Cristo Fernandez in "Ted Lasso."​
CNN  — 

Not unlike his “Ted Lasso” character Dani Rojas, for 15-year old Cristo Fernández, football – known stateside as soccer – really was life.

At 15 and already in the professional soccer system in his native Mexico, Fernández had little else besides the game on his mind. He’d attend high school at night and for three years after he finished, soccer was all he did. His parents, however, encouraged him to pursue his education, as well. 

“Football (Soccer) was the only thing I wanted to do, but my parents pushed me to study something, and I was like, ‘Okay, just so you stop bothering me,’” he said.

Because he’s always loved languages – he speaks four and is hoping to learn Italian by the end of the year – he pursued communications, admitting that at the beginning “I was the worst student because I didn’t care at all.”

That changed around the time a knee injury sidelined him, and Fernández found himself in film classes. There, he discovered a new passion.

“I thank my parents for encouraging me to try something new, and that’s what I also encourage everyone in life [to do]. They should never close themselves to other opportunities,” he said.

Determined to follow his new love even further, he worked multiple jobs for nearly three years so he could save money to further his studies. For a period of time, Mr. “Football is life” even sold life insurance. (“That’s where I pretty much saved most of my money with that job,” he said.)

He eventually had the money he needed to study in the UK, a choice influenced by the music and art to come out of the country that had long inspired him and his desire to be uncomfortable. To go, as he said, where the “weather is complicated.” (Fernandez jokingly admits that he struggled to like tea like Ted Lasso did upon his arrival to the UK in the TV series.)

In a way, his own fish out of water story led him to, well, acting in a fish out of water story that has turned him into an Emmy nominee. 

Brendan Hunt, Cristo Fernández and Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso," premiering July 23, 2021 on Apple TV+.

Believing in the message

Earlier this month, “Ted Lasso” earned a nomination for best comedy and a record 19 other nominations

The show has become arguably Apple TV+’s biggest hit to date, with no particular reason on paper to do so – it’s about a lovable American football coach (Jason Sudekis) who ends up coaching a UK soccer team, unaware he’s a pawn in the angry team owner’s revenge plot against her ex. Though you wouldn’t know it from the logline, it’s sweet, it’s good-natured and if it exists just to make people feel good, it’s succeeding.

The upcoming second season, out this week, will be more of the formula that helped the freshman season soar, with a few additions to the cast. One new face is Sharon, a sports psychologist played by actress Sarah Niles.

Unable to tease much, Fernandez said the doctor’s addition will help the show further explore the issue of mental health, “which I think is very relevant and important in our world right now. “

“I think a really good message of our show is to get rid of this macho mentality and the unhealthy masculinity where men don’t cry, men don’t speak about their feelings,” he said. “Even myself, where I’m from, you hear that, too, and it’s not true. It’s good to speak up for your feelings and be open about it.”

Fernández said being part of the show has taught him a lot – not just day to day. (He will often stay on set after he’s wrapped as an actor, saying “I just love watching everyone do their job and learn from them.”) It’s influenced his own filmmaking philosophy and informed the kinds of projects he’d like to make through his own film company, Espectro Mx Films.

“I think ‘Ted Lasso’ has allowed me to realize the importance of sending a message, whatever it is,” he said. “Just put something there that has a core and has a heart.”