Zach Braff talks to Awards Daily about directing the Ted Lasso episode “Biscuits.”
For Ted Lasso‘s second episode in its first season, executive producer Bill Lawrence tapped fellow Scrubs alum Zach Braff to direct.
The episode, titled “Biscuits,” kicks off Ted’s (Jason Sudeikis) new job in the UK, where he coaches his first match, attempts to make friends by offering up homemade treats, and encounters a soccer girl (Shannon Hayes) who, as I learned in my conversation with Braff, represents something more than just a player in the park.
Awards Daily: You direct the second episode. Did you get to choose which episode you wanted to direct and if so, why did you choose this one?
Zach Braff: I didn’t get to choose, but I’m so happy I did [the second episode]. I did tell Bill that I wanted to be in as early as possible, because I feel like in Season 1 of a show, the earlier you are, the more you’re actually helping contribute to the look and style of what the rest will be. So I wanted to do that, to be a part of establishing the look and the feel and the tone. And the pilot was so wonderful, and then I was thrilled to see in my episode, the way that Bill and Jason had written it, it also introduced the idea that the show would break your heart at times. It wasn’t just going to be a straight comedy, which is something that I really love; it’s my favorite style of art. So that was really special for me.
AD: A character only known as Soccer Girl has a poignant arc in the episode, appearing in the beginning, middle, and end. What does she represent to Ted? What did you want to draw out with that piece of the episode?
ZB: When he first sees her, he’s taking in London for the first time. I think it’s his first stroll through the little town of Richmond where he’s going to be. He’s digesting how pervasive soccer is in that country. All the kids play and everybody has their team. Also, it’s this nice moment where the boys are trying to outplay her, and then she reveals she’s better than they are. I think it does a couple of things: It shows him digesting how pervasive the love of the sport is and then as it goes forward, the other beats, it’s just showing what a good man he is. He’s a great father, you can tell. He’s a kind person. He likes her. She gives him some sass and he appreciates that.
AD: Timing is so important in comedy, obviously you would know, and especially in this series. There’s a moment in the episode where Ted opens the door for no reason, until you realize he’s waiting for Rebecca. How did you decide in moments like this what was too long a beat? It’s such a great little moment.
ZB: That’s Bill and Jason! Both Bill and Jason said they wanted it to be longer than you think it should be. It was tricky to shoot, too, because the door doesn’t really go to where the set is. I don’t know in later episodes if they fix that or not, but in Episode 2, it really didn’t go to anything. It literally went to where they stored the lawnmowers on the field. (Laughs) We were like, how do we do this whole gag, when ideally you’d be able to see Rebecca coming down the hallway? But Bill and Jason also both said that they wanted that mystery. Even if they had that hallway, they wanted you to be like, what the heck is he doing? The timing of it is whatever you think it should be, go longer. And that’s how we did it. It says so much about him, too, that he’s that level of kind.
AD: You’re showing so much about him. It was so inventive how that scene was shot. I also love when Ted comes bounding back into Rebecca’s office after Higgins makes a joke about lunch. How many times did you have to do that scene? What kind of direction did you give Jason?
ZB: It was hilarious. I think if anything, I encouraged Jason to go bigger, because it’s so funny. (Laughs) Ted is so happy that there’s someone who has his kind of silly humor and that he sees a connection with Higgins, that Higgins would make such a silly joke. I was cracking up on set when Jason did that. It’s like he just sprinted back up the stairs.
AD: There’s so much energy in that scene! They’re so surprised, too. It works so well. Was it a challenge to do the soccer scenes? I would imagine there would be a learning curve as a director.
ZB: It really was. It was extra tricky because we weren’t allowed to bring equipment on the field or the pitch as they call it. So that was really tricky. Me and the cinematographer and the key grip—we had to figure out how to move fast, faster than someone with a steady cam could go. If there weren’t these restrictions, we’d have electric golf-cart-like things that are tricked out to hold cameras, but we weren’t allowed to put them on the field. So we came up with this device, kind of a tricycle-looking rig that had giant rubber balloonish tires, and then we put a remote head for the camera on it. The key grip and another grip would put on cleats and it had a bar and they would literally sprint and pull it like a sled almost. Like a giant tricycle. And then the camera operator wasn’t on it, so it wasn’t heavy, and he was on the sidelines using remote controls. The greenspeople were okay with that, so that allowed us to sprint as fast as we could and keep up with them and get really cool shots.
AD: That’s so cool! Obviously you’re working with Bill Lawrence again, do you see any similarities between Scrubs and Ted Lasso? I almost wonder if J.D. has that Ted Lasso optimism. Or is John C. McGinley’s Perry Cox the complete opposite of Ted Lasso?
ZB: Scrubs is of course broader than Lasso; we definitely tipped to the surreal outside of the world of the fantasies. We were broad in our humor. But I would say it’s still a very Bill show in that it geniusly mixes comedy and drama. It geniusly weaves so many stories together in 30 minutes. And just when you’re laughing one second, the right song comes on and something dramatic happens and you have a tear in your eye. So that really is a particularly special skill Bill has in his writing.
AD: Finally, did you get to taste the biscuits? Hannah [Waddingham] told me they tasted terrible.
ZB: It’s funny, I don’t think I ever tried it. I don’t know much about the secret world of British biscuits, but I do know that they were supposed to be the best ones ever. But yes, I heard from Hannah as well that they did not live up to their claim.
AD: I actually got promo biscuits from Apple, and they were amazing.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.