‘Ted Lasso’: Sam Richardson on Playing Opposite a Character Based On Himself

Sam Richardson and Toheeb Jimoh in Ted Lasso Season 2
Apple TV+

When Sam Richardson noticed something oddly familiar in Ted Lasso Season 1, he texted one of his best friends, show co-creator Joe Kelly. And as it turns out, Toheeb Jimoh‘s Sam Obisanya was, in fact, inspired by him. Playing opposite this character in Ted Lasso Season 2 was a delight for The Afterparty star and Veep alum, who now has his first Emmy nomination under his belt for his performance in the Jason Sudeikis-led Apple TV+ comedy.

Here, Richardson breaks down the joys of playing the swaggy Edwin Akufo in Ted Lasso Season 2, which allowed him to portray someone from his family’s home country, Ghana, for the first time. Plus, he chats about his Emmy plans and what he loves about the sports comedy outside of his own scenes.

Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. What does it mean to you to be nominated for your performance alongside so many of the Ted Lasso co-stars?

Sam Richardson: It’s just such a wonderful thing to be included, to have my performance included in such a beloved and wonderful show, a show created by some of my best friends. And then, that first season’s so well regarded, so loved, and to come in in the second season and to get recognized for my first Emmy nomination is truly surreal.

Did you do anything fun to celebrate your nomination?

I got the nomination when I was on set for The Afterparty Season 2. I was trying to keep my excitement muted a little bit, but I was still very excited. Just a couple nice dinners with my girlfriend, Nicole. And I do like to shop, so I bought myself some clothes to really celebrate myself.

So, Sam, the character in Ted Lasso, was modeled after you. When did it click for you while watching that he was?

I was sitting at home watching the first season, and I saw the character was so nice, and I was like, “Oh, he’s Nigerian,” but it’s close to Ghanaian, you know?

Proximity speaking, not necessarily… so I was like, “Oh, interesting,” and his name is Sam, and I was like, “Huh. Interesting.” And so, then I texted my friend, Joe Kelly, who is one of the co-creators of the show. And I was like, “Hey, is Sam me?” And he is like, “Oh, yeah, obviously, buddy.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah, obviously. Of course, of course.”

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Plus, the actor reflects on his recent Emmy nomination.

Once it was confirmed, how did that feel for you?

It felt great, because at first it sort of delayed the feeling of being a narcissist. It was like, “Oh, am I just seeing myself in everything? Do I think everything’s based on me?” You know what I mean? Like, “Oh, Superman, is that based on me?” I must be perfect, I guess. [Laughs.] But it was really just such a cool honor, you know? To sort of be immortalized even that way, and in a character that I’m not playing myself, is really cool. I really loved it, and I smile every time I think about it.

Did you feel like you were playing opposite of yourself, in a way, in scenes with Toheeb?

Yes, I really did. So playing those scenes with Toheeb, it was really… And I don’t think I was like, “Oh, so I’m playing against myself.” Not that Toheeb is actually playing me, but it was a cool thing to get to play against a character who’s not exactly based on me, but is named after and has some touchstone things that are like little base Sam things. It was interesting to play against that. It’s kind of like acting with a mirror. Not exactly because Toheeb is playing Sam Richardson, but you know?

Right. But some of the mannerisms and stuff are similar to you, right?

Yeah, exactly. That was very cool.

Sam Richardson and Toheeb Jimoh in Ted Lasso Season 2

Apple TV+

Edwin’s a bit of a mold breaking character for you. Your past roles have been more sweet and a little goofy. And Edwin is very funny, but has his very serious sides as well. He’s got so much swag too. What did you enjoy most about playing him?

I think I enjoyed showing that I can play with swag. You know what I mean? [Laughs.] People get it twisted!

To get a break in types and characters is a nice, rewarding thing to get to do, even just for your own ego to sort of step out. Because you do become these things that you do and play, sometimes for the negative, sometimes for the positive. So when you play low-status characters a lot, and you play sort of put upon characters, or characters who have, I don’t want to say a weak constitution, but who sort of are stepped on a lot, it’s hard to not embody that a little bit.

You sort of have people think that that’s what you are, and not that being nice or playing nice people is at all being inviting of mistreatment or anything, but you want to also be nasty a little bit and to be swaggy.

