Nick Mohammed is used to playing the charming, slightly goofy form of comedic relief on TV. At home, across the pond, he’s as likely to be recognized as his alter-ego Mr. Swallow — a fixture on UK comedy panels and a rambling know-it-all – as he is his character on Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso.
For that Emmy award-winning comedy series, Mohammed has undergone a bit of an evolution. Yes, his hair is graying, but that’s thanks to a custom wig he admits he’s “grown oddly fond of.” The bigger change for his character, Nate Shelley, has happened internally. A quintessential “nice guy” who helped Jason Sudeikis’ fish-out-of-water hero acclimate to British life, Nate’s heel turn from lovable sidekick to contemptible villain was swift and shocking in season two.
And it worried Mohammed almost as much as it did fans who’d come to love his character.
“It’s certainly not a sweet spot of mine,” Mohammed says of playing the bad guy, but he makes it look easy in the show’s third (and possibly final) season. Outfitted with a fancy new coaching job, a luxury car to match, and an unflappable ego, Nate Shelley is the complete antithesis of a character like Ted Lasso – a Patagonia puffer-vest-wearing Darth Vader unapologetically embracing his dark side. But it’s when the cracks in his mask begin to form that Mohammed does his best work, and proves to be this season’s most valuable player.
UPROXX chatted with the actor on what the end of Ted Lasso would mean for TV and why Nate might not be worthy of redemption after all.
You’ve said Empire Strikes Back was a big theme in Nate’s season two villain arc. Was there a theme you worked with for season three?
Empire Strikes Back, I think was a good sort of analog for where we see Nate go in season two, but I feel like Nate’s season three journey is actually more complicated. As unpleasant as it was to watch, last season was a steady fall from grace, ending in acts of betrayal. I feel like it’d be very easy to say season three is Return of the Jedi, but it’s just not. I think it’s a little bit more nuanced and realistic than that. Everyone would love to see this redemption arc, but whether Nate is redeemed is still to be seen. For some people, he can never be redeemed.
Where do you stand on that? Is Nate worthy of redemption, or even forgiveness at this point?
I think the onus is on the other person. It’s whether they can forgive Nate. I’m sort of speaking hypothetically but all Nate can do is ask for forgiveness, and whether it’s granted it is not really up to him. Just generally, we have to believe that we all have the capacity to make the wrong decisions and to regret what we’ve done or said, and to ask for forgiveness and to accept whatever the outcome is of that, whether people accept your apology and offer forgiveness, or not, and try and move forward and not make the same mistake.
We have to believe that that is within our nature, and I think that’s true for Nate, as with anyone. This season is about understanding possibly why he is the person he is, or why he made those bad decisions, and for him to acknowledge that as well, as much as it is about just a generic sort of, ‘Oh, it’s a redemptive story, and everything ends happily ever after,’ which it doesn’t. It’s not a fairy tale ending, I wouldn’t say.
Is Nate the foil to Ted this season, not just his coaching style but how he handles his anxieties and his emotions?
A little bit. There are these odd parallels between Ted and Nate, I think you see in this season. Nate and Ted are connected in a way because Ted was the person who empowered Nate and got him to where he is. Their coaching styles are outwardly obviously very, very different. Nate is being a little bit prickish, to the West Ham players, and he certainly hasn’t got that from Ted. I don’t think that he is consciously thinking, ‘Okay, I need to do the opposite of what Ted does,’ but he definitely doesn’t respect Ted. He said to his face, one of the reasons why he’s leaving is that he just thinks he’s a jerk. He thinks that he’s sort of got by on a wing and a prayer, that there’s no substance to him really as a person, and as a coach, and as a leader. I guess that’s why he feels that he has nothing else to give to AFC Richmond because he feels that their coaching styles are just sort of too different. So yes, they are opposing, but I wouldn’t say completely contrasting because Nate still has, I think, inner demons that manifest themselves outwardly, as well.
I appreciate trying to understand the heel turn Nate does in season two by digging into his psyche this season, but at what point do we hold him accountable? What’s the barrier there stopping him from seeking help?
Yeah, if only he’d had done therapy early on, he maybe wouldn’t have gotten into this awful mess. I think the toxic relationship with his dad explains a lot. Doesn’t excuse his actions. He’s an adult. He’s made them himself, but he’s lacking any kind of support network. He doesn’t have that in his dad. His mom coddles him and almost patronizes him. She sort of thinks of him as a little boy still. He needs a support network in his life, and he doesn’t have it.
He doesn’t have friends, because he’s socially too awkward. He doesn’t know how to engage. He’s lacking in a lot of emotional intelligence. The only friend that he did have was Keeley, actually. He was really open with Keeley, but then obviously, he scuffed that relationship. He felt abandoned by Ted, so now he’s literally bereft, and his only person is Rupert. So yeah, I do worry about him.
All of those elements of his social life and personality sound like textbook incel qualities.
If we’re going to examine toxic masculinity manifesting in him this season, should we also recognize how almost passively toxic his relationships with Ted, Roy, and some of the AFC Richmond team were in earlier seasons? The jokes at his expense, the doubt in his abilities – it felt good-natured at the time but it obviously had an impact on him.
We talked about that a lot. I have to be careful with the certain terms I use because sometimes I think I interchange them wrongly. So I mean, purely from a sort of artistic point of view, the microaggressions that we see directed towards Nate — there is a slight element of death by a thousand cuts. He is a victim of this constant, sort of small-scale abuse that starts with his dad. That has never allowed him to have self-worth or self-confidence. Ted comes along and sees Nate as this nice guy, takes him under his wing and empowers him, promotes him, all for Nate to then back-stab him … it just feels so tragic that he would do that to the person who got him to the place where he might have had some real hope.
Ted Lasso came at a time when we really needed some positivity on TV. If this is the final season, do you think we’ve outgrown the need for that, or do you hope another show picks up the torch?
I don’t know. [The show] did resonate with a lot of people, not least because of the pandemic and lockdown. Everyone really responded to the underlying theme of kindness, hope, and optimism of course, but I feel like it was bucking the trend anyway. There’d been a real slew of snarky, more cynical comedies, a lot of which I love. Not to undermine those in any way, but it felt very refreshing for a show to really wear its heart on its sleeve and have kindness at the forefront of it.
These things sort of go in waves. I felt like Schitt’s Creek is of a similar tone, to a degree. I felt like that was a very warm show as well. There’ve obviously been others. Leslie Knope is a character I feel isn’t that dissimilar to Ted Lasso. I feel like there’s that boundless positivity that they both sort of share. Ted Lasso wasn’t the only show to suddenly kind of have a positive character at the front of it by any means, but there was definitely a need for it in those darker times when everyone was going through a very difficult time with lockdown. But who knows? Maybe now there will be a spell of the anti-Ted Lasso comedies where everything’s dark and cynical and no one’s likable. Succession is that. No one’s really that likable in Succession, right? But, it’s a brilliant show.
It’s also ending.
Oh, God. Yeah, it is. Well, maybe we should just swap. Succession can become a Ted Lasso show, and we can become a Succession show.
If any character were to get their own spin-off series, whose would you want to watch?
Dani Rojas. A Dani Rojas spinoff would be brilliant. I’d watch a Coach Beard spinoff too because I would have no idea where that show would go. It would be for a formless show, like a stream of consciousness.