On and Off ‘Ted Lasso,’ Toheeb Jimoh Has Stepped Out of the Background

In the Season 2 finale of “Ted Lasso,” Toheeb Jimoh’s character, Sam Obisanya, stands in front of the vacant storefront he has just bought. “What’s it going to be?” asks the woman who has handed the soccer player his keys. “A Nigerian restaurant,” he says, a broad smile on his face. This moment is a turning point of sorts for Sam, a mark of his ambition and growth from the young man viewers met in the “Ted Lasso” pilot who had recently arrived in Britain.

So it’s fitting that Jimoh, 25, chose Enish, a West African restaurant in Brixton, in South London, a stone’s throw from the actor’s childhood home, for an interview. Dressed in a black sweater and matching cargo pants and tucking into rice and ayamase, a spicy meat stew, Jimoh said that Sam has had a “beautiful arc” over the past two seasons.

“If you had told me at the start of Season 1 that Sam would be a business owner, one of the stars of the team, and dating the boss, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said. Sam has also gone from a minor character to one of the show’s leads, with his positive attitude and strong work ethic making him a favorite among fans.

The past couple of years have been pretty good to Jimoh, too, who graduated from drama school in 2018. Last year he was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Sam, and this month he can be seen onscreen in two major TV shows: the third season of “Ted Lasso,” which started airing on Apple TV+ on March 15, and “The Power,” adapted from the British writer Naomi Alderman’s dystopian novel of the same name, which arrives on Amazon Prime Video on March 31.

In the upcoming Amazon Prime Video show “The Power,” Jimoh plays a Nigerian journalist.Credit…Amazon Prime Video

“The Power” is a science fiction drama that considers what would happen if women became more physically dominant than men. Jimoh plays Tunde, a young journalist documenting the revolutions that come as women gain new strength, and his character embodies the vulnerability of men in the face of this female power.

Tim Bricknell, an executive producer on “The Power,” said in a recent interview that there were two sides of Jimoh “that made him perfect for this particular role.” The first, he said, is the actor’s “natural charm,” which is integral to Tunde’s character. But the second is Jimoh’s curiosity. “He wants to know what everybody on the crew is doing and is always asking questions,” Bricknell said. “That is quite rare in successful young actors, which makes him perfect for playing a journalist.”

‘Ted Lasso’ Is Back

The Apple TV+ soccer comedy starring Jason Sudeikis kicked off its third season on March 15.

  • Season 3 Premiere: There’s a lot going on in the first episode of the new season of “Ted Lasso”  — and most of it is not good. Here’s a look at the individual story lines.
  • Catch Up: Need a reminder of where things left off? This is how last season ended for AFC Richmond and the Diamond Dogs.
  • Life After ‘Lasso’: Brett Goldstein, who became the show’s breakout star as the gruff and profane Roy Kent, is preparing for what comes next. But what he’s really after is human connection.
  • The Rise of Sincere TV: Two decades ago, TV’s most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of ironic detachment. How did we get from David Brent to Ted Lasso?

In preparing for the role, Jimoh spoke to his female friends “about routine things that they do to make sure that they’re safe when they go out,” he said. “I was a bit sheepish because I hadn’t realized that.” He sees the book and the TV adaptation as containing “many really interesting questions about the relationships between men and women, society’s relationship with power and how power corrupts people.”

In both “The Power” and “Ted Lasso,” Jimoh plays a Nigerian. The actor — whose parents are Nigerian and who spent some time in the country when he was growing up — is attracted to roles like these that allow him to “speak about my family and culture,” he said. But he also likes to choose roles that explore wider societal topics. His first major acting role came in 2020, when he starred in “Anthony,” a 90-minute BBC drama about  Anthony Walker, a teenager who was killed in a racist attack in England in 2005.

“You can tell from the roles I’ve ended up doing in my career that I was also a kid who would have done politics if I wasn’t an actor,” Jimoh said.

To become an actor, “I thought you had to live in L.A. and have been doing it from 4 years old, or have parents who did it,” Jimoh said.Credit…Erik Carter for The New York Times

He studied politics in his final years of high school, along with law and history, with acting as his “easy subject on the side,” he said. He didn’t consider it as a career option until a teacher pulled him aside to suggest he could be an actor.

“I thought you had to live in L.A. and have been doing it from 4 years old, or have parents who did it,” Jimoh said. He didn’t know anyone in the acting world, and his parents both worked in hospitals — his father as a caterer and his mother as a health care assistant. “All the grown ups that I knew had very, very normal jobs, and that was the blueprint,” he said.

Soon he was performing in youth productions and had a gig as an usher at the Young Vic theater. One day, sitting across from his friend at school during a lunch break, Jimoh threw his history homework in the trash and decided to pursue acting seriously. “I refused to have a Plan B,” he said, adding that he “harassed my teachers into watching my audition speeches.”

In a school newsletter at the time, one of Jimoh’s teachers wrote that, “In all the years that I have been teaching, never have I come across someone who has such raw talent at such an early age” as Jimoh.

He went on to get an undergraduate degree in drama from Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which has an abundance of high-profile alumni, including Orlando Bloom and Michaela Coel.

Sam (Jimoh) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) in “Ted Lasso.” Goldstein said Jimoh had “integrity and wants to make good stuff.”Credit…Apple TV+

The actor and comedian Brett Goldstein, who plays the former soccer player Roy Kent on “Ted Lasso” and is now a close friend of Jimoh’s, said he believed that the younger actor’s success was partly because of his selective approach to work. “He turns down as much as he takes,” Goldstein, 42, said in a recent interview. “He has integrity and wants to make good stuff.”

Between bites of ayamase, Jimoh said he hoped future opportunities would allow him to show different sides of himself. “I’m just interested in what the story is for that young man, and why it is interesting to tell,” he said of how he chooses his gigs. “There’s a plethora of work out there, and I just want to dip my toe in everything.”

From June, he will be starring in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Almeida Theater. He sees the play’s meaning as rooted in “believing young people and their feelings,” noting that he had a friend who died by suicide when he was 15.

“When you’re young, you feel things so deeply,” he said, “and older people might look at that and think it’s a bit naïve, but it leads to stuff like this.”

At the moment, Jimoh said he often finds himself having to perform like Sam when he meets people who recognize him from the show.

“But there is more to me than the squeaky clean ‘Ted Lasso,’” he said, “and I’m excited to show that part of me as well.”

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