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Zava! Meet Maximilian Osinski ’06, the Breakout Star of Season 3 of ‘Ted Lasso’ on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
Back in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide angst and turmoil, a show debuted on Apple TV+ that emphasized the importance of hope and believing in yourself.
“Ted Lasso,” which recently concluded its third season, has been a feel-good television hit from the first episode. Early in the third season, the show introduced a new character, Zava, who was never lacking in confidence and self-belief.
The enigmatic Zava, described as the world’s best soccer player, is searching for a new team when he decides to challenge himself and bring his talents to the Premier League’s worst team: AFC Richmond, coached by Lasso (wonderfully played by Jason Sudeikis).
While Zava’s bravado jumps off the screen, fans of the show might not know that the real-life actor who plays Zava is Maximilian Osinski ’06, who never played a minute of soccer in his life.
As he was earning a bachelor’s degree in drama from the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Osinski participated in a life-altering semester abroad experience in London and at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Osinski was also selected to the University’s “Sorkin Week” program, a learning practicum in Los Angeles that provides students with a week-long immersion experience in the heart of America’s film and television industries with Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ’83.
After graduating, Osinski eventually landed roles like Dennis on AMC’s hit “The Walking Dead: World Beyond” and as agent James Davis on ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” He also appeared in films like “In Time,” directed by Andrew Niccol, “Love and Other Drugs,” directed by Edward Zwick, and “The Express,” directed by Gary Gleder, which told the story of Ernie Davis ’62, the first Black player to win football’s Heisman Trophy.
Unlike his coach Ted Lasso, who preaches to his players the value of believing in themselves, Osinski initially doubted whether he could pull off the part of Zava. After a pep talk from a friend in Australia, Osinski started to believe in his abilities, eventually impressing Sudeikis and casting director Theo Park with the confidence and swagger Osinski brought to the role.
“This has been one of the most unique experiences. I was a huge fan of the show myself for the first two seasons, so joining the cast was surreal,” Osinski says. “The fans have been amazing. People are always reaching out to me on social media or stopping me on the street. It’s been heartwarming and it’s nice to meet people who say they like the work you did and love the character you worked on. With Zava, you’re not sure how people are going to receive him, but it’s been great seeing the joy people feel for the show.”
On this “’Cuse Conversation,” Osinski discusses his breakout role on “Ted Lasso” and how he overcame his doubts about whether he could play the world’s greatest soccer player. Osinski also shares why Syracuse University was his dream school, the impact Syracuse had on his life, how being born in a refugee camp to immigrant parents inspired him to pursue his dreams and more.
Check out episode 142 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Osinski. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01“Ted Lasso” was based on the NBC skits starring Jason Sudeikis, and overnight it became a feel-good show everyone was talking about. Given your lack of background in comedies, how did you get involved?
During the pandemic, we were stuck at home like everyone else when my wife said she’d been watching “Ted Lasso” and I should check it out. We both got hooked and loved it like the rest of the world. I was in London with my family for a while and about a month into our stay, my manager called and said they wanted me to read for [the role]. I was like, “Sure, yeah, I’m available,” but in my head, I was thinking, “It’s Ted Lasso season three. They can get anyone.”
You don’t put a lot of weight on it, because they just asked, “Is he available?” It wasn’t even an audition. A week later, I got the appointment and I read the breakdown and it says, “world’s greatest soccer player. Can be from anywhere in the world. Record this scene and then please record yourself demonstrating your soccer skills.” I was just like, “I give up. That’s not me. I play zero soccer.”
02Is it true you almost turned down the role of Zava?
I started talking myself out of taping for it, because I’ve seen the show and I’ve seen all these great actors in wide shots playing really good soccer. Some of them played professionally. So, I said, “I’ve got no shot.” But a friend in Australia talked me into it. With the help of my wife, we did this scene and then we went to the park across the street from our apartment and I started working out in character, having fun while doing pull-ups on tree limbs and squatting tree logs.
Then we recorded some slow-motion soccer kicks and headbutts. I don’t think my soccer skills fooled anyone over at the show that I was good, but I think that kind of bravado and confidence maybe caught their interest. I sent in the tape and it was quiet for about three weeks. Your only job as an actor is to do the best work you can for the tape. Whether you get it or not is way out of your control.
I followed up with casting and they were like, “Oh, yeah, we hadn’t said anything because we didn’t want you to get too excited, but your tape has gone all the way up to the top. We’re just waiting for Jason Sudeikis to approve it, but everyone loves you for the part.” I was like, “What? Really?” The worst thing is to get close to something and then it falls through. So, that week was a bit stressful.
I was out to dinner when I got a call from my agent and my manager. Usually when they both call it’s either good news or they’re firing you, so I didn’t know what to expect. They say, “You’re Zava. Jason just approved you and you’ve got the part.”
03Your tape must have been quite impressive if they cast you as the world’s greatest soccer player despite your lack of soccer experience. How did you prepare for the role?
They said, “Look, we saw your tape, you’ve got the character and the swagger, but it’s clear you can’t play football.” But they told me not worry about that, and that they’ll take care of the football if I take care of the swagger.
I trained as much as I could, one-on-one, for the role. I did all those kicks Zava does that in the wide shots. They only used a double for some close footwork and some super wide shots if there was a long, complicated play. I learned a massive amount about football and I have so much more respect for the game.
[To prepare] I started reading all I could about soccer. I have a personal trainer, Ash Bailey, who helped me get to the right look for the character. I reigned in my diet. From the day I found out I got the role, I prepared as if I was starring in a biopic on one of the guys Zava’s character is based on, including Eric Cantona and Zlatan Ibrahimović. I watched so many documentaries and interviews these players did, trying to get into the mindset of who they are. Then when I got to set, I could do anything as them.
04You come from humble beginnings, born in a refugee camp in Austria after your parents fled communist Poland, seeking refuge. How did that experience impact you and what lessons did you learn from your parents?
I don’t think I realized what lessons I learned from that experience until after my time in Syracuse. I started to realize how privileged I was to be able to pursue acting as a career. My dad fled with my mom while she was pregnant. He was 32 years old when he came to the U.S., and he had to start from scratch. When I was 32, I was already married and had a daughter. Looking back now, I’m very grateful for the choice he made with my mom and the chance he took, because it wasn’t easy.
He worked in a drill bit factory and then sold used cars while my mom became a psychiatric registered nurse. I value what I saw them go through and how hard they worked. It made me value the opportunities they gave me and my brother growing up. I had this crazy dream of going to Syracuse to study acting, and they supported my dreams. It was a massive privilege to be able to do that. I’m forever grateful.
05Why did you want to study drama in the College of Visual and Performing Arts here at Syracuse?
My high school drama teacher, Karen Hall ’85 studied drama here and she was the very first person who looked at me, saw how much I enjoyed acting and told me I could do this as a career if I wanted. She took me under her wing. We were always talking about acting and theater and she helped me work on my auditions.
What I liked about the school was the conservatory type of feel it had. We were required to take other electives. I didn’t just want to study drama; I wanted to be as well-rounded of a person as I could be and I thought Syracuse offered that in spades.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.