“Serve the script. If you’re doing an audition, just serve the material how you think that would be in the finished product.” – Casting Director Theo Park
Of all the good things good to say about the Apple+ series, Ted Lasso (and there are tons!), the near perfect casting should be at the top of the list.
Casting Director Theo Park is the one responsible for that greatness and in this interview, she talks about casting the show, self-tape auditions, the craziest auditions she’s seen and her advice to actors.
For the full interview, check out the video below or on YouTube. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
I love the show and I feel like the casting is just great. Even the smaller roles… I talked to Stephen Manas a couple weeks ago…
Theo Park: Did you? Oh yeah, he’s lovely.
He really is. And the guy who plays Sam, Toheeb Jimoh, he is perfect. When he pops up, you can’t help but immediately smile.
Theo Park: Well, there’s just something about him. I was saying to my partner. “What is it about Toheeb?” Maybe it’s the character… But I think it’s the actor. I think Toheeb, there’s something so luminous about him. He’s just gorgeous and when he smiles his teeth and his face just light up. He’s just exceptional. I just love him.
Was the role originally written like that and you just happened to find him or was it written to his talents?
Theo Park: He was always supposed to be a really optimistic… like on a sort of the same level as Ted. You know, there’s some grumpy a—holes on the team as well, but he was definitely supposed to be this kind of shining light and Toheeb walked in and there we go.
Probably a bit of both though. Certainly, in season two, I think having someone as brilliant as Toheeb play Sam has made it really easy for them to really write his part up.
Along those lines, did they have the characters written first and then you went out and found them? Especially the team members… or did you find people who could act and play football at the same time and then they sort of wrote around them?
Theo Park: It was a bit of both. For example, the character of Jamie Tartt, the arrogant star player was originally called Dani Rojas, and they wanted a Hispanic or South American actor to play this arrogant star player. And we did this big search, and we couldn’t quite find him. But then I got Phil Dunster to come in and just be himself. I said, “Well, can’t he just be himself?” They went, “Okay.”
Because then at that point we’d met Christo Fernandez who wasn’t right to play the arrogant star player. But they rewrote a part who comes in episode six, a new import from… it was supposed to be originally Iceland, but then when we met Christo Fernandez they were like, “Oh my God, can he can just be the new exuberant import? And let’s make Phil Dunster….” They changed the names, so it’s all quite organic.
That really cool to introduce these brilliant actors as they are to the team and then the team could just totally rewrite the scripts around them. It was really, really exciting.
Did they have to know how to play football pretty well?
Theo Park: Yeah. Although with Phil Dunster, hilariously we never tested. I just sort of asked him, “Oh Phil, do you play football? He’s like, “Yeah. Yeah, I can play football.” But we never tested him because the producers did say to me that it doesn’t necessarily matter if Jamie Tartt can’t play because it’s more important that the acting is more important. But thank God, it turns out he is an absolutely brilliant footballer.
But Christo Fernández, yes we needed a really good footballer for that part. And he is the most amazing footballer I think we auditioned. He used to be a pro footballer in Mexico and is now a trained actor. I mean, how lucky were we to find him? And his tape… no one’s asked me for the tape but one of these days that tape is going to be gold. That tape will just do the rounds on the internet of how amazing he is at football, it’s unbelievable.
Do you think anyone who got high up in the casting process lied or thought they could get away with saying that they were better than they were? I’ve done that before. “Can you ride a horse?” “Heck yeah, I can ride a horse.”
Theo Park: You know what, no one’s ever told me from the production team that, “Oh Theo, we’ve got a dud here.” I think we’ve been really lucky because they did have to do skills tapes, so they showed us them on the pitch. They got a friend to take them out in the park and for the most part they all showed us their skills on a tape.
Is there anyone you fought hard for, casting-wise?
Theo Park: Yes, I fought for Phil Dunster. I really did believe that he was right and they all agreed.
A lot of people who’ve watched the show are saying that they want to be more like Ted Lasso. You know, that intense optimism and things like. Since you are working on the show so intimately, has that gotten into your bloodstream as well?
Theo Park: One hundred percent. It’s really funny, a friend of mine just walked into my office this morning and said, “I’ve been watching it finally, Theo. It’s amazing and I’ve decided I’m going to be more like Ted. I’m going to be much nicer to everybody. I’m going to make you biscuits.”
I sort of agree. I feel like we need to be more appreciative of everybody. And it’s really lovely that a half hour comedy has made people think this, and me, who worked on it.
When you watch a self-tape, how fast can you determine whether you want to sort of move that actor up the wrung? What makes an actor stand out in an audition or self-tape that you want to bring them back?
Theo Park: I don’t know. I have been really impressed in lockdown with these actors doing these fantastic self-tapes, really going to town with it and being really creative. That to me is so impressive. Some of them really knock it out the park.
It just it really depends on the role and what they do in the tape. I don’t know. There’s no… I don’t really have the answer to that, I’m sorry. But I’m really impressed, I’m continually impressed by actors doing these amazing self-tapes. It’s really great
Technically speaking, what makes a self-tape stand out?
Theo Park: Some impressive self-tapes are just done on someone’s iPhone.
Although, I was casting this short film, a mountain biking short film. And this guy did this tape where he went out into the desert and filmed the scene. I was just expecting someone to just do it in their garden or whatever, but he went out into the desert and filmed the scene with his mountain bike and bottles of water and really going to town. I sent that to the director, and I said, “If you don’t give this man the part, I quit because I’ve never seen anything as good as that.” And he did get the part.
Has there been any silver-lining during the pandemic, with everyone doing self-tapes? Has that made things easier for you where you don’t have to call people in and you can sit there and zoom through all the auditions?
Theo Park: Sort of, although I’m actually missing meeting people. I was just talking about the audition process for season one of Ted Lasso, which was great because we did it all in person. It was pre-pandemic. And then for season two everything’s been self-taped. And I am sort of missing that, because that’s the best bit of the job, isn’t it, meeting actors?
But I guess a silver lining in all of this is getting to know more actors. Yes, you’re right because we can take a few more people. So, getting to know more actors, even if it’s via self-tape is great.
And also watching everybody go to town and post their own creations on social media. I’m following a few new actors that I didn’t know before now on Twitter and I love that. I don’t think would have happened if we hadn’t had this pandemic
Is there any difference between casting in the UK and America? Do guys do it one way over there and we do it another way over here?
Theo Park: I don’t know because I’ve never worked in an American casting office, so I’m not sure what we do differently. I don’t know how it works.
But I also think that every casting office in London is different, like we do all do things our own way. We’re fussy little buggers, casting directors. We do it our way.
I’m sure you’ve seen a ton of bad auditions in your career, but what’s like the craziest, weirdest audition you’ve ever seen?
Theo Park: I think one of the most memorable auditions I’ve seen was when I was working for Nina Gold… this is the one that springs to mind. I was working for Nina Gold, and we were working on Game of Thrones and Kristofer Hivju, who got the part, did this fantastic self-tape from wherever he was in Europe. This was before we really did self-tapes, it was all in person. But he was in Europe, so he had to do a self-tape and I remember Robert Stern in the office went, “Come and have a look at this.” And Kris just like did this amazing audition… I think it’s online now, it’s quite a famous audition where he’s just munching a carrot, like quite aggressively munching this carrot. And it was so memorable and everyone said, “We have to give the carrot muncher the part.”
If there’s some sort of advice you could give to actors, what would it be?
Theo Park: Don’t sweat it. Don’t sweat it and what will be will be.
And serve the script. If you’re doing an audition, just serve the material how you think that would be in the finished product. Imagine you’re watching it; how do you think that character would be?