When Juno Temple first heard from Jason Sudeikis, she assumed that he had messaged the wrong actress.
For a decade and a half, Temple had played a parade of troubled and troubling young women in films like “Atonement,” “Killer Joe” and “Afternoon Delight.” She had almost never done a comedy. So when Sudeikis texted her regarding a role on “Ted Lasso,” the extravagantly nice, ultra Emmy-nominated sitcom that begins its second season on Apple TV+ on Friday, she suspected that he had her confused with someone else.
“I was like, Oh God, this is going to be awkward,” Temple, 32, said, lounging against a furry pillow on the porch of her Los Angeles home during a recent video call.
Sudeikis hadn’t made a mistake. “Ted Lasso,” a sitcom about an American football coach sent to manage an English Premier League soccer club, is a mostly male show. Brendan Hunt, a creator of “Ted Lasso,” called it “very, very dude-heavy.” But it has two superb parts for women: Rebecca Walton, the team’s owner, and Keeley Jones, the girlfriend of a star player. The producers had struggled to cast Keeley.
Keeley is a glamour girl and an occasional topless model. “I’m sort of famous for being almost famous,” she explains in an early episode. The actresses the producers had auditioned by that time had emphasized Keeley’s body-glitter exterior, not the big brain and bigger heart beneath it. Temple, a self-described “quirky weirdo” who doesn’t skew voluptuous, wasn’t an obvious fit.
Brett Goldstein, a “Ted Lasso” actor and writer who plays Keeley’s Season 2 love interest, remembered when Temple’s name came up. “I thought, Wow, that’s a left field choice. Because of all that darkness,” he said.
But Sudeikis had seen her work on “Vinyl,” the short-lived Martin Scorsese series that starred his then-partner Olivia Wilde. He intuited that she would play Keeley differently.
And she did. A high ponytail and higher heels help Temple — 5-foot-2, barely — stand tall as Keeley. An architectural push-up bra and two sets of falsies provide that glamour model look. But Temple lends Keeley something all her own, a generosity of spirit and an incessant shimmer that eye makeup alone can’t explain.
“She’s [expletive] amazing,” Goldstein, who has a tendency toward colorful language onscreen and off, said of his co-star. “She’s [expletive] pure light.” She is also now an Emmy nominee, tipped for best supporting actress in a comedy for her turn as Keeley — one of 20 nominations the show received for its first season.
For Temple, the daughter of the experimental film director Julien Temple and the producer Amanda Pirie, acting had always felt inevitable. She can vividly recall catching chickenpox when she was almost 4 years old, and finding solace only in a laser-disc copy of Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
“That’s the first memory I have of seeing a film and believing in magic,” she said. “I remember thinking that I wanted to be part of that.”
When she was 14, she told her parents that she just had to be an actress. “I can learn about myself and learn about all different walks of life, and all different perspectives and all different heartbreaks,” she explained to them. “They were both like: ‘Really? Are you sure? Please no. Oh God no.’”
But her mother took her to an open call for the film “Notes on a Scandal.” She booked the role. A part in the film “Atonement” soon followed. In 2013, she won a BAFTA Rising Star award. Three years later, the Guardian called her “an English rose with dewy pink cheeks and bags of sexuality waiting to come out.” (Bags?)
Onscreen, Temple has a pouty, childlike presence and a slightly feral quality, like a girl raised by some very emotionally available wolves. Her affect evokes old-timey words — scamp, scapegrace, minx. (Hunt described her as “a pip.”) She also indulges a streak of self-parody. For the video call, she had adorned herself with a giant black bow, overlapping gold rings, a gold chain and luxe Chanel hoops, femininity as celebration and joke. A joke she is mostly in on.
Her characters are often bent on self-discovery, and Temple makes that discovery seem imperative and risky. “I’ve never been afraid to play a character that is going through a transition or going through something that is complicated, and something that even I don’t know the answers to,” she said. Each lost girl teaches her a little more about herself, even as she tries to keep them at a slight distance.
People sometimes ask her if she is a method actor. She tells them no. “I would have died 15 times over by now,” she said. “But I sure as hell have learned a lot from these extraordinary female characters.”
Stacie Passon, who directed Temple in “Little Birds,” the Starz adaptation of Anaïs Nin’s erotic short stories, has noticed her deep interest in human behavior and clear cinematic intelligence. She has often told Temple that she would be a good director herself, but Temple never seemed interested.
“She would say, ‘I have so much more I want to tell a camera,’” Passon said.
From her early films, Temple has gravitated toward sexualized roles. Or maybe those roles gravitated toward her. In interviews, she has sometimes embraced that persona, telling that “bags of sexuality” Guardian writer: “I’ve finally hit puberty on camera. Woo hoo!” She confessed to the Independent that she buys lingerie for each character she plays and in 2016 shot a campaign for the luxury intimates brand Agent Provocateur. Last year, promoting “Little Birds,” she struck a blasé tone for another Guardian writer: “I don’t really get nervous for a sex scene. I’ve done quite a few of them now.”
Not every sex scene has felt entirely necessary, but she has always treated sexuality as an essential element of character, never as a gratuitous add-on. “She wants to explore desire,” Passon said.
Kathryn Hahn co-starred with her in the 2013 film “Afternoon Delight.” (Temple played McKenna, an exotic dancer, with Hahn as the not-so-exotic homemaker who takes her in.) Hahn noticed how, as McKenna, Temple could show both a woman in full command of her sexuality and the vulnerable girl underneath. “She’s a remarkable truth digger,” Hahn wrote in an email.
Temple doesn’t feel ashamed of any sex scene in any film she has made. “It’s a choice that I wouldn’t change,” she said. “I don’t regret it. Part of me is less daunted about taking my clothes off in character and being caught on film in that way than I am in real life.”
Unlike many of Temple’s previous characters, Keeley is already comfortable in her sexuality. (Her lingerie? A pink set patterned with iridescent hearts.) Though she found almost fame as a topless model, she now mostly keeps her tops on. “Ted Lasso” instead pushes Keeley to believe that she has value beyond her body, and then rewards that belief. Whatever the opposite of troubled is, that’s Keeley.
Because Temple has so rarely done comedy, she learned it on “Ted Lasso,” beat by beat, scene by scene. The cast was patient with her, she said. And willing to answer questions like, “How is this funny?”
Owing to her instincts and experience, Temple tends to “play things as real as I can,” she said, rather than lunging for the joke. Hunt said this approach works well for Keeley and the show. Usually.
“She’s just playing the truth of what the character’s going through, and it’s just hilarious,” he said. “Though there are certainly times where we have to be like: ‘OK, great, Juno. Now try it again. Without crying.’”
She has also shown an unanticipated gift for physical comedy, as in a scene from Season 2 when she attacks a chocolate fountain, tongue first. “She’s entirely present and alive,” Goldstein said. “When you’re acting with her, it’s really magical.”
Temple has never played a character as kind as Keeley, nor one who enjoys the loving and uncomplicated female friendship that the character develops with Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham, also Emmy-nominated). Keeley helped Temple survive pandemic lockdown.
“It was a really good thing for my brain that I wasn’t playing a character that was going through a lot of troubled transitions or experiencing self-loathing or a lot of other complicated things that I’ve tried to put out onscreen,” she said. “I had to be kinder to myself.”
That kindness has an addictive quality. Temple wants to play more characters like Keeley, she said, but not only characters like her. The goal, she said, is to make women feel less alone, one role at a time.
“That’s something that film has done for me, and I hope that I will be able to do for other women,” she said. “Because sometimes being a woman is the greatest, most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world. And sometimes it’s a tragedy.”