Ted Lasso's Phil Dunster on Playing Lovable Bad Boy Jamie Tartt: 'He's a Lot Softer on the Inside'
No one understands and appreciates fans' love-hate relationship with Ted Lasso's resident bad boy Jamie Tartt than the actor who plays him, Phil Dunster.
"This is just a continuation of the peeling back of Jamie's onion skin. It was pretty stinky on the outside and it continues to be stinky," Dunster, 29, says of the character's second season antics. "But he's actually a lot softer on the inside."
In the new season of the Emmy nominated AppleTV+ comedy, Dunster's Tartt is forced to swallow his pride after realizing that his star power has seriously diminished following a stint on the Love Island-like reality show Lust Conquers All. He's also faced with the reality that his former teammates don't want his bullying personality around anymore.
"He's learning from the emotional heavy-lifting he's been doing before," Dunster says of Tartt's character arc. "He's on a journey of understanding, accountability and apology, and he's... What's another 'A' word? Oh, it'd be so good if I had another 'A' word!"
PEOPLE recently spoke with the actor about all things Ted Lasso and Jamie Tartt, including who is responsible for his signature chant, Dunster's thoughts on the real Love Island, his relationship status and his sweet friendship with costar Brett Goldstein who plays his character's nemesis, Roy Kent.
Here's everything you need to know about the rising star and his character.
His first love was rugby
"When I was younger, I really loved playing rugby," he says. "I think the first thing that I thought I would go and do as a career was be a rugby player. I had a trial with a club and it became very clear, very quickly that that wasn't going to be what I would end up doing. I was far too small and far too much of a lightweight, both mentally and physically, to play rugby at that level."
Dunster says he also toyed with the idea of following in his father and brother's footsteps and joining the military, but that wasn't a good fit either.
"I'd always also been interested in being in the army because my dad was in the army and my brother is an officer in the army," he says. "So then I tried my hand at the idea of going into the military and wanting to become an officer. And again, the moment that I stepped into an interview, it became very clear, very quickly that that wasn't going to be the route for me either. I think I'm far too much of a wallflower or maybe a fragile flower to be in the military. It takes all sorts, but I don't think I quite have that."
He was bitten by the acting bug as a teen
"I was around 16 when I had this wonderful, brilliant, influential drama teacher called Geraint Thomas, who was a Welsh man, used to be an actor, and Damon Young as well," Dunster says. "We were doing a play could Under Milk Wood, which is this Dylan Thomas play, a sort of radio play. I'd never really been that into the whole mystique of theater and the intricacies of making a play, and yet listening and talking to Geraint, he was so passionate about this thing, and I'd never seen passion like that. I think that all of a sudden there was something that I had this sort of draw towards, like rugby, and it felt like I had this sort of inherent liking of and it felt right to me. It just felt like it all sort of fell into place."
Dunster's first professional acting credit was a small role in the 2013 film The Film-Maker's Son and he's been working ever since, appearing in popular series Strike Back and Humans before landing Lasso.
"I think that there has to be a healthy amount of insanity and naiveté to believe that you can pretend for a living," he says. "I think I'm probably still trying to toe that line at the minute."
Jamie Tartt's distinctive Manchester accent was no accident
Dunster says he thought Jamie needed an accent to match the character's swagger and bravado, so he landed on the Manchester accent for its sound and cultural references.
"Manchester is a very rich cultural hub," he says of the city (England's fifth-largest). "Obviously, you've got the Gallagher brothers, [the band] Oasis, there, you've got Manchester United, which has players who have grown up there, like Gary Neville and Phil Neville, and they've got a very distinctive [accent]. It's quite nasally when they talk. It's like [everything] goes through the nose," he explains. "For me, it's just as much about attitude. The accent, it's an inner-city accent. It has to be quick. It's very different to mine.
"My girlfriend's mom is born and raised in Manchester, and so I was worried that their family is going to be disowning me, but they were part of sort of my cultural references," he jokes. "I've put them in the boat with me."
Dunster is a taken man
"It should be known that she is truly amazing and the best person I know," Dunster says of his girlfriend, filmmaker Eleanor Hayden. "So I'm afraid if there is anybody out there who's vaguely interested for whatever reason, it's... yeah. Alas."
Yes, Dunster has watched Love Island UK
Although Dunster himself would not choose to appear on the series like his Ted Lasso character recently did, he appreciates the appeal of the reality dating series.
"I had one season I got into. It was the Dani Dyer season," he admits of getting sucked into the hit series' fourth season. "I got into it in the wrong way. I went into it really wanting to hate and despise it, but I was also just so enthralled by it. At its best, it's a sort of cross-section view at humanity in stressful situations, but you have to be in a really, really good mindset to sort of approach it like that. Or not. Or just people enjoy it because it's escapism and it's fun and it's people messing around, which is probably what a lot of people would say that Ted Lasso is as well."
He credits himself with creating the Jamie Tartt chant — mostly
"I think it was me. I think it's me?" Dunster says with a laugh. "No, no. It was a conversation that I had with [series co-creator] Joe Kelly. It was a back and forth, and it's one of those things where my ego is probably trying to take credit for it, but really the decision was made months before."
He's real-life friends with his onscreen nemesis Brett Goldstein
"I love talking about Brett. I think he's so great," Dunster says of his costar, who is also a writer on the show. The two actors originally met more than a decade ago when Dunster was cast in a play that Goldstein wrote.
"I did a play in Leicester Square Theatre about 11 years ago. It was a beautiful play, called Good Love Remains," he recalls. "And one night after we did it, the producer came up to me. He was like, 'The writer's here,' and I met him, and it was Brett Goldstein. And then 11 years later meeting everyone on Ted Lasso, he was like, 'Nice to meet you.' I was like, 'I've met you before. I've done your play,' and he was like, 'S---, yeah.'"
Dunster says he has "this wonderful thing with [Goldstein]. I look up to him so much because he's such a brilliant creator, but also I love him because he sits and shares with me. And also, he's really funny and he has so many different ways to swear. It's unbelievable."
And the kicker: "I'll tell you what. He is an absolute hunk," Dunster says. "His body's mad good. Seriously."
He happily welcomes the Jamie Tartt love — or hate — from fans
"I've had very few Jamie Tartt chants [shouted to me] on the street," Dunster says of navigating the show and his character's popularity. "Certainly being a part of this, the joy around the show is something that I think we all feel. We all really enjoy it. It's such a wonderful thing. It's hard enough to get a job as an actor sometimes, and it's even harder to be a part of a show where there's this good feeling and feels like it makes a difference, and I don't think any of us take that for granted."
But Dunster says it's the people in his life that he loves the most that help keep him grounded.
"I'm very lucky in that I have the people around me in my life that don't really... It's great and we can celebrate it, but there's other stuff to talk about and I think that sort of quite happily keeps my feet on the floor that they don't chant the Jamie Tartt's onto me."
He admits his character is going through a "quarter-life crisis"
"I think that we see him at a bit of a quarter-life crisis," Dunster says. "[Football] is all he's ever wanted to do. It's all he was ever known to do. It's been his lifeline, it's been his friendship circle, it's been everything to him, and now there's been this sort of catastrophe and he's at a crossroads. We see throughout the season him trying to put into practice all of those lessons he's learned in the first season. It's through Roy he learns these in practice. It's like the puppy trying to play with the big dog. The big dog keeps swatting it down, but that's how the puppy learns."
The first four episodes of Ted Lasso season 2 are now available on Apple TV+. The Emmy-nominated series' first season is also available to stream on the platform.
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