Jason Sudeikis and Kathryn Hahn on the Optimism of ‘Ted Lasso,’ Secrets of ‘WandaVision’ and Making ‘We’re the Millers’

Kathryn Hahn (“WandaVision”) and Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.

Jason Sudeikis is an Emmy front-runner for his work on Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” playing a relentlessly cheery soccer coach whose sunniness conceals darkness. Kathryn Hahn put on a similarly happy face, concealing far more dangerous secrets, as Agatha Harkness, the nosy neighbor on Disney Plus’ “WandaVision.” The pair worked together before on the 2013 comedy caper “We’re the Millers.” They connected across time zones while Sudeikis was shooting his second season in the U.K.

Kathryn Hahn: Are you in the middle of shooting Season 2?

Jason Sudeikis: We are. Series 2, as they say over here in the U.K.

Hahn: Were you guys shooting when it hit the way it hit?

Sudeikis: No, we were well done. We shot August through November 2019. So we were editing the show. I was learning to edit on a laptop through Zoom. If you don’t know any better, it’s kind of like, this is just how you do it.

Hahn: That’s amazing.

Sudeikis: It was fun. You got to do it in sweatpants. And I’ve just kept that going the entire time. When did you guys shoot your show?

Hahn: “WandaVision”?

Sudeikis: I know the name, but I don’t know if we call it “your show” or “the show” or “their show.”

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Hahn: What if I was just going to call it my show? My show! We ended our work in Atlanta in mid-March. And then we knew that we had to do the finale, and it was going to be six weeks later. And then, of course, the world fell apart, and we did the finale in August. It was so hot, and the crew all had to wear shields. I was like, how do you pull focus with a shield on? But they did it. I was in awe.

I’m so bursting with pride for your success. I knew you from that little movie we did that ended up being a big movie …

Sudeikis: In Wilmington, North Carolina. “We Are the Millers.” Which they then made “We’re the Millers.”

Hahn: I was going to just call it “Meet the Millers,” because that’s how old I’m getting. I remember watching you on that set and being struck by you as a writer. You definitely helped take the reins with a lot of the writing.

Sudeikis: I was a meddler.

Hahn: The happy meddler! I’m always in awe of somebody that is able to see the thing that’s there through from the beginning. I had heard “Ted Lasso” came from commercials?

Sudeikis: Me and two of my buddies — Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard on the show, and Joe Kelly, who’s one of the producers and writers on the show. And we’ve all been friends for 20 years. NBC Sports was going to start showing Premier League soccer on their channel. How do we get Americans to watch it? They’re like, “We should have someone play an American football coach.” I was like, “I know who that is. I know how I’d like to do it.”

I knew very little, and I still know very little. There is this very complex, beautiful game that’s been around for hundreds of years. Those commercials were received well, and it was Olivia [Wilde] who was like, “You should do it as a TV show or movie.” 2015, we sat down to write the pilot, and it wasn’t until about 2018 that we came back.

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Kathryn Hahn plays “WandaVision” nosy neighbor Agatha Harkness for laughs, with a dangerous edge. Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Hahn: I feel like why it has hit is because if you scratched your skin a little bit, he would just start sobbing. Right under the surface there’s a sobbing mess. Something so generously optimistic — a decent person — that is refreshing right now.

Sudeikis: To think it was February 2015 when we sat down to write the pilot. That was pre-Ferguson, pre-Time’s Up, pre-Trump coming down the escalator.

Remember airplanes? You’d be sitting and see someone watching a screen in front of you? I get sucked in watching with the sound off. And if you can’t tell if it’s a comedy or drama, it delights me to no end. I feel like you aim for that target. Is that intentional?

Hahn: I’m always attracted to stuff that rides that line. My favorite heroines were the really messy ones from the ’70s and ’80s — a woman that was a mess. Contradictory, passionate, hungry, unabashedly embarrassing. I love that spot right between comedy and drama where you’re not sure if you’re going to burst into tears or start laughing. That’s the sweet spot.

Are you loving being over there? How does it feel shooting there?

Sudeikis: I have enjoyed it here. It’s a big part of the verisimilitude that we’re trying to attain here; we needed that Dorothy feeling in Oz. It’s not easy being away from family and being away from kids. That is taxing. But for the project — we’re doing it in London, or when you and I were in Wilmington. It’s like movie camp. You’re so focused on that, that it becomes immersive within itself. It just makes you focus on that.

Hahn: It is helpful to fully immerse yourself in something and then go home and be fully a parent. It’s sometimes difficult. I’ll just say I drive around the block a couple of extra times before going home, just because you need to. Phew! Shake your day off and then become a parent. I did love being able to be out of town just to be able to fully immerse yourself.

