Ted Lasso is all about team effort and perseverance, and few people embody that more than Toheeb Jimoh’s Sam Obisanya. Sam consistently brings joy and optimism to the AFC Richmond locker room, but even with his characteristic spirit, Sam’s character also continues to reveal levels of depth and growth as he takes on more responsibility in his personal and professional lives.
In my conversation with Toheeb, he clearly exudes Sam’s spirit which becomes a huge factor in the show’s, and the team’s, evolution. He speaks to the collaborative chemistry the team has both on and off the field that is embraced by show creator Jason Sudeikis in bringing the show to life.
Read our full conversation with Toheeb below.
Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am very excited to be talking with Toheeb Jimoh. He is, of course, a supporting actor on the Emmy award-winning show, Ted Lasso. First of all, Toheeb, thank you so much for joining me today. I am super excited to talk to you. I’m a big fan of the show and a big fan of your character, too, so thank you.
Toheeb: Thank you so much for taking the time. No, thank you for taking the time. Yeah. I’m really glad we got a chance to do this.
I just want to start off by saying, before we get into it, you play Sam Obisanya, of course. Sam, I have to admit, he’s probably my favorite character in the show.
So, I am so excited to be talking with you today.
Toheeb: Oh, that’s really sweet. Thank you so much.
Yeah, and so, of course what I want to start out with is what drew you to this show and the vision for this show. Maybe were you a football fan yourself?
Toheeb: Oh, yeah.
Or was it something completely new that you were jumping into?
Toheeb: No, I’m definitely a football fan. I grew up my whole life playing football. My dad’s a big football supporter, so football was always on in the house. So, yeah, that was always a bucket list thing for me when I started acting. I always wanted to play a footballer, and I always wanted to play a Nigerian, so this kind of ticked both of those boxes. But then also outside of that, I realized the show was going to be really special when I auditioned for it. The scene that I auditioned with was the scene where it’s Sam’s birthday and they wheel him in a cake. And he’s not playing well and he’s really in his head and they wheel him in this cake and it’s a wonderful time, and then Ted offers him the army soldier and he says, “No because imperialism.” It was just such a funny and heartwarming moment, and that was really specific and unique to the idea of living in Nigeria and coming to the UK, which is also my life story. So, yeah, those were some of the things that drew me to the role.
Yeah, that’s so amazing to hear. Of course, I want to ask, Sam, his background growing up in Nigeria and coming to this club is a big part of your character and how he develops over the course of these couple seasons. So, how did you prepare for that and how did you process that? Of course, I’m sure you’re drawing on some personal experience too, but yeah, how did you build that?
Toheeb: I mean, a lot of it is my lived experiences. Like, I’ve lived it. I know what it’s like. I was much younger than Sam is the only difference. But yeah. I think preparing to tell a story like this, a lot of it was also going back and undoing a lot of work that I had to do in my own personal life. There’s so much of coming to a new country where you just adapt to fit in. So, preparing for this role was a lot of going back and looking inwards and finding stuff in my own life that I’d previously buried so I could just be like everybody else in London. So, yeah. Outside of being a Nigerian, I think his perspective and his outlook is so unique. He really is the type of person to see the best in every situation and to want to give the best to everybody and to present in that way. He’s been taught and brought up in such a way that respect and honor is such an important thing for him. And those are real staples of Nigerian culture. It’s the way I was brought up. You always respect your elders, and you give respect to someone. You see a lot of that in the first iteration of Sam in the first season and even going through the second season and third season. All of that was lovely homework because a lot of it was just like diving back into the culture that I grew up in.
Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of what you said there is what draws me into the character of Sam so much and why I always am so happy to see him. He brings so much joy into every scene, I think. It’s that joy and that optimism that I feel like I really identify with with my personality.
Toheeb: Yeah, yeah.
That’s why I love seeing Sam too.
Toheeb: Yeah. You have such a Sam-like smile as well, Danny. It’s so weird because I was talking about my own smile, but it’s the character. But you know what I mean.
Yeah. Well, just in the few minutes we’ve talked, I can already see that energy that you exude too that Sam does. I’m sure it’s part of your personality too, but how did you build that joyousness and that optimism that’s so intrinsic to who Sam is?
Toheeb: I think a lot of it lives in his smile, like I said. When I was finding the character very early on, I remember talking to Brett [Goldstein] about it. There’s a scene – I can’t remember what episode it is – where Jamie doesn’t pass down the ball and Ted’s like, “Why didn’t you pass down the ball?” And Jamie’s like, “Sam’s shit.” And Sam runs in and goes, “I heard my name. What happened? What did he say?” And he was like, “nothing,” and he’s like, “oh, okay.” That was one of the first moments where I was like, “That’s who that man is!” He comes in and he is just a breath of fresh air in every room that he’s in. A lot of that does also come from hardship. You see kids who have had really difficult lives growing up and have had to really struggle and fight out of tough situations who just see the best in life, and everything is a blessing. To be a kid coming from Nigeria to come to the UK to live your dream to play football, every day is the dream, and I think Sam really understands that in a way that a lot of people don’t. Everybody’s always hustling and trying to climb the next mountain, and I feel like Sam is very present and he’s very in the moment. I think cottoning on to some of that stuff early on was how I found my way into the character. So, now every time I even think about playing Sam, it starts off with that smile and then we go from there. You know?
Yeah. And he absolutely stands out too among the team as well who all have such strong and individualized personalities as well. But I would love to hear from you and your perspective how you built that chemistry with the rest of the team both onscreen and offscreen, the camaraderie between you and the rest of the cast.
