‘Ted Lasso’: Sarah Niles on Battling It Out in Therapy With Jason Sudeikis
Despite being brought on to help Danny “Football is Life” Rojas recover from his unfortunate incident with one unlucky dog, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone affected the entirety of AFC Richmond. That is, all but Ted Lasso himself. Jason Sudeikis‘ ever positive football coach avoided therapy like the plague, but in the end, Sarah Niles‘ Sharon cracked his shell. What she didn’t expect was him doing the same in return.
Dr. Fieldstone was a delightful addition to the Ted Lasso Season 2 cast, with her resolute and skillful demeanor providing both a comfort and challenge in her therapy sessions with the players and staff. Ted’s reluctance to open up may have come as a surprise to viewers. By all accounts, he didn’t appear to want his occasional panic attacks to continue. But as anyone who’s gone to (or avoided) therapy knows, addressing your mental health struggles can be daunting and seemingly impossible. Better to just stick to the positive, right? Wrong.
Through much trial and tribulation, Dr. Sharon got Ted to finally begin confronting the emotional trauma of his father’s suicide. And despite her best efforts, Ted’s “be a goldfish,” sunshine, and barbecue sauce energy — paired with an untimely bike accident forcing her hand — broke through her wall as well, which, to be real, was completely appropriate to have up in the first place. But we all know avoiding friendship with Ted Lasso is a fool’s errand, and Ted and Sharon’s working friendship ended up being one of the highlights of the sophomore season.
Here, Niles talks about her Emmy nomination for her guest performance in Season 2 (she’s one of the many cast members to be nominated), sharing scenes with Sudeikis, and creating Sharon — a character who Niles says, by nature of her job, forced her to look inward herself. Her response to that realization? “Uh oh.”
First of all, congratulations on your first Emmy nomination. How does it feel?
Sarah Niles: Very exciting. Thank you very much. I’m thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. It is amazing. It is crazy on one level, because I never expected it at all. You just do the work. This character just popped in and popped out in Season 2, so I never imagined the response I got, after everybody had seen Season 2 and the character. I’m still in shock.
I think part of the delight was just seeing men in therapy. You know what I mean?
I do know what you mean. [Laughs] I know lots of my friends who’ve had a bit of resistance to it, but there seems to, especially with the whole pandemic, be a shift where a lot of people are trying to do self-care, because they have no other option but to.
Sharon was a new addition to Season 2. What was your understanding of how she would change things outside of just being a new presence in the club?
I really didn’t have any idea how she was going to change things. I just knew from moment to moment that, “OK, this guy is very interesting.” He’s so positive, uber positive, and what resistance is going to happen in order for him to transform? There’s always a little bit of resistance, isn’t there, before you transform to being the best you can be?
With TV, you sometimes don’t have much time to prepare between booking the role and the beginning of filming, so it’s a constantly evolving process while you’re on set. Is that how it was for you?
Yeah, definitely, because I was so new to it coming into Season 2. Everybody had found their feet in Season 1 and I’m just coming in completely not knowing what this character’s going to be like. And she’s so sure and confident in what she does, and rightly so from her experience. It was a completely alien world to me. And me being quite British, not always being on the front foot of saying how good I am at my job, it was completely alien to me.
You’ve said Sharon was one of the hardest characters you’ve played because of the stillness she required. Was there a moment in preparation or filming where you felt like you cracked how to play her and everything clicked?
It’s when it all starts to flow and you connect to that person. I felt like I was really in it, in a way, when I was responding to Ted, the way Jason was offering that space as well. It just felt like we were equals in a way. I’m a big fan of Jason’s work anyway, so having that opportunity to play up against him, I actually felt, “OK, this is my job. I’m at ease with what I’m doing.” That’s when it clicked for me. I felt completely sure of who I was, who I was playing, and the character at that moment. So yeah, it was some of those scenes where I just tell him, “It’s OK. It’s OK,” because I, as the actor, believe it’s going to be OK.
[As Sharon], I’m taking on board all the things of the timeframe that we’re in, like crazy things. Like I said in the previous interview, I had family members and friends who had passed away [during the COVID-19 pandemic] or people that were sick. My partner worked a lot with people who were vulnerable, so it was a really fragile time. And just to sit there as that character and actually say to him, “It’s OK” — something about it transcended for me.
