James Lance has been in various roles in film, television, and stage productions, but it's likely that you are most familiar with him as Ted Lasso's Trent Crimm, the sports-journalist-turned-AFC-Richmond-book-writer who stepped further into the spotlight in Season 3. Lance grew up in the Somerset countryside, but he decided he wanted to be an actor the moment he stumbled onto the stage during a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“I was wearing a long robe as I was playing Ruben, the brother of Joseph. I got a big laugh, and from that feeling, I thought, ‘I would like to do more of this in my life,’ so I knew I wanted to be an actor from that point,” Lance explains. His first big break came around the age of 10, when the BBC came to a nearby village, holding auditions for a film called The Russian Soldier. “I did three days of auditions, and eventually I got the role. The feeling of the community, the magic, the cakes at four o'clock every day, the laughter, all of that stuff just sealed the deal.”
From that point, he hired an agent, and learned about the world of theater school and the “special children” who got to act, dance, and sing. By age 12, His mother finally gave in to his persistent efforts to convince her, and he was able to move to London to pursue his dream. He’s been doing just that for the past 39 years. Below, Lance and I discuss the unprompted backstory he gave Trent Crimm that led to the character’s three-season arc, the process of collaboration with the show’s costume designer, Jackie Levy, wearing onesies and jumpsuits, and more.
How did you prepare for the role of Trent Crimm, and did you expect to continue the role through to the third season?
I had no idea that Trent Crimm would eventually end up as a series regular. I didn't even know there was going to be a Season 3. All I thought was there was going to be one scene when I read the pilot and my manager had sent it to me and said, “Take a look. The role of Higgins could be good for you.” I read and loved the script. I knew that I wasn't going to get the role of Higgins, and when I first saw the name Trent Crimm, I thought to myself, "Who is that? I need to know who that is," and I liked that scene.
Six months later I auditioned, I got the role, and then Jason Sudeikis said to me, "We really love what you're doing in the show, and what's happening with Trent.” I started talking to him about why Trent is the way he is, and I said, "I think he had an oppressive father, and that's why he's got a cynical, tough exterior.” Jason looked at me and said, "I'm going to tell you something that not everybody else knows, but this show is all about bad dads." And I said, "I don't think Trent's living life he wants to live, and I think he got bullied as a kid, and so he hit the library because he wasn't getting picked to be on the sports team, and he donned the glasses and the intellect, and that became his suit of armor," and he was like, "Huh. Yeah."
And then from that three-minute conversation, a lot happened, and a lot of different avenues opened up, and then they grew the role. In between Seasons 1 and 2, Jason wrote me a text, which made me cry because he said, "Hey, man, love what you're doing in the show. Trent Crimm is very much around in the second season, but it's Season 3 I'm most excited about for you." I was so thrilled because I just had a little baby boy, and the idea of some more gainful employment in a show that I adore was a dream come true.
In terms of how I prepared for the role, initially it was a musical riff because there's this sort of gag that every time my character stands up, he announces his name in the press conference, which is “Trent Crimm, The Independent,” and I just knew that there was some comedy to be had in the way that he said that. The more grandiose and puffed up that I could deliver it, the funnier I thought it was going to be. I saw it like a guitar riff. Sure enough, it made people laugh.
And so there was a vocal thing where I wanted him to, whenever he said anything, for it to be so ridiculously self-assured, like over-the-top privileged, know-it-all, smartass, cynical, acerbic, droll. That was the musical tone of it, and I looked at a lot of the great thinkers, like Christopher Hitchens and his delivery, or the great writer and thinker Will Self. I did something between an amalgamation of those two great brains, and that sort of assured delivery is what brought me to the way that Trent speaks.
In terms of his background, I went on a ride, and I wanted to find out why he was the way he was. I worked out very quickly that I felt that he was bored as a sports writer, that there was more inside to come out, that he wanted to do more, but because of his oppressive childhood, he wasn't kind of able to freely express himself and actually be the kind of sweetheart he really was inside. So, I gave him this whole backstory to do with his father, and him getting kicked out of boarding school and then going to a comprehensive as a sense of punishment because he messed it all up.
Also, he was gay, and his father wanted him to be this alpha male man’s man, which is what brought Trent to present himself in the way that he did. But I worked out three things about him that his public persona was one of independence. His need was to be loved, and his tragic flaw was the belief that he was unlovable. And between that sort of triangle of emotional notes, that was how I played him and sort of explored his character.
The entire third season shows him writing a book about the team, but we never learn anything specific about what's in the book. What's the deal with that?
Season 3, if you think about it, is the book. Maybe with a few more behind the scenes, certainly in moments where Trent Crimm isn't there, but I think in terms of the overall kind of emotional atmosphere and terrain, that is what we see in Season 3.