Toheeb: Oh, man. I was trying to think, because we are a really close bunch, and I’m trying to think how that started. It just feels, in my mind, like we were just always like this, but there must’ve been something. I don’t actually really know. It felt like a really organic process. If anything, I think a lot of it came from the top down. The way Jason [Sudeikis]and Brendan [Hunt] behaved, Jason is sometimes the silliest person on set, so then everybody else gets that license to be silly and to enjoy and to have fun. So, I think we all just kind of started to do that around each other. There were no egos, nobody had their guard up, it just became a thing of come in with an open heart and we’ll vibe with each other. And everybody would hold that and didn’t have to hide any part of themselves. In terms of the character and how Sam fits into the AFC Richmond team, a lot of that is the work of – that was the journey for him in the first season and even into the second season. He started off very early on and he didn’t know where he fit in this country. He didn’t know where he fit in this team. And by the end of it, even into the second season, by the end of season two, he’d gotten to a point where he had become one of the leaders on the team. And a lot of that is the stuff that he gets from Ted. So, we really see what having an experienced leader, how that can enrich and empower you. I feel like so much of Sam’s personality comes out. The Sam we saw in Episode 2 of Season 1 is not the Sam we see in Episode 12 of Season 2. He’s a fully realized, fully fleshed out person. So, yeah, I feel like a lot of it was once you get rid of the Jamie Tartt of Season 1 in the room, then everybody else is less on guard and I feel like people’s personalities can come forward. Then you start to mesh, and you start to really see into each other, and before you know it, you have a group, you have an ensemble.
Yeah, 100%. And you mentioned, of course, that growth that Sam undergoes from Season 1 Episode 2 to Season 2 Episode 12. A completely different person who has gained so much experience and has really evolved as a person too. I wanted to ask how that process felt for you and becoming more of a leader on the team and even taking a stand on some personal things going on with Sam’s character. How that sort of development worked for you going from someone who was just so happy to be there to really becoming a leader and taking a stand for what you believe in too with this team.
Toheeb: I think a lot of the Ted Lasso stories, they’re all stories about growth. Every character that we’re looking into in some way is having a story about how to grow and how to grow into yourself and how to become a better version of yourself than the version you were yesterday. For me, watching him flourish and find his way into that, a lot of it comes from risk taking. I think a big part of that was standing up to Ted when Ted says Jamie’s coming back to the team and then standing up to Dubai Air and putting the tape over his shirt. A lot of it comes from these moments of risk. And I feel like those moments of risks can’t be taken unless you have a foundation of support. So, for me, it really feels like Sam is living proof of the Lasso way. I feel like Ted has really drip fed into the rest of the team, “You’re okay being you and you are enough.” Cool. If I am enough, then now I can take that base, that foundation, I can go forward and I can do this and I can do that. And I feel like, in a weird way, Sam learns who he is from some of these decisions that he made. Then, the response that you get back from that, you realize, okay, cool, I’m in a safe place, this is a team, they’re going to stand by me no matter what we do, and then you have full license to grow. So, for me, I really just honed into how terrifying decisions like that must be. You know? It’s an incredibly scary thing to stand up to a billion-dollar oil company and look at your parents and go, “I’m doing this for you,” and go into the line of fire and hope people are there behind you to support you. Because he doesn’t tell anyone else he’s got that tape on. They just do it because they love him. And I feel like in moments like that, you find out who your friends are, the character of people around you, but also your own character. So, moments like that really unlocked who Sam really was. Who are you when the fire’s really the hottest?
Yeah, no, that’s so special to hear coming from you. And just in the couple last minutes here, I want to ask if you have any favorite Sam moments. I know one that stands out for me is when you are adamant that this is the one time you’re going to use that haircut.
Because I talked to Kola [Bokinni] a couple days ago, actually, and talked to him about that moment. So, I would love to hear from you if you have any favorite Sam moments too.
Toheeb: Oh man, favorite Sam moments. There are a few. Obviously, I have recency bias, so Episode 7 of Season 3 is a big moment for me because as much as we see Sam be joyous a lot of the time, I was also really interested in what’s it like for somebody who always sees the positive in life and always gives the best of himself to the world to be met with some of the worst that the world has to offer. And how do you recover from that? The answer is you recover with your newfound family and your real-life family. So, I think those scenes were really important, the scenes with Sam and his dad. Because, again, you get to see why he’s the way he is. He’s had a Ted Lasso, but before Ted Lasso, he also had an Ola Obisanya, who’s, effectively, another Ted Lasso. They’re both incredibly wise, incredibly positive and optimistic men. But also, that scene in the locker room where we see Sam really at his lowest, at his most vulnerable, at his most scared and his most frustrated, and to just see him be held, I think that was a really significant and impactful moment to me. I also think the moment where Sam and Rebecca are in the restaurant and they realize that it’s the two of them, and he says, “Let’s get food.” You know? And he says, “You know what, we’re two people and we’re both hungry. Let’s sit down and let’s get food. Fuck it.” You know?
Toheeb: That was another moment where I was like “Samuel has become a man.” Because the Sam of Season 1 wouldn’t have had the strength or the conviction to sit down with the boss of the team and say, “Let’s have dinner,” platonically or romantically. So, yeah. Those are two of the moments that really stand out to me for Sam.
I love that so much. Well, S – I almost called you Sam! Toheeb, thank you so much for your time. I absolutely enjoyed doing this with you. Thank you so much for taking a few minutes to speak with me. As I said, I’m a huge Sam fan, so this was a very special moment to be able to chat with you about the show here. So, thank you.
Toheeb: Oh, thank you so much!
And congratulations too!
Toheeb: Thank you so much! That’s really kind, man. I really appreciate it. Have a lovely rest of your day.