Juno Temple has never truly done comedy. In fact, with roles in the likes of Atonement, Cracks, Little Birds and Black Mass, to name a few, she has ploughed her field as a specialist in the darkest of darkness, and has relished every moment. She might have been surprised when co-creator Jason Sudeikis texted her with a role in Ted Lasso, but she says she can’t be more grateful for the opportunity it gave her, to explore warmth and light even as the world hurtled towards pandemic and protest. She plays Keeley Jones, a bright soul whose flame gets dimmed by the stereotype of her status as a star footballer’s girlfriend, until it is kindled by an unlikely friendship with the club’s owner, Rebecca.
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DEADLINE: This character is a new challenge for you. What excited you—and perhaps terrified you—about taking part?
JUNO TEMPLE: I know, right? Normally I’m cast as very dark, dark characters.
This one came to me personally through Jason. I got a text from him, because I’ve known him for a couple of years. I genuinely thought he’d texted the wrong person by accident. I was like, “Oh, no. He’s going to think I’m funny. This’ll be a disaster.” I kept waiting for him to text again and say, “Shit, I meant this for someone else.” But that never came. Then I read the pilot, and I thought it was just such a genius idea. We got together and he told me a little bit about the plan for Keeley’s journey from the start to the end of the season. Not in any crazy detail—that’s always kept quite close to his chest—but he described the show he wanted to make in terms of the British Office meets Friday Night Lights. I thought, If he can pull that off, that’s some kind of wizardry.
DEADLINE: What happened next?
TEMPLE: It was all a quick turnaround because I’d been shooting these other projects. I was just coming from another project where I play a much darker character; Little Birds. I’d gotten back to LA, but my suitcases hadn’t even reached me yet before I had to get on a plane to go and shoot Ted Lasso.
I was terrified because the entire cast that was attached were these extraordinary people who were all very good at being funny. I don’t think of myself remotely as a comedy actress. The idea of getting that kind of timing right is just terrifying to me. What was really cool about the first season was I got taught so much by these brilliant co-stars.
Jason was so patient with me, when almost every 10 minutes I would be like, “I don’t know how to make that funny.” He would say, “Don’t worry; you don’t have to. Just be you. Just be exactly as you would be as Keeley and it will all fall into place.” The writing is so extraordinary that you know the character you’re playing intimately. Everything on the show, from the costumes, to the makeup, to the production design, is all set up so beautifully that you’d have to be really bad at your job to fuck it up.
DEADLINE: You didn’t expect you could play comedy. Over the season, Keeley doesn’t expect she is destined for something greater. And when we meet her, we see the stereotype before we see the person. Did you see a parallel there?
TEMPLE: Yeah. I love that line in the first season, Keeley talks about when she was 18 she was dating 23 year-olds, and now she’s nearly 30 she’s still dating 23 year-olds. I think there’s something to be said about that period of around 10 years, where social media became a thing. The WAG [Wives And Girlfriends; a popular acronym for the partners of professional soccer players in the UK] image is not something we’re really privy to anymore, because that was the work of the tabloids. It was all about magazine covers and being papped with their boyfriends in fancy restaurants. She’s already dealing with how to stay relevant given that change, when 10 years previously she was posing in men’s magazines.
I think the thing that really turned me on about the conversation I had with Jason was the relationship Keeley would have with Rebecca. We don’t see female friendships like that often enough. They are two women supporting and loving each other, despite being different. Growing up, Thelma and Louise was one of my all-time favorite films. I still watch it, honestly, once every couple of weeks. That’s truly about two women who have each other’s backs, and it’s not about being competitive. It’s about fully encouraging the woman you love to blossom and become the greatest version of herself. I think those relationships need to be shown as much as humanly possible because they’re the relationships in my life—Juno’s life—that, my god, I would be dead without them.
So, Keeley, she’s always been told she’s tits and ass, and I think Rebecca is the one to make her realize that she’s got a whip-smart brain that she could apply to publicity or marketing. And Keeley really opens Rebecca’s eyes to her beautiful sexuality and that she needs to own it and be aware of the fact that her femininity is the power she gets to put out into the world. And it was such a gift to shoot, because Hannah Waddingham, who plays Rebecca, is a monumental force of nature, and an inspiration to me, as well as being one of my greatest friends in life.
DEADLINE: You’re currently shooting the second season. How has it been to return to Keeley?
TEMPLE: I can’t say a word about what happens [laughs]. But I will say I feel truly grateful to come back. It’s the first time I’ve ever returned to a character. I did a TV show a while ago which was supposed to go for more seasons, called Vinyl, but it didn’t. So, this was new to me too, and a little daunting. But getting into the headspace of Keeley—who truly is a bundle of light—during this crazy time to be alive, where the world is hurting on so many levels and people are closing doors rather than opening their ears and hearing each other, has been special. Keeley has saved my mental health, truly.
DEADLINE: Do characters always tend to bleed into your life?
TEMPLE: I can’t help it. Even with the way you dress or interact with people; I can’t help but become a little bit method. I mean, obviously I’m not really method, because if I were I’d be dead a hundred times over. But they do bleed. And also, I hope I leave a little of myself with each of them, too. You definitely learn and grow from it. Acting is like going to the university of humanity. If you don’t learn from every character, you’re doing it wrong, I think.
DEADLINE: Given your fears at the start about the comedy, were you surprised by how many moments of drama the show allowed?
TEMPLE: It isn’t so much that I was surprised by it, but even with moments I’d been privy to, like the episode with the gala, and the whole beat with Roy, Jamie and Keeley, that was a really amazing shoot and it really hit me like an arrow to the heart when Brett [Goldstein] gave that performance. The joy of watching the show as an audience member was there were so many scenes I wasn’t a part of, and so I got to see all these incredible performances, and the journeys of these characters, with my girlfriends and guy friends and family. The lesson that Ted Lasso puts out is don’t judge a book by its cover—there’s a whole novel in between, and you’ve got to read it to know someone. It’s something I’m so proud to be a part of because I really believe in that. It probably did have more drama to it than I thought it might, but then, as humans, what do we do in dark moments? We laugh through them.