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Billy Harris

Ahead of the new season’s sixth episode, Billy Harris sat down with 1883's Sydney Bolen to discuss the development of his character's story, landing such a big role this early in his career, the magic of Ted Lasso, and more.

As Ted Lasso delves deeper into Colin Hughes’ storyline, the character’s arc is not one Billy Harris takes lightly.

Right now, British actor Billy Harris is best known for his role on Apple TV’s Ted Lasso – a fact that he considers a blessing. Since graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2017, Billy honed his craft on the stage, landing a number of roles before being cast as Callum McGregor in a 2019 touring production of the Noughts & Crosses, adapted from Malorie Blackman’s novel of the same name. When the show wrapped, Harris set his sights on the world of television. The doors opened via Ted Lasso, a sports centered comedy from the minds of Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly, Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis.

Since the initial release of the series in 2020, it has won 11 Emmy awards and captured the hearts of viewers around the world. What began as the story of an American football coach taking a job across the pond to manage a struggling premier league team transformed into a warm-hearted tale about friendship, mental health, self-worth, and most importantly, belief. For Harris’ Colin Hughes, AFC Richmond’s soft spoken left wing and resident Welshman, the true character arc is just beginning to show. 

Over the past two and a half seasons, Hughes has gone from the easily peer pressured bully to being the first to openly seek help from team psychiatrist, Dr. Sharon Feldstone. While the motivations behind this decision was never blatantly shown on screen, the writers did drop a few hints. From one line in the beginning of the sophomore season showcasing the player’s familiarity with Grindr, fans were quick to question Colin’s sexuality, which was finally confirmed earlier this year. While the plotline took a backseat for a few weeks, the story came to a head in the mid-season episode. Out of the many pairings featured, Harris’ Hughes and James Lance’s Trent Crimm have a heart to heart about their queer identities and the pressure Colin feels carrying that alongside his athletic career.

Ahead of the new season’s sixth episode, Billy Harris sat down with 1883’s Sydney Bolen to discuss the development of his character’s story, landing such a big role this early in his career, the magic of Ted Lasso, and more.

 

 

To start, I just wanted to say, I’m a huge Ted Lasso fan. I loved episodes five and six. They’re great. It’s a show I usually watch with my friends, so having those episodes early was weird. I was at dinner a few nights ago and my friend was like, “they just announced that Colin was gay and then they just dropped the storyline.” And I was like, “well…”

[laughter] The funny thing is people really struggle with not being able to binge it. Because it’s such a huge ensemble cast and there’s so many storylines, everyone can’t be the focal point of every episode. Once Episode Three came out, people saw Episode Four and were like, “wait, they’re not touching on it. They’re not doing anything about it.” It takes a few episodes to get back to this story, but I promise they haven’t just put a ribbon on it and chopped it. They haven’t gone, “Yep. Colin is gay. End of story.” The plotline does continue.

 

And so well. It’s handled beautifully. I was so pleased. The show is so well written and thought through that if you paid attention, it wasn’t really a surprise that Colin was gay. Were you told definitively before this season what the character’s sexuality was?

I had some questions. In Season One, I knew the kind of show I was in and what it tackles: toxic masculinity, mental health, the amazing storylines for women. As a fan of football, I was like, “they have to tackle this storyline. It’s huge in sport at the moment. In Season One, then later in Season Two, Colin goes to therapy. I had some questions about why Colin got into therapy because you don’t see what he’s talking about with Dr. Sharon and then there was the Grindr line. We get the scripts weekly as we’re working. There’s lots of rewrites and things happen. So, the moment I saw that line, I was like, “okay, yeah. This is real.” A  lot of fans heard the Grindr line and caught on very quickly. Twitter became a very different place for me after that because people were like, “Oh, my God, Colin is gay.” It was amazing to see people feel represented in their favorite TV show. The reaction  just got me excited for Season Three. What I think was great about the way the reveal went is that at the end of the second season, all the audience had was the one line. There were a lot of question marks around Colin. But there needed to be because sadly, that’s who he is. He is hiding something. He’s just going about his day living two lives, basically, which is touched on in his conversation with Trent Crimm in episode six.

 

I love that scene. I loved that Colin said he doesn’t want to be a symbol or a spokesperson. He just wants his sexuality to be part of him. With the context of the sport and the fact that there’s nobody else out, he can’t really avoid that. I was wondering, with Colin’s real fear being that this will be the defining factor of his life, have you ever had to overcome that level of fear personally?