Yeah. Absolutely. And he’s not a villain in any way, but he does pose an existential threat for Sam in the season. Was that fun to play?

It very much is. I wouldn’t say that he’s a villain, but he is a powerful force. But then he’s like, “Who’s playing with my toys?” So a seemingly benevolent billionaire who isn’t entirely malevolent, but he’s really just self-serving, and then angry when he doesn’t get what he wants. There are a lot of fun avenues and twists and turns to play in that, and I really had a fun time doing that.

Edwin didn’t get what he wanted at the end of Season 2. I’m not sure if it’s been announced if you’ll be part of Season 3, or if you can share that, but is there anything you can share about seeing some retaliation from him in Season 3, whether that be on camera or maybe Edwin affecting Sam and the club off screen?

I don’t know what Edwin’s world in Season 3 is, so I am as excited to find out as you are. If he’s there, if he’s not, if he comes in changed, if he comes in the same. Truly, it’s not even me giving a cutesy answer. I legit don’t know.

I believe you. Don’t worry. Did you love bringing the true rivalry between Ghanaians and Nigerians to the screen?

It was so rewarding and fun and to get to do it as a Ghanaian. One of the classic debates is who’s jollof rice is better: Ghanaians or Nigerian? And any Ghanaian will tell you Ghanaian jollof, and any Nigerian will say Nigerian.

When we were filming that scene, we kind of got to improvise that battle. It was there on the page, but because I’ve talked to Joe about that, and also, one of the writers is Ghanaian, so we got to do that in that scene. But also in that scene, the restaurant, all the extras were Ghanaian and Nigerian, so we’d be arguing about jollof, and then when they would call, “Cut,” we’d still be arguing about it. The extras would also be chiming in in the background, bringing old wars to a head.

That’s sounds like it’d be really a great vibe on set.

Yes, truly.

Were there any other things that weren’t necessarily on the page with Edwin that you got to bring to the character?

Yeah, I think those guys like Jason and Joe and Brenda know me well enough that they trust me to play with the material. Especially in the explosion at the end, and the sort of the anger turn when he has his sort of tirade, I got to take that and add to it and really make it my own. It was really fun.

Sam Richardson and Jason Sudeikis in 'Ted Lasso' Season 2

Apple TV+

Since you did watch Season 1 before joining Season 2, do you have a favorite bit from the season? A favorite line? Mine is the dart scene where Ted talks about his dad and barbecue sauce.

Oh, that’s my favorite too, truly. It’s one of those goosebump-y, fun moments where you’re like, “Ah, yeah, he really got him!” I don’t know if you watch anime or anything, but it’s a very anime sort of like, oh, hidden power that comes at the very end moment. Sorry to steal your answer, but I think that is the answer.

What about Season 2? Do you have a favorite moment? It could be something you were a part of or something that your character wasn’t in.

One of my favorite moments were sort of like arc things, and it wasn’t a positive, it wasn’t like a happy one, but it was Nate’s [Nick Mohammed] villain turn. The slow progress of him doing that. And then, the moment where he’s looking at himself in the mirror after he makes his pass on Keeley [Juno Temple] and spits in the mirror, oh, terrific. Really great acting.

The subtle hair change, I thought they handled that so well. That sort of visual, but then also the visual representing the undercurrent, like what what’s going on in the soul. They just played with his hair, and then you’re just watching it devolve. I thought it was really cool, and I think he really nailed that.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Nick Mohammed

(Credit: Apple TV+)

They were very subtle about it. It was a slow burn the whole season. It kind of fits with his arc as well, the fact that that change, you might have missed it if you weren’t paying enough attention. And his whole struggle is that he feels ignored in the first place.

Yep, exactly. And then coming to discover that the page has been ripped in half. Oh my goodness. Truly a gut punch.

What are you working on currently, and what’s up next for you?

Right now we’re filming Season 2 of The Afterparty. I’m not sure when it’s supposed to come out; TV is unpredictable. But it’s a really great second season of the show. Got a lot of great new cast members, almost the entire cast is new except for myself, Tiffany Haddish, and Zoë Chao. Now, we have Paul Walter Hauser, John Cho, Elizabeth Perkins, Ken Jeong, Poppy Liu, Anna Konkle, and Jack Whitehall. It’s a really great cast, and I’m really having a good time.

Ted Lasso, Seasons 1 & 2, Streaming Now, Apple TV+