Ted Lasso’s Nathan Shelley has officially crossed over to the dark side. Season two of Apple TV+’s Emmy-winning comedy has led up to Nate’s heel turn, as he goes from a shy underdog to a bully who betrayed his friend. In the season finale, “Inverting The Pyramid Of Success,” Nate (Nick Mohammed) and Ted (Jason Sudeikis) finally face the consequences of Nate’s decision to leak Ted’s panic attack information to the media.
The two characters have a terse conversation, with Nate grabbing the opportunity to unleash on his boss as Ted tries to diffuse the situation. It’s quite a hostile, emotional heart-to-heart for a show that usually goes all in on its optimism. Both actors deliver astounding, heartfelt performances, and the episode ends with Nate now working as the West Ham coach, the football team newly purchased by AFC Richmond’s former slimy owner, Rupert (Anthony Head).
Ted Lasso has planted seeds for Nate’s villainous turn for a while now, and Mohammed says he expected a strong fan reaction to his journey. The show became the subject of massive online discussions during its second season. The A.V. Club spoke to Mohammed about the response to Nate’s arc, working with Sudeikis for that finale scene, and how season three might (or might not) lead to Nate’s redemption.
The A.V. Club: How did you feel about your character’s journey this season—both as Nick, the actor who gets to play this intense arc, and as Nate Shelley, the seemingly sweet underdog who goes through a drastic change? Did you get to read all the scripts at once or progressively to prepare for it?
Nick Mohammed: It was progressive. I got sent episodes one and two just before we started filming, and then we got them a few days before we started each one. But I was able to track the journey and had lots of good conversations with Jason [Sudeikis], Brendan [Hunt], and the other writers who would give me the lowdown. I knew even during filming season one, probably before we knew about the next two being commissioned, Jason had outlined the plan for Nate. He’d be going to the dark side; [this would be] kind of the Empire Strikes Back season of the show for him. They went ahead and did that. I trust them implicitly because they’re such great writers; it’s their show.
I was nervous about it. My comfort zone and experience is comedy and laughs. This dramatic, darker stuff is hugely enjoyable and challenging. It felt good to try and rise to the challenge. It was nerve-wracking to try and keep it believable. I also knew fans weren’t going to necessarily like it—they would react to it strongly—but the story tells itself. He’s making a series of bad decisions; he has issues with his dad; he feels insecure and abandoned. It’s all been building to his conversation with Ted in the finale where he’s able to express what he’s feeling.
AVC: It was a moving conversation. It doesn’t condone Nate’s actions, but it tries to explain his emotions. Was it important for you to humanize him? What talks did you guys have about that?
NM: I think it was important to humanize him. I was advocating for Nate to be vulnerable even when he’s cruel. Well, I guess it depends on who he is talking to. When he’s talking to someone beneath him, he’s outright cruel and a bully. He’s a bully because he was bullied. It’s droll but that is how it is with him at that moment. He’s having to go on this journey basically.
In that scene with Keeley [Juno Temple] in episode 11, when he makes an inappropriate pass at her, I categorically don’t condone that action. But it was vital to see Nate in the dressing room after, looking at himself in the mirror and spitting. He knows he’s overstepped. He’s not voicing it, but we can see it in his face and in his eyes. He’s hating himself, he probably has been since that restaurant scene in episode five. That episode has a lot of old Nate in there, there’s a lightness, but then it takes a dark turn and doesn’t let up from there on.
The moment in the finale when Nate tells Ted he doesn’t deserve to be here, he should be back home with his son, Jason was really clear on this part. There’s a moment in Nate’s eyes where you should see, again, he feels he’s overstepped the mark by even saying that. We have such great directors and clever writers, Jason in particular. For the scenes that are particularly emotional, Jason has a way of getting inside your head and making it feel personal and relatable so you can find the emotion and make it feel true.
