The most recent and probably final season of Apple TV+’s Emmy-winning comedy Ted Lasso was a bittersweet endeavor for director Declan Lowney, who had worked on the series since season one as both a director (in each of its three seasons) and as a supervising producer (in season two, for which he won an Emmy for best comedy series). The Irish director says that the American production, which films in the actual town of Richmond, England, is much larger in scale and scope than other U.K. productions, even amid the streaming age, and with that came as many challenges as there were benefits — although he concedes that a bigger production budget was certainly a plus.
But he admits there were giant stakes for him this go-round, particularly because he was responsible for helming the final two episodes. (He earned his second directing Emmy nom for the finale.) He notes that the future of the Ted Lasso universe is still up in the air, as Apple hasn’t provided a definitive answer as to whether the series is properly finished or if spinoffs centered on other characters are in the works. (Says Lowney, coyly: “Everybody knew it was the end, but it’s also the end for now.”) Lowney spoke with THR to look back at the show’s wild success across the globe, the challenges of shooting large-scale scenes amid football matches, and what it was like to read the final scripts as the crew neared the show’s conclusion.
You’ve worked on a few American TV productions, but is it safe to say this is the biggest one?
Definitely. I have been to a few Emmys [with the show], so you get a sense that this doesn’t happen that often. Most shows aren’t as big as this — most shows don’t hit like this, right?
Did it feel as big when you were in production?
I’ve never worked with so many people on a show. A British show would have about a tenth of the budget — our audience is smaller, the shows are smaller, we don’t have such huge crews or enormous casts. And we don’t have the facilities that a big budget gives you. The scale of ambition is smaller. That said, more and more British shows are now being made for streamers, and they are having the money spent on them. It didn’t take me long to adjust. It’s wonderful to have a bit of money. (Laughs.)
What are some of the challenges of working on such a big project?
It’s a very complex show to make. There’s the core cast of 18 characters who interact. But then you’ve got the football — the soccer, as you call it — and that’s quite a complicated thing to shoot. The football is shot by the football director. Then, if there’s drama on the pitch for the actors, the director for that episode shoots the [scenes] on the pitch, but then you get off and the football guy does all the wide shots on the action. And then it cuts to Rebecca, Keeley and those guys up in the box — that’s shot in the same place, but it’s not shot at the same time as we shoot the football. And then when you go to the dugout to see Ted, Beard, Roy and Nate, that’s in a separate, smaller field with nothing behind the camera. They’re surrounded by about 200 extras. In season two, I [organized a lot of that] because I was a supervising producer. Thankfully this year, I only directed the last two episodes, but they were also hugely involved, being 70-minute episodes.
As someone who has worked on all three seasons, how early do you learn about storylines and character arcs?
The way Jason works, it develops as the season goes on. They hire actors who are really good and they’re like, “This guy’s great. She’s fantastic. Let’s keep them.” The characters get developed because the cast are really good at playing them. And that’s why the episodes get longer; nobody’s losing scenes or losing lines, there’s just more of everything. There’s always joy in seeing it unfold. Jason is so involved, and there was a lot of improvisation on set. A two-page scene becomes three pages magically, overnight. But that is also the genius of it, and that’s also the beauty of the show’s budget that you can roll with those things a bit.
One thinks of a TV comedy ensemble as a tight group, but as you’ve mentioned, the cast has only gotten larger and the episodes longer.
The appetite is there. People want it. I didn’t hear anybody say, “Oh, that last episode was just too long.” I think Jason wants to satisfy the appetite.
From reading interviews with the show’s stars, it seems like that hunger was there among the cast, as well.
If the human cost wasn’t so great on those guys — because every time we do a season, it’s a year in England, away from their families. That’s a tough old slog [over the past] three and a half years, four years. You know, I think that it [could have] kept going, but it had done its thing — the three-season arc, that was the deal, that was what [Sudeikis] wanted. But I feel there’s something else. … There will be other things.
You directed the final two episodes. Did you feel that this would be the end — or the end of something, before the next chapter may begin?
Everybody knew it was the end, but it’s also the end for now. (Laughs.) It’s going to be two or three years before anything happens — if anything happens — so let’s try and tie up all these stories properly. I’m trying to remember how the script was delivered, because I’ve a feeling I might have gotten a big chunk of it, and then there’d be more coming — but I didn’t know how much more yet. I was like, “There’s a lot of tying up to do!” And then Jason gave me the remaining pages and it was like, “Ah! That’s what he’s doing here.” But it is very hard to stand back and say, “Shit, guys … there’s 80 pages here.” We shot it as we went along, and it’s very hard to gauge these things until you put it all together. Six weeks later, something else appears at the other end [in the edit], but it’s also about 10 minutes shorter than it was.
The final episode does feel like a series finale, while leaving enough open for possible stories in the future. While you were filming, did you feel that you were getting definitive answers about what would happen to the characters?
A lot of those conversations went on behind closed doors between [executive producers] Jason, Brendan [Hunt] and Joe [Kelly]. I wasn’t privy to them. And also, [we had a tight] schedule. Juno [Temple] had [booked] other things, so all her scenes had to be shot in the first 10 days, and then she was gone. We were shooting for weeks and weeks without her. Saying goodbye to her was heartbreaking. But [the shoot] was very out of sequence, and that makes it a bit harder for everyone to piece it together. Of course, Jason’s got it all up there [in his head].
Has the success of Ted Lasso — and its massive scale — had an impact on how U.K. TV is produced?
Not really. Obviously, it’s more cost-efficient — the more regimented you are, the less expensive it is to make TV shows. That’s not necessarily how you get the best comedy, but that is still the tradition.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.