“The hard part is the fact that unless I play her, Rebecca doesn’t exist anymore. And I want to see her through,” Hannah Waddingham says when asked about “Ted Lasso” likely having ended.

(Matt Holyoak)

On the day of the Emmy nominations, Hannah Waddingham’s phone blew up with congratulations — for castmate Phil Dunster.

“It was full of joy,” Waddingham says, laughing, the day before the SAG-AFTRA strike launched. “It was full of surprise. Our texts were awash with the word ‘Phil.’ Everyone was going, ‘Phil! Phil!’ And then going, ‘Oh, and congrats to everyone else as well.’”

Waddingham is, of course, thrilled by her own nomination for supporting actress in a comedy series, her third successive nod for playing Rebecca Welton on “Ted Lasso” (she won in 2021). But like soccer, “Ted Lasso” has been a team sport, where one person’s triumph is everyone’s triumph. And those wins have been immense: The series has garnered 61 Emmy nominations over three seasons, and its success has changed the lives of everyone involved, from star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis to the rest of his cast and crew.

“It’s been a really amazing ride that none of us expected, including Jason,” Waddingham reflects. “Not one of us expected it to have this effect where it’s becoming a module that’s taught in universities. I said to Jason, ‘Did you ever think the Believe sign would be outside the Oval Office? And he said, ‘No, I literally just saw it in my head.’… I don’t know whether I will ever improve on this broader AFC Richmond group of people, because there wasn’t a bad egg in the whole team. That has been the greatest privilege of my career so far: for everybody to fight for the same cause.”

Hannah Waddingham gets prepped for an event.

During the last year, Hannah Waddingham brought her “Ted Lasso” character to a happy conclusion; shot Season 4 of “Sex Education”; joined production on the film “The Fall Guy”; and then immediately went to the set of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two.” Somewhere in all of that, she also presented the Olivier Awards and Eurovision; and shot a Christmas special.

(Joseph Sinclair)

Although Sudeikis was a household name before the show’s premiere in 2020, the rest of the cast members have found themselves in an unexpected spotlight, Waddingham included. During the last year, the actor brought Rebecca to a satisfying conclusion on “Ted Lasso,” shot Season 4 of “Sex Education,” flew to Australia for production of the film “The Fall Guy” with Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, and then immediately went to the set of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two” to film an undisclosed role.

“Straightaway after that I came back and presented the Olivier Awards, which was my first presenting job ever,” Waddingham recalls. “And my second presenting job ever, 10 days later, was Eurovision. Somewhere in there, I shot my Christmas special for Apple that I think will come out at the end of November. It’s just been insane, but the deepest privilege.”

Before being cast on “Ted Lasso,” Waddingham had a fruitful theater career on the West End and some success in British soaps, but she wasn’t widely known. In 2015, she was cast as Septa Unella — the “shame” nun — on “Game of Thrones,” a role that carried through eight episodes of the HBO series and resulted in Waddingham becoming the subject of numerous memes.

Hannah Waddingham sits backward on a wooden chair and laughs for a portrait.

“Hannah just totally embodied what Jason wanted in the role,” says casting director Theo Park.

(Matt Holyoak)

It wasn’t until 2019, however, that Waddingham got the call to audition for Rebecca, at the suggestion of co-creator-writer-producer-co-star Brendan Hunt, and everything changed.

“Jason had this woman in his head,” notes “Ted Lasso” casting director Theo Park. “He wanted her to be tall and strong and have a real strength to her, but also very beautiful and glamorous. But finding that person was quite difficult. There were some aspirations at the studio to explore star names, so we went through those names first and made some offers, and some silly women passed. But it was great, because we were then able to open the doors and audition people. Hannah just totally embodied what Jason wanted in the role.”

The producers quickly put Waddingham on a plane to Los Angeles, where she did a chemistry read with Sudeikis. Although Sudeikis understood the studio’s desire to cast a “name” in the role, he instinctively understood that Waddingham embodied a famous quote from Quincy Jones: “You gotta get 75% of the way there and then leave room for the magic.”

“You’ve got to have belief in other people to do that,” Sudeikis previously told The Envelope. “You believe people would want to do that. You’ve got to lean in. We encourage you to lean in. We give you that space. So with Hannah, she just leaned in. She leaned in exactly and then it all made sense.”

From the outset, Waddingham connected with Rebecca, a woman who appears completely pulled together but isn’t. The character seemed like the alternate universe version of herself. Waddingham compares the experience to “Sliding Doors,” where Rebecca is who Waddingham might have become had she gone down a different route in life.

A close-up image of Hannah Waddingham and Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso"

Jason Sudeikis cast Hannah Waddingham in “Ted Lasso” because he believed she could help bring the magic.

(Apple TV+)

“She looks how I would look perhaps if I was in the grown-up business world,” Waddingham says. “That meant I had to dig in to all the rhythms and more subtle nuances that make her not me. And I had the shorthand of my appearance. But then the foibles, the insecurities and the vulnerabilities of someone else, who’s not a million miles from me, meant that I could really lay into that and really dig into that.”

