This story contains major spoilers from the Season 2 finale of “Ted Lasso,” “Inverting the Pyramid of Success.” Check out our complete guide to the series here.
“Nate the Great,” the beloved underdog of Apple TV+ Emmy winner “Ted Lasso,” hasn’t been doing so great lately. Played by Nick Mohammed, the kit man-turned-“Wunderkid” assistant coach enjoyed his first taste of public fanfare earlier this season but still finds himself stuck in the shadow of his colleagues and under the cloud of his father’s disapproval.
These feelings of invisibility continue in Friday’s Season 2 finale, when Nate — the anonymous source for the exposé on Ted’s panic attack, the person who inappropriately kissed Keeley (Juno Temple), the coach who came up with the play that helps get AFC Richmond promoted — can’t get any credit for his actions, positive or negative. “I deserve to be headbutted,” he tells Roy (Brett Goldstein), who essentially shrugs off the fact that Nate hit on his girlfriend.
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It all leads up to an intense, two-minute scene in which Nate lays into Ted. “You made me feel like I was the most important person in the whole world, and then you abandoned me,” he says. “I worked my ass off, trying to get your attention back, to prove myself to you, to make you like me again. But the more I did, the less you cared.”
“Everybody loves you — the great Ted Lasso,” Nate continues in the episode, written by Jason Sudeikis. “Without me, you wouldn’t have won a single match and they would’ve shipped your ass back to Kansas … . Because you sure as hell don’t belong here. I do. I belong here, this didn’t just fall into my lap. I earned this.” Ted immediately apologizes, but the damage is done. The episode’s last shot shows the degree of Nate’s villainous heel-turn: his coaching position on another team, run by Rebecca’s ex-husband Rupert.
Mohammed — who spoke to The Times from New Mexico, where he’s filming John Slattery’s movie “Maggie Moore(s)” — revealed all about filming the heated scene with Sudeikis, that gradually graying hair color and how those final frames came to be. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
How does it feel to finally be able to talk about Nate’s Season 2 arc?
It’s nice to talk about, actually! Similar to Nate’s slow build in confidence in Season 1, this has been a slow descent into darkness. I just got a text from Jason this afternoon, checking in that I was alright off the back of the reaction to Episode 11 and what’s coming in 12, which is very thoughtful. I’m both anxious and excited for people to see it, because it’s an absolute corker of an ending. I’m as distraught as I think some of the fans of the show are feeling.
You’ve had to keep Nate’s downward spiral a secret since filming Season 1, right?
Yeah. I’ve known about Nate’s three-season arc since we were filming the gala episode in Season 1; Jason talked me all the way through it before we even had the recommission of the show. They were absolutely true to their word that this season for Nate was “Empire Strikes Back” territory. They planted the seeds for this heel-turn and allowed it to slowly, slowly, slowly work its way through the season.
It really comes to a head in these last episodes, when Nate oversteps with Keeley, which was inappropriate and just wrong in lots of ways. Brett and I are good friends from way back from doing live comedy together on the circuit and in Edinburgh Festival, so he occasionally slips me a text that’s a little teaser of what’s to come. When they were writing that episode, they were mulling over what’s more painful for Nate.
It’s not for Roy to really lay into him the way he does with everyone else; it’s actually more devastating for him to just not be bothered at all. Nate almost secretly hoped he’d get punched by Roy because at least it’ll make him feel like he’s matched him in some way, like they share the same status. But in fact it’s like, “I don’t even make enough of an impact on people for them to even feel threatened by me.”
That ends up being a final straw for Nate, after so many little jabs from everyone all season.
Exactly. There are so many microaggressions against Nate — all from different people, and really tiny things which we think of as jokes and are inconsequential, like when he doesn’t get given a free coffee machine. Or when, just before Roy joins as a coach, they say they need a big dog to talk to Isaac the captain; Nate says he’ll do it and Ted almost laughs in his face and is like, “No, we need a real big dog.”
Given the journey that Nate’s gone on in Season 1 in building his confidence — not completely, he’s still got insecurities and demons and a toxic relationship with his dad and so on — he’s been feeling empowered because of Ted, and now suddenly Ted and others are slightly blindsiding him a little bit and it’s tearing him apart. He finally voices that in Episode 12.
Take me back to that day on set. Were you nervous?
I personally knew I would find it difficult because it’s certainly not my comfort area in terms of acting or performing. I usually do comedy, and I will always go for the laugh over anything else — almost as a defense mechanism, really, in real life!
I’d been sent the script early. Jason had written it, and we talked for ages about it. The whole season, there’s no other scene between Ted and Nate; they’re in scenes together with other people but it’s never a two-hander. And that’s really important. In fact, the last two-hander between them was in Season 1, Episode 7, just before Nate gives the pregame roast, when Ted apologizes for having a go at him the night before in the hotel. I remember Jason was like, “This is really important, that this is the only scene between those two.”
On the day, it was a very quiet set, but with lots of support. We only did three takes, and we didn’t really break for anything because it was quite intense and everyone wanted to keep that feeling going. It felt good when it was over — a real sense of relief. I really feel desperately unhappy for Ted and Nate.
That intensity is palpable, even though Nate isn’t yelling at the top of his lungs or anything.
But he’s quite a pottymouth, isn’t he? He likes to swear! I find swearing more powerful and effective when it’s delivered quietly.
And his tears don’t seem to be out of sadness, but more so frustration or something else.
