said. “Either I’m mentally unwell, or genuinely this is the thing that gives me purpose and makes me happy.”
He acknowledged that both could be true. But then if “Ted Lasso” has taught us anything, it’s that nobody is just one thing.
‘We joke our way through this.’
“Ted Lasso” is a sprawling comic tapestry woven from characters — a wounded team owner (played by Hannah Waddingham), an insecure publicist (Juno Temple), a spiteful former protégé (Nick Mohammed) — threading their way toward better selves. The new season finds the AFC Richmond squad at its underdoggiest yet, back in England’s mighty Premier League and destined for an uncertain but sure to be uplifting fate.
“Shrinking” is more intimate, a show about hard emotions and hanging out that happens to star a screen legend whose presence still astounds everyone. “It’s a year later and I still go, ‘Bloody hell, that’s Harrison Ford,’” Goldstein said.
Ford’s character is an esteemed psychologist who has received a Parkinson’s diagnosis. He was inspired by several real-life figures, including Lawrence’s grandfather, who also had Parkinson’s disease; his father, who has Lewy body dementia; and his old friend from “Spin City,” Michael J. Fox. The character was also based on Goldstein’s father, another Parkinson’s survivor.
“Brett and I share this thing with our families that we joke our way through this,” Lawrence said.
Goldstein is exceedingly private about his personal life, but his father gave him permission to discuss the link — his reasoning was that he wasn’t ashamed of the condition and couldn’t hide it anyway. “And also,” he told his son, “the fact that I can tell people Harrison Ford is based on me is a pretty cool thing.”
Goldstein joked that this gift he has given his father has expanded their conversational canvas by roughly 100 percent: “Football is still all me and my dad talk about,” he said. “That and the fact that he’s Harrison Ford.”
The former, at least, is the way it’s always been. “I think that’s why sport exists,” he said. “It’s a way of saying ‘I love you’ while never saying ‘I love you.’”
Such Trojan-horsing of human emotion has become Goldstein’s default mode, whether it’s using his podcast guests’ favorite films to get at their real fears and desires, portraying the discomfort of vulnerability via a clenched soccer star, or writing Parkinson’s jokes to work through the painful fact of his parents’ mortality.
Segel said that Goldstein is always the one on “Shrinking” insisting that no matter how punchy the punch lines, the feelings must be pure and true. This wasn’t surprising, he added, because Goldstein is a Muppets fan.
“It sounds like a joke,” said Segel, who as a writer and star of “The Muppets” (2011) does not joke about such things. “But it speaks to a lack of fear around earnest expression of emotion.”
Which brings us back to the cat video and Goldstein’s other Muppet-related fascinations. (“The Muppet Christmas Carol” might be his favorite move ever, he said, and he’s been known to perform an abridged version on standup stages.)
Those looking for a felt skeleton key to unlock his various idiosyncrasies aren’t likely to find one. But his Muppet affection does offer a glimpse at what motivates him as a performer, creator and workaholic, which is less about opportunities, franchises or scale than the vulnerability and risks of trying to reach someone and the openness required to take it in. The thing he’s always looking for, he told me over and over — to the point that he started apologizing for it — is a bit of human connection in a world that can seem designed to thwart it.
“They put up this Muppet and I’m gone,” he said. “But that requires from both of us a leap of faith, like, ‘We’re doing this, and I’m all in and you’re all in.’ And if one of us did not commit to this thing then it’s [expletive] stupid — it’s just a [expletive] felt thing on your hand, and I’m an idiot for talking to it and you’re an idiot for holding it.
“Do you know what I mean?”