Toheeb Jimoh Is Here to Put a Smile on Your Face

The Ted Lasso star’s warmth and bubbly personality came together to make Sam Obisanya a fan favorite.

<p>Isla Mathieson</p>

Isla Mathieson

Toheeb Jimoh doesn’t consider himself to be a celebrity — though if you asked anyone else, starring in one of the world’s biggest shows should make its stars, well, stars. But the Emmy-nominated actor, who plays fan-favorite Sam Obisanya on Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, swears that things have essentially remained the same since he booked the role — besides, of course, attending award shows and sitting front row at fashion shows for Hermès and Dior.

“For the most part, I feel pretty normal. For the first two seasons I was still living at home,” he admits. “I'd leave work, I'd come back home, my parents were there. I'd eat home-cooked meals and not pay rent. I guess having my family around me has kept me super-grounded. I'm aware that my career has changed, and I'm at a different stage now than I was when I started in 2019. In terms of the day-to-day life stuff, I feel the same.”

At the ripe age of 25, the genesis of Toheeb’s career wasn’t all that long ago, which makes it (slightly) more believable that the actor hasn’t accepted his celebrity status yet. But what he conveniently leaves out is that his résumé is already filled with critically acclaimed projects, a reflection of his prowess as an actor. Before joining the cast of the global phenomenon, Toheeb starred in the 2020 film Anthony, in which he portrayed Anthony Walker, a British teen who was murdered in a racially charged attack in 2015. And in 2021, he nabbed a role in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (alongside the likes of Timothée Chalamet, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody).

Humility is a refreshing quality to see in a star of a streamer’s biggest show, but this down-to-earth mindset is on par with Ted Lasso’s feel-good theme. And it isn’t the only parallel between Toheeb IRL and Sam. The actor was born in England to two Nigerian immigrant parents and moved to Africa where he lived for much of his early childhood. When his family returned to England during his adolescence, he took up football (he jokes that he was “what scientists like to call a prodigy”) and got involved in theater, the latter to which he ended up dedicating the majority of his time, although it goes without saying that the football skills have proved useful in his acting career.

Ted Lasso’s inclusive cast and diverse group of supporting characters — from the Nigerian Obisanya to Cristo Fernández’s Dani Rojas and Isaac McAdoo (played by Kola Bokinni) — reflect London’s mixing pot of cultures and often serve as a vehicle for both comedy and education.

“Because you have such a diverse cast, you get a really rich opportunity to broaden your storytelling,” Toheeb says. “Just the very fact that somebody sat down and was writing this TV show and thought, ‘OK, cool, let's have an African football player come to the U.K. from West Africa.’”

<p>Courtesy of Apple</p>

Courtesy of Apple

In season 3, currently airing weekly on Apple TV+, Sam brings Nigerian culture to Richmond with his new restaurant, Ola’s, where he’ll serve traditional cuisine from his homeland. It’s just another smart way the writers have introduced different traditions into the show’s plot. Even the show’s wider cast — which includes Jamaican, African, Swedish, and British players — has brought snippets from their backgrounds to display on the show. If you recall, season 2’s Christmas episode featured holiday recipes from all of the teammate’s home countries.

Toheeb feels grateful to pay homage to his Nigerian roots and hopes it’s something that will help other young kids feel like they belong. Because being the kid at the English school with a “funny accent and a weird name” made it a “difficult” time for him.

“Now, I feel like a kid going to a school in America, for instance, who has the same accent, you're going to hear that accent and you're not going to think of the millions of stories or propaganda that you've heard about African kids or African culture. Maybe the first thing you think of is Sam and Chin Chin, and football. Suddenly, this kid has a way into [any] culture.”

Although he worked to lose his Nigerian accent in an effort to fit in at school, the older, wiser version of Toheeb stresses the importance of using and embracing your voice. “We have so many accents on the show, and I feel like that's a really important thing, isn't it? Your voice. And if that voice is something you already have from a TV show with these characters, you already feel like family, then that helps that kid fit in. I just think it's dope.”

<p>Courtesy of Apple</p>

Courtesy of Apple

Much like what we see in Sam’s season 2 arc, Toheeb says the approval of his parents has also been a guiding light in his career and a constant reminder of his integrity. In the show’s sophomore season, Sam becomes the face of a campaign for AFC Richmond’s sponsor, Dubai Air. When his Nigerian father informs him that the airline is owned by Cerithium Oil, a corrupt (fictional) company that is responsible for major destruction in his home country, the young athlete takes a stand against the sponsor by covering the logo on his jersey with black tape. The episode — like many other Ted Lasso storylines — becomes a teachable moment for social issues and defending your beliefs.

Similarly, Toheeb says there’s been instances in his real life where he’s turned down jobs that didn’t align with his values. And the reason behind these decisions is as wholesome as you’d expect from the guy playing the personification of sunshine.

“I've been put in positions where I've had to say no to stuff, no to money, no to things that could maybe advance my career,” he says. “I think ultimately, it comes down to integrity. I don't want to do anything where if my mum gets [it] sent [in] one of her numerous WhatsApp group chats that she doesn't feel proud or she doesn't feel like that's the kid she raised.”

