Director MJ Delaney talks to Awards Daily about bringing Ted Lasso to its Season 1 conclusion with its final two episodes.
In today’s age of TV, there’s a lot riding on “sticking the landing” when it comes to ending a season or series. Director MJ Delaney was tasked with bringing Ted Lasso to its Season 1 conclusion, directing the last two episodes of the inaugural 10 episodes. And given the response from fans on social media and critics, she sticks the landing like Kerri Strug in the Olympics (we need a football analogy for sticking the landing!).
I had the chance to e-chat with Delaney about her work on the show, filming game-time sequences, and directing Hannah Waddingham and Jason Sudeikis in the “Divorce is hard” scene.
Awards Daily: You directed the last two episodes of the season. Did you feel any kind of pressure in sticking the landing, so to speak? Especially in the first season of a show!
MJ Delaney: Definitely! There’s also the natural tonal shift towards the end of a season of a show like this, where the heart of it comes to the fore. Everything that’s been teed up across the series starts to pay off, and the previous episodes had kind of earned us the right to have some scenes without many jokes in them. But I felt the pressure of that, certainly—coming into a comedy show and shooting some really emotional and sometimes explosive scenes—between Ted and Roy, Ted and Rebecca, Roy and Keeley, Ted and Beard. But I’m also so grateful to have done the last two episodes for that reason—they were so meaty and complex and made for great variety in the shoot days: drama in the morning; comedy in the afternoon!
AD: A scene I’ve heard multiple people talk about is in Episode 9, when Rebecca confesses to Ted that she’s tried to sabotage the club. Ted tells her he forgives her and that divorce is hard. It’s incredibly moving, in what could be a cheesy moment on a different show. How did you attack this particular scene? What did you discuss with Jason?
MD: Once we were into the scene itself, it’s very much Jason and Hannah doing all the work there. They’re both so fantastic, you can just watch them do their thing in scenes like that one! It was one of the very first scenes I shot (in at the deep end!), perhaps even the first, and I remember at one point asking Hannah, “Should I be trying to find some levity here?” And she was very reassuring that this had been a long time coming and that the viewer would go there with us. Where I was more involved was in devising Rebecca’s journey to Ted, when she’s in that complete catatonic haze after the revelation from Rupert about the baby, in her office. I was quite specific there about how she would absorb, turn, move—how we would observe her in that moment and how we would travel with her—this feeling that she could be about to do absolutely anything because she’s just been shaken to her core. I think it’s a beautiful performance from Hannah there, too. I am eternally grateful to Jason, as well, for keeping the shot of her walking between two bare male arses as she crosses the locker room!
AD: You also direct a lot of action shots on the pitch. Are you a soccer fan? And if so, does that make it easier? If not, harder?
MD: I wouldn’t call myself a football fan but I have four football-obsessed brothers and a football-loving dad, so I have absorbed a lot by osmosis, from a childhood of complete immersion in all things football. Nowadays I’ll enthusiastically engage for World Cups and the Euros, but every other summer is about enough football for me! That knowledge definitely did make it easier. Having been to lots of football matches and watched a lot on TV, I had a good grounding in what was going to feel authentic to the football fans in our audience.
AD: Did you have a live audience to create the soccer atmosphere? I know that’s so integral to the UK soccer experience.
MD: Yes, this was something I was really excited about doing—casting the fans for the stands and making them feel like the people you see on the terraces every weekend supporting London teams. Getting the drum and the tuba going for the songs, and making some of the hats, scarves and shirts worn by the fans really old- and worn-looking, like these people have been there in the London rain every Saturday for decades supporting Richmond.
AD: What is one of the biggest challenges to directing game scenes? There are so many moving parts.
MD: Elliott Hegarty shot the football sequences for my episodes and did a fantastic job! This season, all the football sequences for all the episodes have their very own block, which was a great idea. We have fantastic football choreographers who work on the show who can really take the lead on making the football look dynamic but also believable.
AD: Did you use any special effects or green screen with the game-time scenes?
MD: Yes, they built the stadium around the players in post and then multiplied the crowd to fill that fake stadium.
AD: Is it hard blocking such a huge ensemble in the locker room and making sure everyone is visible in a shot? I would imagine that would be a challenge.
MD: One of the great advantages of doing the final block is that by the time I showed up those set-builds had essentially been troubleshooted by the previous block directors and DPs. So the DOP for my block, John Sorapure, knew what worked and what didn’t within that space. There were a few shots I got that hadn’t been done before though, having spoken to Paul Cripps (production designer) about which pieces could fly in and out on that set. Like the tracking shot looking through the line of lockers, out at the players doing their pre-game rituals before the big final game in the last episode, ending with Roy giving that captain’s band to Isaac. I really enjoyed creating that one.
Season 1 of Ted Lasso is streaming on Apple TV+.