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Interview: ‘Ted Lasso’ Star Kola Bokinni on Becoming a Leader On and Off the AFC Richmond Pitch 

Ask anyone familiar with football what one of the most important positions on a team is and many will say the center back. As the captain of AFC Richmond and their starting center back, Isaac McAdoo, played by Kola Bokinni, takes on both roles becoming a leader for the team both on and off the pitch. Without a disciplined and reliable center back and someone the entire team can trust, a team can never win reliably and that is exactly what Kola Bokinni’s Isaac McAdoo provides for his Richmond teammates.

In our conversation, Kola speaks to the building of Isaac’s leadership role that grows over the course of the Emmy Award-winning series Ted Lasso and the responsibility that comes with his position. He details how he was required to rewire his football brain in order to become the trustworthy last line of defense, but also someone who was there for his teammates off the pitch as well.

Read our full conversation with Ted Lasso’s Kola Bokinni below.

Hi, this is Danny Jarabek here with Awards Radar, and I am very excited to be speaking with Kola Bokinni. He is a member of the cast for the Emmy award-winning show Ted Lasso. His character, Isaac McAdoo, is a star on and off the pitch. Kola, welcome, and thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

Bokinni: Thank you for having me.

First of all, congratulations on this show. It’s obviously a huge hit and has been a crowd favorite for a few years now. A crowd favorite for me too and so I’m very excited to have a chance to talk with you today.

Bokinni: Oh, man. It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on. I hope it’s a crowd favorite.

I first want to ask, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but are you a football fan yourself? Was this an easy jump to take a step into?

Bokinni: I am a football fan. Yes, I am. I support Arsenal, but I wouldn’t say it was easy to acclimatize to because football and acting are completely different things and to do them both and to do it well, it takes a lot of patience, and it takes a lot of skill from the crew and the cast, and everyone involved. So, I’m just glad it came out decent.

Talking about your character Isaac, what is it about Isaac as his personality, his growth over the course of this show, that drew you in? What drew you into this character from the beginning and how he developed over time?

Bokinni: It was the people that we got to work with and the freedom that they would give to me and my castmates. They give us a lot of freedom. They promote creativity and it was just a fun thing to do to create and mess about, but also do it in a professional manner and hopefully, the world receives it well, which they have received it in a way that none of us could have imagined. I’m just really happy and feel very lucky to be a part of it.

Absolutely. Isaac himself, I think he is, first, a fantastic character, and I love the way that you’ve built him over the course of a few seasons now. How did you start to shape his personality? I think he’s very dialed into what he does as a character, and he’s very focused and driven, maybe soft-spoken in comparison to some other characters, but also very much a leader. So how did you begin to shape that?

Bokinni: Isaac has always been strong, but there’s a difference between being strong physically and strong mentally and I wanted Isaac to be like an empty cup made of stone and to be adding water into it every day. I wanted him to become so layered that the audience is guessing what he’s thinking or what happens in his private life. It’s been so fun over the last three or four years being able to create and having the opportunity like this character to become captain and also work with fantastic people. I leaned on them a lot when it comes to the development of my character. Every time there I was in a scene with them, I’d take little bits. I wouldn’t tell them, though, but I’d take little bits and a good leader always listens more than he talks. That is the most important aspect of Isaac’s character. He listens.

One thing you mentioned is he becomes captain. That’s an important moment for Isaac and for the transition of the club as well. It’s also a huge moment for the show. How did you prepare for that and how did that transition go? Did you have to change the character at all or was it more about reinforcing those elements that you had built early on?

Bokinni: 100% I had to change. It was like a boy becoming a man at the beginning of Season 1. Isaac isn’t very clever in his actions or the way he’s bullying. He’s using his size and bullying and not being an overall nice person. He’s following, not leading, to be honest, if you remember. The more responsibility he took on, the more it factored into him becoming captain and the ideal successor to Roy because of the way he has morals that he probably didn’t know he had at the beginning of the show. I took it upon myself to also enjoy creating Isaac as a leader.

You do succeed Roy Kent, as you said, both as a captain and as a center back, which is not the flashiest position on the football field, or the pitch I should say (I’m on the American side of things here, dare I say soccer?). It’s not necessarily the flashiest position on the pitch, but it’s also a cornerstone of a team and the backbone of that defense. So what did that mean for you to step into that role on the field while also taking on this responsibility off the field for this team?

