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Interview: Kola Bokinni on Isaac’s Trajectory and Relationships with Other Characters on ‘Ted Lasso’

Throughout its two seasons on Apple TV+, Ted Lasso has given audiences plenty of reasons to be happy and introduced them to a large and entirely wonderful ensemble. Among the ranks is Isaac, who started off as an angry bully and later became the team captain, even showing off his impressive barber skills in season two.

Awards Radar had the chance to speak with actor Kola Bokinni about playing Isaac and what it’s like to be a part of the incredible phenomenon that is Ted Lasso. Like previous castmates we’ve interviewed, he was typically silent on what’s ahead, going so far as to deny the existence of a season three, which was commissioned back in October.  

Q: How are you doing today, Kola?

A: I’m brilliant, yourself?

Q: I’m good. Any day is a great day to revisit Ted Lasso. So I’m happy to be chatting with you now.

A: That’s good to hear, man.

Q: Can you remember a time before this show?

A: Oh, it wasn’t as exciting. I can say that. Well, yeah, I mean, I was born. You know, my family loved me for a bit. And then, yeah, then I joined Ted Lasso’s family. So that’s been great.

Q: Do you remember how this show was first described to you and what you first thought when you heard about it?

A: Yeah. Basically, one of my good friends described it to me. He’s also a good friend of Jason. The way he described to me was, are you good at football, and you’re kind of funny, so you should be you should go up for this. No one would have known how the show went and how it’s been received by the public. But while we were filming it, we were having a great time. That’s always a good sign.

Q: So when you say you’re good at football, what does that mean? Are you as good as Isaac is?

A: Uh, I mean, me and Isaac play different positions, you know, I’m more of a forward myself. Isaac is a defender. I have played defense in my time, but not to the quality of Isaac.

Q: How much simulating of actual games you have to do, and how does that work when some of the cast are just normal actors, and some of them are actually athletes?

A: You know what, to be frank, we got quite lucky because a lot of the cast can play football. So it wasn’t too difficult to reenact scenes when football was needed to do what the work that was needed to be done. So we got really lucky. We didn’t get lucky in respect of the weather. No, it was snowing at times. That was the heartbeat of it. But they’re similar in the football. It wasn’t really that difficult, because there was a lot of talented footballers in that cast.

Q: How much would you say you’re like Isaac?

A: Me? I mean, Isaac’s a part of me, and a bunch of other people and a little bit of something else. It’s hard to explain. That’s a good question. Because with Isaac, he’s a little bit more patient than me. I like to say that, yeah, he is a bit like me. Is that weird? Yeah, he’s a bit like me.

Q: That’s great to hear. Do you actually give great haircuts?

A: Yeah, I actually learned how to haircuts during lockdown because there were no barbershops and no hairdressers was open. So I experimented on my little cousin, not like he wanted me to but you know, he had no choice. And yeah, kind of got a little bit good. Not as good as Isaac again, but I’ll be there one day.

Q: That’s a great goal. Isaac does have some particularly great relationships with some of the characters on the show. Let’s start with Sam, what can you say about their friendship?

A: Isaac and Sam’s friendship is, at first, I wouldn’t have thought that Sam would have would have liked Isaac. As everyone’s seen, Isaac’s journey, he’s become a completely different character, or maybe that was there in the beginning, and he just needed a shove in the right direction to get him on his way to becoming the leader that he is. Necessity and situations built Sam and Isaac’s character. The fact that Isaac also has Nigerian heritage, and Sam having the morals and beliefs that he has, that side appealed to Isaac. That’s where their friendship blossomed from then on. It was a kind of like mutual respect thing happening, and then it blossomed into actual friendship.

Q: That’s nice. And on the note of leadership skills, we also have Roy, who’s a mentor for Isaac, even if he’s not always keen to admit it. What do you make of that dynamic?

A: Out of that respect. Isaac respects Roy, he knows what he’s done. He knows that. He knows that Roy knows what he’s talking about. The way I see Isaac is that he just wants the truth. He doesn’t want you to sugarcoat it. And everyone knows that Roy doesn’t sugarcoat anything. So I think that’s where Isaac kind of enjoys it, because Roy’s gonna give it to him how it is. Even in a couple of episodes, where situations have happened and Isaac’s needed a kick up his ass, if I can say that, Roy’s given it to him, he’s given him some cold truth. And I think that’s where the respect and the friendship lies. Yeah, it’s exciting to see where that can go.

