The first season of “Ted Lasso” follows a sunny American who moves to England to take on a quintessentially British institution: the Premier League. Nick Mohammed, the British actor who plays Ted’s underdog assistant coach Nate, is about to follow the opposite trajectory. His first trip to the United States will be to attend next month’s Emmy Awards, honoring the best of American television. (Assuming there’s an in-person ceremony, of course.)
Mohammed was one of seven “Ted Lasso” stars to receive Emmy nods this year, among the 20 total the Apple TV+ series received, the most of any comedy. He was nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy, and he will compete with three of his co-stars in the category: Brett Goldstein, who plays the prickly retired footballer Roy Kent; Brendan Hunt, the laconic assistant Coach Beard; and Jeremy Swift, the amiable team executive Higgins.
It’s a not terribly predictable turn for a man who at one time was pursuing a doctorate in geophysics at Cambridge, with plans to work in the oil industry. But a stint in the Footlights, the university’s famous comedy troupe (celebrity alumni include John Cleese, Olivia Colman and John Oliver, among many others), set him on a different path.
Mohammed has since been a fairly regular presence on British radio and TV, though he has only felt comfortable calling himself an actor “really for the last five years or so,” he said. Before “Ted Lasso,” he was probably best-known to American viewers as a creator and star of the cybersecurity sitcom “Intelligence,” streaming on Peacock.
“It was a bit of a slow burn,” he said. “A bit like Nate, I guess: Just plugging away at it for a while. But I love it, and I feel very lucky and grateful to call it a living.
In a recent phone interview, Mohammed talked about Season 2 pressures, Nate’s coming “spiral” and what it’s like to play a soccer coach when you don’t care about soccer. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: “Ted Lasso” received the most ever Emmy nominations for a first-year comedy. I doubt anyone would have predicted that when it premiered in August 2020.
A: It was quite a strange thing, really. We loved the show and obviously we all hoped that it would resonate with lots of people and so on, but you can’t really predict that kind of success. I get recognized every day, which is weird. Then with Season 2 coming off the back of the success of Season 1, there was suddenly a lot of attention on the show and a responsibility for us to deliver as well.
Q: Did you feel added pressure when you were shooting the second season?
A: Absolutely, I think everyone did. There was a degree of, we’ve got a duty of care here because there was a growing fan base who will be putting quite a lot of expectation on Season 2. The show has communicated to people at a time when people really did need a bit of a pick up, I think. As much as it felt like a responsibility, it’s a privileged position to be in.
Q: The creators — Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Hunt — have said they have a three-season plan for almost every main character. What did you know about Nate when you started out?
A: I initially went out for Higgins, which I didn’t get. They asked me to tape for Nate, and once I’d got the part, Jason and Bill explained that Nate is going places, with that underdog arc in Season 1. Then I think we were filming the gala episode, and I sat next to Jason and he outlined exactly where Nate goes in Season 2 — which, we can’t give anything away, but Nate goes on a very different journey. He’s told me where it goes in Season 3 as well.
Q: So you don’t get killed off this season?
A: It’s not a spoiler to suggest that I don’t get killed off this season. Virtually every member of the cast has a little journey. Often that’s not the case with minor parts, where your job is to be a constant so the major players can change and adapt and grow. But everyone in “Ted Lasso” goes somewhere.
Q: So far this season, Nate seems to be feeling disregarded, and not afforded the respect he thinks he deserves.
A: What’s interesting now is this is a character who still has the same demons and insecurities, but he’s now got this position of power. But he’s struggling because he’s still awkward. We’re about to find out — and this isn’t really a spoiler — that it is connected to the relationship with his dad, in that he’s never been able to please him. So I think Nate is quite an embittered soul, sadly. We are going to see him spiral a bit, but I won’t give anything more away.
Q: When I interviewed the creators last month, they seemed very interested in things like social media and the thirst for attention and how it can bring out the worst in people. To what extent will that shape Nate’s story?
A: That absolutely resonates, the rise of social media and how it affects anyone in the public eye and how they act. One thing Jason did say is that just through his experience on “Saturday Night Live,” you can see a change in people. When they first start out, they’re really hungry and loving it and being really creative. But there is a tipping point when they get a little recognition, when it starts to go to people’s heads. Not everyone, but some people — things can take a slightly different turn. So I think Nate’s story is absolutely based on a truth.
Q: Is any of that playing out in your own life now that you’re getting recognized for “Ted Lasso”?
A: [Laughs.] I hope not. It’s a weird old thing though, especially because I actually live in Richmond, where the show is set. I go jogging over Richmond green and people are like, “Nate the Great! Nate the Great!” I’m a little nervous now because of Season 2, and particularly the way Season 2 ends — I hope there won’t be an aftermath to that. We’ll see how it pans out.
Q: Nate has proved himself a cagey coach, but I read that you don’t really care about soccer. Are you more of a fan now that you’ve shot a couple of seasons of this show?
A: Sadly I’m not. I’ve got a newfound respect for the sport — I just wish I could be a little bit more enthused about it. I was brought up in a football household, and I’d get taken to matches, but I just couldn’t delight in it in the way my friends and family could. The guys on the show who are big soccer fans — some of the stadiums that we got to shoot in, they’re just like, “This is incredible!” I try and engage with that enthusiasm for it, but I am faking it, absolutely.
When it comes to acting, particularly when I’m talking tactics, there were scenes when I had to ask Brendan, “Is this a noun or a verb?” Because I literally don’t know what I’m referring to.
Q: Who else on the show is faking it?
A: Brett, who plays angry Roy Kent — particularly in Season 1 until the mask slipped — I mean, Brett is an absolute sweetheart. We started doing the London comedy circuit around the same time, and so we’ve gigged together a lot. Phil Dunster is so different to Jamie Tartt — really nice, not posh, just a real gentleman. Maybe apart from Phil, actually, everyone’s got an element of their character in them. I can sometimes lack a bit of confidence, or I’m happy to just sit back and not be too vocal.
Q: You performed as a magician when you were young but ended up pursuing a Ph.D. in geophysics at Cambridge. What is the overlap between geophysics, magic and comedy?
A: I think everyone’s trying to find the missing link. Magic and performing, obviously — I had that performing bug since I was kid. But geophysics? I was all lined up to go work for an oil company, and then I just got bitten by the comedy bug and thought, this is just far more entertaining than drilling for oil.
Q: Your greatest trick was going from a Ph.D. program to an Apple TV program.
A: No one saw that coming. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that people do a Ph.D. in geophysics to become an actor. I think that’s probably the long way round.