Declan Lowney Reflects On "Ted Lasso"; Jamie Walker McCall Talks "Impeachment"
Director Declan Lowney on the set of "Ted Lasso"
Directorial and production designer perspectives, respectively, on a hit comedy and Ryan Murphy latest iteration of "American Crime Story" 

Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) has opened new horizons for Declan Lowney, who going into the series was already an accomplished director as a six-time BAFTA TV Award nominee and two-time winner (for the comedy series Father Ted on U.K.’s Channel 4 and Help from the BBC). Ted Lasso, though, marked his biggest splash to date in American television, underscored last year by his first career primetime Emmy nomination for the “Make Rebecca Great Again” episode.

Beyond his directorial work on Ted Lasso its first two seasons--as well as the helming of a much anticipated season three finale--Lowney also took on supervising producer responsibilities that second season. So not only did Ted Lasso open up the American television market in the U.S. for Lowney as a director, it also gave him a big-picture perspective from a producer’s standpoint.

On the producing score, Lowney shared that he had a hand in hiring other directors and got the opportunity to watch them at work. To see different approaches, perspectives and strengths, he said, was both “fascinating” and “inspirational.” Particularly insightful was being able to observe their problem solving, “learning what other directors did, how they behaved.” The experience was also in a strange way reaffirming as Lowney made the tongue-in-cheek observation that he enjoyed the opportunity to see the “insecurities" that he and all directors have deep down."

While contributing to any hit show is gratifying, the Ted Lasso experience has been even more so due to the nature of the series. “It’s a comedy where people are  nice to each other at a time when people are often horrible to each other in comedy,” said Lowney of the Ted Lasso characters.

This kindness has been a driving dynamic in the show’s success and the acclaim it’s received, perhaps most notably reflected in the Peabody Award bestowed on the series last year. Peabody jurors issued a statement which described Ted Lasso as “a smart, funny, captivating celebration of good-heartedness.” Jason Sudeikis portrays the title character, a folksy American college football coach who is enticed to the U.K. to lead a down-on-their luck Premiere League soccer team. The show’s heart comes from the quietly radical way that Lasso, a man in a position of power, chooses kindness at every turn without sacrificing his authority. He coaches a highly competitive group of athletes to perform at the highest level by embracing vulnerability, empathy and decency. Peabody judges characterized Lasso as “affecting change by being a deeply good human, one with his own quiet anxieties and pain. The Apple TV+ series is the perfect counter to the enduring prevalence of toxic masculinity, both on-screen and off, in a moment when the nation truly needs inspiring models of kindness.”

Lowney conjectured that the pandemic might have intensified the appeal of the show. Had the apprehension over COVID and resulting isolation not happened, perhaps Ted Lasso wouldn’t have struck such a responsive chord. But the audience more deeply appreciated the values of the series and its characters given what was going on in the world. Ted Lasso provided and reflected something that people needed in their lives.

It also helps to have a strong creative leader--namely star, executive producer and writer Sudeikis who thus far has been nominated for four Emmys on the strength of his work on Ted Lasso--winning twice in 2021 for Outstanding Comedy Series and Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. The prior year Sudeikis garnered two Emmy nods for writing. Lowney noted that Sudeikis was the one who asked him to take on the supervising producer role in season two. (Lowney did not continue in the supervising producer capacity for season three in that he has since moved from the U.K. to Los Angeles. He maintained, though, his directorial involvement in the series.)

Lowney’s body of work extends beyond TV comedy series (including U.K. stalwarts Little Britain and Cold Feet) to features (Alan Partridge) and commercials which include the famed Warburtons bread campaign featuring Sylvester Stallone, The Muppets, Robert De Niro and  George Clooney, among others. Lowney is repped in the U.K. ad market by production house Merman; his U.S. spotmaking roost is Minted Content. Lowney’s commercialmaking has won a Cannes Grand Prix, Gold and Silver Lions, D&AD Pencils, British Arrows and Kinsale Sharks.  

Lowney observed that his commercial directing has informed his TV series and feature work. “I have a much better eye,” he related, citing the detail-obsessed visual orientation of spots. “Details are so important,” he affirmed, noting that he’s applied a deep sense of that to his series television endeavors. Lowney said he’s also become more adept at “compressing time” which is a commercialmaking necessity when working with a framework of some 30 seconds. As a result, when appropriate, he gets TV series scenes to play a little faster, tightening the gaps between words, getting a bit more into episodic work.

And honing one’s comedy chops can come in short or longer-form doses. While known for his Ted Lasso work, Lowney has in the ad arena exhibited a keen sense of humor, recently reflected in two spots in Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) “Where Then Meets Now” campaign where contemporary scenarios are mashed up with dialogue from classic films, in this case The Wizard of Oz and When Harry Met Sally.

For the former in a commercial titled “Cyclone,” kids engage in a pillow fight which is interrupted by their mom who begins reciting Oz lines as the Wicked Witch of the West. At first confused, the children then chime in, lip syncing in perfect cadence to the Oz soundtrack. The family dog also figures in the action, absconding with a red slipper.

In the other TCM spot titled “Happy Place,” an elderly couple in a Chinese restaurant celebrate their anniversary, uttering the soundtrack of the iconic delicatessen scene--replete with fake orgasm--from When Harry Met Sally

As for what’s next, Lowney recently directed the finale for the Apple series The Big Door Prize. And at press time he was about to embark on directing for SisterS, a dark comedy series developed by Sarah Goldberg, an actor known for her work in such shows as Barry and Hindsight.

