Photo: Hayden Blaz

Kola Bokinni

The official Ted Lasso Season 3 teaser captures members of AFC Richmond individually putting their unique spin on the symbol most associated with the critically acclaimed and universally beloved AppleTV+ series (other than Ted Lasso’s mustache): the yellow “Believe” poster. That includes Isaac McAdoo, the team captain played by Kola Bokinni. It’s a heartwarming scene, especially once you know how Bokinni landed here.

“I’ve acted professionally for eight years, and every single year, I come close to quitting,” the British footballer-turned-actor told EUPHORIA. “You get minor successes, and then you get major falls; you get major successes, and you get minor falls. Human nature is, you know, your body seizes up. You start thinking the worst, and then you just wanna run. But the best thing you can do in that situation is face the problem head on and realize it isn’t as serious as you thought it was.”

With Ted Lasso premiering its third season on March 15 and Bokinni serving as a prominent face in the heralded ensemble cast, he couldn’t be more grateful that he didn’t quit and chose to believe.

Read our conversation below.

Photo: Hayden Blaz

In past interviews, you’ve spoken about failure and learning to keep trying because you only have to win once, and how that mentality mold ed from playing football before acting. What have you learned while acting as a footballer on Ted Lasso that you couldn’t have learned by just playing football?

I’ve learned that when the cameras are on, the pressure’s on. In football, everything is spontaneous — split decisions. But when you start to rehearse and record something, it almost turns into choreography. It’s a little bit more difficult to recreate the spontaneous moments that happened on the football field while also trying to be convincing.

That reminds me of the Season 2 episode titled “Rainbow.” We see Isaac seeking out that spontaneity again, and Roy (Brett Goldstein) helping him get out of his head around the responsibilities of being a captain — taking him back to street ball, when it used to be fun. Have you ever gotten so in your head while acting and struggled to get into a character? 

Oh, yes. All the time. Any actor that tells you anything else is a liar. If you’ve been acting for two months or 20 years, you get in your head. Something could put you off that day. And then, you could overthink. Overthinking is a trait that comes with actors, where you might be doing a great performance, but in your head, you think you are messing up everything, and then it can get you out of your head. And before you know it, you’ve got — what’s it called? The yips?


I believe that the yips happen with not just athletes. It happens in all areas, with all professionals, where you can stop being able to perform. It all comes down to, you know, your brain isn’t really your friend at the end of the day.

Photo: Hayden Blaz

I love how Season 2 committed to adding relatable layers to several characters beyond just Ted (Jason Sudeikis). Beginning the season with the most severe case of yips imaginable, the emotional strife Roy is going through. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh)’s romance. What’s your favorite storyline from Season 2? 

It’s gotta be Ted dealing with anxiety and dealing with all the pressures of being in a foreign country and away from his family. Everybody has anxiety, so that’s such a relatable topic. And I just found it so interesting the way that — being an outside perspective and seeing someone deal with their own issues in their head, and seeing the way that everyone else wasn’t thinking what they were thinking, but they think the worst. And you do that in real life. You think, ‘Oh, everybody’s talking about me.’ They’re not. It’s just literally overthinking. I have done that in my life. I’ve thought the worst, so I kind of related to that storyline. 

Plus the trauma that Ted is dealing with from his father’s death by suicide.

Of course, the buried trauma. There were a lot of things that I could relate to in that storyline. That’s kind of what Ted Lasso is, you know? Everybody relates to one story or another. That’s probably the reason why people like it so much.

The comedy is what draws people in, but I think what we’re talking about is what keeps them there.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. 

To that point, Sam’s haircut is the obvious scene that comes to mind, but what do you think is Isaac’s most poignant moment so far?

The moment when Isaac became his own entity was probably when he stood up to Jamie (Phil Dunster). When his best friend Colin (Billy Harris), Jamie told him, ‘Go do the cones,’ and then Isaac stood, turned around. It was a small moment. I think he said, ‘You do the cones.’ But it was the moment when Isaac changed a little bit — ‘believe in yourself’ kind of took hold of him. He started to show signs of being a leader in that moment. 

Last season’s Christmas episode was so darling, too, with all the out-of-town players bringing their traditions over to Higgins’ (Jeremy Swift) house.

So, so inclusive. Like, ‘Oh, we get it,’ you know? Like, ‘You don’t want our Western ideologies and beliefs forced upon you to do our Christmas.’ Everyone’s got their own thing.

