Coming off Apple TV+’s recent announcement that season three of Ted Lasso will premiere this spring, we wanted to catch up with one of the stars of the Emmy-winning series. Titles on Cristo Fernández’s résumé range from Spider-Man: No Way Home to the upcoming Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. The actor also happens to be a multi-hyphenate thanks to his production company Espectro MX Films, through which he has co-produced two feature films titled Sisters and When You Are Gone, both filmed in his hometown of Guadalajara in Jalisco, Mexico. The former professional footballer — or “soccer player” in American vernacular — still found time, though, to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and share the casting story behind his breakthrough role as Dani Rojas on Ted Lasso. Keep reading for insights into how his positive, enthusiastic role evolved throughout the process — Fernández describes the original character for which he auditioned as “an A-hole” — and how the actor helped create his signature catchphrase “football is life.”
It’s great to virtually meet you, Cristo. Before we dive into your casting story, I’d love to hear how you’d sum up your character of Dani Rojas on Ted Lasso.
Same to you, and thank you for including me in the My Casting Story series — I’m a fan of it. As far as describing Dani within the framework of the show, he’s a character who has the opportunity to connect everyone with positive vibes and good energy. I think it’s important to remember the passion for whatever job it is you do, which is football in Dani’s case. Often, when people play the sport as kids, it’s all about the joy of it. But I think that as we grow up, it can be easy to lose that inner joy and love for whatever it is we’re doing. Dani represents what it looks like to keep that passion as an adult, and he reminds the other characters of the love they have for the game.
Thanks for sharing that insight into Dani. Now, take us back to the beginning. What can you tell us about the process of booking the role?
It was a journey that started back when I went to study at the University of Surrey. After I graduated and got my master’s degree from the Guildford School of Acting, I stayed in London and started creating my own short films. People always ask why I went there to pursue acting and filmmaking instead of America. I’ve just always admired the UK culture and people, so I chose London even though there was the matter of figuring out the visa situation there. I pushed to stay, though, because my gut told me that’s where I should be.
It’s always good to follow your gut.
Yes. So, I kept going, even though I only did one professional acting gig in the UK before Ted Lasso, which was a commercial in which I played a Mexican wrestler. And aside from it, I pretty much didn’t book anything for the next three years. But I kept at it, making my own work with my shorts and giving myself roles. By 2019, though, I came to the decision that I could keep doing my own work in Mexico where I’d also have great weather and food. Plus, my family is there. So, I was actually in Mexico when I did the initial self tape audition for Ted Lasso. At that time, the character was — in fact — supposed to be the main mean guy on the show.
Yeah, he was supposed to be this “A-hole” character. So, I sent in the self tape and when I didn’t hear back at the beginning of August — when they began filming — I figured I didn’t book the show. But then at the end of the month, Bill Lawrence actually reached out on Twitter. He just said, “Good audition, man.” I was very much taken by surprise and replied by thanking him for the kind words and wishing him all the best with the show. Then in September, I received auditions for three different characters on Ted Lasso. One was a character from France, one was from Africa and the other one was Icelandic.
That’s quite a range of different roles!
I speak French, which I was able to use for that particular character. But I just played the other roles as a Mexican guy. Apparently, they loved my auditions and ended up adapting the Icelandic character to fit me, creating this guy from Guadalajara, Mexico. I came up with the “Dani Rojas Song” in my first audition and found out later that the creative team would actually play the self tape video around the office when they were writing episodes and listen to the song for inspiration. [Laughs] Those are their words, not mine. And that was before I even came onto the show, so it was really cool to hear about.
It sounds like they especially liked what you created for the character, considering the song made it onto the show.
Bill Lawrence also reminded me how I helped create one of Dani’s actual lines. At the season two premiere of Ted Lasso, Bill told the audience that the phrase “football is life” was “all Cristo.” He said the line was my creation. But, I remembered it had been a part of the audition sides for the role when it was still an Icelandic character. I asked Bill about it, and he told me to go back and rewatch my very first self tape. It started with an introduction that they’d asked actors to put before the audition scene. The idea was to share a little bit about yourself and your experience with football. So, in the self tape video, I stated my name and did all the typical profiles for the camera. Then I said, “Well, to me, football is life.” I shared how I’d played since I was a kid and started playing professionally when I was 15. I mean, we all love football in Mexico — it’s our religion. [Laughs]
So, that classic Ted Lasso line came from your audition slate for the role?
It’s one of the great things Bill does. He gets inspired by actors’ interests and personal experiences and puts them into the show. That’s something I’ve learned from him and now do with my own projects. So, I’m grateful in so many ways for the opportunity. Before Dani, there were no Latino roles on Ted Lasso — I was happy to get to be a part of representing a Mexican character on the series. I’m also so thankful because the team pushed for my papers, and joining the production allowed me to get a UK visa. This was the first big-budget project I’d had the opportunity to be on, and I remember when my agent told me I’d won the role. I was in Guadalajara with my family, and my parents and I just cried so much. I remember I was in the streets screaming with excitement.
I bet! And what about shooting the show? Can you share a bit about your experience filming with the Ted Lasso family?
It’s my favorite set I’ve ever been on, which I credit to our leaders. Jason [Sudeikis], Brendan [Hunt], Joe [Kelly] and Bill [Lawrence] have created a good atmosphere and good vibes on set since day one of Ted Lasso. I think they have this “no A-hole policy,” which is something I definitely plan to adopt for my own projects. All the cast and crew throughout the three seasons of Ted Lasso have just been kind people. And opportunities have been created for them. There are people, for example, who were runners in season one that are now first ADs [assistant directors]. And there are people who started out as extras and ended up being a part of the main cast in season three. I believe in a general concept that has been shown over the course of filming Ted Lasso. That is, when you work hard and push yourself, you can achieve great things.
That’s such a strong message to share.
Nowadays, we live in a world where we think things are going to happen like this. [Snaps] But, the concept for Ted Lasso has been around for many years, and it just recently came to fruition as a series. In the same vein, I think some actors hope to be discovered by just walking down the street, but that’s not normally the case. I mean, I sometimes get asked how it feels to be an overnight success, but the truth of the matter is that many years went into landing this role. Back when I was playing football professionally, I didn’t understand why I had to get injured. I didn’t understand why things with my football career had to happen the way that they did. I’m so grateful, though, that my family and friends pushed me to find new passions and dreams. Now, it all makes sense. Here I am playing a footballer on TV, and I prepared for the role my whole life without even knowing it. I’ve learned that everything you do in life is going to help you later on, in some way.
I like that takeaway! And before we wrap, I’d love to hear how landing the popular Apple TV+ series has impacted your career so far?
It really has opened doors and allowed me to connect with more people in the industry. Booking the role certainly has changed my life. And since I’m also a creator and filmmaker, it’s helped me when I go around town to pitch things. Being a part of Ted Lasso has given me more confidence in my work, in general. It’s helped me know that I’m on the right track and believe even more in what I’m doing.
It may come as no surprise to Ted Lasso fans that the word “believe” came up in a conversation with one of the series’ stars. And before the interview concluded, Fernández shared one last way the Ted Lasso filmmakers have inspired him. “Just like Jason, Brendan, Joe, Bill and all the writers on Ted Lasso gave me an opportunity, I want to do the same with my own work,” he noted. “I want to create projects that give other people opportunities, too.” Those interested in keeping up with the multi-hyphenate’s career journey can find him on Instagram, where he shares inspiration and gratitude in both his life and work.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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