EXCLUSIVE: Toheeb Jimoh is feeling wistful. The actor who plays star mid-fielder, Sam Obisanya for AFC Richmond, the fictional soccer club at the heart of Ted Lasso on AppleTV+, is now filming season three, well aware it could be the show’s last.
Or could it? “It’s really fun but it’s also weird because we’re not really sure what’s going to happen with Ted Lasso, like whether this will be the final season or not. Will there be more, a fourth? So, there’s part of me that’s like, ‘This might be the last time that I get to put this jersey on and I get to work with these guys.’ There’s an air around it of nostalgia and warmth.”
“There’s a very sentimental feeling on set,” he tells Deadline in an exclusive interview.
However, the 25-year-old, who has emerged as one of the show’s breakout stars, is on the side of optimism and certainly favours the soccer comedy continuing. He notes that even if the show progresses to a further session, season three will still be a closing “of sorts.”
“If we go further, this will be like the first chapter; the first three seasons will be their own thing. Regardless of whether we do more or not, this still feels like the end of the first chapter of Ted Lasso, which is cool,“ he says.
With Jason Sudeikis in the titular role as an American football coach hired to turn around the fortunes of a troubled UK Premier League soccer team, audiences were drawn to Ted Lasso’s homespun charm and the unenviable task he had in front of him of making members of his rag-tag team believe in themselves. “Ted’s job was to make these young men the best versions of themselves as opposed to the best footballers they could be,” says Jimoh.
Jimoh feels Sam’s journey in the first two seasons is like a Ted Lasso case study. When we first meet him in the early episodes, “he’s this 21-year-old Nigerian kid who’s just come to London. He hasn’t found himself yet. He’s being bullied by the star player of the team; he’s not playing well and nothing’s going well for him. But by the end of the second season he’s saying no to a sponsorship deal, he’s dating an older woman [his boss AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton, played by Emmy and SAG Awards winner Hannah Waddingham], and be mature enough to look past that. He’s saying no to a big money move and he’s doing everything that he wants to do. He’s standing on his own two feet and in that one year he feels like a completely different person, which is great,” says Jimoh.
“Ted’s impact on Sam is so present in the second season,” he marvels.
The impact on Jimoh has been immense, too. Success has garnered him a bundle of glowing notices from critics: a Breakthrough Artist honor at this year’s Critics Choice Association’s Celebration of Black Cinema & Television and he was listed in the Ted Lasso cast that won the SAG performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series trophy. In January he signed with WME for representation in the U.S. B-Side Management and Tapestry London continue to act for Jimoh in the UK.
His first role after graduating from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in the City of London was a small part in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. Jimoh says that he has another big screen role in the works . “It’s an indie in the US,” he states, but is reluctant to offer further details, except to say, tantalisingly, that it’s a story “so close to my heart.“
Schedules are being figured out, he explains.
With hindsight, it’s clear now that Ted Lasso’s creative team had major plans for Jimoh’s Sam Obisanya back when the thespian signed on for the footie comedy. Keen Lasso watchers noticed a moment in season one’s sixth episode, where Sam goes to Rebecca’s office to ask her to come down to the dressing rooms to participate with the players and coaches in a ritual to rid the treatment room of ghosts. “There was a spark,” Jimoh admits as we focus on the moment of connection.
“They started to connect on a different plane,” he adds. “It’s like they have a soul bond on a different level.”
People were messaging him during season one. “They were saying, ‘Are Sam and Rebecca going to have a thing?’ And I’m like, ‘Urgh, no. I didn’t think it was going to be romantic. I thought they had a connection, yes, but I didn’t think it was going to be end up being romantic. But Jason was 24 steps ahead of everyone making it work.”
Jimoh relished the high profile storyline, though “it was a lot of different feelings. At first I was shocked like everybody else. I was also excited because I was able to do more scenes with Hannah. I was just happy to be able to work with her.”
There was a lot of work to do, says Jimoh, in transforming Sam “from this sweet, innocent, very young character into a character who could realistically make this romance work. He has to be someone who’s sophisticated, suave and sexy, and emotionally and intellectually mature enough to do this.”
