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Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham steals the show

Having researched the matter exhaustively, I can confirm that, at this precise moment, there are two types of people in the world: those who love Ted Lasso – Apple TV+’s unashamedly feelgood comedy about an American football coach transplanted to the UK to work with a flailing Premier League team – and those who just haven’t watched it yet.

The show, launched in a lockdown year, delivered desperately necessary bolts of good-natured, hope-infused jolliness that simultaneously managed to be unpredictable, non-trite, genuinely funny (and on occasion, devastatingly sad) and – bonus! – introduced an isolated world to characters who demanded you feel connected to every one of them, usually in the time it took them to speak their first lines. By the time season two arrived Ted Lasso’s signature sweetness, its apolitical decency, its optimism, took on new significance, operating as a prompt and a promise on how decent humanity can be when it tries, and… I’m gushing, aren’t I? Never mind: some things should be gushed over.

I didn’t start watching the show until last month, after it won seven Emmys – though the awards themselves weren’t what turned me on to Ted. That was down to Lasso star Hannah ­Waddingham, to the spectacle of a staggeringly good-looking peroxide blonde accepting her Emmy for best supporting actress while wearing the kind of coral pink fishtail gown I’d be reprimanded for describing as “the definition of va-va-voom” (though not by her: “Objectifying people, it’s what makes the world go round, isn’t it?” she’ll say). She stole the entire ceremony with how ­amazing yet hilarious she clearly found it all, and delivered an acceptance speech that berated a TV casting system that routinely ignores the talent available in musical theatre, where she herself had flogged her guts out for 20-odd years.

So what’s it like to be suddenly famous, I ask Waddingham, aka the mighty, mightily flawed Rebecca Welton, owner of AFC Richmond, recruiter of Ted Lasso. Waddingham shudders. “Oh, I don’t know about ‘famous’,” she says. “The f-word makes me really uncomfortable. I’ve been a grafter all my career. Fame and celebrity makes it feel… It’s a generic term that makes me nervous. You can see, it jolts my system a bit.”

Yeah, I can. Waddingham is supremely self-­assured, 180cm of dance-honed physicality in a floral print maxidress topped off with a phenomenal face (albeit one which, she announces while being photographed, “tends to look arsey if I don’t smile”), and she holds a room like a woman accustomed to holding entire auditoriums. Yet when I punt the notion she might now be famous, she shrinks. What are we to call you then?

“More known? There you go. More known! The thing that was weird was going to Los Angeles for the first time. You get off the plane, and it’s like you’re in Friends.” What do people say to you? “Thank you.” Thank you? “ ‘Thank you! Thank you!’ Which is why when someone says, ‘Oh, do you mind people stopping you in the street?’ I’m like, ‘How could you mind when people are ­saying, “Thank you for getting me through a ­terribly dark time”?’ ”

That Waddingham should have her big break, should achieve such levels of, uh, more-known-ness, at the age of 47, while portraying a 47-year-old woman, a rock-hard yet vulnerable divorcee with a phenomenal wardrobe, is a significant ­indicator things might be changing for women, both on screen and in the broader culture. ­“I actually said to Jason [Sudeikis, creator of the show, who plays Lasso], ‘Can Rebecca be my age, so I can play her as truthfully as possible?’” Waddingham’s Rebecca is part of the reason the daring possibility that women might, in fact, become more relevant with a little bit of age is gaining currency (see Kate Winslet’s Mare of ­Easttown, Sutton Foster of Younger, Sharon Horgan and the entire cast of the Sex and the City reboot).

“I feel a real responsibility for women of a ­certain age,” Waddingham says. “I think it’s reassuring that here I am, a single parent, at the age of 47, with the greatest success of my career. I find it odd and quite funny, and I’m actually quite glad. People have gone, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it have been nicer if it had happened younger?’ No! I think, in terms of suddenly your career going into warp speed, I can see why younger people lose their shit. Whereas me, yes, it’s amazing, but I’ve still got to spin the plates of life with my daughter. By 47, you kind of are who you are. I don’t need any new friends. I’ve got my clan. It’s lovely to step into the world, step up to the Mad Hatter’s table, then step away, have my normal life.”

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