That’s the only scene between Jason and I, and deliberately so. It was really good to spend that time with him. He’s quite method about the powerful scenes. He was literally in my head right to the point where they call action, so I could walk into the scene and have a go at Ted.
AVC: Nate is in the closing shot of the season, and he’s now coaching West Ham. What do you hope for him in season three, and where do you think the writers will take him?
NM: I know broadly speaking where we’re taking him. I hope it’s a redemption arc. I don’t know the ins and outs of it. Part of me thinks it’d be cool to just not do one for at least one character. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. They’re writing it at the moment. In fact, Jason texted me today to say, “I hope you’re feeling alright,” because the response has been quite a lot, especially after the last few episodes. I hope that even though people can’t excuse the behavior, they can see he’s feeling abandoned.
AVC: Yeah, Ted Lasso turned into major online discourse this season. Nate’s arc was a big part of that. Why do you think that happened, and how are all of you reacting to it?
NM: When we were doing season one, we had high hopes for it. We thought we are making something fun and refreshing. With the timing of the pandemic, it helped the show and spoke to people at a time when they needed a positive message. You could feel the audience’s excitement even while we were filming season two. We were excited for them to see specific sequences because a lot of things are now turned to the head. We knew it’s not as light, so there will be some discussions.
I’m on Twitter and I’ll tweet about the show, but I’ve tried not to get too caught up in it. It would be too art imitating life, don’t you think? Nate starts getting bogged down by Twitter and I was aware that would be a bit weird. As much as I think the audience was surprised by Nate, now they’re like, “Oh, crikey, we’re going on a big journey.” Hopefully they’re in for the ride. Just in general, it’s happening because this season has uncovered so many layers for all the characters that we haven’t seen before, and I think it’s even better for it.
AVC: We have to talk about Nate’s gray hair. The internal stress shows up externally. Is that what’s happening? How did you make it happen so quickly?
NM: That was really fun. The hair graying quickly was decided really early on. We thought it’d be cool, Jason immediately liked the sound of it. I’ve got black hair naturally, with a few gray hairs. I had them in season one and they used to paint out the gray to keep me looking youthful. We thought it’d be fun to almost foreshadow Nate’s arc, so we would add gray everyday. The final shot matches the opening shot of the season; that was a wig. Everything before that was added in. Mostly for episodes 10 and 11, it would take an hour and a half to paint my hair, they would do it for every strand. A big shoutout to Lex [Alexis Dorman], who did that, and the makeup and hair team.
AVC: There’s some insight into Nate’s family, but is there something to be said about his ethnicity being part of why he seeks validation or feels under-appreciated? He’s a brown man who was bullied a lot before Ted came into the picture. Is that something you’d want explored in season three?
NM: I’m sure there will be a reckoning with his dad. Ted Lasso deals with father-son, mentor-mentee relationships. I think Nate will come to blows with his family or dad somehow. In regards to how his ethnicity plays into it, a lot of people have said that, the idea that Nate can never fulfill his dad’s ambitions and whether there is some cultural relevance to that. They’ve played it with a deft hand in season two, and I genuinely don’t know if they will explore that element next season.
A part of me likes how the ethnicity is not front and center, it just feels normal and real. He is of a different ethnicity than the other key players, it would be interesting to explore that. I remember they contacted me before season two to ask about casting for Nate’s parents. My mom is from Cyprus and my dad is from Trinidad. That’s quite a specific mixed ethnicity and they wanted to adhere to that as much as possible.
AVC: When we spoke to Ted Lasso’s casting director Theo Park a few weeks ago, she mentioned that you almost passed on this role. How do you feel about that in retrospect?
NM: Every time I am corresponding with Theo or our producer Bill Lawrence, I just keep saying thank you. It sounds arrogant to say I turned it down, but it was more that I was filming Intelligence at the time, where I play a subordinate sidekick to an American who comes into a British institution. I was concerned that there might be similarities. Of course, the scripts were different and then they spoke to me about the character journey, so I said, “Sign me up.”