Hannah Waddingham wasn’t particularly well known outside her native Britain until 2020. That was when Apple TV+ debuted "Ted Lasso," a comedy about an American football coach ("Saturday Night Live" alum Jason Sudeikis) hired to take the reins of a British soccer team, with Waddingham playing team owner Rebecca Welton.
When the show returned with its second season in 2021, "Ted Lasso" was a bonafide hit, and Waddingham its breakout star. Fans who did a little digging online discovered that Waddingham was far from a newcomer to the entertainment industry, a professional stage and screen actor who’s starred in numerous theatrical hits in London’s West End, and boasts an eclectic roster of screen credits that include TV series ranging from Netflix comedy "Sex Education" to HBO mega-hit "Game of Thrones."
As she geared up for the second season of "Ted Lasso," Waddingham was on a promotional blitz when she received an Emmy nomination for her role on the show, her first Emmy nod ever. As fans of "Ted Lasso" get to know even more about this multitalented actor, there’s plenty to discover by reading further to learn the untold truth of Hannah Waddingham.
Hannah Waddington is a superstar in London’s West End theatre scene
Long before anyone linked the words "Ted" and "Lasso" together, Hannah Waddingham was already well established in London’s West End theater scene. According to Broadway World, Waddingham made her West End debut in the 2000 production of "The Beautiful Game," which led to a major role in "Tonight’s the Night," a 2003 musical based on the songs of rocker Rod Stewart. Other stage roles have included "A Little Night Music" (for which she was nominated for an Olivier award), a 2012 production of "Kiss Me Kate," and playing the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz. " That wasn’t the only witch she’s played onstage; she also starred in a 2010 production of "Into the Woods," playing the witch in that production as well.
In an interview with Esquire, Waddingham recalled one of her earliest auditions, for the role of an American character in a dinner-theatre production. "I did an American accent from the minute I walked in the door, and I didn’t quit it for a second," she said. "They offered me the job on the spot, and then they said, ‘Oh, which part of the States are you from?"
Her Broadway debut was in a ‘Monty Python’ classic
Not only has Hannah Waddingham made a splash onstage in her native Britain, she’s also been the toast of Broadway. A breakthrough came when she was cast as the Lady of the Lake in the West End production of "Monty Python’s Spamalot," which had also opened on Broadway. At one point during the run, Waddingham and actor Marin Mazzie — who played the same part in the Broadway production — essentially swapped jobs, with Mazzie taking over the role in the West End production and Waddingham performing in the Broadway version.
A review of the show in Entertainment Weekly saved all its praise for Waddingham, calling her a "true Broadway success … whose imperious meta-diva effortlessly mocks the baroque vocal gymnastics found on, say, a certain Fox reality show. She’s both sublime and very silly indeed."
Speaking with MSG Network, Waddingham admitted "Spamalot" was a very special show. "I’ve never been in a show where people literally laugh from, like, a minute into the overture right to the end," she said.
Her ‘Game of Thrones’ role hinged on how she said just one word
In addition to that extensive theater work, Hannah Waddingham has also racked up an impressive roster of screen credits. Of all those roles, however, one looms larger than the rest: portraying Septa Unella in "Game of Thrones." Waddingham appeared in the series’ fifth and sixth seasons, making Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) atone for her sins by forcing her to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing while Unella rang a bell and repeatedly chanted "shame."
In an interview with Collider Extras, Waddingham revealed that prior to filming she met with that episode’s director, David Nutter, who gave her some direction attuned to her background as a singer. As she recalled, he advised her to "find a pitch, one that you can maintain, and two, that is something [Unella] has done all her life … and a tone that lets everyone know there’s no mucking about with this character."
After taking in that information, Waddingham immediately demonstrated how she’d be saying "shame" in front of the cameras. "And I did it, and he went, ‘Well, that’s the shortest meeting I’ve ever had, I’ll see you tomorrow.’"
She irked a ‘Game of Thrones’ director for ‘having way too much fun’
While Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame is one of the most memorable and severe scenes in the entirety of "Game of Thrones," Hannah Waddingham admitted that she and cast member Lena Headey (who played Cersei) had a tough time taking themselves seriously. In fact, she admitted in an interview with Vulture, they were a bit of a handful during filming.
"Lena and I had a great laugh doing that, I have to say," said Waddingham. "We absolutely got on like a house on fire, and at times, we were told off by the director [the aforementioned David Nutter] because we were just having way too much fun."
As Waddingham related, the reason was "because I’m a smiley, wide-mouthed person in real life, and I think [Headey] just found it hilarious that I had to be really stern, and have this awful, scary face. So every time we tried to shoot, it was just like, ‘Hold on, we have to get ourselves together for a second,’" she said with a laugh. "We were just two birds having a laugh together and had to pull into gear to get the job done."
Being waterboarded for 10 hours on ‘Game of Thrones’ was the second worst day of her life
In the sixth season of "Game of Thrones," Cersei gets revenge on Septa Unella by waterboarding her, pouring wine into her mouth until all but drowning her. That scene is brutal to watch, and, according to Hannah Waddingham, was even worse to film.
