15 Minutes With Maximilian Osinski

The ”Ted Lasso” actor dishes on hiring a soccer coach to learn the rules of the game, who the real-life Zava is and what the show ultimately made him believe

Maximilian Osinski has become a new fan favorite with his role portraying football legend Zava on AppleTV+’s megahit Ted Lasso this season. Though the comedy series is rumored to be coming to an end after the completion of this season, Osinski’s hilarious approach to the mysterious living soccer legend has fans begging for more. 

Osinski spoke to LAMag about training like an athlete before his first day on set, who the real-life Zava is, and what the show ultimately made him believe in. 

Obviously, Ted Lasso is a beloved hit—what was your reaction when you learned you got an audition?  

 It was a bit, honestly, like, ‘Yeah, right, sure.’ I was a big fan [of the show] along with my wife, like most people in the States, and, at first, you kind of think, ‘Yeah, that’s nice, but they can get anyone they need for a part, like Zava specifically.’ So I didn’t really think I had a shot, honestly, especially when they asked for people with soccer skills, and you see legitimately like Cristo Fernández and Moe Bumbercatch, who played very well and played professionally in Europe, which takes a lot of talent, so I was telling myself that there’s no shot for me.

So you walked into that day not knowing a thing about soccer?  

The day I walked onto the set, I had—because I knew what I lacked—hired a soccer coach one-on-one, who I worked with for about two months before I got onto the set. I just told him like, ‘Hey, treat me like I’m a five-year-old. I know nothing. I’m a clean slate. Go.’ And that’s where it all started for me and the journey. And then once I got on set, I talked to all who coordinate and choreograph the soccer plays and shoot ’em and direct them and then we just got into the specific plays and all those stunt kicks that we did, which I was able to do on my own. Some of the guys are amazing and the show can do a lot more with them in a wide shot than they probably could have done with me, but I think it came out great and it served the story with what we saw Zava do. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way it all came together.

Very believable! Tell me about your training process. Did you have to start training like an actual athlete for the role? 

It was everything from scratch. Like, this is a soccer ball, this is how we dribble it, and all of those small exercises, kind of working your way up to kicking and properly striking it. And then to achieve the look of this character and specifically a character who’s supposed to be the best of the best, I hired a personal trainer. We didn’t have to necessarily train like an athlete, but it took the same amount of discipline. My diet was on point for months, my regimen four days a week at the gym was very strict, and then on top of all that, practice with the show and everyone on set for choreographing all the moves and the goals and stuff… Ash Bailey, who’s my trainer was really great at achieving that look in a way that was sustainable and, in a way, that was still healthy and nutritious, and sold the character. At the end of the day, it’s all about serving the character and what we need to show and tell the story. We didn’t need to go method, where I went to training camp and try to work out like some of these Premier League players, because that wouldn’t work out that very well.

Did you keep that up after the show stopped filming? 

I’ve always usually tried to just stay in generally good health and condition and feeling good — but that level of leanness, while you can achieve and sustain realistically in life, you don’t want to walk around with, you know, 7 percent body fat all the time. That means you’re not really enjoying life. I’m married, I have a wife and a daughter, and there are birthdays and there are celebrations and there are friends and you want to be able to do that. But I’ve always tried to be mindful of diet and exercise, in general, to keep it there. And if you stay in that area as an actor, getting to a place like you needed to for Zava is just a matter of clicking in that system and being disciplined enough to stay in it throughout the process and you can be flexible after it’s done. So while it still requires a lot of discipline and hard work, it’s a lot easier if you have that system already in place to just click in and you know what you gotta do. 

What was it like walking into that locker room set for the first time with actual athletes turned actors as your co-stars?  

You write all these stories in your head, especially when you’re on a show like this that you yourself were a true fan of… so when you walk in, you don’t know what to expect, and a lot of time as an actor when you’re coming out as a recurring guest—I use the analogy, it’s like showing up at a family Thanksgiving and you’re like the third removed cousin. You don’t know what to expect, how welcomed you’ll be, what the vibe is on set. But with this show, everyone was—as you would think they would be like the show preaches—kind and welcoming and positive and supportive. And those guys, just the first day I came in for costume fittings were knocking on my dresser door and introducing themselves and couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome the new player on the team. It made my job that much easier, and also their work on camera, they did half the work for Zava being who he is and by their reactions and their performances on camera, which truly you couldn’t do without. So I owe a lot of thanks to their work on camera and their spirit and generosity off.

