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Actor Toheeb Jimoh on 'Ted Lasso,' his new show and interrogating masculinity

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Actor Toheeb Jimoh is having a moment. He plays a journalist in a new show out today on Prime Video called "The Power." It's a science-fiction thriller in which girls and women suddenly develop the power to shoot electricity from their fingers - and set the world on fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE POWER")

RIA ZMITROWICZ: (As Roxy Monke, screaming).

SUMMERS: And for "Ted Lasso" fans, you already know - Toheeb Jimoh is Sam Obisanya on the Apple TV+ show, one of AFC Richmond's star players. Last season, he kicked off a relationship with the team's owner, Rebecca, that started off with a sweet misunderstanding.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TED LASSO")

TOHEEB JIMOH: (As Sam Obisanya) Are you free tonight?

HANNAH WADDINGHAM: (As Rebecca Welton) Sam, I am very flattered, but...

JIMOH: (As Sam Obisanya) Oh, no, no, no, no, no. It's not for romance. It's just to get rid of this curse. I can understand why you misinterpreted. I mean, you are so lovely. You must get romantic invitations all the time.

SUMMERS: But season two ended with kind of a question mark for the couple. And as a big fan of the show, I had to know - will we get more Sam and Rebecca in season 3?

JIMOH: I think - well, I mean, I know, so I can't say anything, and I'm trying not to give any spoilers away. But I think what's important with Sam and Rebecca is there's a bit of nostalgia there, and maybe she misses him. And she is obviously, you know, wondering what could have been and maybe what was. Like, their relationship will always be stained a little by that romance - in a good way. You know, they can never go back to square one. I think their relationship will mold and evolve out of this. And whether that turns into something romantic or whether that, you know, remains platonic, we'll wait to see. But I think at the heart of it is - you know, it's two people who just really care for each other. Like, Rebecca has had so many negative male influences in her life. And for her to have one really, genuinely positive one is dope. And I think that remains the most important thing, as opposed to whether they end up together or not.

SUMMERS: I think, for me, as someone who has watched the show from episode 1 and who loves it and for people who are fans of it is the fact that it's this really caring, really loving show that really focuses on care for the individual. You see Jason Sudeikis, as Ted, really talk openly about mental health. And I know that you and a number of your castmates were recently at the White House, and you met with the president and the first lady to talk about that issue. I'd love if you could just peel back the curtain a little bit and tell us what that visit was like.

JIMOH: It was a really surreal day. I think I still haven't really processed it. It was a really important moment and truly significant because, you know, here we are on our little TV show, speaking about the things that matter to us, and then suddenly we're presented with this opportunity to speak with two of the most important and powerful people in the Western world about the importance of mental health and the awareness of it and also destigmatizing it. There were many times during that day where I had to, you know, stop and pinch myself because, you know, I'm a little Nigerian kid from Brixton in the U.K., and suddenly I'm at the White House. And it's really, really surreal. But we also got to go bowling...

SUMMERS: (Laughter).

JIMOH: ...At the White House, which was awesome. It was intense. It was magical. There was a bit of impostor syndrome for me. But another significant moment that really stood out for me was when I ran into a portrait of - you know, the official portrait of Michelle Obama. And I think any impostor syndrome that I had, being in that building, went out the window when I saw her face, you know, looking down at me.

SUMMERS: I want to turn now to your new show, "The Power." It's adapted from Naomi Alderman's novel of the same name and is coming out on Prime Video this week. And it's centered around a question. It's about what happens if power is suddenly in the hands of girls and women. Just tell us a bit about the story.

JIMOH: Yeah, so like you said, it's set in this world where the power dynamics between the genders have, almost overnight, been flipped on their head. Women - and young women especially - generate this ability to release electricity through their hands, and so overnight become the physically superior gender. And what ensues is a very entertaining, very thought-provoking look at what our world would look like with one very small change. And I can't wait for people to get into it, to watch it, to start rooting for people, to start rooting against people and, more than anything, to start having conversations about what the power dynamics are like in our society and how we can change that to empower people, you know?

SUMMERS: Yeah. And your character, Tunde, is a young journalist who we meet in the first episode, and he is seeking to document this story that's really shaking the entire world.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE POWER")

JIMOH: (As Tunde) This power is spreading. It's going to change things - here in Nigeria, but all over the world - in ways we can't imagine. This is huge, Dami. Allah is showing me my path. This is my destiny.

So Tunde is a young, Nigerian, budding journalist who stumbles upon this new phenomenon and almost accidentally breaks the story by releasing the first video of it to the world and so pretty quickly kind of amasses this new following and becomes a sort of spokesperson.

And yeah, I think, for my character, the question then comes up of, you know, in this new world, how does a young man navigate through it without one of the main male archetypical traits that men have always had? How do you redefine your masculinity? How do you use your platform? And I think what he wants is to be a part of ushering this new world in where things are a bit more equal and women have this power that they've never had. And it's a pretty dope journey to go on with him.

SUMMERS: And we should just note here that your character is one of the only significant male characters in this show. And I'm curious - what is that dynamic like? And also, has it made you interrogate your own masculinity - your own power?

JIMOH: Yeah, it has. I think the main thing is, as a man, just being aware of where I have power and, in those situations, how - what I can do to help spread it. And I think, also, it's helping to demystify this idea that to empower somebody else is to disempower yourself. You know, like, that isn't the case, and I think that's what my character soon starts to realize. But also, it's about using your platform. He amasses this huge following and has power, you know, through his media presence and decides how he wants to use that power. And I think for me, as a young artist, you know, I'm starting to amass my own following now. Like, I'm in positions now where I can speak to things, and I can share messages that are important to me.

And so for me, like, one of the things that I'm really learning from my character is, you know, how do I want to use this platform that I have? And that goes for both Tunde in "The Power" and Sam in "Ted Lasso." You know, they're both young men who are realizing that they have this influence, and they have this power. And, yeah, they're figuring out how they want to use that.

SUMMERS: How are you thinking about how you use your influence and your platform? I mean, you're doing tons of interviews like this. You're almost a household name now. How do you think about that?

JIMOH: (Laughter) I think, when I think back to when I was younger, I remember feeling like, you know, I was this young, working-class kid, and none of my opinions mattered because nobody cared about them. And it was a really depressing place to be in. I now have this kind of power to, you know, speak to things that are important to me and share messages that are important to me and hopefully enlighten people and help to affect change. And, yeah, I'm trying to remain true to 13-year-old Toheeb, who didn't feel listened to, and try and speak to him and empower his voice.

SUMMERS: Actor Toheeb Jimoh. He plays Sam in the third season of "Ted Lasso," airing now on Apple TV+ and Tunde in "The Power" on Prime Video. Thank you so much for being here.

JIMOH: Oh, thank you so much for speaking with me. I really appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.