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‘Ted Lasso’: Toheeb Jimoh Wanted to Do His Part for Nigeria Through Sam’s Decisions

For My Favorite Scene, Jimoh reflects on Sam's biggest moment of the series so far, and also looks ahead to what could be the show's ending.

Ted Lasso Sam Ted

“Ted Lasso”

Apple TV+

ConsiderThis

Welcome to My Favorite Scene! In this series, IndieWire speaks to actors behind a few of our favorite television performances about their personal-best onscreen moment and how it came together. 

The end stretch of Episode 3 of the second season of “Ted Lasso” — “Do the Right-est Thing” — finds Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) in the middle of a decision. He’s already pulled himself out of a giant ad campaign for AFC Richmond team sponsor Dubai Air after a message from his father emphasized the connection between the company and the pollution of the Niger Delta. Before the team’s next match, Sam decides to go one step further and tape over the logo across the center of his kit. It’s a moment that speaks to the season’s attention to things happening away from the pitch, addressing corporate greed, the power to use a platform for social change, and the possible ripple effects from a single, bold act.

For all of that to make its way through to the audience, Jimoh had to actually get the tape on first.

“It was hard because I had to do it the exact same way every single time. It would have messed up continuity,” Jimoh said. “I watched the episode again this morning, and I’m really just actually trying to cover the entire Dubai Air thing. But that’s what we do on ‘Ted Lasso.’ We tell jokes, but we’re also serious, but then we tell jokes.”

In its final form, that moment of solidarity with an entire region is a grand statement. On a personal scale, it’s a signal that the happy-go-lucky fan favorite of the show’s opening season has more on his mind in these new episodes. Keeping Sam’s brightness while introducing those new layers was one of Jimoh’s biggest Season 2 challenges for himself.

“Season 2 was like, ‘How do we grow him to the point where he can stand up to this oil company?’ The jackets he’s wearing are a bit more formal. He’s not just wearing tracksuits and trainers anymore. He’s growing into a man. But how do we also keep the version of Sam we saw in Season 1 that was literally giggling every single line?” Jimoh said. “He’s still a kid. He’s still 21. He’s still amongst his friends. Activism can be fun if you’ve got the right people around you. It’s not this big, bad daunting thing.”

Recently, IndieWire spoke with Jimoh — on a break between filming episodes of the still-to-come Season 3 — about how a singular Sam moment became a reflection of everyone who had a part in making it happen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: There’s a moment in Episode 3 when Sam sees himself in the mirror. It seems like, when shooting a scene like that, not only do you really have to hit your mark and hold it, but your face automatically becomes the thing that everyone is going to pay attention to.

Jimoh: It was such a poignant moment when we shot that shot that scene. You see yourself in a particular way, and then it isn’t until you stop and you actually look at yourself in the mirror that you have a real game-changer of a moment. He doesn’t speak to anyone about what he’s about to do. I don’t think he’s thought it through in that moment. I think he just sees himself. He looks at his parents. And in that picture, it’s actually my real parents. So, for me as an actor, you know, I felt like me and Sam was so parallel in the season because he’s looking at himself, he’s looking at his parents, I’m looking at myself, I’m looking at my parents. He decides, ‘This is the type of person I want to be. This is the type of man I want to be.’

When you’re prepping for a scene where you don’t have any dialogue, and it’s just facial reactions, does it feel different on the day?

For a moment like this, I had to trust myself that if I’m rooted in why this decision is so important for Sam, and why this decision is so important for me, Toheeb the actor, then I can trust that whatever I’m doing will read. I don’t know what that look needs to be. It’s not pre-planned. You can’t do it in the bathroom the night before. You just have to hold on to why this is the most important thing in the moment.

The whole of the summer of 2020, when there was so much going on in Nigeria, with the End SARS protests and the Lekki toll gate massacre, where I felt like as a Nigerian who isn’t home at the moment, I don’t really know how to do my part. Whether that’s protesting outside the embassy in the UK or whether that’s tweeting, I wasn’t sure how I could affect change from the UK. To then have that moment, filming Season 2, where I felt like I, Toheeb, could pull up and also Sam, the character could pull up. It was dope. Holding onto that, going into that scene, I was like, ‘I couldn’t care less what my face looks like. I know what Sam’s thinking, because I feel the exact same way.’ That was all the prep I needed for that moment.

This was the first time that Ezra Edelman had directed an episode of a scripted series like this. You have these very grounded, instinctive moments throughout the episode. Given his background as a documentary filmmaker, was there a different atmosphere or approach over those days that helped you in those moments?