Bokinni: You can say about 80% of captains are center backs because it’s not the flashiest position on the field, but some would say it’s the most important. Most would say no one that knows anything about football would put a center back as the least important. It’s always got to be the top two. When you build your team, you look at the defense first because it doesn’t matter how many goals you score if you keep conceding, you won’t win. As the last line in the defense, they have attributes like strength and fearlessness that are all attributed to the role of center back. In my personal life, when I played football, I have on occasion played as a center back, but predominantly I played as an attacker so I had to rewire those things that I knew about football in order to look convincing as the center back because the center back is 100% you have to stick to your position because if you don’t, there’s a massive hole in the defense. With a striker, you can go here, go there, it doesn’t really matter too much. But with a center back, it is very strict, it’s very disciplined, and I had to put that into my game, which was a difficult part of it, but I did my best.

Do you think that reflects a little bit of the way that you treated this character outside of the game, off the pitch as well, with that discipline, that responsibility to be there?

Bokinni: Yes. I played the character for three, four years, and I have massive respect for the character and for the fans of the character. I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t respect the role and respect that. He goes through things the way everybody goes through things. He’s had to learn this discipline. But footballers, they spend their entire lives playing one sport, and half of that is just trying to become a professional footballer which is never guaranteed. Then it happens, and their whole life revolves around this one sport and some of them might not have developed the other parts of, let’s say, what an average person would develop in their personality. That’s why some of them might seem cold or some of them might seem a bit distant because they’re in a warped reality. Some of them are just 18 years old on 60, 70, 80 grand per week and that is unheard of in other fields of work. So, they don’t have the same reality as the average person would. I learned a lot playing this character and I have much respect for footballers, even when I was playing football, that I didn’t have before because you don’t realize it, but then when you study it, when you do a role, you learn things that you didn’t necessarily know while you were inside of it. 

I do want to also ask about your relationship with some of the other cast members and the other members of your team. What Is your relationship with the other players and developing that teamwork, that camaraderie, that Ted Lasso effect in the locker room? How do you do that both as actors off the camera, but also as teammates on the camera?

Bokinni: You know what? With this job, which has not really happened to me before, we’re not lying. When you see us acting like brothers or acting like best of friends, it’s because we are even when we’re filming and it’s the weekend and we spend the whole entire week together, we’re still like, what are you doing on Friday? Do you want to go out? Do you want to go get some drinks? We want to spend more time with each other. Even though we spent every single waking hour that we are not sleeping with each other. That just speaks to people like Theo Park who cast it and it speaks to Jason [Sudeikis] and it speaks to all the producers that they’ve created such a group that it’s effortless to portray a team. When you’re not lying it’s not about pretending to be a character. Acting is about trying to find the truth in a situation because if acting was about pretending to be a character, then 90% (I keep talking about percentages, sorry) but the whole time you’d be watching TV, you’d be like, “This is not good. This is not believable.” So that’s why acting is all about trying to find a truth in a real-life scenario. It can be fantasy, but you still have to find that truth because, in that world, that is fact. These guys, I love them to death. They make it so easy.

I love to hear that. Do you have any favorite Isaac moments, maybe something that you’re proud of that happened with him in the show? I know there are a lot of moments where he really steps up and becomes a leader for a lot of these other players who are dealing with things that are much more than football too.

Bokinni: It’s just a moment where he shows a different side to himself because he’s such a strong person and a person that can easily intimidate. For the way that he looks, which can be intimidating, he’s completely opposite and moments like, was it episode six where he’s frustrated to the point where he’s just trying to get everybody to go to make a decision and go out, and then he does that big grand speech, and that’s just him. That encapsulates him. He wants the group to stay together because he knows that will have an overall benefit to the team. He’s such a team player that he will deprive himself of having an easy, lovely night. He’ll frustrate himself to the point where he is screaming to the heavens. But also, there are moments where something will happen to a teammate, and being the captain that he is, he genuinely asks them, “Are you okay?” It’s just little things like that make him the leader that he is and I really appreciate that from the writers.

One final question before I let you go, but I do have to ask, do you have the haircutting style and skill that Isaac does?

Bokinni: I do not. We have lovely barbers, and they are very skilled at what they do. Isaac is a very good barber, but Kola Bokinni, not so much.

Well, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you taking a moment in your, I’m sure, very busy schedule right now to speak with me, and I hope it’s a very exciting time for the show. I hope the new season is exciting and thank you again. Congratulations.

Bokinni: Thank you so much for having me. Have a lovely day.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.


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Written by Danny Jarabek

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