Ted Lasso has been the very definition of an Emmy darling since it kicked off its first season on Apple TV+, and its third season has been no different thus far, earning 21 nominations — way more than any other comedy this year.
The beloved show built to an emotional crescendo with its series finale “So Long, Farewell,” which was directed by veteran Irish helmer Declan Lowney. While Lowney won an Emmy last year as part of the show’s producing team, he’d still love to win an individual statue for directing, though he acknowledges that he’s facing some stiff competition this year.
Lowney was in the unique position of tying up loose ends while signaling toward the future, as many have speculated that Apple will announce one or more Ted Lasso spinoffs following the SAG-AFTRA strike. Lowney said that the montage at the end of the episode may yield some clues as to the future of some of our favorite characters.
Above the Line recently spoke to Lowney, who discussed drawing upon his musical experience for AFC Richmond’s choreographed performance of a certain song from The Sound of Music, as well as how it paid to prepare before the final night of shooting.
Above the Line: With a series finale like this, do you have to be careful not to be too sentimental, and stay true to the comic nature of the show in order to do the series justice?
Declan Lowney: Ted Lasso is a show that’s never had any difficulty mixing the emotional stuff with the funny stuff, so I don’t think we’ve ever shied away from making people a bit tearful, and I think it’s that show that has the ability to make you tearful and then make you laugh a moment later, so I think that’s something the show does very well and we didn’t shy away from that in the finale, that’s for sure.
ATL: Is Ted Lasso the kind of show where there’s a lot of improv, or did the actors stick to the script for the finale? And were they emotional during the shoot?
Lowney: There’s not that much improv that goes on. I mean, things happen in group scenes where someone will say something witty and we’ll keep it, but for the most part, particularly in scenes very related to “the end” of stuff, people weren’t wisecracking and dropping stuff in.
I mean, people were very emotional. Nick Mohammed, who plays Nate, when he came to do that scene near the beginning of Episode 312 when Ted finds him on his own in the locker room and Nate is looking up at where the sign used to be… and Ted startles him, and Nate apologizes, and when Nick came onto the floor to rehearse, he was in bits. He didn’t want to look at anybody. He was very tearful, even before we’d rehearsed it, and so we didn’t really do much rehearsal. I just said, ‘If you stand there, then Jason [Sudeikis] comes there, and then we’ll move that around bit,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, great.’ So I said, ‘We’re just gonna go ahead and light it while you guys get ready and we’ll just shoot it.’
And so when someone’s in that place, you want to get to the scene as quickly as you can and turn over so that whatever they’ve got, you’re gonna get it on camera. So that was a beautiful moment.
And the fact that he’s crying… and people were going around with tears in their eyes a lot in those last few days… at the end, at the very, very very end, the last thing we shot was the team reacting to the video he shows them before they go out and they all start crying, and no one had seen the video. Jason had been editing it with Melissa [McCoy] in the evenings but they hadn’t been finished and they were sent over and had arrived just while we were shooting, and the first shot I set up for that scene was the shot for the cameras behind the monitor [where] we’re watching the players faces and they’re watching the video, and then we played the video, so those reactions were real — they’re laughing and they’re joking, and then they all start crying — the video was that movie, but none of us could see it while we were shooting because we were in another room, so we were all dying to know what was on the monitor and we didn’t get to see it until much later.
But that day, everybody was particularly cheerful, and when the show wrapped that night, Jason set up in the middle and made an amazing speech, but honestly, I’ve been around a long time… there were a lot of grown men weeping openly, and it was so lovely. It was so lovely that people would just not care and just do it. The [family dynamic] was very special and very real on that show.
ATL: Your background includes a lot of concert films involving large audiences as well as backstage access, so do you feel like those projects helped prepared you to direct the crowd scenes at the stadium and the scenes in the locker room?
Lowney: I know the effect of a crane over a crowd, so we managed to get a few of those kinds of shots, but I guess my musical background would’ve served most in the shooting of “So Long, Farewell,” the song from The Sound of Music that the team had put together for Ted.