"And there I was strapped to a wooden table with proper big straps for 10 hours. And definitely, other than childbirth, it was the worst day of my life," she said in interview with Collider. By the end of the day, she "had no voice at all to barely whisper, bruises already coming up like I’d been attacked, and I was like, ‘I’ve basically just been waterboarded for 10 hours.’" Her onscreen torturer Lena Headey concurred, telling Insider that Waddingham "had a really s**t time doing that scene."
However, Waddingham clarified in an appearance on "The Talk" (via Yahoo! Entertainment), there was another part of her statement that hadn’t been featured in the original interview. "But what I said at the end of it that wasn’t picked up on, was I would 100% do it again," she said. "Because being given the chance to be on something like ‘Game Of Thrones,’ you have to go there."
She comes from a family of opera singers
Viewers of "Ted Lasso" got a taste of Hannah Waddingham’s amazing abilities as a singer when she belted out "Let It Go" from Disney’s "Frozen" during the first season’s karaoke scene. That was when viewers discovered what has been common knowledge to those who’ve seen the actor in action performing in stage musicals, that Waddingham is a supremely talented vocalist.
While there’s no question there’s been a lot of training and practice involved, Waddingham can also claim a certain genetic disposition. According to a 2008 Broadway.com profile, Waddingham is the daughter of British opera singer Melonie Waddingham (née Kelly); in fact, added Prabook, both of Waddingham’s maternal grandparents were also opera singers, and she got the performing bug by watching her mom perform onstage while growing up. "Singing is very much in the blood," she said, explaining that her opera-spoofing "Spamalot" number, "The Song That Goes Like This," "is absolutely me doing an impression of my mother."
Despite her operatic pedigree, Waddingham admitted she had other ambitions. "But as much as I love opera," she told Broadway, "I always knew that I’m an actress who happens to sing."
Hannah Waddingham compared herself to this emoji when she won her ‘Ted Lasso’ role
When Hannah Waddington read the script for a show about a Kansas City football coach recruited to coach a British soccer team — despite having only the most rudimentary knowledge of the sport — she knew "Ted Lasso" was something special. "I’ve always been very picky about the parts that I take… but this gave me everything, and that is unique," she recalled in an interview with Forbes. "Even just reading the pilot, the difference in her from one end to the other was extraordinary. I’ve never had a thing where you get to play so many different things in one scene. It’s literally the dream role that I consistently pinched myself about."
When she was invited to audition for the role of team owner Rebecca Welton, she assumed it would eventually be given to "one of what we call ‘the famouses.’" After auditioning, she had a "lovely" two-hour chat with Jason Sudeikis, the show’s star and co-creator, and left thinking she’d had "a lovely interlude" before the plum role ultimately went to a better-known actor.
About 10 days later, Waddington was stunned to learn she’d won the part. "It felt like that emoji with the head exploding," she recalled.
She revealed those ‘Ted Lasso’ biscuits aren’t nearly as appetizing as they appear
A running gag throughout the first season of "Ted Lasso" is the titular soccer coach’s habit of baking shortbread biscuits that he presents daily as a gift to Hannah Waddingham’s character, team owner Rebecca Welton. And while those biscuits may look tasty onscreen, Waddingham told Vulture that the reality was far different. "I did not enjoy every mouthful," she said, describing those biscuit-eating scenes as "the hardest acting job of my life." The biscuits were so dry, she explained, they "sucked all of the saliva out of my face when I was trying to act and talk at the same time."
When the second season of "Ted Lasso" rolled around, Waddingham told the Los Angeles Times, she found the biscuits easier to ingest. "I don’t know if they’ve made them better or it’s just like seeing an old friend," she said with a laugh, adding, "I think they have made more of an effort this year."
Speaking with Theatermania, Waddingham shared her belief that the show’s "props department has taken the very unsubtle, global hints I’ve given and now they’re actually really nice."
Why Hannah Waddington sees the female relationships on ‘Ted Lasso’ to be aspirational
One of the more refreshing aspects of the first season of "Ted Lasso" was the deepening friendship between Hannah Waddingham’s Rebecca and Juno Temple’s Keeley Jones, the character who was one-time topless model who describes herself as being "sort of famous for being almost famous."
As Waddingham explained in an interview with E! News, she was thrilled by the dynamic between the women, the opposite of way female characters tend to be pitted against each other for dramatic effect. "Getting to actually play two women that adore the bones of each other, and who would trample anyone down to let the other one get ahead, I can only hope that it will encourage a generation of young ladies to do the same," she said.
The fact that the characters (and the actors who portray them) come from different generations only increased their closeness. "They enjoy what the other one brings from each decade," Waddingham told IndieWire. "One of my favorite movies of all time is ‘Thelma and Louise’ and I feel like we’ve kind of created our own version of ‘Thelma and Louise,’" added Temple.
She was reluctant to sing a ‘Frozen’ hit for a ‘Ted Lasso’ karaoke scene, but it became her favorite
One of the more memorable scenes in the first season of "Ted Lasso" comes when the members of AFC Richmond celebrate a victory at a karaoke bar, with Hannah Waddingham’s Rebecca stunning everyone with her performance of "Frozen" hit "Let It Go."
