Once a football-hating teenager who shunned sports to practise magic tricks, Nick Mohammed has gone on to star in an acclaimed TV show about the beautiful game. As he prepares to start filming season three of Ted Lasso, the actor and comedian reflects on being surprised by stardom and ponders what’s next for his character after a bombshell ending to the previous series.
“Life-changing” is how Nick Mohammed sums up his experience of Ted Lasso – Apple TV’s sleeper hit about an inexperienced but unflappably optimistic US college football coach who unexpectedly turns around the fortunes of a flailing UK Premier League team.
Probably best known to UK audiences as Mr Swallow – his alter-ego and frequent 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown fixture – Leeds-born Mohammed has earned an Emmy nomination and widespread recognition for his role as kitman-turned-coach Nathan “Nate” Shelley in the comedy-drama.
When fans last saw his character he’d had a blazing row with Jason Sudeikis’ title character Ted, coach of fictional London side Richmond AFC.
Viewers of the upbeat hit were taken aback when Nate stormed off, ripping down Ted’s banner emblazoned with the word “Believe” from the club’s changing room wall.
Shortly afterwards, Nate is seen sporting West Ham United colours, having jumped ship to become coach of the rival side.
“I’m effectively the villain in it now, which is a funny place to find myself,” Mohammed says of the shocking twist played out in the final frames of season two. “I gasped when I was first told about it.”
But it was Nate’s destruction of the Believe banner, “an emblem of hope” for fans, according to Mohammed, that cemented his bad-guy turn.
“I was literally like, ‘no, you can’t do that!
“It felt very significant and I was like: ‘oh God you’re really testing your audience’, and good on them. It was a proper character journey but really, really fun to play.”
While Nate’s dark arc shocked fans of the show, Mohammed says he was just as surprised by the reaction to Ted Lasso itself.
It was met with little UK fanfare upon its August 2020 release on Apple’s streaming service, which is dwarfed in subscriber numbers by Netflix and Prime Video.
So while it “took a while for the UK to catch up,” he says, “in the States it was going crazy”.
After the first season aired British cast members, unable to visit the US due to the pandemic, were unaware of the explosion in popularity happening Stateside as Ted Lasso attracted an ever-growing audience and a string of award nominations.
“It was only when season two started airing, I think Apple TV had caught on a bit more and the noise from all the awards, I thought: ‘crikey, this is a bit of a big deal’”, he says.
So when Mohammed visited America after earning an Emmy nomination, he found himself unable to walk down the street without being recognised.
“It was crazy,” he says.
“I’ve never had that before in my life. I’ve always managed, deliberately so, to keep a low profile. I’m quite private, and so that was kind of strange and eye-opening and ‘oh God, there’s a lot of pressure on this show’.
“But with that pressure it’s a privileged position to be in because I’m so grateful to be in a show which has connected to a great audience.”
Mohammed says starring in Ted Lasso has also strengthened his bond with football – a sport he hated as a boy.
“It was the thing the trendy kids at school did and it was the thing to avoid because I wasn’t very good at it,” he says.
Growing up in West Yorkshire, Mohammed says he was “dragged” to many Leeds United matches and actively avoided doing sport in the miserable northern winters.
Though he confesses to “some slightly newfound respect for football” thanks to Ted Lasso, his passion remains in performing.
Indeed, it was while he was dodging the school sports pitch as a youngster that Mohammed developed his Mr Swallow alter-ego – which he says was based on one of his teachers at Abbey Grange School, Leeds.
“I still think of it as a impression of a teacher that I do which I’ve managed to get on telly,” he says.
Mohammed got into professional comedy relatively late, after attending Durham University and doing a post-graduate degree at Cambridge.
As well as his 8 out of 10 Cats appearances, he has been in a Radio 4 comedy series and written Sky One series Intelligence, in which he co-starred with David Schwimmer.
Despite feeling he’s new to the scene and still learning, he says his acting success “really is a dream come true and I don’t have any complaints. It has been hard work but I’m so grateful for it”.
As he prepares to return to the Ted Lasso set, Mohammed says he is “as excited as the fans are” for season three but doesn’t know what it will hold for Nate.
However, he is sure the writers will keep fans on their toes.
“I genuinely don’t know. I know bits but not the details,” he says. “We’ll see if Nate manages to find his way back to Richmond.
“But the thing with Ted Lasso is the audience are possibly expecting a redemption arc for Nate, and I’d like to see one I think because that would be nice.
“But equally I could well imagine the writers thinking: ‘no, we’re going to turn it on its head’, because that’s what they did in season two, playing against everyone’s expectations, so he might be the one character they don’t redeem.”
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