Jamie Walker McCall
Production designer Jamie Walker McCall has enjoyed a fruitful collaborative relationship with series creator Ryan Murphy as reflected in her awards ledger, including three honors as an art director--an Outstanding Production Design Emmy nomination for Feud: Bette and Joan in 2017, and Art Directors Guild (ADG) Excellence in Production Design nods for Feud: Bette and Joan in 2018, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story in 2019. Last year she garnered a third ADG nom--this time as production designer--on the Murphy-directed feature The Prom.

She began in the Murphy television universe with Feud as an art director. Right after that, she went right into pre-pro for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. McCall noted that it was around episode three of that series when she was asked to step into the role of production designer for the remainder of the season. McCall’s body of work for Murphy also includes production design on such series as Pose and The Politician.

Fast forward to today and McCall is again in the awards season conversation, this time as production designer on Murphy’s Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX), a limited series that delves into the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. The show tells this story through the eyes of women at the center of the events: Monica Lewinsky (portrayed by Beanie Feldstein), Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) and Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford). 

McCall shed light on the nature of her working relationship with Murphy, relating, “Each series that Ryan and I collaborate on, we usually have a kickoff meeting where Ryan gives me a brief synopsis of the series and paints a vivid vision of how he imagines the world we are creating. Ryan is such an amazing storyteller that after each meeting I come out with pages of inspiring notes. With pages of notes in hand, I get to work putting my concept boards together for the overall look of the show. Once they are in a good place, I then present them to Ryan and we discuss the overall tone and direction he thinks the show should go visually based on what I’ve presented.

“For Impeachment: ACS,” she continued, “this process happened on the set of The Prom that we were both working on together. Discussing the drab desaturated world of DC in the 1990s was quite a contrast to the saturated colors we had just been dealing with the last six months on The Prom.”

For McCall the biggest challenge posed by Impeachment centered on “the continual COVID positive tests from cast and crew which then made us have to pivot to a set that we had to rush to complete. The ever changing schedule made it hard to work efficiently and rarely allowed for the step-back-and-take-a-look moment Kim Wannop (set decorator) and I are used to having.

McCall’s core team on Impeachment included Wannop as well as art directors Carol Uraneck and Sammi Wallschlaeger. McCall enjoyed a bond with each that preceded Impeachment. “Carol Uraneck and I have been working together for a while,” recalled McCall. “Carol started as a PA on The Politician with me. Carol was so awesome that she quickly moved up to the assistant art director position on The Politician. Carol and I reunited again on The Prom where she continued to assistant art direct. The Prom is also where I met Sammi Wallschlaeger. The Prom and ACS (Impeachment) overlapped a bit so it was a natural transition to bring their talents along onto ACS once The Prom finished principal photography. Carol moved up into the art director position on ACS and co-art directed with Sammi. I was lucky to have both of them and they did a stellar job.”

Wannop meanwhile was set decorator for Impeachment. McCall recalled, “Kim and I had met working together on Parks and Recreation. I was a graphic designer then but we kept in touch. Once our timing finally worked out, I was thrilled and lucky to have Kim collaborate with me on Impeachment

“Kim’s knowledge of the White House from her Emmy-winning days on Veep was instrumental. Kim has a true passion for White House decor and it shows in her amazing work on Impeachment.”

Among others whom McCall directly teamed with on Impeachment were Andrea Doyle and Laura Harper. “Andrea Doyle set decorated our DC unit when we filmed there for a week,” said McCall, “and Laura Harper shared her set decorating talents with us on our massive mall dress, nailing the 1990s’ Crate and Barrel set we built from scratch.”

As for the biggest takeaway from her experience on Impeachment, McCall cited “actually learning of the great injustice that happened to Monica Lewinsky. I was in high school/college at the time when the scandal broke so I remember it happening but not specific details. Once I read the scripts and started doing my own research, I was truly shocked by what happened to Monica. I cannot imagine having gone through what Monica did at such a young age. How she was exploited by the media and politicians was a disgrace and I’m glad Ryan and (writer/producer) Sarah Burgess brought this to light again to give Monica a voice to tell her side of the story."

McCall’s body of work is not confined to the Ryan Murphy galaxy. She is also, for instance, in the awards season conversation for her work on Candy (Hulu), a true-crime limited series starring Jessica Biel as Candy Montgomery who was accused of killing her best friend with an axe in June 1980.

McCall said that the biggest challenge that Candy posed to her was “navigating this new world of supply chain issues, 10-day crew quarantines with no replacement options all the while keeping to an arduous shooting schedule.”

McCall added that her experience on Candy served as a reminder “to work with people you love and who make you laugh. Being reunited with past co-workers Tyler Patton (property master) Barbee Livingston (set decorator) and Ryan Garton (art director) combined with Jason Morgan’s construction and paint team made the long hours away from home bearable when you are laughing all the time.”

This is the second installment of a 16-part weekly The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories which will explore the field of Emmy contenders and then nominees spanning such disciplines as directing, writing, producing, showrunning, cinematography, editing, production design, costume design, music, sound and visual effects. The Road To Emmy Series will then be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners in September, and then the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony that month.

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