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Like You, Phil Dunster Already Misses Jamie Tartt

phil dunster
Like You, Phil Dunster Already Misses Jamie TarttLeigh Keily

It's almost time to say goodbye to Ted Lasso. The fish-out-of-water tale about a clueless, but affable American football coach, who’s improbably hired to rescue an equally clueless but affable English football team from total reputational ruin—satiating millions during the bleak heights of a global pandemic with its digestible charms—is now in its third and final season.

One of the Apple TV+ show’s central characters, Jamie Tartt, the preternatural midfielder—played by Phil Dunster to cocky, coiffed perfection—has been on a slow, uneven arc from antagonist to protagonist, fumbling his way through arrogance and insults, romantic advances-cum-rejections. In the show’s penultimate episode, "Mom City," Tartt endures periods of complete emotional collapse.

I spoke with the 31-year-old Dunster minutes after we both watched the episode for the first time. He spoke glowingly of the heavily eyebrowed Brett Goldstein, both a writer on the show and the inimitable, retired footballer Roy Kent. Dunster also had kind words for co-star Juno Temple, who plays the woman Jamie wishes would take him back, and Jason Sudeikis, the titular, mustachioed Lasso and real-life Lasso showrunner.

“Mom City” finds Jamie home in Manchester, due to play against the team that booted him for taking an ill-advised stint on reality television, and in front of the terrorizing father he decked in the face the last time he saw him. Ahead of it all, Jamie can’t stop crying. He visits his mother before the match, settles into her arms, and asks how he’s supposed to play this sport he loves without it being merely a fuck-you to his father. Roy, seated next to him, can hardly believe his eyes or finish his pastry. Turns out, the little prick he loathed in the series pilot, the one who dated his love interest before he did, whose knees will always be younger and stronger and fitter, has been irrevocably softened by prolonged exposure to people who care for him, frosted tips and all. In this moment, Ted Lasso does what it’s always done best: revealing the tender heart thumping just below the surface.

What begins with a kind of sitcom-style silliness in the opening scenes of the episode—Jamie wailing to Roy about how he’s lost his wings and the ability to use conditioner in the shower—unfolds into something warmer, and deeper, with a touch of cinematic sports glory as he trods the final stretch of his me to we embarkment. Uncertainty, injury, suspense, elation!

Dunster is joyous when he describes his years embodying Jamie as part of the Lasso ensemble. "[It's] just this collective sense of accomplishment and gratitude," he tells me. "What a wonderful thing to have been a part of—really, to be a part of." The British actor is steadfast in his offscreen love of Goldstein, once a bitter foe for Jamie, now a begrudging friend. Themes that have swirled throughout all three seasons of Ted Lasso bubble cleanly to the surface in Episode 11: masculinity, identity, and the parental relationships that gut us open and bring us home.

Dunster brims with pride as he discusses Jamie’s game-winning goal, one that’s a kind of summation of Jamie’s journey writ large: “It was a Jamie Season One kind of goal, that very self-assured way of I’m going to score now. But the difference is that this time we see the team celebrating with him, whereas in Season One he scores and goes, Me, me, me, me, me.” It’s clear there’s a deeper resonance to Jamie, for Dunster—to the whole thing for him, actually—the kind of care and tenderness and earnest appreciation that made Lasso a tear-jerking, global sensation to begin with. It's comedy, born from pain and heart.

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"I’ll miss just knowing this dude intimately and all of his choices," Phil Dunster says of saying goodbye to Jamie Tartt. "It was a real gift."Leigh Keily

ESQUIRE: You went to Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, the same drama school as Olivia Coleman and Daniel Day-Lewis. But at one point you wanted to be a rugby player, right?

PHIL DUNSTER: [Laughs.] Yeah. Number-one goal.

Do you remember when you shifted away from that?

Well, it happened because I wasn't good enough for rugby. I went for a trial at a rugby club, and they were like, “Nah, mate.” And I thought, Fair enough.

How old were you when that happened?

I was 15, 16—around that time where you're figuring out what it is that you want to go into. I wanted to do something that wasn’t academic because I'm rubbish at that. I had tried to be in the army, and that didn't work out either. But I had an amazing drama teacher at school, this incredible soul of a person who spoke to all of us like we were adults. We put on Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas. I mean, the play is pretty boring. But I remember sitting around in rehearsal, thinking, Nothing's happening, and yet everybody here believes that there is this tiny, parochial village that we are all in. It was less, Oh, I can do acting as a vocation, and more, Wow, that's incredible that there's a communal world that we're all living in. And also, at that moment, I had missed my cue. I had to get pulled on stage a few times because I was attempting to flirt with girls as they just tried to ignore me.

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Roymie, we’ll miss you.Apple TV+

You were flirting backstage?

