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Ted Lasso's Billy Harris Is Quietly Breaking Barriers

Ted Lasso's Billy Harris Is Quietly Breaking Barriers


Ted Lasso's Billy Harris Is Quietly Breaking Barriers
Joseph Sinclair

Out contributor Stacey Yvonne speaks to the Ted Lasso star about his character Colin's season 3 coming out and more.

There was a nearly palpable excitement when I met Billy Harris at the season 3 premiere of Ted Lasso. I'd received screeners of episode 3 and was excited to talk with him about his character Colin’s new and important storyline. It was a successful night filled with celebration and most importantly, the kind of hope that Ted Lasso — the fictional character — inspires in all of us.

Joseph Sinclair

Ted Lasso the character was invented by Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt as part of a media promo for the UK's Premier soccer league. Many of the lines from the first few episodes are cribbed directly from these charming videos. What’s missing is what separates Ted Lasso from the pack.

By showcasing Ted’s initial battles and eventual acceptance of his vulnerability, he showed a generation of viewers that manhood and toxicity are not synonyms, just as manhood and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive concepts.

And Ted cares in a way that is undeniably, yet also indescribably masculine. Executive Producer Bill Lawrence has peddled in “man feelings” for most of his career and he’s been able to find the center of a man’s character that makes him more than just two dimensional. It’s subtle and confident without question. It’s also contagious, and though no one is quite like Ted, many on the show try to be like him, whether they realize it or not.

This means that characters that seem to be one-trick ponies — like Billy Harris’s Colin — can find new beginnings and evolve as the show evolves.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

During season one, Colin was merely a comedic foil. Dim but passionate, often happy to be Jamie Tartt’s underling along with teammate Isaac (Kola Bokinni). He was someone who thrived in a team and was desperate to belong and fit in. Then during season two, something important happened. After a session with team psychologist, Dr. Sharon (played by the incomparable Sarah Nile), Colin comes out proclaiming, “She’s amazing!” His world has changed and he employs a mantra for himself: “I am a strong and capable man”.

“When Dr. Sharon came in, what we didn’t get to see was him opening up for probably the very first time to someone in the footballing world about his sexuality.” Billy Harris says over Zoom. We’ve been talking about Colin and why his storyline for this season is so meaningful.

As an entertaining sitcom, Ted Lasso has the option to sit comfortably, but it excels because sometimes it chooses to make a statement where nothing is being said. It was only a matter of time before they added a queer player and I was excited to see who it would be.

We were gifted with a small hint during season 2. Colin delivers a line about the gay dating app (Grindr) that almost seems like a throwaway, but it was not missed by the very vocal and eagle-eyed Twitter fans.

“The response to the Grindr line was so amazing to see and watch on Twitter. To see a community feel represented in their favorite show.” Harris continues, smiling at the memory. “The moment I got episode three [of season three] I just thought about those fans that went completely wild for the Grindr line, and I thought, this is for you. This is for all of you.”

In the episode, we see Harris’s Colin wake up in the home of his boyfriend, Michael (Sam Liu). After an exchanged kiss, they make plans to meet again once Michael returns from Dubai. The moment is short, but absolute. There is no question that Colin is queer and seems to be very happy. I asked Harris why Colin was such a good choice for the new direction.

“From the beginning, I saw that [Ted Lasso] wasn’t just a comedy about football, it was about the world. It was a thought of mine that they had to put a gay footballer in because it’s such a huge subject in sport and athletics as a whole. We had amazing writers, Dylan Marron and Chuck Hayward who came in for season three, and that was really exciting. In the locker room, we’re not really seeing the man that Colin is in the outside world. We see all footballers as sports stars, and we don’t see who they really are. When they approached me about it, it was a no-brainer, I jumped at the chance!”

His excitement is contagious and I laugh along as he talks, full of energy. It’s something that 10 or 15 years ago may not have been the case. A time when an actor (presumed straight) would be called “brave” for daring to play a queer chracter. I didn’t want to bring him down, but I couldn't help but wonder about the feedback.

Harris’s Instagram is full of loving comments from fans who relate to Colin deeply. They wish the character were around when they were kids and they’re so proud of Harris for being an ally. However, the role hasn’t been without its critics.