I think he’s completely ashamed of himself. He’s such a mess by that point. He’s blaming all the wrong people, he’s feeling so lost, and he’s lashing out and defending himself in a quite horrible manner. My hope is that when audiences watch it, they will feel how vulnerable he is at that point. Because as cruel as he’s being, it’s because he’s just so insecure.
The episode continues with Ted’s “Believe” sign torn down and ripped in half …
It was Brendan [Hunt] who first told me that they were considering having that as Nate’s parting gift, and I literally fell onto the ground, saying, “No! What are you doing? How is Nate going to be able to come back from this? I can’t believe that you’re gonna test your audience like this.”
… and then ends with a dialogue-free reveal: Nate has joined another team, now owned by Rebecca’s ex-husband, Rupert.
Yes, and with a shot that matches the opening shot of the season. It was something I remember Brett texting me about, just before we started filming. He said, “Just so you know, the opening and closing shots of the season are Nate’s eyes, and it’s really important you know that for the journey that he’s about to go on, because the eyes are very different in the end.”
We shot alternatives for that ending — it was still the same setup, but different things like no raised eyebrow, him looking dead inside, him looking quite smug. We were going to do one almost like the light goes out in his eyes. It’s meant to be tantalizing, which is why there is that slight raise of the eyebrow. But it’s the exact same shot as the opening, except his hair is a completely different color, of course.
I must admit I didn’t realize Nate’s hair color had been gradually graying until very, very well into the season.
I’ve got a little bit of natural gray around my temples, and that they had blacked that out in Season 1 so Nate is more youthful and subordinate. And then we really liked this idea of him transforming into a José Mourinho type, the stress and guilt and shame almost aging him in the way that people’s hair color sometimes changes after going through stressful experiences. I think we started to add gray in Episode 3 or 4; in those latter episodes, it’s a testament to Nicky Austin and the makeup department who basically painted every single strand of my hair gray.
My kids are four and five, and we live in Richmond, so they will occasionally run down when we’re filming on Richmond Green. They occasionally ask when they see a real bit of my gray hair, “Is that fake?” No, no, that’s real! But otherwise, no one really commented on it until maybe Episode 10. But if you go back and watch the season, you can see the gray creeping in until the final shot, which is a wig.
Right before Nate turns to the camera for that final shot, Rupert (played by Anthony Head) whispers something inaudible in his ear. What did he say?
In Episode 10, we can guess that maybe he’s gonna offer him a job or “Keep up the good work, I think you’re doing great.” Who knows. [While filming that scene,] Anthony said some very, very funny and obscure things. He was basically trying to make me laugh.
But for Episode 12, Anthony said to me, “You’re welcome.” It wasn’t scripted; Jason was on set, and he and Anthony were talking about the kind of thing Rupert might say. I think it was Anthony who came up with the line, and I don’t think you can hear him say it. The first time I heard it was when he whispered it in my ear, and then obviously he kept doing it as we reshot it.
But it felt very, very fitting — it’s just so patronizing, so smug and self-important, all matters of horrible. Hats off to Anthony for coming up with that because he gave real motivation for me to then turn around and walk towards the camera and do that little raised eyebrow.
You’ve been keeping up with viewers’ reactions to Nate via social media, as Nate does in the show. What has struck you about their comments?
I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the amount of people who have been reaching out. Whenever I scroll through comments, I’m aware there’s an element of life imitating art, because that’s exactly what Nate does in the show. But I’m so grateful, because they’ve stuck out what has been quite a rocky path for Nate. I feel like one of the fans, really, because the reactions people say they’re having are absolutely the reactions that I had when I first read those scripts or when we first started playing with those scenes.
I’ve never been involved in a show that’s garnered such a public reaction, positive or negative, in terms of people really feeling for all of these characters as if they’re real people, which is an absolute testament to the quality of the writing. Like when Nate says to Will [played by Charlie Hiscock] that he’ll “make his life an f— misery,” I got contacted by quite a few people, saying, “This was really triggering for me, I’m finding it really difficult.”
They’re reacting to quite difficult subject matter, not just a storyline, but I guess it means that people are taking those moments seriously. We didn’t want to do the same story as Season 1, and I think the show is all the better for having gone down a different route.
What are your thoughts on the criticism that “Ted Lasso” ignores Nate’s cultural background?
I get why people wonder why the show doesn’t dive into the cultural significance of his relationship with his dad or why he sees himself as a bit of an outsider. Nate is mixed race because I’m mixed race; my real parents are Trinidadian and Cypriot Greek, and they’ve tried to match that as much as they could through casting.
Speaking as an actor and a person of color, it’s quite refreshing to play a guy who’s called Nathan Shelley, where there’s no hint to his ethnicity through his name, and to do a show where your ethnicity isn’t even mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sometimes incredibly important for that to be front and center, but the fact that it’s not in this never struck me as something that they were either avoiding or that was a failing on their part not to dive into that.
What are your hopes for Nate in Season 3?
I look forward to seeing if and how they redeem Nate, or whether he gets more villainous. As challenging as it sometimes was, it was quite fun to play the nasty one and be the bad guy, especially because Nate was so low-key beforehand. I believe there’s hope for Nate.
I’m curious to see what color his hair will be.
Right! Can his hair go back to black? I don’t think that’s physically possible, so I guess that means several hours in the makeup chair every day. Or maybe it will have all fallen out by then because it’s all just too much, and we’re gonna open with a shot of a bald Nate.