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Jeremy Swift brings his music — and his wife — to ‘Ted Lasso’

Actor Jeremy Swift playfully blocks the camera. Swift earned a supporting actor Emmy for his role in "Ted Lasso."
Actor Jeremy Swift earned a supporting actor Emmy for his role as soccer club communications director Leslie Higgins in “Ted Lasso.”
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Mention his gargantuan self on the “Ted Lasso” billboard at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood and English Emmy nominee Jeremy Swift looks undeniably queasy. Deferring to his cup of Earl Grey tea — at, appropriately enough, West Hollywood’s London Hotel — he is unabashedly tongue-tied and discombobulated by all the fuss.

“I’m very British,” he notes. “I can’t quite deal with the Emmy thing, to be honest. I do most jobs to my own level of satisfaction. If people like what I do, then I appreciate it, of course.”

Winning likes for his deliciously awkward, well-meaning communications director Leslie Higgins, from fans, critics and industry players alike, he’s discovered there’s no escaping the acclaim. “I was recognized, in a mask, on the Tube,” he marvels, of a London Underground encounter during “Ted Lasso’s” first season. He’s been accosted in L.A. too, admitting in a perplexed tone: “It happens quite a lot.”

Swift is recognizable to audiences on either side of the pond, not least thanks to his perpetual scene-stealing from Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey,” as her butler Spratt. Fortunately, the dame too is a devotee.

Jeremy Swift, from left, Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham in a "Ted Lasso" scene on the football pitch.
Jeremy Swift, Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham all received Emmy nominations for “Ted Lasso,”
(Apple TV+.)

“I came in to do a scene with her and Penny [Penelope Wilton] one day and [Smith] said, ‘Ooh, were your ears burning? We were just both saying how wonderful you are.’” He was “gobsmacked” then and can barely formulate words now. “Coming from her, I found it almost overwhelming.”

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This is not, then, Swift’s first award show dance card — he was at the 2016 SAG Awards for “Downton Abbey’s” television drama ensemble win — and being a team player is clearly the kicker for him. Even with four Tedhead nominees in his comedy supporting actor category, he wishes there could have been five — saluting co-star Phil Dunster for his “empathetic and truthful” soccer star Jamie Tartt.

“Ted’s” American creatives weren’t the first to fall for Swift stateside, though. He’s been a standout in studio films for years — from Mr. Bumble in Roman Polanski’s 2005 “Oliver Twist” to an angry elf in David Dobkin’s “Fred Claus” to Mila Kunis’ “Mafia-styled Russian uncle” in the Wachowskis’ “Jupiter Ascending” — and pre-pandemic was extremely “unpleasant” as Colin Firth’s lawyer in Rob Marshall’s “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Dobkin, meanwhile, remains a cheerleader for the “naturally gifted” Swift. “Without a shade of artifice, he treats each moment on-screen as deserving to be special,” he raves, terming Swift’s performances “infectiously watchable, brimming over with the joy of his craft.”

It was another director, David Evans, who made him the small offer with a big payoff — two scenes in “Downton.” Swift cast an eye over the script, and his interest grew. “This is really jumping in with a very big character,” he pondered. “I wonder if they’ll keep him.”

They did, for 17 additional episodes, until Spratt’s boss, the dowager countess, dismissed him. Swift’s propensity for reeling in viewers on-screen, thespian legends included, is down to “intuition and a bit of guesswork,” the 61-year-old reckons. Perhaps a little luck too, though he wasn’t always swimming in it: He once caught a night train from his native Stockton-on-Tees, in England’s northeast, in entirely the wrong garb for his Shakespeare audition at London’s Central drama school.

“It was snowing, so I had Wellingtons [rain boots] on and came down to London, where it was completely sunny and dry. I looked like a cartoon hick,” he recalls. The unintentional comedy routine did not go over well. Instead, he later attended the highly regarded Guildford School of Acting.

Still, his training did not prepare him for Polanski. “He swanned in very late, with a lot of attitude. We began to do the read-through, and I was the first person to speak. After about half a page, he said, ‘Let’s start again, because it’s all very much over the top.’ And I was thinking, ‘I’m the only person who’s spoken.’ Then I brought it down and about halfway through, he said, ‘More Jeremy. Make it bigger.’ I was, like, ‘What?’”

Actor Jeremy Swift juggles some pint-sized soccer balls.
Actor Jeremy Swift.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

His actress wife, Mary Roscoe, rendered some salient advice then, and these days gets to do so alongside her husband on “Ted’s” pitch, as Higgins’ occasionally seen wife, Julie.

Co-creator “Bill Lawrence had asked, ‘How well do you get on with your wife?’” Swift recalls. “I said, ‘Well, we’re not divorced.’ He said, ‘We’ve seen her [for a casting], we think she’s lovely and we’d like her to play your wife in an episode.’” Roscoe is back for Season 2, one episode of which rewards Swift with his most substantial storyline and screen time to date.

“I’m totally made up,” he beams, a northern English phrase for “thrilled.” This son of two music teachers is also made up to play his own double bass on the show. Higgins’ being an accomplished jazz musician at home, just like Swift, happened by accident when star Jason Sudeikis said of the character one day, “Maybe a jazz beard?”

“I said, ‘Ooh, I play jazz on the double bass,’ and he thought I meant in an amateur way. I said, ‘No, I think I’m quite good.’”

Myriad fans cheering in the stands of AFC Richmond are rather inclined to agree.


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