Hannah Waddingham

Hannah Waddingham Knows She Has Big Witch Energy

The 'Ted Lasso' star talks joining the 'Hocus Pocus' coven and finding her own brand of magic.

"The world is not too fond of witches," warns Hannah Waddingham in Hocus Pocus 2. 

Waddingham plays the film's pivotal Mother Witch, the magical enabler of the Sanderson Sisters (who are not to be confused with the Schuyler Sisters, though both trios live, with much fanfare, on Disney+). The British actress is best known for playing the steely club owner Rebecca Welton on Ted Lasso — she has an Emmy Award for the role — but she convincingly transitions into Halloween mode wearing face gems, feathered couture, and molten metal claws. In Hocus Pocus 2, she's basically the Alexander McQueen of OG sorcery, and though "the world" is a pretty big place, Waddingham's right: In history, witches are slain. In Hollywood, though? Witches slay.

Take the past six months, when witchcraft has gone from cool to downright prestigious. Elizabeth Olsen and Kathryn Hahn had the Emmy nominations spellbound for WandaVision; vibes from The Craft appeared all over last week's Versace runway; The Crucible even became a critically acclaimed ballet this spring. Three of Waddingham's own early star turns were supernatural, too: In her hometown of London, she played the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, the Witch in Into the Woods, and the Wicked Witch of the West in a new version of The Wizard of Oz. (She was so good, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote her character a brand-new song.) So, on the night after the Emmy Awards, I call a hotel in California to ask Waddingham about her career legacy of dark magic. Is the world really, still, not fond of the witches that Waddingham plays?

Hannah Waddingham


"It's still true! Society doesn't like most witches. I was never a Glinda," she says, referencing Wicked’s Barbiecore pixie. "Oh god, hello, never have I played a 'good witch.' But even though they're often seen as villains, I have a real affinity for the witches I do play, because they really see and do things from a slightly different angle. What is a witch, really? She's just a woman who knows she has power, and who's been very misunderstood. And that's been so many of us, hasn't it? It's certainly been me ... I think now, it's probably not as hard to be a woman in the entertainment industry, because thankfully, the mighty women that are of my generation — also fractionally before, and mostly younger — are changing it up. It feels like there's been a seismic earthquake all over Hollywood, and in London, for that matter, of women having enough and rising up ... It wasn't always like that when I was a girl."

The daughter of an opera singer, Waddingham was raised in the British theater scene and attended a performing arts academy before working steadily on regional stages and U.K. sitcoms. In the early 2000s, she became a staple of London's West End, where she played a string of feisty heroines in classics like Kiss Me Kate and A Little Night Music. Despite her new-ish fame, Waddingham still insists that "musical theater has changed my life the most," noting its discipline and long hours as foundations of her work. 

"The physical dedication I've had to build doing musicals — I couldn't do Ted Lasso or Hocus Pocus without it ... Mentally and physically, the stamina and agility you need to keep up with [Jason] Sudeikis and his SNL style of, you know, giving you things in 12 seconds while there's a camera in your face? ... I've had to keep my mind and body really strong, and in 'musical theater shape,' because it's so much a tool of my craft."

That strength — along with an easy kilowatt smile and a swish of Bardot-blonde hair — has made the 48-year-old Leo one of Apple TV+'s most beloved sex symbols, though Waddingham laughs — like, puts down her phone and laughs — when I say so.

I truly don't think I'm a sex symbol. Actually, I think I'm a bit of a dick.

"You think I'm — I'm sorry, did you just say you think I'm a sex symbol?!" she exclaims. "Are you really putting me in that camp? Okay, yes, I guess I'll take it ... But I've never thought of myself as any of the nice things you've said, because my body has always been my tool! I've just had to keep it up because musical theater is so grueling, you know? So if you think I'm sexy, honestly, that's just a happy accident."

I try calling her bluff, because my peeve is beautiful women pretending it's all about "inner beauty," and because her body-con red carpet picks from Hervé Léger and Elie Saab scream bombshell (as well as — let's be real — the Smash Marilyn musical Bombshell). "No honestly!" she laughs again. "Obviously I like to wear beautiful things, but first of all, there's a lot of Spanx — like hard-to-breathe Spanx — and second of all, I like [body-con] stuff because I have to wear those looks for quite a while, and with Hervé [Léger], there isn't any boning! So, it's much more comfortable! ... I tell my stylist [James Yardley], 'If it hasn't got any bits and pieces in it, I'm great.' I want to be able to get dressed easily. To me, that's luxury." Waddingham pauses for a moment, then laughs again. "I truly don't think I'm a sex symbol," she insists. "Actually, I think I'm a bit of a dick."

If this were true (and readers, it's really not true; she's awesome) Waddingham likely wouldn't be besties with the entire Ted Lasso cabal, and she certainly wouldn't have spent the night before our interview partying with Brett Goldstein, Juno Temple, and everyone else with an AFC Richmond hoodie until sunrise. "We don't get to see each other when we're not filming," she explains. "So, we miss each other, you know? When you get us all together again, it's madness. The friendships you see on the show, it's just how it is. There's real love there. We've got each other's backs." 

They've also got each other's international (and encrypted) WhatsApp numbers, which means on any given midnight, someone could organize a last-minute pub crawl through the Hollywood Hills — but not, Waddingham insists — to karaoke.

"I loved that scene on the show," she says, referencing the famous Ted Lasso episode where her steely character Rebecca sings Frozen's "Let It Go" as Ted himself has a pivotal (and pity-full) panic attack outside. "But I was discussing this with Mr. Sudeikis last night! We often go and do things like that. And he always tries to get me up [onstage], and I'm like, 'Dude, when are you going to get the message? I don't want to get up unless it's a very good sound system. I don't want to be on a microphone that everyone's dropped, and it's like singing into a paper cup. Okay? It's not pleasurable!'" 

Hannah Waddingham

Oliver Mayhall / BAFTA/Camera Press/Redux

Does this mean there won't be karaoke in season 3? Alas, she's not allowed to say. Ditto whether this is Ted Lasso's final season. But Waddingham has a kernel of an idea for what's next — at least if it slides into her schedule before she begins filming a remake of Garfield with Chris Pratt. You see, she recently donated the famous Game of Thrones "Shame Bell" — you know, the giant one she rang behind Cersei Lannister in the show's grimly hysterical scene — for Ukraine refugee relief.

"I loved that bell, but it does come with a bit of a funny memory, because it's common knowledge [among actors] that if a show gives you a hero prop, it means your character is truly, really dead. So, when [show producers] David Benioff and Dan Weiss made a ceremony, and handed it to me on my final scene, I was a little disappointed! I was like, 'Right. So, she's definitely not coming back from the dead and having a baby with The Mountain? Is that not an angle we could go for?'" she says. "And now there's that prequel, this is their chance, really. I feel like I should come back and be in House Targaryen this time. I mean, if I can ride a broomstick, I can ride a dragon, right? And I've had loads of practice at this point. I can really fly."

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