We shot that very, very simply, like a lot of choreography should be shot, but it was a shot coming out from Toheeb [Jimoh]’s face and then revealing Isaac (Kola Bokinni), and then coming out and coming out as the whole thing unfolds behind them. And then, with a lot of choreography, it’s best seen in a wide shot, but because it’s the team, and we have to get lots of close-ups, like, there’s a lovely shot of Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) popping into frame, so you’re trying to [balance] the wide shots that show you the dancing [with] the close-ups that give you the personality, so we had a lot of fun doing that.
ATL: Was everyone comfortable with the musical number or Did anyone sort of need to be hidden in the background?
Lowney: Well no, I mean, in some ways, people are a bit awkward and you don’t want to hide that because that’s part of the beauty of it, is that it is a little bit awkward. They’re doing their very best, but we didn’t have anyone deliberately mess up, they really are trying. And I love the effort that you see on everybody’s face. Particularly with Cristo at the end, with Dani Rojas, he does that little wiggle with his legs, which is so cute and so endearing, and they’re singing live, even though we had recorded the song in advance, they’re also singing live as we shoot it, so a lot of what you’re hearing is live singing, and you can hear a bit of nervousness and that it’s not perfect, but I think that was important, as well, for the atmosphere of that piece.
ATL: Do you harbor any aspirations to direct a proper musical one day?
Lowney: That would be fun, wouldn’t it? I directed a few episodes of Galavant a few years ago. Galavant was that show on ABC, it was a medieval sitcom with songs, and that was a lot of fun, and the actors sang live on that as well. You’d play the music into the earpieces, so everybody could hear the music on the earpieces, but there’s silence on the set because they’re singing it live, and that’s really fun to be around.
ATL: Could we maybe see a Ted Lasso holiday special down the road?
Lowney: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Ted Lasso, sung. The sung Lasso. The problem is that is, you can’t keep tweaking lines at the last minute. You have to commit, at some point. Jason is always in search of a funnier line, the guys are always asking, is there a funnier way of doing things or something you can improvise at the last minute, and that’s hard when you have to sing it.
ATL: The “Believe” sign is battered and torn by the end of this series, a bunch of different pieces coming together to create something, much like AFC Richmond itself. What do you think the rebuilding of that sign communicated, both to the team and the audience?
Lowney: I love the scene and it’s a lovely testament to when Ted turned up three years ago and put that sign up and they laughed at him, and three years later, the fact that when it had been torn down by his archenemy, then put back up, then torn down by Ted himself and ripped into smaller pieces, that everybody had collected a piece of the paper and hidden it someplace special to bring it out at this moment. That speaks volumes to what’s happened to his relationship with those kids over those three years and what a change he’s made to their lives. Have you got time for a story about this?
ATL: Of course.
Lowney: Thank you so much. So, shooting the scene in the locker room, because you’ve got a whole team in there, it’s loud. You’ve got 25 players, and by the time yoy’ve got two cameras and a bunch of us in there as well, you might have 45 or 50 people, [so] it’s loud, and it’s very hard to focus, so when we’re rehearsing those scenes, we only bring in the players who are speaking. So there might only be 10 people there, and then we bring the other guys in to fill it out and we just shoot and let them do what they want, and it all just comes to life.
But this was such a big scene and we were shooting it on the last day, and I was anxious about time, so I said, ‘Can we rehearse the night before? So when we wrap on Thursday evening, could everybody stay behind?’ And Jason embraced the idea and what was so brilliant was, they just sat around the locker room in their usual positions, and Jason talked about each one of them and their piece of paper and where they’d hidden it — Jamie Tartt had put his into the book that Ted gave him in Episode 3 or 4 of Season 1; Isaac had his tucked in behind his Captain’s armband, somebody else had it in their shinguard — and what each piece of paper meant to them, and why they’d kept it, and where they’d stored it, and so we didn’t really ever get to rehearse the scene that much, but the fact that he told them all this stuff meant that the next day, they came to work the next day prepared and they understood what was going on, and it gave the scene [a lot].
Because he doesn’t give them much of a halftime speech, he’s like, ‘anybody got anything to add?’ and Sam Obisanya goes, ‘yeah,’ and he takes out his piece of paper and he puts it down, and after the first one, it’s like, “what’s this?” And after two or three of them do it, you realize what’s going on. And then they all look down and it’s just a jumble of paper on the ground, but they all lean down to start fixing the piece of paper, and you’re just left with Nate on one end of the room and Ted at the other, and all the players duck down in the middle, and they can see each other across their heads, and it’s such a beautiful moment and we know Ted has forgiven him and we know Nate’s back where he deserves to be. It’s gorgeous. I love that moment.
