Rob McElhenney, 45, is the creator and star of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and is co-owner with actor Ryan Reynolds of a Welsh soccer team, which is the subject of their documentary series “Welcome to Wrexham” on Hulu. McElhenney lives in Los Angeles.
During the pandemic people sort of hunkered down and put things on hold, but you and Ryan Reynolds went to Wales and bought the Wrexham Red Dragons, a failing soccer club.
Yes, all true.
How did that come about? What made you think that was a good idea?
It was really when I learned about the idea of promotion and relegation, just something we don’t have in American sports. I just found it so fascinating that a club could ascend through the ranks from the lower leagues up to the top or from the top down to the bottom. And then, as I did a little bit more research, I realized that there were a number of clubs that had been in the higher echelon of English football and had descended over the decades to a pretty precarious position, which was obviously hastened by the pandemic.
As someone who lives in D.C., I sort of feel obligated to point out that if you wanted to buy a team in disarray, you could have just bought the Commanders.
Yeah, I feel like I get a version of that almost every day on social media when people are reaching out about all of their distressed, unfortunately maligned teams. Or sometimes it’s fortunately maligned. In certain cases I feel like some of these clubs and their ownership maybe deserve a little rebuking. No comment on who specifically I’m talking about.
Had you been interested in soccer before?
No. I have to call it football, by the way. Even though it’s for an American publication.
It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the sport. I was just not as into it as I was with other sports and American sports. I just never got invested in it.
Sports fans are intense here, but over there it’s at a different level.
Yeah, it’s such a huge part of the culture, a huge part of their identity, and they take it very, very seriously. So that was something that we had to take into account when we decided to move forward with the venture. We wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just something we were doing as a business move or just as a lark or something that we thought would be fun, but something that we thought we could really invest our time and our heart into.
Do you and Ryan see yourselves as owners of the team 10 years from now?
Oh, yes. I mean, I think this is a lifelong gig. We realized that very early on. But we don’t look at ourselves as owners. The club has been around since 1864, so we feel like we’re just the stewards who are going to hopefully leave it better than we found it.
This is kind of a semi- bogus philosophical question, but have you learned anything about yourself by becoming a team owner of a lower-tier football team?
Yes, I have. I have learned that I have the capability to be riddled with anxiety. And that is not something that I’ve ever really felt before. I’ve never felt that level of anxiety, certainly not at a sporting event. It’s unlike any other sport. For 90 minutes I pace — I can’t even sit still. I have to move my body to slough off the nervous energy. It’s really fascinating. And devastating.
I sort of can tell watching footage of you watching the games that you’re a real fan because you never quite look happy.
No, you’re miserable all the way. I’m very excited leading up to the opening kickoff, and then I’m just kind of in a state of misery for 94, 95 minutes. And then I’m either jubilant or devastated for two or three days until the next game.
At the end of the season Wrexham fails in its bid to move up a division. As an owner that has to be rough, but I’m wondering as a storyteller if that’s a better ending for you?
It’s interesting that you say that because I have assured myself of that very thing over and over and over again so that I didn’t fall into the depths of despair — that it actually isn’t a bad ending for the documentary so far as the story goes. You know the story of “Rocky,” he loses. And what happens is you become more invested in Rocky not because he becomes the champion but because he gave everything and fell just short, and now you want to see him win. So that’s what I’m hoping for. That’s what I keep telling myself, and that’s what I keep telling everybody else.
And meanwhile you just keep filming “Always Sunny,” and you’ve created “Mythic Quest” and you have a whiskey line. Is there something inside of you that just doesn’t want to relax?
Fair question. No, I think I’m at a point in my life where I’m getting a lot of opportunities. I’m a student of history, and I know that in our business success ends for everybody. And you never really quite know when it’s going to be. So any and every opportunity you can to continue to strike while the iron is hot you should take.
I’m not a regular “Always Sunny” watcher, but I really enjoy the show’s blooper reels on YouTube. You guys are just making each other laugh so much.
Yes. I mean, I find those things infectious for that very reason. It just reminds us, in fact, when we start the writers room every year, we never watch whole episodes. We watch the blooper reels because it reminds us of how much fun we actually have making the show and why we keep doing it.
It’s amazing to me that it’s the longest-running live-action comedy in history. You have its fate in your hands. Is there some part of you that’s worried about pulling the plug on it?
No, I don’t really worry about that. I mean, we always talk about whether or not we want to keep doing it. And it always comes back to same the same place, which is we ask a few questions. Are we still having fun? Yes. Is there still an audience? Yes. Are we still able to do whatever we want? Yes. And do we still have something to say? Yes. So if we have a no in any of those boxes, we’ll stop. But I don’t see that happening for the foreseeable future.
This interview has been edited and condensed. For a longer version, visit wapo.st/magazine.
Actor Rob McElhenney finds new passion in Welsh soccer team – The Washington Post