On their latest shows, Brett Goldstein and Theo James have created characters who unpeel deeper truths beyond their hunky appearances. Goldstein, who’s won two Emmys for portraying soccer player and coach Roy Kent on “Ted Lasso,” returned for the Apple TV+ comedy’s third season. (He’s also a co-creator and writer on “Shrinking,” about a therapist played by Jason Segel.) James joined the second season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” set in Italy and from creator Mike White, as a chiseled, privileged vacationer.
THEO JAMES: How did you end up writing for “Ted Lasso”?
BRETT GOLDSTEIN: I’d done a pilot for Bill Lawrence. The pilot didn’t get picked up, but we stayed in touch, and he knew I was a writer as well as an actor. When people ask me for advice, I’m always like, there’s no magic phone call. It doesn’t happen. But I did get a magic phone call here, from Bill, out of the blue, saying, “I think you’d be good for this football show.”
How much of “White Lotus” did you have when you started?
JAMES: When I auditioned for it, there was only a pilot. Mike writes really fast. It did change a bit, but the DNA didn’t change much. Mike knows what he wants, but he also lets you improvise and mix around the scene a little bit.
GOLDSTEIN: You’ve got to be very careful with that. We’re very strict on “Ted Lasso.” You have to be clear on what’s the emotion of the scene. You can’t just go and, oh, improvise about toast for five minutes. It might be funny. You won’t use any of it. You’re playing a character that we, as an audience, view through other characters. We’re playing this game of “Is he a bad guy? Is he a good guy?” Were there things you discussed?
JAMES: Yeah, it’s a tricky one. Because in certain scenes he’s so duplicitous or villainous or just a massive dickhead, but that’s boring on its own, so you want him to be as likable within that framework. To me, I liked him as a character and as a person, even though I saw that he’s clearly manipulative, toxic, potentially a sociopath the way he interacts around people.
GOLDSTEIN: Do you think your marriage in “The White Lotus” is a good marriage?
JAMES: It probably wouldn’t be a good marriage for myself. I think our age group, we still have the ghost of our parents’ generation, which was a standardized, formalized idea of monogamy. Whereas now, with the evolution of relationships and people younger than us who are sexy and trendier and way more fluid, things have evolved. They seem to be happy. That’s one thing Meghann Fahy and I talked about a lot, was they genuinely love each other. So perhaps it wouldn’t be for me. I don’t know about threesomes on Sundays and then picking my son up from soccer practice on Monday morning.
GOLDSTEIN: Most of your time was the four of you? [The other couple is played by Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe.]
JAMES: Yes. Initially, I stayed in the hotel. But because I have a young child, I was off-site. So we had this thing where we’re playing these characters, then drinking in the bar or going for dinner. Some of Mike’s writing is about the hilarity of the mundane, the hilarity of the privileged. And we are all privileged to be doing this. So just the melding of the two realities in a bar at night, you’re like, “Am I in an episode of ‘The White Lotus’ or am I just having a drink at the end of the day? Because I don’t fucking know.”
GOLDSTEIN: Six months is a long time, even in paradise.
JAMES: It was one of those jobs that was easy, because the writing’s very good.
I’m interested to hear about “Shrinking.” How do you delineate your time?
GOLDSTEIN: Someone asked me, “What’s your secret?” The secret’s I’m fucking insane. The secret is my brain has to be that busy, otherwise I go nuts! I would do “Ted Lasso” in the day, and then at night I’d be on Zoom with “Shrinking” and watching rushes or in the writers’ room on Zoom.
You did the “Divergent” films. Those are big bananas. Was that overwhelming and terrifying?
JAMES: No, but those type of films, they’re quite specific. They have to be built in a way that is the widest common denominator, and that can sometimes drain some of the natural creativity from the process. Life is complicated. I’m not necessarily sure I could see myself just being an actor at my parents’ age.
GOLDSTEIN: Do you already feel like, “I’ve had enough of this”?
JAMES: It’s not so much I’ve had enough. But I always saw it as, “It’s a job.” And I think the world has evolved in the last couple of decades; now it’s hard to delineate between the job and celebrity. Some of it I find uncomfortable.
Is there any talk of you being in “Shrinking”?
GOLDSTEIN: There’s talk of it. I would only do it if we could make it …
JAMES: … sexy.
GOLDSTEIN: No, I’m always careful. I don’t want to be there just because I want to hang out.
Set Design: Lucy Holt; Production: Alexey Galetskiy/AGPNYC