There was a sort of Pygmalion transformation says Jimoh, involving costumes, and the way he walked and spoke was different. “That was the actor’s challenge that I relished. I loved it. The question was: how do we actually make this a romance that’s going to work on screen? I think we got there,” he says, making a point on which most fans of Ted Lasso concur.
“Some people didn’t like it because they wanted her to be with Ted,” he admits.
The Sam-Rebecca storyline was handled sensitively, seeming not to make race an issue. “I honestly take my hat off to the Ted also writers so much because we deal with so many sensitive subjects on this show and it’s done with such finesse, such integrity and care,” says Jimoh.
“There’s so much that could have been drawn out or milked about the storyline where you have a young black athlete dating an older white woman, and that just isn’t important. Who they are as people is the most important thing,” he declares.
Many saw it as a breakthrough moment for that very reason.
Jimoh’s star appeal soared. I’ve observed him being mobbed at events. He’s amused that he gets recognised a lot more in London, where he lives, because for a long time it didn’t feel like the show had taken off in the UK, he says. It has now.
Fans stop and watch him play soccer with his pals. Even family members get in on the act. One relative asked for a photo to be taken with Jimoh so he could send it to a lady friend who’d demanded the snapshot. ”I was like, this has to be the weirdest fan interaction!”
Generally, though fans are respectful. Jimoh believes it’s because of the nice vibes the show radiates. “The fans that you get from the show are really heartwarming people who just want to show you love and they’re proud of your journey,” he adds, noting that he’s happy if onlookers observe his footballing prowess during a seven-a-side match with friends. “They stand and watch to see if I’m really any good and to see if the stunts on the show are CGI or not.”
He loves the game. He and his brother played for a Sunday league team. He’s shifted around the field a lot but nowadays he likes to say that he’s “a creative, attacking midfielder and a winger, but sometimes a right back,” in positions not dissimilar to his character on Ted Lasso.
On screen, he plays soccer, and acts, with an effortless charm. He plays tragedy well,too. As he did in his portrayal of the eponymous ‘Anthony’ , Jimmy McGovern’s single BBC drama, where Jimoh portrays Anthony Walker, a Black British student killed 17 years ago in Merseyside, Liverpool in a racially motivated assault.
Jimoh’s already shot Amazon’s 10-part global thriller The Power, based on Naomi Alderman’s dystopian novel where women develop the ability to generate electricity through their hands. Almost over night, everywhere in the world, women become physically the superior gender.
Jimoh has the role of Tunde, a video journalist who decides to chronicle the unusual power surge. The Power, like Ted Lasso , has influenced how Jimoh views the world. He recounts a scene in where Tunde’s working overseas and has to get on a bus “and there are only women on the bus and he gets off because he’s scared.”
Jimoh was intrigued to film that scene. “As an actor I was thinking, how do I relate to this? It’s a feeling I’ve never had. Like, getting on a bus and being surrounded by women and feeling unsafe. It’s a very interesting journey to go on. You come off set and then you’re still in the real world — I still have all my privileges. The thing it highlights more than anything is what I should be aware of as a guy — all the things I take for granted.”
It’s likely that The Power will head to Amazon Prime in 2023, which means we’ll see Jimoh as Sam in Ted Lasso first.
Fans will know that the last shot we saw of Sam at the close of the final episode of season two was of him standing outside premises that he intends to open as a restaurant serving Nigerian cuisine. AFC Richmond get promoted. There’s little that Jimoh’s able to reveal about the third run. “We learn a lot more about the players — there are a few more player centric stories that we dive into. They’re players that we haven’t seen a lot of so far. Everybody gets a resolve to their stories,” he promises.
Does he score any great goals in season three?
He looks crestfallen, then smiles. “Not yet. The people want Sam to score goals. This is what the people want. It’s not me,” he says, warming to this moment of banter. “I am just a vessel for the people and they want more goals.”
A lot of our conversation involves friendly banter concerning the teams we support. He’s a long-time follower of Manchester United, while this reporter supports London club Arsenal.
Such an admission nearly derailed our first interview two years ago. There was a momentary stand-off because we — an Arsenal fan interviewing a Man Utd supporter — couldn’t possibly endure a Zoom call. But we engaged the Ted Lasso ethos and we were nice to each other. “It was a nice truce,’ Jimoh jokes, smiling at the memory.
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