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Jodi Balfour and the Power of Queer Storytelling

Jodi Balfour and the Power of Queer Storytelling

Jodi Balfour

Out queer actress Jodi Balfour chats about LGBTQ+ representation on Ted Lasso and why her character’s coming-out arc on For All Mankind was so special.

You might recognize Jodi Balfour from her role as Ellen Wilson on For All Mankind, where she plays the first female president, and eventually comes out as gay in a monumental speech in season 3. Recently, the out queer actress portrayed a gay character yet again on Ted Lasso, marking another instance of powerful queer female representation.

Balfour, who is engaged to Abbi Jacobson of A League of Their Own and Broad City, makes her first appearance as Jack Danvers on Ted Lasso in season 3, episode 4, when she has an awkward meet-cute with PR executive and fan favorite Keeley Jones (Juno Temple). By episode 5, Keeley makes a move on Jack with a passionate kiss, and in later episodes, Jack has initiated so many grand romantic gestures that another character calls her behavior “love bombing.”

By the end of episode 8, which aired earlier this month, Keeley and Jack’s relationship hits a potential breaking point, after one of Keeley’s intimate videos gets leaked online, and Jack doesn’t handle it well. Despite the conflict, Balfour reveals that it was her favorite episode of the season because of the scenes she filmed with Temple.

“I’ve been a big Juno Temple fan for a long time, and so getting to work with Juno was just such a gift and exceeded any expectations and high hopes that I had,” says Balfour. “Episode 8 was my favorite to do because...[we] finally get to be inside of those more intimate scenes with them, in Keeley’s bedroom, and really see them having been falling in love with one another.”

For Balfour, one of the most rewarding parts of being on Ted Lasso was that it allowed her to delve into a comedic role for the first time, which is something she said she wanted to “learn about and attempt to do for a while.” But beyond that, Balfour is also proud of the queer representation on the show and its impact on viewers.

“On a show like Ted Lasso, it’s not lost on me how broad the audience is...and how many of those homes...don’t know anybody queer or they have really extreme ideas about what loving who you want to love looks like,” says Balfour.

“I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and when I started watching television in the late 90s, there was next to nothing that demonstrated a queer lifestyle,” adds Balfour. “I can’t even really...it makes me too sad to think about the impact that would have had on me, and how I came to understand myself if it had existed.”

Playing Jack on Ted Lasso is not Balfour’s first queer role. Since November 2019, Balfour has starred in Apple TV’s For All Mankind, a science fiction show depicting what would have happened if the Soviet Union landed on the moon before the United States, and the space race continued. Balfour plays Ellen, an astronaut who becomes a senator and the first female president of the United States. In season three, Ellen comes out as gay in a moving speech, where she declares, “I cannot correct my past mistakes. But I can stop lying to you right here, right now, and give you the simple truth. I'm gay, and I have been since the day I was born.”

Having the chance to play Ellen was an incredible experience for Balfour, who came out as queer on Instagram in June 2021. “There was something really beautiful about the parallel lines there. I was coming into my own as a queer person and sort of exploring that alongside playing a character that was struggling with being publicly known that way,” says Balfour.

“To stand there and deliver that speech at the end of season three, having just come to terms with my own sexuality...meant so much to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that experience again. To live through that moment for and as Ellen as a queer woman; it was just immense,” adds Balfour.

Fortunately, For All Mankind and Ted Lasso won’t be Balfour’s last queer roles. Recently, she finished filming Freud’s Last Session with Sir Anthony Hopkins, where she plays Dorothy Burlingham, the close friend and rumored romantic partner of Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna.

Looking ahead to the future of queer representation Balfour shares: “What I am most looking forward to is a media landscape that just tells stories about people, and people who love people.”

“I [also] think the way this all continues to evolve for the better is with queer storytellers who aren’t going to bury the queer storylines,” adds Balfour.

Wherever Balfour’s career takes her next, she says “it’s been a great honor and privilege to play these roles and to play queer women.”

“There’s always the hope that telling these stories moves the needle, even fractionally, and starts to invite in some compassion and understanding and break up the sense of otherness that seems to define so much of American thinking right now,” says Balfour. “Even if it’s not changing the way someone votes tomorrow, it’s planting a seed in some way.”

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