Toheeb Jimoh interview: ‘Ted Lasso’

In some ways, Season 2 of “Ted Lasso” was a tale of two young men figuring out their places in the world. For Nate Shelley (Emmy nominee Nick Mohammed), his self-hatred pushed him down a road of cruelty and betrayal. But for Sam Obisanya (Emmy nominee Toheeb Jimoh), the opposite occurred: the young star player on AFC Richmond came into his own during the Apple TV+ show’s second season as a team leader, romantic partner, and thoughtful activist. The wealth of material left Jimoh thrilled throughout production on Season 2 and paid off with the actor’s first-ever Emmy Award nomination.

“I was over the moon,” Jimoh tells Gold Derby about his response to Sam’s arc in an exclusive video interview. “As an actor, just to be trusted with a lot more responsibility in this season, and to get the opportunity to flesh Sam out a bit more [was incredible].”

Jimoh is one of 10 “Ted Lasso” actors to score recognition from the Television Academy this year across the lead and guest acting categories at the 2022 Emmy Awards. When the nominations were announced in early July, he didn’t necessarily have expectations his name would be called out and wasn’t even watching the announcement live. (In a twist befitting his character, an animation lover whose favorite film is “Ratatouille,” Jimoh was busy watching “The Incredibles 2” with his older brother.)

“It was just a euphoric moment,” Jimoh says of getting the call about his nomination. He then tried to call his mother to tell her about the recognition, but she was at a party and couldn’t hear her son. “She hung up,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like, great, right. So it was a fun, eventful day.”

Jimoh’s nomination ranked as one of the pleasant surprises this year but maybe shouldn’t have been all that unexpected. After all, the actor shared numerous scenes in Season 2 with reigning Best Comedy Supporting Actress winner Hannah Waddingham, who plays AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton on the show. Sam and Rebecca engaged in a clandestine relationship during the second season, and their chemistry provided “Ted Lasso” with the kind of romantic comedy sparks that would make the show’s namesake, a devoted rom-com fan, proud.

Jimoh says he didn’t expect the Sam-Rebecca connection to be part of Sam’s journey – and that surprise and uncertainty were something he put directly into the performance. When Sam and Rebecca finally meet at a restaurant after an anonymous flirtation on a dating app that spread across the early episodes of Season 2, Sam’s response is to laugh. “When we rehearsed the scene for the first time, I just started laughing out loud,” Jimoh says. “And then that became how Sam responded to seeing Rebecca, he just starts laughing. And, and so I think a lot of that stuff was natural.”

It helps too that Jimoh and Waddingham are friends in real life, as are many of the “Ted Lasso” actors. “It wasn’t, you know, nerve-wracking or awkward at any point. We just dealt with the whole thing with good humor. And it felt like, when it was tough for me, I had my partner and Hannah or when it was tough for her, she had her partner in me. So we just kind of got each other through it, which is, you know, what Sam would recommend doing anyway.”

In addition to his maturing relationship with Rebecca, Sam also takes a stand in Season 2 against the AFC Richmond corporate sponsor, Dubai Air, for the company’s disregard for the Nigerian environment. That plot thread comes to a head in the Season 2 episode “Do the Right-est Thing,” which Jimoh submitted as his Emmy episode.

“For me, especially as a Nigerian, I think the most important thing was just tuning into why that scene was important,” Jimoh says of the moment when Sam stands up in front of his teammates in the locker room and puts black athletic tape over the Dubai Air logo on his jersey. “This isn’t just a scene where he’s going, ‘I’m gonna put some tape on my chest.’ It has really important cultural significance. And that’s for me personally as well. The important thing was just tuning into how hard that decision is for Sam to make – to stand up in front of your entire team, a lot of white guys who might not understand what this is and why it’s so important to you.”

In the scene, Sam makes his decision after looking at a photo of his parents taped inside of his locker. The photo is of Jimoh’s actual parents, something he says further deepened the bond between Sam and the actor. “It’s one of those moments where Sam the character and Toheed the actor kind of overlap,” he says. “This is a moment where I as a Nigerian who’s a part of the Diaspora somewhere else can kind of do my part to help out back home…. We were both going into it and we were both speaking those words. It just resonated in such a deep moment. That’s why I like that scene in particular.”

Jimoh and his “Ted Lasso” cast mates aren’t just celebrating the show’s 20 Emmy Award nominations at the moment, they’re also putting the finishing touches on Season 3. Jimoh is loathed to reveal any spoilers, but he says Sam’s arc from boy to man is continued in the latest batch of episodes – but whether that means Sam and Rebecca will end up together is unknown.

“I actually don’t know how it ends,” Jimoh says. “But what I really loved about Season 2 for Sam was it just felt like we were telling the immigrant story – like the story of coming out, coming away from home to a new place, and trying to find a home in this new place and building this new place. So Season 3 for Sam is just about taking the next steps forward into manhood.”

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UPLOADED Aug 1, 2022 2:00 pm