ATL: I feel like we all have our own piece of the “Believe” sign to keep us going through hard times, so what’s yours?
Lowney: It was a gift, at the end of Season 1, they gave us Beatz pill speakers, and they came in that box over there [pointing], and the speaker is actually in London but I bring the box with me everywhere. I love it. So I take that with me.
ATL: As a director forced into the position of doing additional press for the show in lieu of Hollywood’s double strike, do you feel extra pressure to carry the PR weight with Jason on the sidelines? And what are your thoughts on the strike in general?
Lowney: I’m doing a lot of these every day and they’re fun to do and what is lovely to feel is just the love that people have for the show, and I know you have to ask people questions anyway, but there’s a genuine love for Lasso that, every day, just makes your heart sing a bit, and it makes you appreciate how lucky we were to have ended up on that show.
I’m from the UK, and it’s huge to be at the Emmys, and I’m getting the hang of it now after winning that one last year, but this doesn’t happen to most people, this doesn’t happen to most shows. Making TV is really hard work, whatever show it is, and to see yourself not get rewarded is kind of heartbreaking, but I appreciate that not everybody can win and we’re lucky to have Ted Lasso behind us on a winning streak.
ATL: You won an Emmy last year as an EP on Ted Lasso, but what would it mean to win an individual award for directing?
Lowney: Well, you know, I’m not young, [so] it would be fantastic to win, but look, I’m in such amazing company and to be picked as one of the six shows of 140 or whatever entries that arrived, I have that certificate that says “nominee,” so believe me, I am happy. A win would be amazing, but it’s too much to hope for, especially when you look at the competition — there are some amazing directors and some amazing shows in there.
ATL: There’s a scene in the finale where Roy and Jamie are drinking at the bar… and lots of drinking on the show in general, but what I want to know is, who can hold their liquor the best among the cast?
Lowney: Well, you know we don’t do it for real, okay? But I know on Season 2 when I was around the whole time, we had COVID, so there was no socializing. Laterally, I think a number of the players did socialize, I think there were a few outings — I went out once or twice — but I can’t remember any drinking stories. We were always extremely well-behaved because it was always a weeknight and we had to go to work the next morning! There wasn’t any madness I could tell you about.
ATL: Did it ever get chippy during the filming of the soccer games and practices? Was anyone talking trash out there?
Lowney: Again, honestly, it was a pretty happy shoot. Everybody got on really well with everybody. The pressure is always time, because there’s such a lot to do, and it’s a big thing to do with lots of people in every shot, so it takes time, but people are very patient and we had such a lovely crew.
ATL: Are there any Ted Lasso spinoffs in the works? What have you heard? I could see one about a women’s team, although I do love a powdered wig and think Judge McAdoo has potential.
Lowney: The montage has quite a few clues there. Keeley pitching for an AFC Richmond women’s team — great timing — and that would be fantastic for her and Rebecca to run that team. Maybe they’d use Roy as a captain? Does Roy even [want to] stay on and captain anyway? And we know Beard looks like he’s going to stay in the country because his girlfriend’s pregnant. So there are a couple of spinoffs… maybe Nate, Beard, and Roy running AFC Richmond, or the two girls running the women’s team? I’m not sure about Judge McAdoo, but you could maybe do something like [Judge Judy] called McAdoo’s Court or something like that…
ATL: How many takes did you do for the scene in which Beard pretends his appendix has ruptured, and will Apple ever give us those bloopers, because that was hilarious.
Lowney: I think he only did two takes. I think he just rolled out of the scene and just went straight down, and I think the reason we went again was because I loved how the cabin stewardess is looking down at him, and I thought that if Beard’s feet were a bit higher, we’d see them in the shot, so I think we went again just so I could get his feet in the foreground of our shot. I love that scene because you just don’t know what he’s going to do, you know?
ATL: Yes, and Ted goes “That’s a good start,” which is actually a great place to end. Thank you again so much for your time, and good luck at the Emmys!
All three seasons of Ted Lasso are streaming on Apple TV+.