If you’ve watched episode eight of Ted Lasso season two — and you definitely should before you read this because it contains spoilers galore — then you know what a big moment it is for Sam Obisanya.
Actually, this whole season has been a big moment for Sam, the defensive player for AFC Richmond played by Toheeb Jimoh, who has emerged as a real team leader in season two of the Apple TV+ series.
First, he led the team in a protest of its sponsor Dubai Airlines, which is owned by an oil company that caused environmental destruction in Nigeria, Sam’s home country. And in this week’s episode, after extensive anonymous flirting with a potential suitor on the Bantr app, Sam finally realizes the mystery lover is Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), the owner of AFC Richmond and therefore his boss. Despite the initial awkwardness that follows the discovery, Sam demonstrates that he’s quite willing to take his relationship with Rebecca to the next level.
It’s been a lot for Jimoh to take on, and he seems overjoyed to be doing it. During a recent telephone conversation — one that happened to coincide with the announcement that Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to Jimoh’s favorite football team, Manchester United — the actor very cheerfully discussed Sam’s evolution this season, how he found out about the Sam-Rebecca relationship, and the total lack of awkwardness between him and Waddingham during their big moment together.
Where are you today? What’s happening in your world?
Oh, I’ve literally just arrived back in my house. I’m back home, sat down, ready to go. It’s actually crazy because Cristiano Ronaldo has just signed for the football team that I support. So I’m now a 7-year-old boy again, you know? It is a big moment for me. As soon as I get off this phone call, I’m going to, like, explode in my house.
Feel free to explode at any time during this interview, that’s fine. Sam has become such a major character in this season of Ted Lasso. Did you know in advance that he was going to be so integral this year?
After we finished shooting the first season, me and Brett [Goldstein] — Brett’s the person I speak to most from the writing team because he’s an actor as well, and we have a really close relationship anyway — but me, Brett, Jason [Sudeikis], Brendan [Hunt], and Joe Kelly, one of our writers, we all formed this FIFA group. So we would play FIFA on Xbox, and we’d just jump on a line, put our headsets on, and talk. In between losing on FIFA because our team wasn’t very great, we would just talk and talk about ideas for season two. Every now and then, you would hear things.
So Jason was speaking to me about what turned into the Dubai Air story line. I knew that was coming. He’d kind of hinted at a romance thing, and he was like, “We want to explore that with Sam.” But nobody told me anything, really. I knew there were going to be some things I was going to be able to sink my teeth into, but I didn’t know the exact details.
Everybody else kind of knew about the Sam and Rebecca thing, apart from me. And I read the script and I was like, All right, hey? I’m like, Why Sam? That thing was all crazy. I got to enjoy that in the moment.
Did you not know Rebecca was communicating on Bantr with Sam until you actually read that in the script?
Nobody told me. I feel like the hardest thing in interviews and all of this stuff has been not telling other people. I’m kind of like, That’s smart. That’s smart because I probably would have ruined it for everyone at some point.
After you read that, what did you do? You must have been excited and surprised.
Oh man, it was a lot of things. The first thing I did was call Hannah [Waddingham], and we just geeked out. I mean, she knew, obviously.
Oh, she did?
I don’t know why she didn’t tell me as well. Yeah, of course, she did. But I just called Hannah. We just geeked out. It was hilarious because Hannah and I also have a very close relationship, so we were really tight anyway. I was just really excited because I was going to get to do scenes with Hannah. Usually, we get one or two; we had a couple in the first season. Up until episode six, when the reveal comes about, me and Hannah hadn’t really had that much to do together. So I just really wanted opportunities to work with her.
And I was just really glad that we got to explore this version of Sam. In season two, he’s growing up a lot more. He’s learning to stand on his own two feet. We’re watching him grow into a man a little bit. To get to see him off the pitch and venture into a little bit of romance and try to find himself is great. It’s a lot for me to do as an actor, and I get to share that with Hannah.
I want to talk more about Sam and Rebecca, but before we go there, I want to ask you about the Dubai Air situation. That was something Jason and you spoke about. Were there conversations about how much pushback Sam should receive from both Rebecca and the team in general? I feel like, in real life, there would be more pushback.
I think that’s the world we’re in, and that’s the culture at the club. Now that Ted is there, everybody has kind of adopted that ethos of being a community and being a family and being supportive of each other. The conversations we had were more about why Sam was doing that. Putting the black tape over the Dubai Air logo — why that was the accurate way of protest? We spoke a lot about real protests that were happening at the time. This was in the middle of summer in 2020, and so much stuff was happening in Nigeria, where people were protesting against the government.