Q: Yeah. And then there’s Ted, who’s usually gentler, but also has his Led Tasso personality, which can get a little volatile. What is it like working with Jason?

A: Jason’s great, man. Jason’s a wonderful human and a complete professional. Also really fun. It’s a lot of fun. That’s the one thing about working on Ted Lasso, and working with the crew, the cast, everybody involved, everyone at Apple. Everyone is just so fun, and full of life, and eager, hungry, all the best qualities that someone in the arts can possess, this group of people have. Working with Jason is a blast.

Q: Awesome. Is there anybody in the cast that Isaac doesn’t interact with at any point, but you’d love to see them share scenes some time?

A: Yeah. I mean, there are people that he that he has interacted with, but where it might be interesting to see those two personalities clash. Like Keeley, there has been scenes where they’ve been in the same scene, or she’s addressed him, but not where you could go anywhere with it. Juno is such a fantastic actor that I just want to be in all the scenes with her. Also, there is Rebecca. I wonder how that would go, a boss and the captain. I wonder how that would go. There’s a couple of people that you never know where those friendships can go, those relationships can go. So yeah, it’s really exciting.

Q: Is there anything that viewers would never know about the experience of filming this show that you’d be interested to share with them?

A: What they wouldn’t know? Well, what I’ve said, I’ve said I’ve said it before. They wouldn’t know that it’s cold. Yeah. Well, maybe they would, maybe they would know it’s cold. I don’t know. Right now, off the top of my head, they wouldn’t know that there’s really good catering. There’s very nice food on set. That’s what I can think of right now. I’m trying to keep the cards close to my chest here.

Q: It’s important for morale. Good food is important. To have the camaraderie you have to feed everybody. That’s fair.

A: Oh! Also, there are certain characters that are completely opposite to what they are on screen. That’s how great they are at their job. You would never know that they are like this in real life. You see Nate’s character, you see Jamie Tartt. polar opposites. I mean, Jamie Tartt, he’s come around. He saw the light. But Nate, Nick couldn’t be anything further from the way that Nate has been acting as of lately. That’s one thing that I should I should shine a light on, the fact that they’re such terrific actors that you’d think that they’re like that in real life.

Q: I spoke to both of them ahead of the Emmys and Phil especially, I was like, this guy is nice. Before Nate took his dark turns, I thought, of course Nick’s nice.

A: Exactly, because not many people know that. People on Twitter and on social media are always like, oh, this guy, and I’m always reading them and thinking, you have no idea! He is the nicest person you could ever meet.

Q: I’ve also seen Nick on Intelligence. He always he puts himself in these roles where people just beating up on him. I don’t know why he’s such a nice guy.

A: Ah, Nick, is it some sort of self-harm? I don’t know, what is it?

Q: So I imagine you can’t answer this question, but do you know anything about season three?

A: Absolutely nothing. I don’t know – is there a season three? I don’t know. I have no idea.

Q: So here’s what I’ll ask. What do you want to see from Isaac? What would you like to see in his character arc going forward?

A: I would like for him to be going in the same direction that he has been going, because it’s a pretty good direction. It started off a bit rocky, we all know that. But the direction from the final episode in season two, we can see that Isaac’s going to sculpt into a really great person, a real great role model. So that’s what I’d like, him to keep heading in that direction and not just do a u-turn.

Q: That’s great. I know that we’re in the middle of the pandemic, still, but I assume that you do go out occasionally, you do get recognized by people who are big Ted Lasso fans, right?

A: Yes, yes. And it’s great. It’s lovely. It’s all different types of people from big, large families to single out on dates. It’s great, and everyone’s always got the same reaction, it’s all love. And I’m really proud and happy to be a part. Some of the stories that I’ve heard, it’s been just fantastic to hear, people going through really, really tough times, as you just said, pandemic, you know, life in general, life is really hard and mental health, and what the show touches upon, and the way that it’s helped them. And in the smallest way, if something that I can minutely do to brighten someone’s day, it just makes makes it all worthwhile to me.

Q: Yeah, I agree. And that’s a great spirit of the show, and a great note to end on. Thank you so much for talking to me today. And I have a feeling we’ll see a season three soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with Isaac.

A: Wicked.

The first two seasons of Ted Lasso are streaming on Apple TV+.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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