Sam Obisanya isn’t laughing at Ted Lasso. Rather, it was likely how involved his arc was in season 2 (activism, leadership, love) that earned the actor who plays him, 25-year-old Toheeb Jimoh, his first Emmy nomination. If Coach Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) dark development from sweet milquetoast to budding supervillain has cooled reception of the series’ second appearance, Sam’s development could be the show’s new hope.
“Sam and Ted’s relationship is kind of similar to me and Jason,” says Jimoh of co-creator and star Jason Sudeikis. “He really helped me to stand on my own as an artist, just like Ted helps Sam to stand on my own as a player and as a person. It’s stupid.”
An initially quiet Nigerian import, Sam — not superstar Jamie (Phil Dunster) or old-guard hero Roy (Brett Goldstein) — is blossoming into the ideal player leader under Coach Ted. Thrown into an environment where he has been doubted and bullied, Sam, like Ted, does not respond with confrontation.
“The fact that Sam leads with love is almost revolutionary,” says Jimoh, speaking quickly as thoughts flow with his natural London accent. “When you come to a new country, especially Britain, you feel like there’s this fragile front that you have to have to survive. I think there’s something really cool about him not doing that.”
The actor doesn’t take his success for granted despite an impressive streak after graduating from London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2018: “In 2019 I got a lot of jobs very quickly. I have ‘Ted Lasso’ and I have [the lead in the BBC movie] ‘Anthony’ and I also have ‘The Power’ which isn’t out yet but yeah – I’m just riding my luck.”
Jimoh was born in London but spent his early childhood in Nigeria before returning to London at the age of 7.
“The whole thing is so interesting identity wise, figuring out where I call home. I think I went for a mix of everything. There’s a really cool emerging idea of being a black Brit. It was a turbulent fight, but… Look [rapper] Stormzy in Glastonbury wears the Banksy jacket with the Union Jack and feels possessed. and [rapper] Dave and Daniel Kaluuya do what he does is cool. It feels like I’m finding my home in these guys.”
This multi-faceted identity served the young graduate when auditioning for “Ted Lasso.”
“At this point, I can’t even think of any other candidates for this role,” said series co-creator Brendan Hunt. “We called him ‘Sam’ as a compliment to our mate Sam Richardson who is from Ghana. We asked him for the appropriate Ghanaian word of thanks [for the script], and Toheeb just confidently changed it to his Nigerian dialect. It’s quite a bold move for an actor: “This guy is French? F— it, I say, he’s from Luxembourg!’”
“I don’t think there was even a recall.”
“I changed Sam’s nationality,” confirmed Jimoh. “I changed the dialogue, spoke a bit of Yoruba. It was a bit risky, but I thought I could serve this project better if it was something I felt fully committed to. And that’s kind of become the ongoing lineage with Sam. Being Nigerian is such a big part of who he is. You know, high risk, high reward, and now here we are.”
Jimoh didn’t change it just to get noticed at the audition, he said. “I want to influence how Nigerians are perceived by the public. Especially in the UK, Nigerians are portrayed very negatively in the media. That’s why it’s important to bring in the language: I think a lot of people feel seen through it. I know a younger Tohieb would have done that.”
This made him eager to perhaps take over Sam’s key scene of the season with a little help.
“He recorded [over the Dubai Air logo] On his jersey he is about to speak to the British press, which traditionally hates black players speaking out. This is a brilliant example of an ally ship. Ted was supposed to hold this press conference but instead allows Sam to have this platform. I think that’s when Sam shows up and almost becomes a man in Season 2: ‘I’m not here to talk about football… Football isn’t the most important thing for me right now.’”
“That was in the summer of 2020 and we just had the Lekki tollbooth massacre in Nigeria. I thought, ‘People are dying, fighting for their rights at home, and I’m here in London.’ So to have this opportunity [as Sam] to stand up in this press conference – ‘Are you openly accusing the Nigerian government of corruption?’ and Sam says, ‘Yes, yes, that’s me.’ Sam speaks for me, Toheeb, and speaks for Nigerians everywhere.”
“During filming, everyone knew what the meaning was for me. Jason was there despite filming his part of the scene; He was still there and with me, just like Ted was with Sam. Jason was there for me.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-03/how-toheeb-jimoh-of-ted-lasso-found-his-characters-home-and-his-own How ‘Ted Lasso’s’ Toheeb Jimoh and his character found homes