“There was a DM I received, and you know how you can go back and see the beginning of the message?” Harris asks. I nod, remarking that toxic DM culture was not unfamiliar to me. “Someone there was like, 'Brilliant!, Love you on Ted Lasso!' you know? From season one and two, 'Love you, this is great!' And lo and behold, in season three this same person just puts, 'Disgusting.' So… you loved Colin when he was just a footballer, when he was saying funny lines, but now that he’s three-dimensional, you don’t like that? That’s been interesting, but would I say that it bothers me? No, because this is why we’re doing it, you know? Because people say things like, 'Disgusting,' and that’s why we’re doing it.”

Joseph Sinclair

Episode six most recently aired (warning: spoilers ahead!) and we see the fruition of Trent Crimm’s (James Lance) discovery of Colin and Michael in the alley behind Sam’s new restaurant. It’s several weeks later and the team is in Amsterdam with no curfew and no clear idea on what to do with their hard-earned freedom. While everyone argues, Colin slips away and finds solace in a bar, tactfully named “Prik.” After scoping out the place, he’s told of an after-hours party by the bartender. Colin then goes into preservation mode. He leans forward and asks the bartender, “Do you know who I am?” The bartender smiles, cheeky and inviting, “The secret is, you can be whoever you want to be.” Colin smiles, ready to settle in as hearts across the TV-viewing world explode for him.

Then, in a moment that feels part meet-cute part horror film, Trent Crimm greets Colin and Colin chooses flight. It’s worth noting that earlier in the season near the end of episode three, we see Michael and Colin on a date of sorts. The “of sorts” speaks mainly to the fact that they were the only two who knew they were on a date. Michael is introduced as a “wingman” and he seems fine with this, but Colin never acknowledges Michael as a partner. And you can sense a little sadness in Colin that it works.

After Trent reveals himself as part of the tribe (a delightful reveal!), he and Colin find camaraderie in one another. Colin finds a release he hasn’t had since Dr. Sharon, a true example of “game recognizes game.”

“I think that friendship is going to be positive, it has to be, not that he has someone where he had Dr. Sharon. I think that what you’re seeing, and I’m touching more on mental health here, is the power of talking about your problems and talking about the issues you have. And now he has another person he can go to.” Harris says proudly, though he becomes a bit wistful. “I love Colin, I think he’s the best guy in the world. I want nothing but the best for him, and I love that he has other people around him he can go to. I think there’ve been times where I’ve seen him be quite alone.”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Colin gives an impassioned speech in episode six. He talks about an ache inside of him that’s desperate to join his two lives together. He wants to score a goal and be able to kiss his fella, the way his teammates kiss their ladies. But for the moment, in a place called Prik where he can be whomever he wants to be, Colin chooses to dance. And to laugh. And to share his joy with his new friend.

There’s a scene near the end when the camera is panning through the bus. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has started a sing-a-long of Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and we see row by row as the weary players join in. We see Colin and in the seat in front of him sits Trent Crimm. Colin reaches a hand forward and squeezes Trent’s arm smiling and happy and free.

“That was Jason [Sudeikis, who co-wrote the episode]. I think it started with me and Trent sitting next to each other and then it moved to Trent being in front. Jason came over and said, 'When the camera goes down, just give Trent a little squeeze.' And it basically summed up one of Colin’s best holidays.”

It’s a happy middling in a story that so often begins in tragedy. I don’t know what’s in store for Colin, but it feels good knowing that he’s protected and loved, and even if things do get hard, he will prevail. After all, he is a strong and capable man.

I asked Harris what he learned from Colin and his storyline this season. He was thoughtful but resolute.

“Personally I’ve learned a lot about anxiety and not necessarily being the loudest in the room, but being there and being good at your job. I think that acting is a spectrum and everyone comes from so many different worlds and backgrounds that when you just get punked into this set, you can get really nervous. I needed to learn from a lot of people and I feel like Colin does that a lot. I implement a lot of his courage in my own life.”

Courtesy of Apple TV+

And about the impact he wants the story to have on the audience?

“He’s not conflicted, he’s just living to live. So what the audience will see throughout the story is the going-along part, still not wanting to be a spokesperson, but just simply wanting to be himself in and outside of the stadium. He doesn’t have to hide, doesn’t have to be ashamed. I think it’s a simple message that can be so important globally.”

Colin’s storyline manages to be subtle and impactful all at the same time, and Harris’s performance only elevates a strong script. With excellent supporting roles, Colin’s story only cements the fact that Ted Lasso has something to say and knows how to keep you tuning in for more.

Ted Lasso is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

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