Nicky Austin, head of hair and makeup on Ted Lasso, spoke to us about the character motivations at play when crafting a visual representation of season 2’s arcs, including her meaningful new looks for Nate and Jamie, Keeley’s form of self-expression, and how she styled Rebecca’s mum.
Ted Lasso, the hit football comedy from Apple TV+, is one of the most deeply drawn and intentional pieces of media I’ve ever had the pleasure of covering, and it offers some incredibly complex portrayals. It comes as no surprise that such characters are wholly imagined on every single level, far beyond the writing and acting – it takes a village to make them exist as vividly as they do.
Creating a character’s look is a crucial element of great onscreen storytelling, because it tells the audience all about that character’s sense of self. It’s a much more complicated art than simply making someone look good – it’s about channelling the decisions that the person would make for themselves, and why.
Nicky Austin, the show’s hair and makeup designer, collaborates closely with the actors to put herself in their fictional shoes and make choices about how they’re going to present themselves, and the small and large details that she’s responsible for give the audience plenty of food for thought in regards to the choices that our favourite characters have made about their appearance.
Nicky brought plenty of sharp perspective and character analysis to our chat about her contributions to season 2, including the connections or lack thereof between Jamie and his father and Rebecca and her mum. She also shared plenty of behind-the-scenes details, including Juno Temple’s compassionate approach as a role model to young Keeley fans, what kind of attention her team needs to give to the football action scenes, and how she handled the show’s most startling hair story in the decline of Nate Shelley.
I’ve read several of the interviews that you’ve done before and I really loved them. I’m very interested in the character element of anything to do with the craft — anything to do with thinking about your role in the character’s motivation in terms of the way that you’re making them look, because, in their world, it’s the way they make themselves look.
I was really struck by something that you said last season, a comment that you made about Phil Dunster as Jamie Tartt, in that you you put him in long sleeves on the pitch so that you don’t have to put the fake tattoo on, but in-universe, you explain that it’s because he’s a diva who doesn’t want to feel the cold. I loved the fact that you said this so much that it inspired a lot of questions. So this will be quite character driven, as opposed to the actual ins and outs of the process of the physical styling work, if that’s okay.
Go for it!
I’ll start with Jamie then. When you went into Ted Lasso season 2, with that change in Jamie’s hair, I know that you and Phil Dunster both had this idea to sort of copy the Jack Grealish look, but I was wondering even before that, if there was an idea about changing his look to make him look softer? Was there an aim to make him look less harsh, in a way, because of his arc in season 2 which is obviously a lot nicer? Because you’ve got this new style on him that is known as belonging to a really loveable, affable player, and also just physically softer and less severe. Aside from the real-world reference of the look, was there a tonal aim, to make him appear more cuddly, in a way?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, Jamie — I was literally discussing this exact thing with Phil yesterday, about how Jamie goes through this — Jamie, when you first meet Jamie, he’s based on Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s got this WAG that comes in, he, you know, doesn’t treat her particularly nicely, and you would think he was a bit of an arrogant — for want of a better word — prick. As we reveal his relationship with his dad, we learn that actually, there’s a reason behind someone’s behaviour, they’re not necessarily the person you think they are on the surface, and there’s actually more to them. So every time Jamie goes through an emotional struggle, I like to reflect this by changing him slightly, and I do it with his hair, basically.
Obviously we’ve seen that it’s even longer with highlights for Ted Lasso season 3, via Phil’s social media. There’s a new level of change, so we’re keen to see what emotional things are reflecting there. You mentioned his dad. I was curious about that as well, because there is quite a contrast in the physical look that was given to his father, when his father was on the show, because Jamie is very fastidious — whether or not people like his clothes, or the way he’s put himself together, he’s very precise in his look, and he grooms, he mentions his eyebrow threading, and his dad is kind of this messy, slobby hooligan. When you were putting together his father’s look, especially in season 2, what was the aim of having Jamie next to his father looking like that?
