Hannah Waddingham’s laugh is raucous. She radiates the elation of someone who has just won the lottery, which arguably might not be as much fun. “This is happy times for a little girl from south London,” she says.
Last week she hosted The Olivier Awards in London, ripping the roof off the Royal Albert Hall with her four-octave vocal range in one of the best opening performances the theatre awards have ever seen. Next month, she will present the Eurovision Song Contest with Graham Norton which, as she points out excitedly, everyone in the world watches. Then, there is her role as Rebecca in Ted Lasso which won her an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy series.
As a 48-year-old single mother whose break-through success arrived at an age when many actresses seem to see theirs diminish, she’s become an inspiration for other women, the shining example of the power of ‘Believe’, the catch phrase of the show which has brought her fame.
“The thing for me has always been Ted’s line when he is in the locker room and he just goes ‘onward, forward’,” she explains. “I love that because you need to move forward from the bad times, but also not get caught up in yourself in the good times. So onward, forward, always.”
Waddingham was invited to audition for the part of a bitter divorcee in a pilot for a new show before the pandemic started. She’d had roles in Game of Thrones and Hocus Pocus 2, as well as a career in London’s West End theatre. Getting the part in Ted Lasso changed everything.
“From the moment I auditioned for Rebecca, I just felt her ripple through me. I knew who she was – I knew her acerbic bark, her dry wit, the way she’d suffered controlling, verbal abuse from a partner. I’ve been through that myself, so playing her brought me great catharsis. She’s in her forties, divorced, a very wealthy woman who appears to have it all together but really doesn’t know where she’s going in life. I wanted to be very delicate in honouring that. I feel a huge responsibility to serve her and all those women and men in their forties because it’s not easy finding yourself at that age on the heap, and that’s what she’s doing, trying to keep her head above water.”
Waddingham has often expressed gratitude for the role she was given, feeling a kinship to her character, but she also likes to tell the story of chatting with Brett Goldstein, who plays Roy Kent, behind the craft truck when they were filming the first season and had no idea of the success that lay ahead. “He and I, we were just like, ‘You think people are gonna’ know what this is?’ I mean is it a comedy? But I feel like I’m crying a lot. When you haven’t seen it in the edit and you don’t know what the tone is going to be…” she laughs again.
Given that the show broke Emmy award history for its number of nominations and wins, she need never have worried. Arriving during the pandemic years, it has often been credited as being what the world needed at the time. “Chicken soup for our souls,” she jokes. “I was thrilled when the show became such a success because it was celebrating kindness and being funny rather than just roasting everyone and being snippy and bitchy, you know? It was a reminder that you don’t have to be cutting to be funny.”
As she talks – sincere but never too far away from laughter – you get the feeling that caring is very much part of who she is. She’s the kind of woman you’d want as a bestie. At 5ft 11’, she’s also someone who you would never pass by without noticing. Imposing, statuesque and with her platinum hair, she commands a kind of powerful femininity which explains why so many women are fans.
Growing up in Wandsworth, South London, Waddingham says she was always destined for acting and stage singing. “Singing is my proper job,” she likes to say. “My mum was a principal at Covent Garden Royal Opera House before I was born, and then she was at the London Coliseum for 30 years. From the age of eight I’d be sitting in the auditoriums of theatres soaking it all up. I genuinely thought that all people’s parents worked in the theatre. I also remember thinking, ‘If your job isn’t singing or dancing, what do you do?’ I never had a plan B – not in an arrogant way, but that was my vocation.”
Rumor has it that Disney, who are very protective of their material, initially refused the use their song ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen for the memorable karaoke night in season one of the show. But when they heard Waddingham sing it, they relented because they fell in love with her voice.
Musical theatre is important to Waddingham. So much, that she’s become a kind of spokesperson for theatre actors. “I’m always getting on my soapbox about how people in theatre around the world should be able to get onto screens more, because they are the ones that really, really want to do it. They’re not in it for the money. aI think I’ve been so vocal, that the people at the Olivier Awards were like, ‘Yeah, get her, she’s gobby’.”
She’s less ‘gobby’ about her private life which she guards carefully. She has a nine year old daughter, Kitty, with a businessman who she split up from several years ago, but rarely talks about.
Nor will she say anything about further seasons of Ted Lasso after this one ends. “I genuinely don’t know,” she says. “I don’t think Jason (Sudeikis) even knows, to be fair. What he has always said is that season three is the natural end of a three season arc, with a beginning, middle and end. After that who knows?”
But given the chance, she says she’d keep playing Rebecca until the end of time. “I love Rebecca. I miss her already. It’s a very weird thing to miss playing someone who only exists on screen. But I want to know where she goes next. Caring for her feels like I’m serving a friend and I want to continue to serve her.”
Like everyone else, she is going to have to wait to see.
Ted Lasso, Season 3 is streaming on Apple TV+