There had just been a massacre in Lekki, an area in Nigeria where the lights just got shut off and protesters were being shot at by armed forces. There was the whole End SARS thing. One thing that was really important with the End SARS protest that we wanted to take and use was the idea that once people in the U.K. started to protest, and once people in the western world started to get notice of this and started to speak out about it and started to publicize it on Twitter and Instagram, that’s when a lot of change started to happen.
We were really wrestling with whether it should be a tweet or whether — there were a lot of different ideas of what the actual form of [Sam’s] protest should be. But then we just liked the idea of it being a public image, like something you could see.
I remember somebody else asked me if there was anything I didn’t like when I read the script, was there anything I sort of went to them and suggested that we change. And there really wasn’t anything. They had nailed it. They’d spoken to people. They had done the work themselves. By the time it came to me, it was just like fine-tuning loads of little things. But it was pretty much there.
It does make more of an impact to see everybody on the pitch with the logo blacked out. I don’t know how much they were trying to evoke the idea of taking a knee, but that’s sort of more in the same wheelhouse.
One hundred percent. I thought the whole thing was great. I was so excited to get to do it. It’s something that’s really close to home for me. I love the idea of empowering athletes, or any form of entertainers, anybody who’s got a public-facing job. Regardless of what your job is, you can use your platform to help the culture you come from and help the communities you come from. And if you need to speak out for them, then speak out for them. That’s what your platform is for. I was over the moon to get a chance to do that.
I don’t want you to spoil anything, but I’m just curious: Is that the last we’re going to hear about Dubai Airlines? Now that Sam is involved with Rebecca, is that issue going to reemerge in any way?
Yes and no. Not in the way most people would think, I imagine, but it does have some consequences and those consequences lead to a few difficult decisions for Rebecca and for Sam because of their newfound relationship. But also they have their own professional lives. That gets called into question a little bit. There are some tough decisions they’re going to have to make, and it kind of comes off the back of the whole Dubai Air protest. We’ll get to see a bit of the fallout from that.
Let’s talk more about Rebecca. Do you think Sam was attracted to her before they connected on the app? Or was it something that, because she was his boss, he wouldn’t even really think about?
I think a lot about that scene we had in the first season where Sam goes into Rebecca’s office and speaks to her and tries to get her to come down to partake in the curse thing, where everybody is burning something to get rid of the curse they have on the team. I think they just immediately had a kinship. There is immediately a connection there. There is immediately a chemistry there, and they just have a bit of a soul-bond friendship thing with each other. And at the end of the day, I think they just make each other feel very comfortable, even though Sam is a bit fidgety and weird with her because she’s his boss. And he always remembers that.
At the basis of their friendship, there’s a connection there that just everything else doesn’t really matter. This is just somebody who makes me feel comfortable, who is nice to you, and who you like. And of course, she’s incredibly attractive as well. Yeah, I think he would like her, but at this point you just kind of go, Oh, there’s no way that would happen. And so you leave that, and you’re more than happy to have a friendship with this person. But then once this opportunity presents itself, I feel like Sam is at a place in his life where he can just be open enough to go, You know what? The logistics don’t matter. This is somebody who I feel comfortable with, somebody who makes me happy, and somebody who I want to make happy. And I think I can do that.
You were saying something a moment ago about Sam being sort of awkward in her presence. I feel like this season, especially, he seems like a Zen master. He’s so comfortable in so many situations. Even in that moment in the restaurant, when they finally realize, “Oh, you’re waiting for me, and I’m waiting for you,” she’s very flustered. And he’s like, “This is kind of funny.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot of this is the fallout of his relationship with Ted. Because you look at the version of Sam that we had in the beginning of season one, and he just hadn’t really found himself in this team. He hadn’t found himself in this country. He was struggling to adjust culturally. Now he’s at a place where he can just speak for himself. He can stand on his own two feet, and he feels massively empowered because he’s got his father back home. He’s also going to Ted in the locker room. He’s got his friends now. He’s got his relationship with Roy. There are so many people who empower him and make him feel comfortable and give him the opportunity to use his voice.
We see that translated into this situation. In season one, if you had put Sam and Rebecca in that same restaurant, I think he would have been just as flustered as she was. But I think now he’s found himself, and he’s found that confidence. I think that’s also partly what Rebecca likes about Sam. As much as he’s really wholesome and he’s got an open heart and he’s supersweet, he just has a different confidence. We see a little bit of that in the Dubai Air conversation where she sees, Oh, this is somebody who just goes, “This is what I want to do. I hope you can support me, but I’m going with my gut here.” I think there’s something about that that she likes. I also super-loved filming those scenes with Hannah.