That’s a very good question. Ted Lasso was my first TV job. I felt scared going in because I had all these titans of acting surrounding me: Hannah, Brad, Jason. etc. I was scared for a lot of the first season. I had a bit of impostor syndrome. I really wanted to be my true self and be a good actor and learn from the rest of the cast, but it was hard. Filming Season One, we didn’t know how big the show was going to get. All I wanted was to try to learn from all of these people. There was a lot of anxiety there because I kept asking, “okay, am I good enough?” With Colin, this season the audience gets to see the person, not just the player. The lens has now turned on to him in the outside world. He’s always been gay, but this is something that you haven’t been able to see because he doesn’t really feel he’s deserving of showing who he is, which is heartbreaking. But the good thing is you’ve seen him go into therapy. That’s the bit Dr. Sharon is getting out with him. She’s trying to get him to see he doesn’t have to be two people anymore. I couldn’t even imagine the pressure he is under. Being a sports star, he’s wondering, if he comes out, are people going to target him for being gay, blame him for losses, which is a very real thing. There’s a select group of fans who would do it. It’s not everyone. I do believe that there’s a lot of fans that would be supportive. I know the clubs are supportive. After this storyline, a lot of football clubs have spoken to me and said how happy and excited they are that the show is talking about this. We all know there are reasons why athletes struggle to come out. I imagine when you win,  you’re a hero, but when you lose, that’s when the tweets start coming in and the vicious slurs. I completely sympathize with all gay football stars.

 

Definitely. We’ve seen it happen in other minority areas, so that fear is not misplaced. You were talking about how the show is showing viewers more of who Colin is as a person instead of just a player this season. Thinking about your character in Season One versus now, how do you think he has grown the most across the seasons? How has the introduction of Ted Lasso impacted him as an athlete and as a person?

In Episode Six, you really do see a journey of self discovery not just for Colin, but for everyone. 

 

It’s my favorite episode.

It has to be. It’s just incredible. I know it’s an hour but what they pack into so many storylines, friendships being bonded: new storylines with Jeremy [Swift] and Charlie [Hiscock], Brett [Goldstein] and Phil [Dunster], Trent and Colin, Hannah [Waddingham]’s storyline. For Colin, while Ted is not great with all the football lingo or the soccer lingo, he does want every person on that team to be their own person. I believe he’d rather the team lose, but we learn something, than win and stay the same. It’s not about winning. It’s about the journey. What you’re going to see now after Episode Six, is the result of Ted having allowed every single person to spend a night away from football. They came on to the bus as different people. If every boss in the world implemented that into their own workplace, I think the world would be a better place.

 

I completely agree. If I could jump into Ted Lasso and live in it, I would.

I keep saying Ted Lasso is a bit of a utopia. This is a world that we can be in. I think that people got hold of it  in lock down when there were a lot of people who really needed something. Whilst there was all these things happening around the world,  this is the space you could be in if you just listened to people, respected people, saw them for who they were and allowed them to be who they want to be.

 

As an actor on the show, you have gotten to “live” in that world in a way. What have the past 3 or 4 years taught you?

You can’t  be in Ted Lasso and not feel that you’ve improved as a person because of it. The fact that we’ve gone to the White House and spoken about mental health, that’s unbelievable. I don’t find it shocking because I do believe that Ted Lasso is doing that. Watching the writers day in and day out, they have a mission. They have a message. It’s been so nice. It’s so good for me as a young actor to be able to start out in a show like this. Hands down it has made me a better person. It has made me more open to the world of therapy and self discovery in my own life. Everyone needs to talk about their problems to someone because we have a lot of issues. There’s a lot we do not talk about.That’s what Ted Lasso is trying to talk about, not just for men, but also for everyone.

 

If you could sit down with Colin in episode six, much like Trent Crimm does, what advice would you give him?

Because I’ve been with him for three years now, I really do want him to believe he is the strong and capable man he keeps telling himself he is. I also want him to know that with this storyline, what he is going to do is going to inspire the world, despite what Nate told him in Season Two.

 

That line was my first thought when it all started unraveling.

He taken that and really internalized it. He’s gone through so many setbacks. Obviously, this season it was being benched. He loves the team and he wants the team to win so when a world class football player comes in and, “Oh, great. He plays in the same position as Colin. Amazing,” he steps aside. He believes he doesn’t inspire. He believes he should be benched. I would go out with him, drink vanilla vodka with him all night, and I’d tell him, “you do inspire, Colin.”