Photo: Hayden Blaz

I may be projecting, but I wondered if it hit close to home for you as an Irish-Nigerian Londoner who grew up with six siblings.

Yeah, yeah. My house is a madhouse. Christmas has always been a massive part of my life. My mom, she’d prepared months in advance. I try to keep them traditions alive. I love Christmas, so it was great to be in something that was Christmasy and silly and loving.

You were drawn to Arsenal as a kid at least partially because Thierry Henry had an afro, just like you did. Fast forward to now, have you heard from kids telling you that you’re providing that crucial representation for them on TV?

I get messages all the time from kids on social media. I try not to reply because it becomes a spiraling staircase. But I get messages like, ‘I want to do what you do. How, how have you done what you’ve done?’ And I’ll be thinking that this is someone in their twenties. I’ll look on their profile, and I’ll realize, ‘Oh, this person’s 13.’ They’re just wide-eyed and trying to make a mark in this world. It gives me a lot of pride because it comes full circle. I looked up to certain people when I was younger and wanted to be like them, and if anyone looks at me in that way, it fills me with a lot of pride. 

Isaac provides a lot of comedic relief, but you’ve had darker roles like Leyton on Top Boy. When it comes to any role, how much control do you have over which parts of your characters you internalize and carry with you?

I believe that everyone’s a product of their environment, whether it be Isaac or Leyton or Lennard, who I played in Black Mirror. Your accent, your mannerisms, the way you react to things, it’s all the product of your environment. I believe that Isaac was probably given tools that Leyton didn’t have, you know? So, Leyton could have been Isaac in another life, and Isaac could have been Leyton. It’s just, what tools was given to you and where you grew up and what hand you was dealt. I understand that, in life, people can make their own hand. I, for one, have definitely made my own hand. But  I believe that, some people, given the chance, can be redeemable. 

You tweeted last September that somebody told you you looked like that guy from Ted Lasso, and then didn’t believe you when you said you were him. But what has been your favorite instance of someone actually recognizing you?

There’s been a lot, you know. That was one of my favorites, to be honest, but it wasn’t someone that actually recognized me. That was just hilarious. You know why it is? It’s not so much them recognizing me for Isaac because, let’s be real, Ted Lasso became a really big show, and loads of people recognize me. It’s when they realize that I was a different character in Top Boy, and then they think that’s a different person. They come back, and you see them thinking and looking at you, and they’re like, ‘Hold on a second. Oh, wow. You are the same guy that was in that.’ That’s a big thing because, in acting, I believe that, people shouldn’t know that you were in this, this and this. The characters are completely different.

Photo: Hayden Blaz

Because that means they’re attached to your characters and not necessarily you?

Yeah, yeah, yeah! They can’t distinguish me from the character. That’s what I like.

What about season 3 are you most looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to exploring and everyone seeing more of Isaac. Him growing more. His journey. I’m looking forward to people seeing a different side of Isaac because every season that goes, there’s another layer coming back. Isaac’s like an onion. Peel one layer back at time, and see what’s underneath. I’m looking forward to seeing what people react to and see how they see Isaac under the hood, you know? And also, his relationships with the people that are so close in his life. 

It goes back to what we were saying earlier. It would’ve been really easy to just have Isaac and Colin and all of these different players on the team just be the players on the team and focus on a select few characters to really get into it with. The fact that Ted Lasso has peeled the onion with so many characters is, I think, a feat in itself. 

Would it be the same show if they just concentrated on a select few? It wouldn’t be as in depth as it is.

It would have just been the show that everyone binge-watched during lockdown in 2020.

Yeah, because there’s only so many times you can tell a certain type of story. There are so many shows that you watch, and you’re like, ‘Aw, I really wish they explored that character a little bit more!’ That’s what I like about Ted Lasso.

So far, what has been the most rewarding aspect of being part of Ted Lasso?

The fact that, broadly, it highlights certain subjects that don’t necessarily get the light of day that they should. Mental health and all these very important key subjects that get brushed underneath the carpet a little bit. 

It highlights that everybody goes through it, and everybody is included in this. The most rewarding thing is when I get messages from people being like, ‘During lockdown, you saved me. I was in a dark place, and Ted Lasso was the shine of light that gave me hope.’ And it’s like, wow. If you can do that one time in your career — if you can help someone like that — you’ve done your job. It’s entertainment, at the end of the day. It’s to change minds and to make people feel good.