Yeah, there was one time that a stage manager came up and said, "Phil, what the fuck are you doing? Go get on stage." And I was like, "Sorry, I'm just trying to kiss Amber.” When I wasn't failing at that, I realized that there was something that I was drawn toward, on a sort of soulful level—that’s far too pretentious. Like, on an emotional level. It was my teacher who told me, “You can do this.” And while I didn't maintain a lot of the toughness that you get from being a rugby player, I did maintain a big bum. So that's something that I've taken with me.

Very important, on a professional level.

I’ll take it. But yeah, I genuinely do not know how—and this is not any level of self-deprecation—I got into drama school. I'd probably seen like seven plays at that point and then I just managed to fluke it really, really, really well.

Jamie’s accent, specifically his pronunciation of words that end in "y," really becomes a thing of beauty in this season. I feel like "poopy" sounds different than it might have in the first season. Did you add that on?

I mean, in particular, poopy–poopay–was because I was trying to make Brett laugh. In between takes I was desperate to try and put him off doing his job. The word written was actually “poo,” and I said, "Jason, can I say poopay?" So there was an element of stupidity that inspired it. But it definitely developed along the way, the accent. To begin with, it was a lot more, “You alright, yeah?” Quite like '90s Manchester. As I found the character more, I found those bits a bit more, too, the idiosyncrasies.

Did you and Brett fall in love before Jamie and Roy did?

Oh, yeah. I met him through a play once, like, 10 years before. In a weird twist of events—turn of events? Twist? Turn? Machination?—my friend was the producer for the play. One night, the writer came along and Chris [my friend] was like, "Do you want to meet the writer?" I said, "Oh my God, yeah." And there he was. I saw his eyebrows first, and they were gigantic.

During the scenes of Jamie headed through the tunnel, and later at his mom’s house—with Roy and Keely at his side—we finally get to see the ways these two characters have held him accountable, shaped who he was all along. Are you close with Juno, too?

I was a fan of Juno’s work before we started filming. She’s the archetypical person who acts from a place of emotional integrity in everything that she does. She's incredible. Her emotional beats are some of the best in Ted Lasso. I don't know why, but she always says that she still doesn't feel like she can do comedy. I don't actually think it's false modesty. I think she really believes that. In order to get a kernel of any sort of humor, it has to come from a real place—a place of absolute genuine heartfelt feeling. Doing those scenes with [Brett and Juno] was just incredibly special. And of course, you see that obviously Jamie wants to be with Keeley—Keelay.

Alas. Did you hope the love triangle might go Jamie’s way?

Yes, because I am Jamie's greatest champion. I feel everything he feels deeply. And I love watching the scene where Jamie walks in and sees Roy and Keely sitting on his childhood bed, having an unresolved moment. In the end, Jamie and Keeley have that wonderful thing that can only come from having been in an intimate relationship with somebody. Not necessarily a physical one or a sexual one, but a sense of vulnerability and knowing—in the same way we saw Jamie with his mom. There is just a level of intimacy that Jamie shares with Keely that he doesn't share with anybody else. He loves her, but also, now he truly respects her.

phil dunster
Fun fact: Phil Dunster originally aspired to be a professional rugby player. "While I didn’t maintain a lot of the toughness that you get from being a rugby player, I did maintain a big bum," he says. "So that’s something that I’ve taken with me."Leigh Keily

Is there anything in the day-to-day filming of the show, in the regular grind of making it for three seasons, that fans would be surprised to know?

Toheeb [Jimoh], who plays Samuel Obisanya, spends about 96 percent of a working day playing a large-scale game of Would You Rather? with everybodyand polling their answers. That, or “Who would win in this particular instance?” For example, who would win between 100 grown humans and a gorilla if they were up against each other? A lot of people thought the gorilla. I said the humans.

Jason will sit down with whoever has a big scene—throughout the whole time that it's being filmed—and offer advice or encouragement or whatever context there was when they wrote [the script]. It lives in his bones, this show.

And in this episode, that scene right before where Jamie goes back to his mom's house, those three little boys, man, they terrified me. They were right little tykes. They had a job to say a couple of appalling things—"I could smell your ass from here!”—but they just kept going and going and going, even after they yelled, “Cut!” Stuff I never heard before, and was like, “Man, that is offensive.” They were so good.

At the start of this episode, it almost felt a bit like a Sad Jamie meme—looking distraught at the press conference, crying about his suitcase. But by the end, it was so poignant, a microcosm of how he’s evolved. What are you going to miss the most about Jamie, whenever your time with him ends?

He has an element to him, which I just don't, and that is a total conviction of who he is. He's a little terror, but he’s learned to be that guy with some kindness. I'll miss just knowing this dude intimately and all of his choices. It was a real gift.

It’s also that I just miss being with all of those people, having those scenes with Brett. I miss that very much. It's a weird thing, in that it’s a friendship that you won’t get back: These two characters getting to meet, it becomes a part of you. And unless we hold private meetings in our room and write fanfiction…

Which you could do.

There is some fanfiction I've already written. It's fairly X-rated, but that was more just to try to make Brett giggle.

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