Transformational Experiences With Protagonists in ‘Ted Lasso,’ ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘Hamilton’ Help Supporting Players Come Into Their Own

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The final moment of “Hamilton” could have featured the loquacious lead delivering one final verse from beyond the grave. Instead, the show closes on his wife, Eliza (Phillipa Soo), letting out a deep, penetrating gasp. It follows a musical number that lists Eliza’s mind-blowing accomplishments after her husband’s death, showing that she was strong enough to forge her own path.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she has the slowest burn, if you will, of a lot of these characters,” Soo says. “Her journey starts out where she bursts onto the scene with this young, very vibrant energy, and then she has to be a witness to all of the historical and personal events that are happening in her life, and that culminates in the end, which is a big, existential moment.”

More from Variety

This year’s highly competitive supporting actor and actress races feature a handful of characters who, like Eliza, walk in the main character’s shadow, but who are given the space to come into their own.

For “The Handmaid’s Tale” pair of Yvonne Strahovski and Samira Wiley, their existences have depended on June (Elisabeth Moss), her survival and her ability to have a child. But in the show’s most recent fourth season, the orbits of both Serena and Moira have been rearranged.

This time, Stravhovski notes, her character Serena “is fending for herself and within that had more freedom than in previous seasons. She essentially lived in a very tight bubble before, but now she has more of a level playing field with Fred [her husband], perhaps even the upper hand.”

Other than June’s dramatic confrontation with Serena, another of Season 4’s biggest moments was the reunion between June and Moira. Yet, June barely recognizes her oldest friend when she lays eyes on her. That moment demonstrates how far these two women have grown apart and how Moira has built a very different life, Wiley says.

“I think you see the limits of their relationship and how trauma can affect relationships,” she says. “They are wholly different people now. They had parallel lives up until Gilead, and now they’ve been apart for four years, and Moira has been trying to heal in Toronto, while June has been enduring more and more and more trauma. You have two completely different women with different experiences and therefore different mindsets.”

A similarly significant reunion occurs in the penultimate episode of Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” when Jolene (Moses Ingram) shows up on Beth’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) doorstep.

The moment comes as a shock to the audience, who immediately gets a sense of how far Jolene has come since their tough days in the orphanage. Ingram says conveying Jolene’s confidence was the key to portraying that transformation.

“Growing up can be hard, particularly in a place where no one looks like you,” Ingram says. “I’d imagine it’s very hard to love yourself for who are you are. When she comes back later, she knows who she is, she’s been in rooms with people who have affirmed her, and she’s affirmed herself. She’s grown her hair out, she’s healthy.”

Whereas Jolene’s arc is about finding her confidence, that of champion chess hotshot Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is about tempering his.

Benny and Beth “unlock each other” over the course of the series as they transition from rivals to lovers, to friends, to mentors, notes Brodie-Sangster.

“Later on, you see Benny’s slightly vulnerable side, he relaxes and lets go of his ego,” he says. “It’s a very subtle change. He’s not in it that much, but he’s very present in every scene he’s in. I think he and Beth are playing chess in real life.”

Beth has a transformational impact on those around her, and the same could be said for the titular coach in Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso.” Take Nate (Nick Mohammed), who starts off as the AFC Richmond kit man and finishes the first season as an assistant coach. The character slowly builds in confidence throughout, and Mohammed identifies Nate’s raucous pre-match roast in episode seven as a “key turning point in his trajectory.

“We want to see Nate succeed in it, and it starts off slow and shy in a typical Nate way, and then he builds a bit of steam, and by the end he doesn’t hold back on the swearing,” Mohammed says. “I think after that we’re really rooting for him. He’s got something about him, he’s not going to be shy forever, he’s definitely got what it takes.”

Like Nate, Jeremy Swift’s Higgins is used to being downtrodden and shunted aside by the alpha characters at the club. It takes a moment of lucidity in which he realizes he’s had enough of participating in Rebecca’s scheme to sink the team, for Higgins to stand up for himself and quit his job.

“I think he does change a bit after that,” Swift says. “When Rebecca comes to see him and he’s amazed by her apology, you see him sort of stay in the more natural state that he’s in, and that comes into Season 2. He’s much more himself, he’s more confident, he’s still an accommodating and kooky character, but he’s a little more himself, a little less fearful.”

While Nate and Higgins grow in stature throughout the first season of “Ted Lasso,” Brendan Hunt’s mysterious, enigmatic Coach Beard hits the ground running as Ted’s “fill-in-the-blanks guy.”

Hunt says Ted has clearly changed Beard’s life prior to the events of the show, and that he only ever feels the need to step out from his sidekick role when Ted needs reminding of what’s at stake at AFC Richmond.

“One thing my old improv teacher taught me is when you’re not in the improv scene and you’re standing back watching your partners, you ask, ‘What does the scene need?’ I think Beard asks, ‘What does Ted need?’ He just does that automatically without being told,” Hunt says. “If Ted needs to have his cage rattled to remind him that winning does matter in professional sports, and it can’t just all be college-style hugs and hand-holding, then Beard rattles Ted’s cage.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.