The second season of Ted Lasso ended with a twist we should have seen coming: Nate Shelley, Richmond’s soft-spoken kit man-turned-assistant coach went bad. As played by British actor Nick Mohammed, the subtle shift in Nate’s persona (evidenced by his hair slowly turning grey) left the series on a cliffhanger that carries over into the third season. As the season three opens, Nate is managing West Ham, the formidable Premier League club owned by Rupert Mannion. He’s on the outs with Ted (Jason Sudeikis) and the rest of the Richmond players and staff.
In the hands of Mohammed, however, Nate is less of a villain and more of a confused, lost soul in need of some of that Ted Lasso charm he pushed aside. The Emmy-nominated actor hopes his portrayal of Nate is empathetic and understanding, as well as formidable, a sensibility that threads through the character’s arc as the new episodes unfold. It’s also new territory for Mohammed, known for more soft-spoken roles, as well as his beloved character Mr. Swallow.
Here Mohammed discusses laying the groundwork for Nate’s sudden turn, playing a so-called villain and how much Ted Lasso has changed his career.
On a scale of a little bit bad to complete evil villain, where do we find Nate this season?
We find him where we left off in season two, really. He’s still new to West Ham. He’s still suffering from the guilt, shame, regret, the anger of leaving Richmond the way he did. He feels like he has a huge point to prove. Rupert is his boss and Rupert’s not a force for good in anyone’s life. So in terms of from good to bad, he’s quite complicated. He’s got a lot of soul searching to do still.
And even though Nate often presents as a villain and his actions were, for some, unforgivable, he’s still that insecure man who we saw were introduced to at the start of season one. He’s riddled with insecurities. They haven’t gone away just because he’s driving a fancier car now or getting paid a bit more. If anything, all those things, like the mild celebrity status and social media interaction, all they’re doing is increasing his downfall. I think we see him as a troubled soul rather than as an evil figure. Whereas Rupert is quite malicious and outwardly more evil.
As you’ve been playing Nate for the previous two seasons, have you been planting seeds of where he was going to end up?
Yeah, definitely. It’s all in the writing—I can’t really take credit for that. But I was very aware that this is exactly where it was all headed from very early on in the season one filming. There would often be times when Jason or Joe [Kelly] or Brendan [Hunt] or one of the writers would say, “Oh, this is important because in a year’s time you’re going to be doing this. Just have that in the back of your mind.” There were often times when we were looking forward to what we hadn’t filmed yet, but we were going to film. And then equally, particularly with season three, remembering stuff from way back in season one and trying to tune into some of that again. They’re so smart, those writers, and they planted seeds all along the way.
Nate has now gone completely grey. You must be wearing a wig in season three, right?
Yeah, that’s a wig. Oh God, that wig. Forty minutes a day that took to put on and a few minutes to take off. And because it’s a short wig and I’ve got short hair, the amount of pins that had to go in it. I mean, it was excruciating. It started off as excruciating. But actually Chloe Hooker, who was my makeup person on that, was brilliant at putting it in and got it down to an absolute fine art. It’s difficult to pull off a short wig. But some of the crew even said at the end that they didn’t know. They’d be filming and they were like, “Oh, we just assumed that was your hair or that you dyed it.” They couldn’t believe it. So that’s a testament to the amazing makeup department.
What’s the biggest challenge in portraying Nate as this angrier version of himself?
It was less familiar to me. Season one Nate, the slightly bumbling, slightly socially awkward sort of guy, I could associate a lot more with him. And in terms of previous acting experience, I’ve done roles which are more similar to that kind of low-status guy. This more front foot, aggressive, slightly unhinged version of Nate, with elements of him being depressive as well, that’s less familiar to me as a as an individual. So there was slightly less to draw on there and more of a challenge as an actor. I did rely on a lot of coaching through it from Jason and our great team of directors.
I always tried to find a way of empathizing with his behavior, even though I wasn’t ever personally condoning his actions. But I felt that it was important to find truth to why he was behaving that way.
His new job means he’s not at Richmond anymore. Was it been weird for you to not be sharing scenes with your usual co-stars?
Completely. And I tried to use that from an acting point of view as much as possible. To try and feel that loneliness because it is what Nate’s going through. He’s suddenly in this completely different environment. And listen, it was a joy to work with Anthony Head. He’s such a sweetheart. So that was so great to have scenes with him. But all the West Ham players and people who I didn’t know, they were quite intimidating because they’re so great. They’re brilliant. But it was far from the Ted Lasso family that we’ve grown over the last few years. I was suddenly without them and that did feel weird.
What was been the biggest shift you’ve seen in your career since Ted Lasso became so popular?
That’s a good question and it’s a difficult one to answer because as an actor or writer you don’t always know the answer to that. You don’t know what is said about you. You don’t know what you might be considered for then never get. You never really hear about it or [hear] when your name is mentioned. But I don’t want to be naive about it. I mean, it’s been an absolutely incredible calling card. It’s such a well-loved show and I’m so so proud of it and grateful for being a part of it.
I shot a film in America last year [Maggie Moore(s)], which I didn’t really audition for. I met the directors to have a chat and I think they were chatting to maybe a couple of other people, but I didn’t have to kind of cast for it in the usual way. And don’t get me wrong—I’m still getting the castings. It’s not like I’m suddenly super famous or anything like that. But everywhere I go people want to talk about the show. That is just lovely because it’s affected a lot of people’s lives in really positive ways. And you have to be grateful for that and I feel like you have to make time for that. We’re part of something quite special.
Do you have any plans to bring Mr. Swallow on tour in America?
Possibly. I’m about to do that soon as a U.K. tour [“The Very Best and Worst of Mr. Swallow”], which kicks off in April. There is talk of taking it to New York and LA. But I’m curious as to how it would go down, so I’m not 100 percent sold on it yet. But if it happens it’ll probably be in 2024.
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