Sudeikis: For “WandaVision,” did you watch a lot of old sitcoms? When you come home from work, if you’re away from the family, do you find yourself watching stuff about the projects you’re doing or do you just turn it off completely?

Hahn: For “WandaVision,” we had a sitcom boot camp. We were able to go deep on how comedy has changed, and culturally, how we’ve changed. The sitcom has always been so aspirational, especially a family sitcom. The first episode was shot in front of a live audience. We rehearsed it like a play so that by the time we got to the real meat of it, we had this juicy ensemble feeling. These were the guys that were used to blowing stuff up for “Avengers”; we’re using wires to make magic happen. There was like period lights; there was like period … everybody was, uh, the crew was dressed in period clothing. Like, the audience was dressed. We ran it straight through.

Sudeikis: I love theater actors, and I love former athletes. Did you ever have any designs when you went through Northwestern and then that whole improv world in Chicago?

Hahn: I was like, “serious actor.” I was always the class clown, I would say, but when I was cast, it was never the ingénue, you know, it was always Grandma. A real shift was moving out to Los Angeles after grad school. I went out here with a show called “Crossing Jordan.” I played the grief counselor in the morgue.

Sudeikis: Typecasting.

Hahn: What I learned was, I had to sit opposite another grieving guest star every single week. My God! I was ripped into by a train! Those were the hardest gigs in the world — the day players that have to just go so deep.

Sudeikis: That’s 20 years ago. TV has changed a lot, as you know.

Hahn: I would never have thought in my wildest dreams that I would have been in a Marvel gig.

Sudeikis: Being a comic book hero or villain is iconic. Michael Keaton as Batman — he’ll always be my Batman.

Hahn: I’d gone in for a general just to meet everybody. And then two days later, they ask me to come back — when they said that she’s a witch, and that I got a theme song. Have your kids seen “WandaVision”?

Sudeikis: Too young. We took Otis to an early screening of “Spider-Verse,” and even that was too much.

Hahn: In the world that we’re living in, what does it feel like to be playing a person with such a non-cynical, positive outlook on life?

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Jason Sudeikis embraces optimism in the title role of “Ted Lasso.” Courtesy of Apple TV Plus

Sudeikis: Even down to the glasses that I picked as the character. They make greens greener and blues bluer. That’s an element of why I continue to wear those orange-tinted glasses as the character. I haven’t done them in years, but a big impetus for the character and for the point of view of the show is magic mushrooms. Because both Brendan and Joe and I all lived in Amsterdam for various points of our life doing Boom Chicago, which was started by three Northwestern alums. And they were legal at that point. Michael Pollan had this amazing book, “How to Change Your Mind.”

Hahn: I’ve read it!

Sudeikis: It’s profound the way things are used to treat depression and PTSD. We had spent so much time seeing complicated men, giving them so much leeway and grace — from Tony Soprano to “Breaking Bad.” To play someone that only saw the best in people? Don Scardino directed a bunch of “30 Rocks” when I was a guest star. I remember him saying a phrase: “You got to ride the horse in the direction it’s facing.” And it makes total sense, knowing what I know now.

He also said: “You never know what someone’s going through. Everybody’s fighting their own battle.” So you never know where people are coming from. I just took that to heart with the character. Something comes at him. It may seem like, oh, dummy doesn’t get it. And it’s like, no, dummy gets it more than you are allowing him to get it. It doesn’t bother him as much. I found that to be refreshing. It’s like in sales: They say answer the phone with a smile. I don’t want to get too into it, but it’s being put to the test these days.

Hahn: As the mom of a teenager now, to see a lead of a show be unafraid of being vulnerable — I’m glad you exist for these young men, because there’s so many things culturally that tell us that we can’t have our hearts on the outside.

Sudeikis: The vulnerability thing wasn’t anything that I was conscious of. Being snarky and mean, the show rejects it: There were jokes that slipped through where once we’ve seen the edit, it just feels wrong. Like having a harmonica on a Led Zeppelin song. It was such a trip because early in the Season 2 writers’ room — I don’t know how well you know Brené Brown’s work, but when Brené tweeted about the show, that lit our writers’ room up.

Hahn: Her TED Talk is amazing.

Sudeikis: I sent the “Man in the Area” speech to [Jennifer] Aniston after we got laid into for “We’re the Millers.”

Hahn: How has Ted changed you? I’m sure he has.

Sudeikis: I was glib about it early on, sort of not being able to appreciate that question or what people were getting out of it. I used to say, “Oh, he’s the best version of me. He’s me on a beer and a half on an empty stomach. On a friend’s boat. Doing mushrooms.” I think it’s the best version of me, but it might be a version of me I don’t realize I’m more capable of being. It might be a way to truly go about doing this gig called life.

Hahn: It’s a beautiful thing that you made.

Sudeikis: For once, I hope we don’t blow it.