Speaking of skills and tricks, let’s talk about that accent… How did it come about?

When I first even just read for the part, I based it on some of the real-life players that they were inspired by to create this guy. I listened to a bunch of interviews and I just got a sense that especially for Zava, I specifically didn’t want to get very specific with his dialect. And usually, as an actor, you want to be as specific with the role you’re portraying, but with this one, I thought it was more interesting if you couldn’t exactly pinpoint where he is from and give him a little bit of mystery because a lot of times, especially in European football, the parent is from one country, like mom and dad are from different areas, different regions. Then you grow up in a third, different country as a child and they speak multiple languages pretty fluently. So I thought it’d be interesting if it was vague in that way and I made this specific choice not to be super specific about the dialect. I didn’t want anyone thinking, ‘Oh, he’s South African or he’s Russian or he’s Polish.’ I want them to be like, ‘He’s worldly. He’s from everywhere.’ I thought that added to the whole aura of Zava himself, which was fun to do.

LA Magazine: How are you similar and different from Zava?  

No one’s asked me that before. That’s a good question. I like to think of myself as disciplined. I like the way he practices mindfulness. I do that in real life. I do view myself as a family man, but I don’t refer to myself in the third person. I find myself to be much more modest and humble. I hope I can say that without my wife rolling her eyes when she sees this. I found it very interesting that he, as I do, tries to be present with everyone that I meet in real life. When I researched and studied a lot of the guys, they were very present and looked people in the eye and shook their hands and knew their names, and acknowledged everyone from top to bottom on a team. I try to do that when I’m on set as well. So I guess those are the similarities I find in myself, but in everything else, I don’t take off my shirt and jump in front of crowds when I wrap a show.

Now this is a big question because LA Magazine literally wrote a whole article on it, but in your opinion, which real-life soccer player is Zava based on?  

I think he’s a mix of a couple of characters. Everyone’s been tweeting or posting at me that he’s Zlatan Ibrahimović and I totally understand why. The hair is there and I happen just to look a little bit similar to him. Eric Cantona was another big inspiration for him, Robert Lewandowski is another Polish soccer star that I looked at, and I got Aaron Rodgers. People were talking Aaron Rodgers.

So is Zava really retiring as he announced in this week’s episode? 

You’ll have to watch the show to find out. I know that’s such a disappointing answer, but a lot of these guys in real life, do retire and they go on to open a restaurant or produce organic vegetables or whatever, or they come back later on and play for the States. So they do kind of what’s best for their family, especially after they’ve achieved what any athlete could ever dream of achieving. At the end of the day it becomes like, ‘All right, I’ve done what I wanted to do. What matters now is, ‘Where’s my wife and kids? Where are they happy? What’s best for them? Not what’s best for me.’

There have been rumors that the show is coming to an end. If that’s true, do you think the season ends with Zava’s character established enough to have his own spinoff?  

Oh, that’s very flattering that you’re asking, but that’s something way above my pay grade. That’s something I have to ask Apple and the creators, but I’m here and I’m happy to. I really did enjoy playing that role and I thought there was so much to explore with a character like that. 

Last, in the spirit of all things Ted Lasso, what has the show made you believe in? 

I think just the human quality in everyone. No matter how much you might think someone is beyond reproach or repair or forgiveness, it does exist there. If you can just put yourself out there and forgive or just reach out your hand and just be consistent with that. That message resonates with me as I’m sure a lot of viewers. The ‘believe’ sign has become almost ubiquitous with the show, and sometimes it can seem a little cheesy, you see believe everywhere, but if you just believe in the humanity of everyone else, I think it’s a great message for people in America right now and all over the world in these crazy times. People can take something like that away and you see it demonstrated by how people behave. Like during the pandemic, there was so much beautiful expression of care and love and support for everyone in the world and during times of other disasters, you see people flocking and helping and sending money. And I think that show was able to distill that message in such a beautiful way at a time when America and the world needed it.

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