Waddingham was initially reluctant to take on that showstopper, and shared her concerns with "Ted Lasso" star/co-creator Jason Sudeikis. "I went to Jason and said, ‘I’ve avoided singing this song since it came out, because it’s a beast,’" she told Entertainment Weekly. "He’s stroking the ‘tache, and he goes, ‘OK, you find me a song that’s better for your character.’ I was like, ‘Fine, I will!’ Unfortunately, he knows exactly what he’s doing and had chosen the right song. I had to just get on with it."
Once she’d committed, Waddingham told Nerdist, she faced the challenge of not just singing the song but simultanrously conveying Rebecca’s emotional subtext while singing. "Almost the singing of it for me was secondary to where we find Rebecca in that moment," Waddingham said. "And that was what I wanted to convey."
One of her roles resulted in repeated groping
Prior to being cast in "Ted Lasso," Hannah Waddingham had become famous to U.K. television viewers for her role in the series "Benidorm." Named for the seaside Spanish resort town that’s become a favorite of British tourists, "Benidorm" featured Waddingham as vacationer Tonya Dyke in the show’s sixth season, which aired in 2014.
The character’s wardrobe typically consisted of a bikini, which resulted in some unintended consequences for the actor. "I’d never been groped in my life, but I was groped three times in one week in ‘Benidorm,’" Waddingham told the Mirror. "To get on set, I had to walk through the hotel dressed as Tonya in some non-existent bikini and high heels with blokes gawping at me… or rather groping me," she added.
Her anger at the uninvited groping presented an additional acting challenge. "I had to stop myself doing what I’d instinctively do — knock their blocks off — because I was working," she explained. "A little angel on my shoulder was going, ‘Leave it, Hannah.’ But I really wanted to take off my five-inch wedges and whack them."
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Before ‘Ted Lasso,’ Hannah Waddington appeared in a different show about soccer
It’s not exaggerating to point out that "Ted Lasso" has brought Hannah Waddingham to a whole new level of fame that the star of British stage and screen had yet to experience, including her very first Emmy nomination.
However, Ted Lasso isn’t the first TV series focusing on soccer — or, as it’s known in Britain, football — in which Waddingham has starred. According to her IMDb credits, back in 2005 she guested in an episode of the U.K. drama "Footballer’s Wives," which focused on the soapy shenanigans of the wives and girlfriends of fictional British soccer stars. As the Mirror reported, Waddingham played a tennis pro named Jools, the "new lover" of Hazel (Alison Newman), chairman of the Earls Park Football Club, known by its fans as the Sparks.
Waddingham was reminded of her role in that show in an interview with The A.V. Club. Recalling "Footballer’s Wives" with a slight cringe, Waddingham joked, "I’m going to go out there and say that [‘Ted Lasso’] is 150,000% better."
The real-life soccer star Hannah Waddingham would love to see make a ‘Ted Lasso’ cameo
With the praise being heaped on "Ted Lasso" by critics, the show entered its second season poised for even greater success. As is often the case, once a TV series enters the pop-culture consciousness in the way that "Ted Lasso" has, celebrities suddenly being clamoring to make cameos.
Speaking with Vulture, Waddingham was asked if there were any real life soccer stars she’d love to see make appearances on the show. One immediately sprang to mind. "We’ve got to get [Cristiano] Ronaldo," she said. "I’d love to see Ronaldo antagonize Jamie Tartt [played by Phil Dunster] and give him a run for his money at some point."
Meanwhile, she offered some other suggestions. "Personally, I’d love to see Robbie Fowler, who used to play for Liverpool when I was in my 20s. I’ll always have a soft spot for him because he was the naughty boy of the league," she recalled, noting that her interest in soccer had less to do with the game itself than the players’ physiques. "I’d just go for the thighs," she said with a laugh. "I’d sit there thinking which players had the best thighs."
Hannah Waddingham keeps her private life under wraps
Hannah Waddingham has done an admirable job of keeping her personal life private, given that she and partner Gianluca Cugnetto have been together for more than a decade, and are parents to a young daughter. A 2005 interview with the Irish Mirror noted that she "tries to keep her partner Gianluca out of the limelight." At that point, they’d been together about 18 months, and she described him in gushing terms. "He’s a true alpha male, a stunning, robust, immaculate, sartorially elegant man," she said. Really lovely — and smoking hot!"
Cugnetto "used to be general manager of a five-star Caribbean hotel," noted the Irish Mirror, while United in Beauty wrote that Cugnetto "describes himself as a food and drink guru." Also, Waddingham told the Irish Mirror, he is "kind-of interested in what I do, but not that much."
In 2015, Waddingham told the Sunday Post that she and Cugnetto had recently welcomed daughter Kitty. "She just turned one last month," said the proud mom. "Without wanting to sound sloppy, she’s by far the greatest achievement of my life." In April 2021, Waddingham took to Instagram to share a rare photo of her partner and their daughter.