SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the Season 2 finale of “Ted Lasso,” streaming now on Apple TV Plus.
The hourlong second season finale of Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso” packed quite a few punches into its timeframe, from Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) choosing to stay with AFC Richmond not for Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) but for himself (plus opening up a Nigerian restaurant in London), to Keeley (Juno Temple) choosing to focus on fully setting up her business rather than working remotely while on vacation with Roy (Brett Goldstein). But arguably none was greater than Nate (Nick Mohammed) confronting the titular coach (Jason Sudeikis) about how Ted made him feel ignored, overlooked and undervalued.
For months those feelings festered, resulting in him leaking the truth of Ted’s panic attack to the press, but now he spills them all to the source. He even shared that he thought Ted choosing to use his play was so that when the team “fucks up,” the blame would fall on Nate. He went all-in on Ted, calling him a joke and telling him he didn’t belong there because this team just fell into his lap.
AFC Richmond ended up being able to return to the Premier League after Dani (Cristo Fernández) sunk a goal that left them in second place. But Nate left them behind, presumably using the ripped “Believe” sign as his resignation. Two months later, the finale ends with Nate coaching Rupert’s (Anthony Stewart Head) new team.
Here, Mohammed talks to Variety about Nate’s bold move, tracking Nate’s emotional arc with his hair, and what it all means for his role in Season 3.
When did you know the full extent of what Nate would do and where he would go this season from the beginning?
I didn’t know all of the details. I got bits, and Jason would text me on things and say, “This is important because this happens…” He told me about the inappropriate move towards Keeley from literally Episode 1, but in terms of the broad arc and “Empire Strikes Back” and all that, that was from back in Season 1. I remember talking to Jason about that before it had ever been renewed. There was stuff we seeded in Season 1: The first time we ever see Nate, he’s shouting at Ted. It’s played for laughs and it’s taken in good spirits, but that roast scene, he’s being cruel and he’s getting off on it, isn’t he? And when he thinks he’s been fired, he’s really rude to Will the kit man, which he continues to be in Season 2, but he also turns on Rebecca — who he’s not even been able to really look at in the eye prior to then. He turns to her and faces her and points at her and says, “You shrew.” So, he’s got it in him, it was all kind of there, he just didn’t have any power prior to that. Now, he’s ironically been empowered by Ted and he’s woken the beast within.
Going back to the “Empire Strikes Back” references Jason kept making, the show has explored a lot of father-son conflict, but do you also consider the villain origin story part of that for Season 2? Do you think Nate was a villain here? How do you feel about what he did at the end of the season?
I feel conflicted as to what he did. On the one hand, I absolutely don’t condone any of the more recent actions of his behavior; he’s absolutely lashing out in all the wrong directions. It all stems from the toxic relationship with his dad and without having a support network, that abandonment that he feels from Ted, he’s just at a loss — he’s spiraling, he’s become a bit of an egomaniac because of him doing pretty well, and it’s a recipe for disaster with someone like Nate because he doesn’t really know how to handle it so he’s just making a series of bad decisions. Without someone like Ted there to guide him, which is what he did in Season 1, he’s fallen into the trap of he was bullied and he’s become the bully. In some respects, is it a villain origin story? Part of me wants to be romantic and think that this is all part of a bigger redemption arc. Maybe it is or it isn’t, but it generally wouldn’t surprise me, in the way that the writers are so bold and want to surprise the audience and not tell the same stories twice, [if] Nate is the one character in “Ted Lasso” that doesn’t get redemption.
Nate does verbalize those feelings of abandonment to Ted. Do you think if Ted had never come into the picture and given him a taste of what it felt like to have a good mentor, Nate would be a completely different person?
That’s the irony of it, absolutely; without Ted he wouldn’t have gotten to this point. Jason and I spoke a lot about the abandonment that Nate feels, and Jason even went to say that it’s a form of abuse: Ted has raised Nate up and now has left him hanging. Nate is a guy who’s deeply insecure, has a toxic relationship with his dad, you can’t just leave him on his own, that’s not going to work. Ted almost waltzed into his life and his work is done and has walked out again — because he has his own stuff going on. That’s how Nate feels and in that speech, he does justify it, and I think Ted maybe knows that and that’s why he doesn’t fight back maybe.
