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While there have been queer-coded hints sprinkled here and there (that Grindr line, c’mon), Ted Lasso didn’t become a show for the gays until its third season. In episode three, the writers finally introduced queerness into the beloved Apple TV comedy when they confirmed the long-held theory that Billy Harris’ fan-favourite Richmond FC player Colin Hughes is gay; reflecting the harsh reality of homosexuality in professional football and its lack of openly out athletes in the process. 

It would be ridiculous for us to not do this storyline,” says Harris. The actor is speaking with GAY TIMES ahead of Ted Lasso’s sixth episode, which continues to sensitively explore Colin’s sexuality as he confides in Trent Crimm (James Lance), The Independent’s ethically-dubious former reporter who is writing a book about the club. “I’ve known from the get-go that, being a fan of football and knowing where Ted Lasso was going in terms of their storylines, it was only right for them to tackle the issue of a closeted gay footballer.”

As we await to see how the trailblazing storyline progresses across the course of the season, we had a chat with Billy about how he prepared to embody a closeted footballer, whether he thinks the Premier League is ready for their own Colin and what he’d say to so-called ‘fans’ that are criticising Ted Lasso for being “too woke”. 

When were you told about Colin’s storyline and the trajectory he’s going on this season?

Being on Ted Lasso, you know that the storylines they pick are really meaningful and they want to touch as many people as possible. In terms of me knowing where they wanted to take Colin, it was season two. He references Grindr, knowing the app. That was where a lot of fans on Twitter were like, ‘Huh? Okay, interesting! Colin knows about Grindr.’ Of course, I saw that in the script and I had lots of questions to ask the writers. In season two, they brought in Dylan Marron and Chuck Hayward, who are brilliant writers, to oversee Colin’s storyline.

What did the writers say when you questioned that infamous line about Grindr?

I had some questions like, ‘Is Colin gay? Does he use Grindr? Is he interested in the app?’ and they said yes. I’ve known from the get-go that, being a fan of football and knowing where Ted Lasso was going in terms of their storylines, it was only right for them to tackle the issue of a closeted gay footballer.

Viewers discover Colin’s sexuality in episode three, where we’re also introduced to his lover Michael. Did you do much preparation to ensure this storyline was authentically brought to life?

It’s happening a lot in football at the moment with Josh Cavallo, Jakub Jankto and Jake Daniels, they’ve all come out in recent years. I’ve been in tune with that, knowing how the sport is trying to support and give solidarity [to LGBTQ+ players] with Harry Kane [being outspoken] and when the World Cup was over in Qatar. It’s everywhere at the moment in terms of awareness. Taking that into consideration, that’s how I’ve prepared for it.

With everything you just mentioned, the new wave of queerness in football, the writers couldn’t have timed this storyline more perfectly…

It’s very real and, with Colin, you’re allowed to see the person and not just the player. You’re seeing his world outside of football. What’s really quite heartbreaking is, in episode six, he talks about living two lives and that he doesn’t feel like he can merge the two. That is what we want the audience to consider when watching Ted Lasso and if they’re a fan of sport, to consider that there are footballers that are living two lives.

That line was the most touching part of the episode for me, him revealing to Dr Sharon about his “ache” to combine both of these worlds. What was it like for you, as an actor, playing a character with so much inner turmoil?

Yeah, I mean that’s why we get into this job, to tell these stories. I feel so lucky and I think it’s interesting you touched on the Dr Sharon line because I do believe that, with Colin going to therapy, it made him realise that he can’t bottle this up and not feel like he can be in the FC Richmond locker room with people not knowing who he really is. In season two, you see him going into therapy, coming in-and-out of Sharon’s office. You don’t see what they’re talking about but Jason said there was a reason why Colin is going to therapy, we just don’t know it as the audience yet. He comes out and says, ‘She’s amazing.’ Ted looks at him, battling over whether to go to therapy and a lot of people on Twitter haven’t picked that up, I don’t think. In season two, you were seeing a process. We were adamant about seeing him carrying on with this disguise and then Roy Kent mentions that Colin is a “chameleon” and that he can adapt to any situation. What’s so sad is that he has been a chameleon for so long and that filters into the team as well.

Trent Crimm spots Colin and Michael kissing. As we’ve seen in the past, with Trent exposing Ted’s issues with his mental health, his ethics have been questionable. So, a lot of fans expected Trent to out him – myself included. When he confronts Colin at the gay bar in Amsterdam, however, that’s not the case. Did you expect that?

No. We get the scripts weekly so you don’t know what’s going to happen so, even me, I had the doubt. I was thinking, ‘Surely Trent Crimm isn’t going to do it again? He will be the most hated man in the world!’ There was a seed of doubt in my mind. I think it’s amazing that Colin had an ally in Dr Sharon and now with Trent. I know they could’ve gone into the drama of him telling the world, but that’s not Trent now. Trent is a changed man.

I’m glad because I don’t think we, as a society, are in need of those harmful tropes anymore.