“Sam's reason is his parents, my reason is my parents in a similar way,” he adds. “If I feel like they won't be proud [of] the decision I make, well, I'm not going to make that decision.”

Of course, you can’t talk about Sam without mentioning his megawatt smile, kindness, and unintentional humor that has captured the hearts of all TL fans. Toheeb says that “insanely optimistic” outlook is yet another thing that’s mirrored in his own personality (I’m sensing a pattern here), which quickly became apparent over Zoom through his warm, bubbly personality and infectious laugh. But he’s also incredibly whip-smart and witty, a bit more biting and sarcastic than Sam. He’s quick to crack jokes about his castmates and now-friends, including Brett Goldstein (who plays Roy Kent, the verbose footballer-turned-coach) and Nick Mohammed (he plays unlikely villain Nathan Shelley).

“We're both insanely optimistic to the point of maybe being a bit naive,” Toheeb admits. “I'm a positive person, so Sam encourages me to stay that way. Sometimes, especially during the pandemic, you turn on the news and everything you [hear is] hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people dying. Grandparents are dying. You can't hug your loved ones, you can't go outside, and you're just being bombarded with negative information,” he says. “Especially for my generation, I feel like you just get numb to it. I think especially in a time like this, it's really important to have shows that remind us that there are good people out there.”

Ted Lasso has become that show for many people. It’s a great equalizer, no matter how divisive the world is (And, oh boy, is it.). Mike White even wrote it into a line of his Emmy-winning show The White Lotus, because pretty much everyone can agree that the Apple TV+ series has an ability to warm even the coldest hearts and bring together people from all different walks of life.

“Even the people who aren't so good [in the show], the Nates or the Rebeccas in season 1, there's goodness in there somewhere,” he says. “And all it takes sometimes is a little bit of perseverance to chisel through and find that. I think that's why people really responded to me because especially during 2020, we're at a time where people just wanted to really believe that that stuff was still out there, and it'd be safe for them to stay open, warm, and giving. That's why people resonated with it.”

Fans of the smash hit seem to be just as good-natured as its characters. “I can't really complain because Ted Lasso fans are just the nicest people ever,” Toheeb explains. “Most of the time, it's just really dope, heartwarming people who just want to say hello and praise you and feel like you're a part of their family in a weird little way. My fan interactions have all been super-lovely.”

<p>Courtesy of Apple</p>

Courtesy of Apple

Maybe the one area in which Toheeb and Sam differ is their perspective on dating. In a very unexpected season 2 plot twist, Sam ends up in a situationship with the club’s bombshell owner Rebecca Welton (played by Hannah Waddingham) thanks to a dating app mishap. Not to disappoint any hopefuls, but Toheeb himself isn’t on the apps. Instead, he’s mostly focused on his career at this point, though he quips that if his parents had it their way, he’d be “married with a kid.”

“I don't really go out often, so I don't really have that much of a chance to meet new people,” he says. “I'm probably too busy. You ask my parents, my mum, or my friends, their agenda right now would be to get me in a relationship. But listen, I'm a baby boy. I'm living my life. I'm just vibing.”

And it’s not just an excuse to side step the question or avoid the apps, the actor really is booked and busy. In addition to TL, Toheeb stars in the Amazon Prime Video sci-fi show The Power, based on the best-selling Naomi Alderman novel of the same name. The new series, which premiered on Mar. 31, follows young women around the world who have developed the ability to shoot electricity out of their hands. Toheeb plays Tunde, a young Nigerian man and aspiring journalist who chases the story into dangerous territory in the pursuit of finding himself and realizing his dream. It’s another lesson in speaking up and doing the right thing, and Toheeb really resonates with Tunde’s journey.

“I think I'm going through a similar thing in my acting career. I'm at a stage now where I can stand on my own two feet a bit more, and I feel like I'm at that stage now where I'm starting to discover who I am and what the rest of my life will look like,” he says. “I'm using my acting career to give me a voice and find my voice, and figure out how I want to use that newfound power that I have.”

Now for the burning question on everybody’s mind: is season 3 really the end of Ted Lasso? Well, don’t expect answers here because Toheeb doesn’t even know (and he teases that he has no control or power over the future of the show). Sudeikis recently hinted that season 3 is the end for “this story,” though who knows what that means for the TL universe. Toheeb says he is actually gunning for a Roy Kent and Sam Obisanya spin-off, but in another moment of self-deprecation, Toheeb says Goldstein will have to do the majority of the heavy lifting.

<p>Courtesy of Apple</p>

Courtesy of Apple

“At the moment it's 99% of the money goes to Brett and 1% of the money goes to me,” he jokes. “The thing about Brett is he does too many things well. He's going to write it, star in it, then do all the press and be funny. I'll be in the back.”

If he receives an Apple TV+ series based on his character, maybe, just maybe, he’ll believe he’s achieved fame. Either way, it’s probably safe to assume that Toheeb will be singing the same humble tune for the rest of what is likely to be a long, successful career. He does share the moment that will be the ultimate marker of celebrity to him, though it’s tough to tell if he’s serious or using his signature dry humor. “I can't wait to yell at the paparazzi, man. I've been manifesting that for a minute,” he says with a straight face before saying, "Get off my lawn!”


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