Ted is shocked when Sharon pushes him to open up. Was that dynamic fun to portray with Jason? How did you all prepare for your therapy scenes together?
I don’t know what Jason did in his private space, but we didn’t necessarily do any preparation. I just remember feeling like, “Oh, he’s very serious” when he was coming on set to work, at times, and then sometimes he’d crack jokes, he’d crack a smile, and that was nice.
We always wanted to lean into laughing and goofing around, but that wasn’t a requirement of the scenes. I just felt like it just locked in, and I was so much at ease working with him as Sharon and Ted. It was really interesting. It was just me and him. It’s very intense, just the two of us in conversation. But yeah, it was a good balance.
Given the emotional weight of some of your scenes, did you find yourself having to come down from them like therapists unwind from sessions?
It got me thinking quite a lot, and I was just desperate. When you work, it was such a strange experience because there was the background of COVID and you had the social distance that you had to adhere to, mask wearing. And at the same time, I was filming The Sandman on and off, so that was the third job that I was doing where it required you to have that level of restrictions that’s just so alien, in a way. You’re getting to know someone as an actor, and then you’re also having to keep those restrictions. Sometimes it was really hard to catch a vibe.
It was very intense, and Sharon’s quite intense. I felt like it was such a duty to portraying that kind of character that cares about mental health, that’s working hard to be taken seriously as a woman in those kind of environments. I imagine she must have been in spaces where people don’t take her seriously. To have to be the straight one, to have to be the one that most people have got resistance to, that means I’ve got to look at myself. I’ve got to work on myself, and I just want to play the game. I just want to have fun. I don’t want to investigate what’s going on with me. So yeah, it was that kind of feeling, that “uh-oh.”
But what I found really interesting, what I loved seeing from being in it and working with Jason, is that he’s such a good actor even when he’s not playing the comedy. He’s really good.
Speaking of backstory, what did you bring to Sharon that wasn’t necessarily on the page?
I thought she was quite naughty in her private life. She likes to have fun. She likes to party. It comes and it goes so quickly, so briefly where Ted says to Dr. Sharon, “Oh, how was your weekend?” And she says, “Nothing I care to share, nothing I care to talk about.” And I imagine that she had a really good time, and she’s just very professional, but there’s a little sparkle in her eye that she did have a really good time. And if we had been friends, I would explain to you what happened.
So often, we see one side of someone in a space and time. Dr. Sharon is only there for a small part. But I think there’s so many different sides to us, especially as women. You’re the daughter of someone, you’re the mother, perhaps, of someone. If you don’t have your own children, you mother as an auntie of someone, you’re a sister to a friend, you’re a sister to your own. There’s so many different hats and sides that we live. And it’s important to bring that. I just try to bring a lot of heart and a lot of humanity to the characters that I play.
She also quite enjoys the slight battle with her and Ted. I think it’s interesting. She’s quite intelligent as a character, so of course, she wants to work with someone who’s intelligent. And the more guards they have, the more interesting it gets to break them down a little bit.
Have you watched the season back? Are there any scenes in particular that make you proud of your performance?
I did watch it back only recently, and I was quite surprised by some of it. I really do love the sessions I have with Ted, I quite enjoyed them. And I also really enjoyed the hospital scene, because I had a lot of fun off camera and on with that. I thought it was really funny.
I enjoyed the hospital scenes, where you see her uncomfortable, not quite on top of her game, the intrusiveness of him coming into her space, her private space, her apartment, her saying that she’s happy and able to take herself home, but she has to be assisted home because she might have a slight concussion. I enjoy the little things when characters are not so sure of themselves or in a little place of conflict. She likes to be in control, so she wanted to take herself home. And the doctor advises that, “No, Ted should take you home,” misunderstanding and thinking that he’s the husband. I like all that sort of stuff because it makes her uncomfortable.
And she knows so well that Ted is thinking, “Yes, finally, this is my in to make a friend.” And she’s like, “Oh God. He got the moment he’s been waiting for. How do I stop this?”
Ted Lasso, Seasons 1-2, Streaming now, Apple TV+