She adds, “I was interested in a woman who has allowed a man to rob her of her greatest dream. The biggest difference was she was childless, and I have a daughter. But I could lend to her the upset and the heartache, because I was told I couldn’t have children and then I managed to. This is what I mean about it being like ‘Sliding Doors.’ It’s a fractional degree. It could have been my life. It’s almost like a catharsis of playing a different version now of how my life could have gone.”

Playing a woman like Rebecca gave Waddingham permission to finally take up space. Throughout her theater career, the actress had frequently been told she was “too tall” or “too big” or even “too heavy faced.” Although she wasn’t deterred, the feedback left her questioning whether she should do something different.

“For many years, I feel like I was stuffing around in the dark, being led by and being indoctrinated by people who would say these things about me,” she remembers. “Like you’d never be able to have a leading man next to me because I’m 6 foot 2 in heels. But with this show, it didn’t matter.”

Hannah Waddingham in drab nun's garb readies Queen Cercei (Lena Headey) for her walk of shame on "Game of Thrones."
Hannah Waddingham wasn’t widely known until 2015, when she was cast as Septa Unella — the “shame” nun — on “Game of Thrones.”

(Macall B. Polay/HBO)

In Season 3, Rebecca has a pivotal scene where she felt intimidated but still stood up to a boardroom filled with male soccer executives, including her ex-husband, Rupert (Anthony Head). By imagining them as little boys, she reclaimed her sense of power. It was a satisfying moment for viewers, but even more so for Waddingham, who channeled years of discomfort into the episode.

“It felt amazing,” she says. “In the beginning of my career — and in parts of my youth — I was always very wary of that generation of men. There’s something about that generation sometimes, certainly of British school headmaster-type men, where they have run the show for so long that you do not question them. The catharsis I felt from being able to talk to them as little boys was just really, really thrilling.”

Rebecca’s dignified response is an example of a way in which Waddingham is not at all like her character. Relaxing into British slang, she says, “I would be more lairy, more gobby [aggressive and loud], more in your face with them,” she laughs. “Rebecca has an innate, inherent elegance and class and never really shouts apart from the times when people like Roy can push her. She only ever shouts at football. That’s very unlike me. I would be around that table going, ‘Who the f— do you think you are?’”

Finding herself at the end of Rebecca’s journey was emotional for Waddingham, especially as she realized that the character would inadvertently become a mother. In the finale, Rebecca reconnected with a mysterious Dutchman (Matteo Van Der Grijn), whom she met in Amsterdam after falling off a bridge into the canal, and his young daughter. She also received a proposal from Keeley (Juno Temple) for a Richmond women’s league, which many fans have speculated might become a spinoff series.

“The hard part is the fact that unless I play her, Rebecca doesn’t exist anymore,” Waddingham says. “And I want to see her through. If you are left at a moment with the character, you want to see them through that moment. Does it work with her and the Dutchman? Does she have a female league? I mean, I hope so! It feels like it’s finished but not finished, because none of our lives are. Jason and I have talked about it: It’s like you take a three-season glimpse of people. But it is a glimpse.”

Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple wear hotel robes while watching TV in "Ted Lasso."

Waddingham and Juno Temple were excited when the season finale mentioned a female soccer league as a potential new focus for their characters. Sounds like a spinoff series to some “Ted Lasso” fans.

(Apple TV+)

If a spinoff is in the cards, Waddingham isn’t saying. But should the opportunity to return to Rebecca present itself, she will be there without hesitation.

“When Juno and I read that, we didn’t know how we wanted to convey our excitement about the potential of that,” Waddingham recalls of the female league conversation in the script. “I was meant to look up from the folder and just be like, ‘Oh, it’s on.’ But we couldn’t contain our excitement. So if you look at it, we do have a moment of ‘Aghhhh!’”

Next, Waddingham will unveil her musical holiday special, “Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas,” which she recorded live at the London Coliseum. She filmed several projects ahead of the strike and is still considering her next move. She lives by the motto “Onward,” explaining she doesn’t want to wallow in the bad or in the good. But playing Rebecca has fundamentally changed something in her, so much so that Waddingham recently talked herself out of a role because she didn’t feel the character as much as she thought she should.

“I’ve realized that I have played parts I feel very strongly about,” she says. “But when something hits your career where it is an utter fit, I know how that feels now. [‘Ted Lasso’] has afforded me the luxury of being sent a lot of things. But now from really digging into Rebecca, it’s shown me I have to feel it right away. I trust my gut more. I know that my initial thoughts on how to play a character [are right], and when a character doesn’t feel right. With the things I’m being offered, if I don’t have a visceral, immediate response to them, I actually turn them away. Because now I know how it should feel.”

Times staff writer Michael Ordoña contributed to this story.

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