Cristo Fernández: 'I Prepared for This Role my Whole Life'

21 Jun

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'Football is life' is a phrase that encompasses everything about the award-winning, big-hearted and hopeful debut season of Ted Lasso. A show that will make you laugh as it tempts you to reflect on life's many wins, losses and draws. Just like the beautiful game, nothing in life is a certainty, full of twists and turns. For the actor introducing his character with that powerful three-word phrase that sums up the show so well, football was his life, but film is his world.

Cristo Fernández as Dani Rojas in Ted Lasso

Screen Times: Let me just say a huge congratulations to you and everyone involved in the show. I, along with everyone else has just genuinely fallen in love with the show, the characters and everything about it. 

Cristo Fernández: Thank you very much. It's been amazing and really makes me very happy to see the response the show is having, seeing that everyone is enjoying Ted Lasso and personally seeing everyone's reaction regarding Dani Rojas and what he's doing in the show. It's just really, really, cool.

Before we get into Ted lasso and Dani Rojas, talk me through your journey up to this point, because I think its a really, really interesting one. How did Cristo Fernández make his way from professional footballer to later studying acting in the UK? 

It sounds crazy already, but it's been a journey. Football has been my passion my whole life and as you said, I used to practice it professionally. Here back home in Guadalajara, Mexico, where I'm from, I played not the top level, like first edition, but I played professionally in the third and second division. That was my thing. Football was my passion since I was a little kid, until now.

Later in life, my parents intelligently told me you need to study something. I studied at my high school at night because I was training twice per day and after high school, I didn't even study. After two years, my parents told me to take study seriously and I said OK, I'll just study communication because it's close to my home. I could get sponsorship because of football there, who cares. I wasn't taking my studies seriously. Funnily enough when I started studying communication, I started to see classes about script writing and visual filmmaking which coincided with a moment in my life when I had a couple of really bad knee injuries.

I think it all happened for a reason. It was the first time I allowed myself to see and practice and relate to something aside from football. I really like it. I enjoy it. I had fun. I started to do all the short films at the university for students that were above and below me. I joined the theatre group in the university and then after I finished my degree of communications, I realised that this is what I wanted. I saved money for three years. I worked in many different jobs and once I had all my money, I went to the UK, because I admired the arts and the culture of the UK. 

I auditioned for twelve universities and got selected for two. One of them was the Guilford School of Acting at the University of Surrey. I studied there for my master and after that, I started to develop myself and I started to make contacts and get work. I had to return back home because I was with a student visa but later on, I kept pushing and looking and that's when the opportunity for Ted Lasso happened. I guess it just worked for me considering my studies, my background, and comedy also being a big passion.

Brett Goldstein, Cristo Fernández and Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso

Spending time in the UK, I'm going to guess your relationship with tea is better than Ted Lasso or maybe even Jason’s. I think they still need some converting. 

I relate to that feeling he had at the beginning because I didn't understand tea. What is this tea with milk? But honestly, you know what, after being there, the weather was new for me. I was not used to this weather when it's so cold. Even a tea like that tea, you start to like it and nowadays I really love it and enjoy it.

We've just mentioned Jason Sudeikis, but you also got to work with Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt among others. I’d imagine you were a fan of theirs before the Ted Lasso opportunity arose? 

Yeah. In terms of Jason, I just grew up watching Saturday night live and I love his work in his films. It's funny because I grew up watching him and then Bill Lawrence, one of my top TV series is Scrubs. I love Scrubs and there is a big Scrubs vibe in the show. I just grew up watching most of the people who work there and it was just a dream come true and just crazy too. Many years ago, I was watching their work and now I can be part of their work and make something cool together. It's a very, very unique experience. 

What was the first day on set like? Working with these people you admired for the first time. Could you explain your introduction and how quick it was before you were on shoot?

I remember two moments. My first moment was a table read we had for episode six, which is the one I started working from. But before I started to meet everybody, both cast and crew,  just saying hi, everyone was always so nice. Then I remember hearing Jason's voice. I turned and it was him. He says “Hi, I'm Jason” and I reply, “hello, Mr.Jason Sudeikis, nice to meet you” and he's like “Oh, just call me Jason” to which I said “Okay Jason Sudeikis.” Everyone was so cool and then I started to read Dani’s lines and I knew it was going to be great. The feeling I got at that table read was amazing. Then I had my first proper day on set and it's that moment, Dani Rojas appears on the field which was my very first day. I felt a combination of being a bit nervous, but also the energy Dani Rojas needed to have.

You can feel that energy on screen at that moment. I remember you coming on saying thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the opportunity. Football is life.

Haha the funny thing is that many people have asked me, how long did you prepare for the role? As I mentioned, I used to practice football, so I prepared for this role my whole life, without even knowing it. As you said, that line of “Thank you very much for the opportunity” that's for Dani Rojas and me. I think that's why hopefully it sounds so natural. I’m so grateful for everyone because they had already been working for like a month and a half by the time I arrived and they all made me feel part of the team. That's why it was easier for me and it allowed me to make the most and get the best of Dani Rojas and of myself. 