Well, Kieran [O’Brien] is the loveliest guy ever. He’s so lovely. But he’s playing a thug and he’s obviously not… Jamie is a world away from his dad, which is obvious for anyone who’s looking. Jamie, I kind of saw as — in changing his look all the time, I kind of felt like he’s constantly striving for acceptance. But he’s also striving for attention, because he doesn’t get it from his dad. So in order to get attention, he moves clubs, he changes his look, he wears garish clothes. He’s the opposite to his dad, because he doesn’t really respect him, he doesn’t look up to him, he doesn’t admire him. So he would never want to look like him.
He’s also a millionaire Premier League footballer. His dad has to give the impression that he doesn’t have what we would call in England “a pot to piss in.” He can’t even get tickets to the game, so they are actually worlds apart from each other, and every time James comes back into his life, he causes nothing but carnage. Jamie’s trying to actually get away from him, so he doesn’t want to look like him.
That’s such a thoughtful answer. It was good to see that in such clarity in season 2, because we obviously saw a little bit of James in season 1 but before season 2, people didn’t know whether he was going to be a “stage mother” pressure kind of guy who actually had a lot of influence over Jamie, or if he was going to be basically what the show ended up doing, that clout-chasing hooligan fanboy who’s all talk and whose opinions Jamie does not respect. It is good to know that he is pushing against his father’s idea of masculinity.
Now, Nate in season 2, that was also obviously a big emotional change which was literally reflected in his hair over the course of the season. What can you say about how that process went, in terms of the script, the season arc of his downfall and how the hair kept increasing in grayness? Whose idea was that, how did that start getting worked in? It’s really impactful at the end when you kind of see that physical effect.
It’s the writers, it’s Jason. He just kind of dropped into the conversation one day and went “oh, by the way,” and I was like “oh okay, let’s do it, okay.” [That came] from Jason. Nick has natural white too, white flecks in his hair, so in season 1, I wanted to make Nick look a bit younger. I had it in my head that Nate should look younger, so we got rid of all the white and it was just black. By the end, you kind of got little speckles through, and then at the beginning of season 2 I said to Jason “I’m dyeing Nate’s hair black again,” and he was like “Well, there’s this idea we have,” and I said “okay, let’s take it back to black again and then I’ll tell the story throughout the season.”
Related: ‘Ted Lasso’ composer Tom Howe on creating the white noise of Ted’s anxiety, the rawness of Jamie’s heart, and the warning of Nate’s descent
And then I made a storyboard, using pictures. Jose Mourinho was our main reference, but actually Jose’s gone white quite rapidly as well, so I was able to get really good reference pictures. And then in the end, because we greyed it out so much, it needed to be quite drastic for that final shot of season 2. So in the end he is obviously very white but it was just a gradual process we did over the course of filming, every two episodes a bit more.
There’s a comment somewhere in Ted Lasso season 1 where he randomly drops that he’s terrified of ageing, he actually says that, so I’m really curious as to the ongoing effect of that stress in season 3. You work really closely with Juno Temple as Keeley and we follow all of your looks, the looks that she posts, all of the different outfit breakdowns from each episode and the pieces that she uses for her hair and jewelry. Emotionally, with Keeley is there a thread for her in terms of whether she’s, you know, having her hair up or down or more casual or more formal? How do you dictate what kind of hair she would have in a scene? Is it just environmental, or is there kind of any emotional story in her presentation of her hair and makeup?
No, we do really think about it. The ponytail we used, for example, in season 1 episode 7, when she had her first kiss with Roy, we then used that same ponytail in season 2 when, I think it was when Roy came back to Richmond. So we do track back. When she felt Sam needed support with the whole Dubai Air storyline, I managed to find this incredible goldfish clip which we put in her hair. There is usually thought and meaning. There’s the date night where we had the Roy Kent into Keeley Jones RKJ bobby pin.