Tell me about filming that scene in the restaurant. You said the two of you were geeking out about doing this. What was it like when you actually got to play this all out?
It was hilarious. It was brilliant. I’m not sure how it looks because I actually haven’t seen episode eight yet. There’s a montage bit that we shot, where we were just rolling tape. Some of that is me and Hannah actually just speaking to each other and telling jokes or making each other laugh. That’s just our relationship together. And the first thing I do when I go on set is I go to hair and makeup and I give Hannah a big hug. I always say this job is just me kicking a ball around and telling jokes with my friends. I couldn’t have got any more of that doing scenes with Hannah Waddingham. She’s incredible.
Hannah has a very, very cool way of making everything not a big deal. You look at her, and because she’s Hannah Waddingham and she’s got this esteemed career and she’s a brilliant actress and she’s got a wonderful voice and everything is just working, you just kind of go, Oooh, you should be intimidated working with her. But you’re just not because she’s also going to turn up in trainers and a tracksuit and just make a big fool of herself. And then suddenly, all the nerves leave, everything goes away, and you’re just doing a show with a friend. You’re doing a scene with a friend. It couldn’t have been easier. I really hope we get to do more together in the future.
Similarly, there’s the scene, which I think is the last moment in episode eight, when you show up at the door and you finally kiss each other. How was that? That can be a little bit strange, but it sounds like maybe it wasn’t, based on your comfort level with each other.
It definitely wasn’t. I wish I could tell you that there was some stuff to wrestle through. There just wasn’t. Also, Hannah is really attractive. It’s not that difficult.
It’s not a hard assignment.
It’s not a hard assignment. I mean, I wish I could be like, Ah, I took one for the team. I didn’t. I was kind of like, I’m glad this is me, you know? So yeah, it was great. It’s Hannah. I think if anybody had had to do those scenes with Hannah, it would have been great because of what she’s like. She’s super-chill. She’s also incredibly gorgeous, and I mean that inside and out.
I know there were definitely a lot of people in the cast who were wishing they were in my shoes. Especially Moe [Jeudy-Lamour], who plays Thierry Zoreaux, the goalkeeper. We have a big thing where we just fight for Hannah’s attention. Go on my social-media posts; you’ll see me and him bickering about who Hannah prefers. So yeah, I couldn’t wait to do kissing scenes with Hannah. We just kept taking pictures and sending them to Moe.
This question relates to what we were talking about in terms of how Sam has evolved this season: He just seems like someone who is so calming to be around. He’s just such a positive presence. And I don’t know how much of that comes from you, Toheeb, being that way, but is that something you’re thinking about as an actor or does it just come naturally to you?
I think that’s stuff that definitely stems from Sam, the character. Especially in this season, compared to the first season, I think that’s the thing I wanted to come across. There’s a version of Sam that we’re seeing in this season that is stepping up and becoming one of the leaders on the team even though he’s very young. Sam is definitely one of the players who swears by Ted’s every word, regardless of the Jamie situation at the start. And so we really see him stepping up to the plate. There’s a tiny bit in episode eight where he’s reading A Wrinkle in Time, which is the book Ted gave to Roy. That’s a thing that’s happened off-screen that’s like a tiny little Easter egg for fans. But Roy has given that book to Sam. And I feel like there’s also a story in that, in that he’s learning to step into those shoes and fill Roy’s presence as one of the leaders on the team.
I’ve seen that episode twice, and I totally overlooked what book he was reading.
There’s definitely going to be someone on Twitter who finds that. I think the Twitter fandom has been the thing I’ve found the most interesting with all of this stuff. People just notice everything, and it’s hilarious.
Do you pay attention to that a lot or just skim Twitter every once in a while?
I skim it every once in a while. Fan responses are really nice, especially with the Dubai Air stuff. So many Nigerians have reached out, and I think that’s some of the stuff that’s the nicest to see, people going, “Oh, I really felt seen because of that episode. Thank you. I’m glad to know that, like, people who are part of the diaspora outside of Nigeria are also still somehow connected to it.”
Ted Lasso came out at a time when we’re going through a global pandemic, and it was a really dark time for people. People reaching out and letting us know that the show was a big light for them during that time is great. I’m glad we’re doing something that makes people feel that way.