 

 

We talked a little bit about going to the White House and speaking about mental health. Wiith how big the show has gotten and how much people love it. There’s so many brand deals, little immersive experiences and things that have popped up. Is there anything that you would love to see happen before the journey ends? For instance, I’d love a charity football match. AFC Richmond vs. anyone. I literally don’t care. Take my money. Sign me up. I’m there. 

You want to see the actors play real football? 

 

Yes, I do. 

Sure about that? 

 

Yes. 

The editors make us look very good.

 

[laughter]

No, I’m kidding. I was recently in LA and I went to the Warner Brothers lot and saw the Friends exhibit with Central Park and stuff. I want there to be a Ted Lasso one.There has to be a small fake football pitch people could go and take pictures on and a version of Mae’s pub to order a beer and have fish and chips and do quintessentially British things but in LA. I would love to see that.

 

I would die.

Being a huge fan of Friends, and I think they’ve got Big Bang Theory as well, I loved it. I was there and I was planning it out. I was thinking, “the locker room could be here. The little biscuit oven can be over there cooking the shortbread. The pub could be over there.” It’s perfect.

 

I think that’s great. For the Emmys last year there was a Ted Lasso photo op in seats that looked like the player’s box. My friends all took a bajillion pictures and freaked out, so a whole set would be incredible.

It’s just amazing. We’ve got Jeni’s Biscuits With The Boss ice cream. We’re signed to Nike. I’m on FIFA, the video game. I loved football before I loved acting, so for this to be my life is crazy. In my head, I think I’m a professional footballer.

 

[laughter] 

The fact that I can play myself on a video game and play with the team is just amazing. The show deserves it. As I said, the writers really do have a mission. It’s not a fluke. They really want viewers to be the best versions of themselves.

 

I think that comes across. I really do. Prior to Ted Lasso, you did theater. During your time on stage, did you have any pre-show rituals? Have any of those translated to filming the show?

Yes, actually. I went to drama school. I’d love to say that I do something really interesting. I think Judi Dench has a perfume for every character. But I would always, every single time, no matter what show I’m in,  I would read the whole play the night before over and over. I think Anthony Hopkins does that. I think I got that from him. It helps me be immersed in it. My biggest fear is being on stage and not knowing the lines, so that’s what I do. It carried over to Ted Lasso. Every single time we filmed I would make sure I was so familiar with the episode and what went on. It’s such a large cast that no one is part of it all. It’s weird that we work with Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple, but we don’t really get to see them a lot. Whenever I watch the show their scenes are the ones I look forward to the most because I’ve read them so many times in the script, so I don’t miss anything in Colin’s world, but I don’t get to see them. So, that’s my ritual. I become a little possessed by the script.

 

Looking to the future, do you have any dream roles, stage or screen, be it a certain character, franchise or genre?

With acting, I always want to try to do the opposite of what you’ve just done. This storyline of Colin’s is huge and is going to touch so many people. He’s an amazing character. He’s so loving, so warm and so gentle. So I’m saying I’d like to play a villain next. Look at Succession and how toxic that show is, but you’re still hooked. But then, I also have gotten into Star Wars. I really like the Mandalorian. I would love to see what it’s like to work mainly on green screens and have to use your imagination a lot. I think that that would be something really cool.

 

To close, Colin has a very well known mantra. If you don’t already have one, what do you think yours would be?

“I am a strong and capable man” is a very good one. I loved that. I saw a quote recently. It was “every journey starts with one step.” I can relate to that in terms of my acting because I don’t have any family in the industry. I was scared to go on this journey because you never know what’s going to happen. But I started and I just kept going. I got some commercials. Then a lot of people were saying, “you’re good, but you need to go to drama school.” I went to drama school and then I was just walking along. That’s what I feel like I’ve been doing on this journey that I’ve gone on. It started from that first step. That first decision to go on this journey and see what happens. I’m loving it. It’s been so good. Yeah, I feel very, very lucky. I’ve done some really good stuff, especially at such a young age. For this to be my first TV job, it’s pretty amazing. I count my blessings every day for that one.

 

 

Season three of Ted Lasso is out now. Follow Billy Harris @BillHarris__

Interview by Sydney Bolen

Photography by Joseph Sinclair

Styling by Holly White

Grooming by Nadia Altinbas

 

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