‘Ted Lasso’ Star Toheeb Jimoh Talks Male Vulnerability, Sports Activism and Being a Child of Immigrants

Complex caught up with Jimoh to chat about the show’s direction, his character’s arc, standing up for your beliefs, and his character Sam dating Rebecca.

Toheeb Jimoh Ted Lasso Interview
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Image via Apple TV+

Toheeb Jimoh Ted Lasso Interview

Without its cast, Ted Lasso wouldn’t be the massive hit it is today. The show’s premise of an American football coach moving to London to coach soccer is way more vibrant thanks to the characters who surround him. In Season 2, the show’s secondary characters like Sam Obisanya took centerstage. Sam, played by British actor Toheeb Jimoh, is a young Nigerian right-winger playing for AFC Richmond. In the first season, Sam finds his place within the club while adjusting to being away from his family and country.  Sam finds his footing in Season 2 and becomes a leader within the team and on the show.

Sam served as a vessel to cover several important topics this season, such as activism in sports, the complicated relationship between fathers and sons, the pressures of being an immigrant or the child of immigrants, and finding love in unlikely places. Jimoh’s part of an ensemble Ted Lasso cast, helping the series receive four nominations for the 79th Golden Globes, which are still taking place on Sunday, Jan. 9. Complex caught up with Jimoh to chat about the show’s direction, his character’s arc, standing up for your beliefs, and what he really thinks about his character’s romance with his boss, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham).

Rebecca Sam Ted Lasso

The show’s first season also won four Emmys and received nothing but praise from fans worldwide, debuting on Apple TV+ in August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, it served as a reprieve from the cruel realities of the world. The titular character’s upbeat energy and the stellar cast provided the feel-good, uplifting escapism that so many were desperately seeking. In Season 2, the show explores the characters beyond the surface, chipping away at their lighthearted layers and revealing their truths. Coach Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) suffers a panic attack during a match, the team gets a therapist after a freak accident and viewers also get to witness how an unchecked ego can negatively impact a man through Nate (Nick Mohammed).

Some viewers weren’t pleased with the way the show deviated from being the comedic relief it started as and instead focused on feelings and emotions the audience was not ready for. Jimoh says he’s happy the show went in this direction and says that the series was “never just a comedy,” and he’s right. “[Mental health] is a tough subject to speak about, especially when it’s coming from a TV show that otherwise people thought was a feel-good comedy that was really light, just wholesome,” Jimoh says. “It’s important, especially in the sports world, to speak about subjects like these. I’m glad that we chose to go in this direction. It might have been tough at first, but people got to understand it.”

Sam Ted Lasso Toheeb Jimoh Interview
Toheeb Jimoh Ted Lasso Family

In Season 2, Episode 3 titled “Do the Right-est Thing,” Sam becomes the face of the fictional airline Dubai Air, which is his team Richmond’s biggest sponsor. After delivering the good news to his father via text, Sam learns that Dubai Air is owned by Cerithium Oil, a company that refused to clean up oil spills in Sam’s native Nigeria. His father expressed his disappointment, saying it “breaks [his] heart” to see his son align with that company. “The minute you feel like you’ve taken all of their hard work and you’ve disappointed them in a way, or you’ve let them down, or you’ve fallen short of what their expectations are of you, that’s so crushing,” Jimoh says. Sam then goes above and beyond to make things right and make his parents proud again by turning down the campaign and publicly protesting by covering up the Dubai Air logo on his shirt with tape before stepping out on the field. “That’s what you get when you shower someone with love, and you allow them to grow. When you give people that much love, it just makes you want to make them proud,” the actor says. “As a result, you get a young man who’s super emotionally intelligent and is willing to go into it and research it and read up about it and become super knowledgeable about the situation.” He added: “I just feel super privileged to be able to tell that story and share that, especially when it comes to Nigerians because that’s my community, that’s my home. I’m glad that I have the chance to stand up and hopefully help them to feel seen.”