Do you think this will end up as a case of “the grass isn’t always greener”?
I can only hypothesize but I can imagine that Rupert doesn’t care for Nate. I think Nate is a pawn in his grand scheme to get back at Rebecca somehow — and Ted. So I suspect that Nate will be ruined by Rupert in some way — whether he stays at West Ham or not. Either Nate will become just so hateful because if Rupert is his boss — if that’s his leader — he’s going to see that aim and that’s not a good place to be heading, is it?
But right now, where we leave Nate, he certainly seems to have high hopes and seemingly a high view of himself. I’m basing this solely on the literal last shot of him looking down the camera lens. How did you and director Declan Lowney develop that look and how many versions did you try?
A few, actually. It’s very collaborative with Jason and the creators and writers on the show, with Bill Lawrence. Before we had even started Season 2, Brett had texted me [that] the opening and closing shots were the same, basically — that we were tracking Nate’s journey — and the final one was really important. But we tried different variations, and the one that we used was where there’s a slight smugness to him [because] he’s got what he wanted. But we tried some versions where you can’t read it; he’s inscrutable. There were other versions where he’s hating himself; we tried some teary ones. It’s one of those tricky ones because I remember trying to walk to that spot and it was really tight focus — they were real close on the eyes — and I kept on missing my mark.
Did you actually film the scene where Nate rips the sign in half?
No, we considered three things: one where he just leave it on the desk, one where you see Nate’s hand reach for it and one where he rips it. But we didn’t. I think they just thought it was more powerful to just have it there. That was another detail that was quite surprising. I learned when we were shooting Episode 10 that was what they were thinking and I was like, “No!”
And we have to talk about the evolution of Nate’s hair this season because throughout the episodes it seemed like maybe he was just going gray from stress but then seeing that reveal at the end where he shares the look with the real West Ham coach, maybe it was a subtle foreshadowing of what was to come?
I have, naturally, a few flecks of gray around my temples and stuff and we actually painted them out in Season 1 so that Nate had a slight youthful, subordinate quality to him. And then we really liked the idea of going the other way and, as we were tracking his descent and as you say, the stress, the guilt, the shame, the anxiety and all of the stuff that’s going through his head and how all of those things can affect his physical appearance, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could track his journey through his hair color?” And interestingly, there’s no going back. You can dye your hair, but once you go gray, you can’t progressively go back. We really liked that as a symbol. That was the brilliant makeup designers, Nicky Austin and Alexis Dolman, who everyday painted in every single piece of gray. In the later episodes it would take an hour, an hour and a half, and obviously it was a continuity nightmare because we’d go back and pick up scenes from previous episodes. It was fun, though.
How much is West Ham’s real coach an inspiration for Nate might behave going forward?
The writers take bits from real soccer, real coach stories, real events in their own lives. Obviously there’s artistic license in there and it’s changed and modified in ways. But I guess the general idea is a coach having power go to their heads and then seeing themselves as almost more important than the team and the players — and that they wield this power and control and have this particular way to get the best out the players which might be quite authoritative and bullying. The whole show is about mentor-mentee relationships and father-son, father-daughter relationships, so they’re all over that stuff. Personally, I don’t really follow soccer or football. But there’ll undoubtedly be truth in there because they’re all very well versed in all that.
Nate leading a different team could provide a lot of new relationship dynamic opportunities. What do you hope for in Season 3?
The romantic part of me would love for it to be part of a redemption arc. I’d love to see a clash between West Ham and Richmond. It feels it’s inevitable, but whether that’s in the beginning, middle or end of the season, I don’t know. But I also want to know about Ted’s fate, about Keeley and Roy. There are so many things that are tantalizing about the season, it really feels like a middle season. They’re in the writers’ room at the moment, so it’s very exciting to see what they’re going to pull off.