I agree. That’s the beauty of what we’ve done with Colin and Ted Lasso. It exists, it’s very real and people should be allowed to be whoever they want to be, whatever job they are doing. It’s interesting how he said “I don’t want a bunch of apologies” and that he just wants to kiss his fella when the guys get to kiss their girlfriends after the game. When you really break it down to the basics of that, it’s just love. That is all he wants.

The line about his desire to kiss his “fella” at the end of the match is simple but powerful. How do you want this line of dialogue to resonate with audiences?

We at Ted Lasso try our best to show the world that we can live in a utopia, in a way. This is a world that we can live in if we just listen to each other and let each other live the lives we want to live. It would be amazing to see that in the Premier League, that would be brilliant. I know we are lending a hand wherever we can in Ted Lasso. It’s not just about Colin’s storyline, it’s about mental health and toxic masculinity, and the storylines for both Hannah [Waddingham] and Juno [Temple] are brilliant as well.

Trent Crimm says he has a good reason for why he hasn’t outed him. I assumed that was Trent coming out also, although it wasn’t explicitly stated. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that?

Yeah! This is the thing about Ted Lasso with Jason’s amazing brain. In season one, you see Trent at the football pub with a guy. Everything is foreshadowed. It’s all there. I never knew whether Colin would clock that. I acted it like he has clocked Trent is gay too. In that one moment, it was like an exhale from Colin like, ‘He’s not going to out me.’ I think Colin has always wanted someone in football to talk to, because I believe his family know. He doesn’t see it as a bad thing, he just can’t get his head around the two lives merging. It’s like it’s impossible to him.

There are 550 active players in the Premier League and not one of them is out publicly. As the actor behind Colin and a fan of football, do you think that fans and players are ready for that?

I was at a football game yesterday and when the crowd turn, they turn. It’s a certain section of fans, it’s not necessarily everyone. I do believe that there is a huge part of the fanbase that is very accepting. But, when you win you’re a hero and when you lose, they find anything they can to aim at you. Obviously, we see this on Twitter all the time. That has to be one of the main reasons why [no Premier League footballers are out]. Where Colin is living is probably where a lot of footballers are living, where their two lives cannot match. When they’re playing 90 minutes, they’re athletes at the end of the day and all they wanna do is focus on that. So, to be hearing someone shouting something in the crowd, it’s so tricky. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like for that player. I’m a football fan and I do believe there are lots of fans that would be so supportive of it. I think it’s the clubs as well, they’re really advocating for solidarity. When I was at West Ham yesterday, there were rainbow scarves with ‘Pride of West Ham’ on them. We’re going in the right direction, but it comes down to the player and how they feel about the jeers from fans. That’s one of the big issues.

It might be ignorant to say, but I’ve just never envisioned a football match as a welcoming or safe space for LGBTQ+ people. If I were a fan of football, I would be hesitant to attend.

What’s been amazing with episode three coming out is people coming into my DM’s saying, ‘I wish my teenage self would’ve seen this because I thought that, being gay, I couldn’t be a fan of football. It’s like the two didn’t match.’ That’s so sad. It breaks my heart thinking about that. That’s what you said, you’d be scared to go to a game or like someone will say something. It can be quite toxic, at the end of the day. But, it has been so nice to see messages like that.

Has it mostly been a positive response?

It has been. Course, there’s the odd comment and things like that, but you need to see those comments as well because that is the issue. That is the reason. So, if I have any comments on my pictures, I’ve been leaving the bad ones there because this is why we’re doing this storyline. There’s people that exist who say awful things to me because I’m playing Colin Hughes. I would say that 90% has just been love and support. Also, what’s been great is the Colin Hughes fans from that Grindr line are now like, ‘Yes! We got it right.’ From that moment they thought, ‘Please don’t brush over that.’ The writers are brilliant and the way they’ve approached this storyline has been fantastic, and it gets better. It doesn’t just end with episode six, so you get to see a lot more of Colin.

Ted Lasso has been such an inclusive and hopeful show from the beginning, so it’s quite baffling that people are shocked over this storyline.

If you look at the bare bones of the show, it is a work-based comedy. So, are you telling me that you don’t believe there are gay people in your workplace? I have seen people on Twitter that are a bit shocked like, ‘Here comes Ted Lasso doing a gay storyline.’ No, it’s a reflection of society. What I love is that people are seeing themselves represented in their favourite show. We don’t need to do that for just straight guys, we need to do it for everyone. It would be ridiculous for us to not do this storyline.

What would you say to the trolls online who are criticising the show for being “too woke”?

I want them to keep watching so they can learn something. It does confuse me at times because like you said, Ted Lasso has always been that show. It’s always tackled all sorts of issues. And like I said, it’s a utopia of a world we could live in. What’s interesting is that it came out in lockdown and people were open to change because everyone was feeling down. I’m worried now, as we’re going along into season three, that we are starting to see people call Ted Lasso “woke”. It’s always been like that! You were wanting this and yearning for this in lockdown, so what’s changed? Have we gone backwards? So, I want them to keep watching.

The third season of Ted Lasso airs every Wednesday on Apple TV. 

This interview features in the May 2023 edition of GAY TIMES Magazine. To read the full issue, click here.