The reason that he decided to write the book is, in my opinion, kind of an interesting one, which was that obviously he blew up his own career because he put the human before his profession as a journalist and revealed his anonymous source, which is a complete taboo. He spent enough time being a journalist, and what he was more interested in was being a decent human being, which was of course prompted by being in the company of Ted Lasso, who actually represented everything that Trent Crimm—certainly as a little boy—would've loved to have been in the presence of with a tough dad.
So, he takes the leap to be a better human being and be damned with his profession. And then, of course, he's out of work. He's no longer “Trent Crimm, The Independent.” He's now Trent Crimm, independent, and I like to think that by the end of the season, he's actually just Trent Crimm. He became deeply curious as to find out whether or not the philosophy of Ted Lasso could take AFC Richmond all the way to win the tournament, and if it could, how did that happen? He wanted to really get under the bonnet and look at the kind of minutiae and the mechanics of those interpersonal relationships, and how Ted could inspire these young boys both on and off the pitch. But if they didn't win the tournament, what's more important? The winning, or the losing, or the wellbeing of the team? So, either way, whatever the result was going to be fascinating to Trent.
Will there be a fourth season or any spinoffs?
As everyone probably has heard, we have no idea whether there's going to be a fourth season or spinoffs. I just don't know the answer to that. I can say that if there was, and I was invited along to the party, I'd be there with my leopard skin boots on.
Trent helps the player on the team come out to the rest of the team. How did you feel about that bit of side plot?
I was delighted to be part of such an important storyline. Repressed sexuality within the football team, or any sports team—or actually any environment—is something that kind of just needs to be blown away, and we need to step into what's really important, which is just who people are regardless of who they love and what their decisions are.
I'm really delighted to be a part of normalizing sexuality in whatever way. I have a little boy myself, and I'm just so glad that he's growing up in a world where any form of sexuality is represented in the mainstream, and it is not something that's seen as abnormal because there's nothing abnormal about it. It was really lovely to facilitate that safe harbor for Colin in the show. Also, Trent is the old guard as a gay man. He's been through so many similar experiences that Colin's been through, but he doesn't go out in the middle of a pitch and have the focus of thousands of fans upon him.
I was told you put a good deal of thought into your character's wardrobe. Can you speak to the process of styling your character on the show and your relationship with the costume designer, Jackie Levy?
Jackie Levy is the best in the business. I love her vibe. I love how open she is. It's a discussion, and it's just so playful and so much fun working with her. She's really wonderful, and we just would vibe on the kind of flowering of Trent as he moves through the show. When we first meet him, he's in a suit and tie, and he's putting on this slightly fierce, classic kind of British impenetrable persona. But I knew that back at home, he was probably wearing onesies and a Golden Girls T-shirt, and a splash of color.
To bring that forward, as Trent starts to get brought in and accepted for who he is, meant that he could dare to be himself, which of course then would express itself in his clothing. A particular high point would be the point where he was able to come in wearing his Dolly Parton tour T-shirt, which of course he went to that show. He's a massive Dolly Parton fan. He's actually got a hugely eclectic appreciation for music, I think. It’s just an expression of the man flowering into himself, and I love that journey on the show.
When did you first become interested in fashion or clothing?
I don't really know, but I do know that I have experienced the power of a good costume. Clothes are so powerful and expressive, and they're the bit between you and the world. It's an interesting opportunity to be creative and to put out a vibe and a message. I've done a lot of period pieces, like a movie called Northern Soul, which had the most superb ‘70s style with these huge wide pants and tight tops. When I put those costumes on, I was like, "Oh, I found my trousers." I'm not a big fan of trousers that hug the thigh or go in too tight down the bottom. That just doesn't work on me, so when I wore these wide trousers, I was like, "Yes." From the 1940s, I've done some work there as well, and it's the different decades of experiencing costumes that influenced my appreciation for clothes.
What does personal style mean to you, and how have you honed yours?
I think a few years ago, I decided to really celebrate my life, and when my little boy came along, and we would put him in these really killer color-block onesies, and I would be rolling around with him on the floor in, I don't know, my jeans, and I thought to myself, "Hold on a second. He's looking way better than I am, and I'm going to start dressing like him." So, I got into onesies and jumpsuits and more color, and actually, it is kind of a perfect metaphor for my life because when my boy came into my life, I think I just realized how precious this magical experience of life is because I was now responsible to at least keep another one alive. I wanted him to feel comfortable and fun in his clothes and just sort of have a relaxed, playful nature to it, and because that was how his character was, and in turn it turned the dial up for me a bit where I thought, "Well, if he's having so much fun and having a good time, I think I'm going to do the same." So now, if I have a style, I would say it's ideally quite playful.
If you had to wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it consist of?
It would probably have to be a killer pair of wide trousers. I really love those King & Tuckfield cream trousers we just wore for this shoot, and maybe a Nick Cave T-shirt, because I just love the man, and I'm happy to be a billboard for his output in the world, and then probably a pair of Converse [sneakers].