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Ted Lasso actor Juno Temple discusses learning comedy on the job, and how her character Keeley helped her survive lockdown

·5 min read

When Juno Temple first heard from Jason Sudeikis, she assumed that he had messaged the wrong actress.

For a decade and a half, Temple had played a parade of troubled and troubling young women in films such as Atonement, Killer Joe and Afternoon Delight. She had almost never done a comedy. So when Sudeikis texted her regarding a role on Ted Lasso, the extravagantly nice, ultra Emmy-nominated sitcom that begun its second season on Apple TV+ on Friday, she suspected that he had her confused with someone else.

"I was like, oh, God, this is going to be awkward," said Temple, 32, lounging against a furry pillow on the porch of her Los Angeles home during a recent video call.

Sudeikis hadn't made a mistake. Ted Lasso, a sitcom about an American football coach sent to manage an English Premier League soccer club, is a mostly male show. Brendan Hunt, a creator of Ted Lasso, called it "very, very dude-heavy." But it has two superb parts for women: Rebecca Walton, the team's owner, and Keeley Jones, the girlfriend of a star player. The producers had struggled to cast Keeley.

Still from Ted Lasso
Still from Ted Lasso

Still from Ted Lasso

Keeley is a glamour girl and an occasional topless model. "I'm sort of famous for being almost famous," she explains in an early episode. The actresses the producers had auditioned by that time had emphasized Keeley's body-glitter exterior, not the big brain and bigger heart beneath it. Temple, a self-described "quirky weirdo" who doesn't skew voluptuous, wasn't an obvious fit.

Brett Goldstein, a Ted Lasso actor and writer who plays Keeley's Season 2 love interest, remembered when Temple's name came up. "I thought, wow, that's a left-field choice. Because of all that darkness," he said.

But Sudeikis had seen her work on Vinyl, a short-lived Martin Scorsese series that starred Sudeikis' then-partner, Olivia Wilde. He intuited that she would play Keeley differently.

And she did. A high ponytail and higher heels help Temple €" 5-foot-2, barely €" stand tall as Keeley. An architectural pushup bra and two sets of falsies provide that glamour model look. But Temple lends Keeley something all her own, a generosity of spirit and an incessant shimmer that eye makeup alone can't explain.

"She's [expletive] amazing," Goldstein, who has a tendency toward colourful language on screen and off, said of his co-star. "She's [expletive] pure light." She is also now an Emmy nominee, tipped for best supporting actress in a comedy for her turn as Keeley €" one of 20 nominations the show received for its first season.

For Temple, the daughter of experimental film director Julien Temple and producer Amanda Pirie, acting had always felt inevitable. She can vividly recall catching chickenpox when she was almost 4 years old, and finding solace only in a laser-disc copy of Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.

"That's the first memory I have of seeing a film and believing in magic," she said. "I remember thinking that I wanted to be part of that."

When she was 14, she told her parents that she just had to be an actress. "I can learn about myself and learn about all different walks of life, and all different perspectives and all different heartbreaks," she explained to them. "They were both like: 'Really? Are you sure? Please no. Oh, God, no.'"

But her mother took her to an open call for the film Notes on a Scandal. She booked the role. A part in the film Atonement soon followed. In 2013, she won a BAFTA Rising Star award. Three years later, the Guardian called her "an English rose with dewy pink cheeks and bags of sexuality waiting to come out." (Bags?)

People sometimes ask Temple if she is a method actor. She tells them no. "I would have died 15 times over by now," she said. "But I sure as hell have learned a lot from these extraordinary female characters."

Stacie Passon, who directed Temple in Little Birds, Starz's adaptation of Anaïs Nin's erotic short stories, has noticed her deep interest in human behaviour and clear cinematic intelligence. She has often told Temple that she would be a good director herself, but Temple never seemed interested.

"She would say, 'I have so much more I want to tell a camera,'" Passon said.

From her early films, Temple has gravitated toward sexualised roles. Or maybe those roles gravitated toward her. In interviews, she has sometimes embraced that persona, telling that "bags of sexuality" Guardian writer: "I've finally hit puberty on camera. Woo-hoo!" She confessed to the Independent that she buys lingerie for each character she plays and in 2016 shot a campaign for the luxury-intimates brand Agent Provocateur. Last year, promoting Little Birds, she struck a blase tone for another Guardian writer: "I don't really get nervous for a sex scene. I've done quite a few of them now."

Because Temple has so rarely done comedy, she learned it on Ted Lasso, beat by beat, scene by scene. The cast was patient with her, she said. And willing to answer questions such as "How is this funny?"

Temple has never played a character as kind as Keeley, nor one who enjoys the loving and uncomplicated female friendship that the character develops with Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham, also Emmy-nominated). Keeley helped Temple survive pandemic lockdown.

"It was a really good thing for my brain that I wasn't playing a character that was going through a lot of troubled transitions or experiencing self-loathing or a lot of other complicated things that I've tried to put out on screen," she said. "I had to be kinder to myself."

That kindness has an addictive quality. Temple wants to play more characters like Keeley, she said, but not only characters like her. The goal, she said, is to make women feel less alone, one role at a time.

"That's something that film has done for me, and I hope that I will be able to do for other women," she said. "Because sometimes being a woman is the greatest, most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world. And sometimes it's a tragedy."

Alexis Soloski c.2021 The New York Times Company

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