We think about every look, but we have so many looks, we just try and make sure that for example if in one episode she has four looks, that we don’t do it all down or all up we try and vary it up. We try and coordinate with her costume — Keeley only ever wears her hair accessories on the left side of her head, she’s always got them on the left — and then we try and coordinate with her jewellery her costume, the mood that she might be in. We try and look at what she’s doing in the scene, what she’s done the last time the viewers saw her in the scene before, and the next time we’re going to see her.
There is a long thought process, and also, she kind of doesn’t want anyone watching the show to think she just fell out of bed and that look just happened. Juno wants everyone to know that it is achievable, but it’s not real. it’s not natural. It is hairpieces, it is accessories, it does take a long time to put together. She doesn’t want anyone to think she woke up like that.
Yeah, Keeley’s obviously… not “high maintenance” but you wouldn’t think that’s just a natural look. She puts on falsies every day and stuff like that, I’m assuming, eyelashes, hair and and everything else and I guess that kind of level is something that she’s become used to doing — Keeley as a glamour model, coming into an It girl like, she would be used to it, that’s just how she presents herself.
Juno is really keen for little girls to know that Keeley doesn’t just wake up — you’re not born with lashes like that, you’re not born with skin like that. She wants little girls to know that it’s okay not to be perfect, you can change yourself if you want to, you can make yourself look like Keeley, but no one’s born looking like Keeley. She wants people to know how she achieves it so that people don’t have unrealistic expectations of how long your lashes should be or how thick your hair should be. She wants people to know it’s not real.
That’s really cool, because Keeley’s so much fun. It feels like she makes herself look like that because she finds it fun and she enjoys doing it, rather than that kind of expectation.
Exactly, and she does. Keeley’s exactly who she wants to be. At all times, she’s doing what she wants to be, even the unconventional looks that maybe you’d go “Ooh, it’s a bit much” — that is Keeley. As a character, and as a person, just like Juno, she is so innately kind. She can do whatever she wants, and I hope people are inspired by how kind she is and how loving and lovely and funny she is and the the look that comes along with it is just the extra joy, it’s like the icing and the cherry on the cake, but her character and her warmth is what makes her so special.
Rebecca’s look is very much like a defence mechanism and a kind of a very perfect armour. What is, in your opinion, the most unguarded Rebecca look that we’ve had so far? How far will we strip Rebecca back or what do you think is the furthest she’s been stripped back, in terms of letting that armour down and what was physically done for her hair and makeup for showing that, because she’s very set in her look — very beautiful, but very controlled.
There’s been a couple of times we’ve seen her at home, haven’t we, where she’s had less makeup on and she’s just relaxed. I think a really cute moment was when she was with her mum, the night before the funeral and they were in bed together. That was a really cute moment because we’d seen — I don’t know if anyone noticed but, Harriet Walter who plays her mum, that’s not her real colour of her hair, she’s she’s quite dark naturally, so we wanted to kind of emulate Rebecca in her, because Rebecca is kind of trying to move away from looking like her mother by going really blonde. But her mum’s trying to get to be a bit more like her daughter by putting the blonde in, so we sat them next to each other in the pub in episode 6 and if they’re sat side by side, if you look at them both they’ve got the same hairstyle side by side, like they emulate each other.
Related: ‘Ted Lasso’ costume designer Jacky Levy on the challenge of maintaining individuality at a funeral and the origin of Roy Kent’s socks
But then there was that really cute moment in the bed before her dad’s funeral where her mum’s got her hair up in clips and Rebecca’s just got a little pony in or something really casual. She paints her war paint on, as you said, in season 1 more so because of what’s happened with Rupert, and then she’s all about the business as well, she wants to be taken seriously, she wants to always look good. And then season 2 she’s on the dating scene so then she’s a slightly sexier version, but we do see her with her guard down occasionally. It’s generally always when she’s at home, or possibly when she’s with Keeley. In season 1, episode 7, when they were in the hotel, for Everton. She’ll let her hair down for “girl time.”
So was Harriet’s hair a wig for those episodes, or was it just coloured?