To take it one step further, Ezra’s the first non-white director I’ve ever worked with professionally in my career. So to have him doing that episode, knowing it was written by Ashley [Nicole Black], the whole thing just kind of worked out. In a way, Ezra was the perfect director for that episode. Jason was there as well, co-running that ship. But Ezra was there when he needed to be and when he needed to just leave me alone and let me figure it out, he left me alone and let me figure it out. What he did really well was holding the atmosphere and tension in that locker room and making sure that I was served in the way that I could be served. I hadn’t really even thought about his documentary making and how that fed into us filming those scenes, but I guess you’re right. It almost feels like it’s a real-life thing, because that could have been me saying those words. In a weird way, that ties into what he naturally does.

Spiritually in that scene, you’ve got everybody coming to help you, one by one. The fact that it’s not just you doing it must have added to the atmosphere of the scene, too.

As much as that was a singular moment for Sam, when he looks at himself in the mirror and decides to put tape on his shirt, I think everybody knew how significant that moment was for the show and for the episode. It’s that weird thing where it feels like I’m acting with everybody in the room, including the lighting guys, including the grips, including the hair and makeup team. There’s a kind of silence on set. The only other moment where I really felt like we had that was when Jamie punches his dad in the face, and Roy hugs him. It feels like it’s just those two really acting, where everybody is just there holding the entire room up. Even the speech where I’m saying that they’re turning ‘my home into a hellish fiery swamp,’ it felt like I’m looking at everybody in this room and my scene partner is not just the actors. It’s the director, it’s Jason, it’s the writers, it’s everyone. It felt incredible. I’m a younger actor, and it was one of my first big moments on the show. It’s also my friends, like Kola [Bokinni] and Billy [Harris] and Phil [Dunster], it’s them also being there to support me as an actor. So I’m always aware of the parallels between me and Sam.

Ted Lasso Sam Toheeb

“Ted Lasso”

Apple TV+

Between the tape scene and then being out on the pitch, Sam has a very determined look on his face. Did you try those scenes with any other emotions or body language, or was that really the only way that this would have worked?

We spoke about it quite a bit. I’ve never been in a position where I’m actually standing up to a giant oil company and doing it so publicly. I guess the idea was, ‘How sure is he that this is going to go down well?’ Isaac takes the tape and Winchester takes the tape, because they’re Nigerians, but he doesn’t expect anybody else to do it. As somebody who’s been in situations like that growing up and going to drama school, there are times where you make a stand and you speak up about something that’s important to you and people don’t back you. I think there’s a part of Sam that’s prepared to look up and for everyone to say, ‘No, you’re disrespecting the club.’ We all saw the Euros.

So I think that determined look is also apprehension and a bit of anxiety, but also him just trying to front it. And so that was the thing that we held on to the entire way. Even when we went into the press conference, I asked Jason, ‘Do you think he’d be nervous?’ He’s about to face the British press for the first time, which is a daunting task, especially if you’re a 21-year-old Black footballer. We did a version where he looks back to Ted for one final moment of reassurance, but then again, this whole season is about him going, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna do it by myself, for myself. This is more important than anything else I’ve ever done. It’s for my family. Fuck it. I don’t care what comes, I’m going to do this.’

After the press conference, there is the moment of celebration in the locker room. Did you have any conversations about making sure that it felt like a genuine celebration without losing any of the power or the message of the scenes that came before it?

I think that celebration scene afterwards was, if anything, just as important as the press conference and the taping. That’s allyship at its finest, and that’s family at its finest. You’re sending the message to kids everywhere to stand up for what you believe in and do the right thing, even if you lose. That’s the message of the episode. Sometimes when we think about political activism, everybody’s talking about the backlash that sometimes comes with it. But there are times where you stand up for something you believe in, and people just flock behind you, and they support you. It doesn’t become this daunting thing that snowballs. It’s true that sometimes it does. But there are other times when people will just back you and you’ll gather that strength in numbers from people from all over the place. I thought we added to the message of that press conference and I don’t think it took away from it in any way.

You mentioned that this episode was key for Sam’s growth in Season 2 and for your relationship to the show. As you’re working on the upcoming Season 3, are there other big-picture ideas you’re taking away from this part of the process?

We’re at a point now where it seems like this could be the final season. We don’t know officially yet. I think there’s still a chance we could do more, but it’s not my decision to make. There is a finality to this season. Even if we do more, I feel like this will be the closing of Chapter 1. We’re walking onto set and there’s a nostalgia around everything because we don’t know if this is the last time we’ll be in this locker room. We don’t know if this last time we’ll play these characters. But also we’re getting to the point where we’re resolving a lot of the stuff that we’ve set up in Season 1 and Season 2. We’re watching these characters grow up in the same way that we’ve grown up around these characters.

I haven’t seen the scripts for [the last three episodes]. So I actually don’t know what Sam’s ‘happily ever after’ is, if he gets one. I don’t know what like Rebecca or Ted’s or Roy Kent’s are. When I can, it’s fun to just sit back. Sometimes I don’t even read the other storylines that I’m not a part of. So I’m coming into it like an audience member. I’m just excited to see it.

“Ted Lasso” Season 2 is available to watch on Apple TV+. Season 3 is currently in production.

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