Football is life, I think has fast become the tagline for the show as a whole.

Yeah, it's true. It can be applied to anything, right? In this case, football is life and it's nice to see how everyone’s reacting to that phrase. I think Dani Rojas somehow represents a bit of all of us. We all have that inner child. I think sometimes in life we all have to remember why we are passionate about doing things, and why we like doing things. In this case Dani loves playing football but it’s good to remember that things can become hard sometimes. He reminds me of that and I think that phrase represents that.

Cristo Fernández channeling Guadalajara idol Guillermo del Toro

I fell in love with all of the different aspects of life that are represented. Ted Lasso is a comedy first and foremost, but it goes deeper. Your character offers a lot of comic relief and positivity at times in the story where other characters can’t.

Many friends and family and people joke with me like, “ah, you're appearing in the sixth episode. I thought you were going to appear in the first one.” I appear in the moment that makes sense and I'm so grateful. I have that moment because there's so much going on in the first five episodes that by the time you end up in the fifth, there’s so much drama and stress. It's because of the story. The moment Dani Rojas appears is like a hit of energy. I think it works perfectly. 

I’m just incredibly happy and grateful to be part of this show. Not only because I work there, but I think it's a show that is necessary nowadays with all the craziness and problems going on in different parts of the world. It's a show that hopefully will bring hope and go through those emotions. It's not a comedy that you just laugh and thats it. It’s one that transmits different messages across cultures.

There is a specific message that I identified with myself. Ted Lasso is someone who doesn't know the game, but he's very good at other stuff. Like he's a very good leader who has been through many things in his life and he's overcoming those things.

I believe that in life, when you don't have all the knowledge or the experience or skills in something that you really like, if you're passionate about it, willing to fail and try and learn from the people that really know about it, you can become good at it. Personally, that's been the same for me and my journey.

I think, as an actor and filmmaker, I started late but I was willing to just try it and get out of my comfort zone and be in England drinking tea. I began listening to people with a different accent. 

I have to be honest, the first six months I reached midday and I just wanted to go and take a nap. I felt tired. I remember talking with my friend Jack, who was my course leader in Guilford. I remember saying "I don't feel normal, Jack. It’s midday and all I want to do is go to bed.” 

All those things combined allow me to get the best of myself. And I think that's what is happening to Ted lasso, and that's why I identify with that message.

Going right up until that final episode, the viewer also goes through that with you. We go through such a roller coaster on that final game in Season 1. That was a beautiful scissor kick by the way.

Thank you. Thank you. Funnily enough, both Elliott Hegarty (Director), myself and all the cast and crew were a bit worried because I remember one of the first shoots that day was my kick. We were worried that it might take awhile, but after rehearsing it a couple of times, I think I got it in either the second or third take. It didn't take long. So yeah, I can probably say that all the things you see Dani Rojas do, I did them.

Dani Rojas celebrates in the Ted Lasso Season 1 finale

Putting comic relief aside for a moment, where do you hope your character takes viewers in the future?

Right now I'm just looking forward to see how the creators and the writing team will develop him. It will be interesting to see, because right now we've seen Dani Rojas as very happy. Yeah, maybe it would be interesting to see him in the opposite. How will he overcome a difficult situation? Maybe if he's not very happy, why is that happening? That will be interesting to work at. It will be cool to see those things.

I heard that in production you were being ribbed. Constantly having to go shirtless during a winter shoot in London. Are you much of a prankster yourself and for anyone coming onto the set for future seasons, who out of everyone do they need to watch out for? 

Well, Roy Kent is a very tough character in the show, but Brett Goldstein is a very funny human and very kind. Everyone there is just really nice but I think I would be taking precautions of everyone. You don’t know where the next prank or joke might come from. Brett is a really, really happy man and he's always joking. Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) and Isaac (Kola Bokinni) are also very funny dudes. Probably those two.

Apple TV+ goes out to over 100 countries. What's been the standout fan interaction, albeit we're mostly indoors these days...

Just recently someone approached me in the streets. It was the first time. I didn't even know how to react because it was just so new for me. He told me football is life in Spanish and asked “it's you?.” It was a really nice moment. We took a picture.

I was just very happy, but I've been approached a lot through social media. I'm just very happy and grateful for the messages, the good vibes everyone keeps sending. More than anything, I am very happy with the message everyone keeps receiving. It’s very good to see people saying that in these tough times they look forward to every Friday to watch the show. Hopefully we can keep developing the show and create more smiles and nice moments in people’s heads and people's lives.

Listen to our interview in full on our podcast Magic Rays of Light.

Ted Lasso's second season premieres Friday July 23rd on Apple TV+.

Sigmund Judge
Sigmund is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ScreenTimes where he began his Apple TV coverage in 2016. With an unwavering passion for Apple, storytelling and storytellers alike, he writes about Apple TV with a focus on the arts, development, tvOS, home theatre and accessibility. Sigmund also co-host’s Magic Rays of Light, a weekly podcast exploring the world of Apple TV and the many talents bringing our screens to life.