Harriet, I mean you can Google her, she has very short dark hair. I don’t really like to normally give it away, but it’s pretty obvious to anyone that looks. She’s got plenty of hair herself, it was actually Jason that came to me with it. He was like “What do you think we should do?” and I said “Well, I think it would be cute if rather than a daughter trying to look at her mother, the mother tried to look a bit more like her daughter.” I don’t want to make her platinum because that won’t work, but trying to get a bit more towards Rebecca’s hair would be cute and we tried a few options and Harriet loved the idea, so we went with it.
What is it like doing hair and makeup during Ted Lasso’s football filming block, when the guys are getting messed up on the pitch or if they’re coming in with messy hair or grass stains on them? How do you do the hair and makeup for those action scenes, especially if you were doing something like someone getting dirt on them or mud on them or a fight or just their hair getting messed up while they’re filming the football days? What’s that process like, and the post-action, dressing room post-match stuff which is shot later?
So, obviously we have the script, we know that if so-and-so is going to go in for a tackle, if they’re going to get a yellow card, sent off, things like that. So when we film soccer week, we film it on each specific moment that’s mentioned in the script, so if Dani Rojas is going for a tackle it will say “Dani goes in for a tackle, he slides on the floor” and then you know that he’s gonna get a bit of mud on him. You see how he comes off once he’s done it, because they do it in real life, they’re not stunted, and then if they’ve got it, you take a picture, make a note of it and then when they’re in the locker room, in a scene straight afterwards, you match to it basically. You put a bit of fake mud on his knee to match to it.
It is really tricky. Season 1, we shot most of the football sequences — you can see it — it was pouring with rain the entire time but we’d already shot a lot of the locker room things. No one’s got a crystal ball, you can’t predict that they’re gonna get soaked through. In an ideal world, you would film them wet and you would film them dry just in case, but who has time to do that? So you just kind of try and keep them as dry as you can during the soccer week so that it matches.
Yeah, that was really the question, because I know that the football block is done totally separately to let them get it done all at once, and then if you’re coming back into the locker room after that match it’s like a month, maybe months apart of filming.
It’s tricky. Ideally you’d film the soccer week before, and we’ve managed to do that this year.
Yes, you got that this year, I know they started with a football block for season 3. Did you have that for season 2, as well?
No. But this year, we’ve done some of it, yeah. We do it every couple of months. And also, the other thing is, even if you were to watch a real footballer, even if they’re soaking on the pitch, the boys come and hand them towels and things. By the time they’ve walked to the locker room they could have wiped the mud off them, they could have gone via the toilet… There’s a million things. It’s very easy to get swept up in the continuity of it all but if we think about that too much, if the audience are focusing on that too much, they’re not getting the specialness and the magic of the show, right?
Totally. I think it’s not so much that kind of continuity for me, it’s more like: say an episode starts halfway through a match. Episode 6 of season 2, the very first shot is the last bit of a match. If you are putting the boys out there and the scenes are starting mid-match, do you mess them up, in terms of their hair and skin and stuff or does it just happen naturally while they’re on the field?
No, we do it. We shine them. It depends on the kind of game they’re having obviously, but we always sweat them and shine them and mess their hair up a little bit, you know? Richard shouldn’t have his perfect quiffed hair, Jan Maas should definitely be a bit floppy. They shouldn’t look perfect if they’ve been running around a football field for 90 minutes.
Having said that, some of these real players crazily — I’ve watched them, I’ve done so much research — some of the players literally don’t sweat. It’s really odd to me. I think because they’re young and super fit, some of them don’t and they just look amazing. But for artistic licence, we do add everything just in case, because people would go “Oh, he looks a bit good.”
I mean, surprisingly, the amount of films and tv shows that don’t do that — people run up the stairs or people, I’m not going to say any specifics, but they’ve been out in the freezing cold drowning in the middle of the ocean and they’ve still got perfect lipstick on, you know? Things like that, it does happen. We’ve got a bit of artistic licence.