Activism in sports is nothing new and goes as far back as the 1968 Summer Olympics when athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos had one of the most impactful protests in sports history when they raised a black-gloved fist while “The Star-Spangled Banner” played at their awards ceremony. Most recently, former NFL star Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the anthem to protest police brutality, and tennis star Naomi Osaka has openly supported Black Lives Matter by wearing masks with the names of police brutality victims like Breonna Taylor. Osaka also took time off to take care of her mental health, becoming an example for other athletes. “There’s a thing that happens when entertainers remind you that they’re just human beings, and they’re just people at the end of the day. The world just goes, ‘Whoa, what are you doing? Stay in the box that we put you in. Entertain us. Do your job,’” Jimoh says. “I really love that especially Black influential figures in entertainment and sports have been standing up and breaking out of that box and going, ‘Yo. We’re people. We have a community to support. We have a duty to ourselves and our own mental health and that comes first.’ I really support that, and so I’m glad that we got a chance to back them in our show.”

Ted Lasso Toheeb Jimoh

The actor believes it was necessary for them to dedicate an episode to sports activism this season to show other entertainers that it’s OK to speak out. “Just because you’re in the public sphere and in a public-facing job doesn’t mean that you lose your humanity. You still have your relationship with yourself and your communities,” he said. “That’s why you want to end up in those positions anyway. So you can stand up and speak up for those communities who a majority of the time, especially if you’re a Black kid, you are coming from a marginalized community, who the majority feel powerless and voiceless.” Jimoh brought up the “Shut up and dribble” comment journalist Laura Ingraham aimed at LeBron James in 2018 for talking about politics. “The fact that people just want footballers to play football, or want basketballers to just play basketball, it’s just so much more than that. I encourage athletes and entertainers to stay politically active and to speak out because you have a platform and you have to use it,” the actor said. “People won’t speak up because they’re worried that they’ll just get a hell of a lot of backlash, which does happen as well. Sometimes when you do take those stands, people will just back you, and people will just support you.”

Toheeb Jimoh Ted Lasso Interview
Ted Lasso Barber Scene

Another major decision Sam has to make is pursuing a relationship with his club’s owner and boss, Rebecca. The pair meet on the fictional anonymous dating app Bantr and hit it off, but things get tricky when they realize they’ve been talking to each other all along. Some fans were thrown off by the coupling since she’s much older than him and he’s her employee, but the actor says he was happy to see their characters together. “I knew people were going to respond to it in loads of different ways. There are so many things wrong with this, but there’s also so much right with it,” Jimoh says. “I was really rooting for them. You have all of these reasons why it shouldn’t work, but then you have two people who just really get each other and who really connect. You want to see those two things battle themselves out.” Aside from his relationship with Rebecca, Sam connects with different people throughout the season, especially his teammates. One of the standout scenes this season was in Episode 8 (“Man City”), when Sam enlists his team’s help to prepare for his first date with Rebecca and uses his one-per-season haircut from team captain Isaac McAdoo (Kola Bokinni).

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The scene is so electric, and the back-and-forth quips between the players is so genuine and remarkable. As Jimoh describes it, “Black barbershops are the cultural home base,” and says the scene showed the importance of the ritual that takes place during a haircut and the special relationship between a man and his barber. While some white players didn’t fully grasp the magic of the moment, they watched and learned alongside their teammates. Jimoh says the scene was a mini-reunion for them after COVID and that added another layer of emotion to it. “That scene was one of the first times where we were all allowed to be inside a room and just be next to each other and touch each other and just be a group. So much of what you see in that montage sequence partly is us just being able to connect with each other again,” Jimoh explains. “The barbershop vibe is insane. It’s just elite banter. There are always arguments. There are debates. What it is, is just a space for men, especially, to feel safe, to feel at home, to feel supported by each other, to connect with each other, all while you’re getting a trim. There’s one picture of me and Kola [Bokinni] behind me. There’s something about it. I always put [it] on my Instagram. He looks like he’s my guardian angel. There’s something about it that’s just so enriching. It’s insane vibes, man.”

Those aspects of male friendships, brotherhood, and male vulnerability are at the core of the Apple TV+ series. “What we do in a very good way is show that it’s cool to be vulnerable. It’s cool to lean on each other. There’s this thing with young men especially feeling like they just need to be strong all the time. And you don’t have to,” the actor said. “You can speak up. Especially with young male suicide rates skyrocketing recently, I think now more than ever, we need to support each other, and we really need to demystify this whole thing of young men needing to be strong. Now more than ever, we should rely on one another.” 

Season 3 of Ted Lasso is already in the works. In the meantime, stream Season 1 and 2 on Apple TV+.

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