ABOVE PHOTO: Toks Olagundoye
(Photo by Jeff Gottlieb)
Interview with Kam Williams
Born in Lagos, Toks Olagundoye was raised not only in Nigeria but also in Switzerland and England. The exotic Nigerian-Norwegian beauty moved to the United States to attend Smith College where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts.
After jumpstarting her career in New York, the stunningly-attractive actress relocated to Los Angeles where within a short time she landed roles on such TV series as “NCIS,” “Prime Suspect,” “Switched at Birth,” “CSI: NY,” “Law & Order” and “Ugly Betty,” to name a few. She currently stars in ABC’s new hit comedy “The Neighbors” (which airs on Wednesdays at 8:30pm ET/PT), playing “Jackie Joyner-Kersee,” an alien from the planet Zabvron who has taken on human form to live in a gated community in New Jersey.
Toks’ character is married to the community’s Supreme Leader and serves as the Zabvronian equivalent of the First Lady. “Jackie” is baffled by Earth’s strange customs but is more open than her stubborn husband who refuses to adapt.
In addition to acting, Toks enjoys writing and producing films for the web and is the founder of Unlimited Ceiling (http://www.youtube.com/user/UnlimitedCeiling) for which she’s created web series like “Callbacks” and “AlphaSeries.” In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, horseback riding, Pilates, archery and going to the gun range. Toks’ secret talent is doing all sorts of accents from around the world.
Here, she talks about her life, career and work on “The Neighbors.”
Kam Williams: Hi, Toks, thanks for the interview.
Toks Olagundoye: Absolutely my pleasure! Thank YOU for the interview!
KW: What interested you in “The Neighbors?”
TO: Well, honestly, I love being an actor and a job is a job, and I’m always happy to have a job. So, initially, I would say: employment. But I am also a sci-fi lover and have been itching to be on a sitcom forever. So, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to audition and I really went for it!
KW: Tell me a little about the show’s wacky premise?
TO: Sure, a community of aliens set up a colony of sorts on Earth in a New Jersey golfing community, taking on the guise of human form, and they do their best to fit in and not attract attention. Of course, they fail spectacularly. One of the alien couples in the community gets tired of waiting around to hear from their home planet and they vacate their house leaving it open for a nice, human Jersey family of five to purchase and move into. Let the hysterical comedy of errors ensue!
KW: How would you describe your character, Jackie?
TO: Quirky, cute, loving, kind, curious, proper, diligent, patient, inquisitive, genuine, lovely, tall, green blooded… Okay, now I’m just throwing words at you. I shall cease and desist.
KW: So, you play an alien queen who’s impersonating U.S. Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Which is more challenging, playing an alien or impersonating Jackie?
TO: Well, neither, because neither is the case. Jackie is the wife of the Zabvrobian supreme commander, so she is more of a matriarch than a queen. And the aliens are not impersonating the athletes they have named themselves after. They have taken on these names in the hope of becoming a part of the elite. In their minds, choosing the names of accomplished sports figures will help them fit in and excel. They don’t realize it actually makes them all stick out like a box of sore thumbs. Yes, I realize that is not an official adage. Hey, it is now!
KW: Does the show have a message?
TO: In my humble opinion, as a foreigner, it does. And the message is this: the only way to come to a full acceptance and understanding of yourself is to embrace your own culture, quirks and differences while learning about those around you and exploring, incorporating and embracing their cultures, differences, quirks, etcetera. Okay, that’s a lot of words. Basically, we are all different and we all have something to learn and it doesn’t mean people need to change who you are but one should be open to new things and, above all, tolerance and understanding are essential for growth and happiness. That’s still a lot of words. Let’s try this: we are all different and that’s okay. That’s not incredibly poetic, but it’s the message at its essence.
KW: You’re half-Nigerian and half-Norwegian? Which do you identify with more?
TO: Oh, I identify with them both very strongly. I identify myself as a Nigerian because that is where I was born and raised and where my family still lives. And, in my mind, that is the definition of where someone is from. But I was raised by a very Norwegian mother and spent a ton of time there every year until I was about 14 and am closest to my Norwegian relatives. So, it is very difficult to choose. Call me, Sophie. [ala Sophie’s Choice] Well, don’t, it’s not my name and not really that traumatic of a choice, but you get my gist..
KW: So, do you still have lots of friends and relatives in both places?
TO: I do.
KW: Do you speak Norwegian?
TO: I do. Not as well as I did in my childhood but I can get by in a conversation.
KW: You studied theater at Smith prior to embarking on your professional career. Do you recommend that route to other aspiring actresses?
TO: Not necessarily. It was right for me, but other people do better going on to grad school and others yet are naturally inclined and do just fine without any formal training at all. Everyone is different. The only things I think are imperative are focus, determination and hard work.
KW: What would be your ideal movie role?
TO: Oh, my. That’s a hard one. Anything Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston or Charlize Theron would say “yes” to. I think I have covered all my bases there. I mean, I just have fun doing what I do. If it looks like a good time, I’m up for it! Seriously, have your people call my people.
KW: What film director would you like to work with?
TO: Oh, so many… The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, Sam Mendes, Mike Leigh, Kathryn Bigelow, David Fincher, Cameron Crowe, Chris Nolan, Ridley Scott, Sam Raimi, Quentin Tarantino, Luc Besson, Penny Marshall, Ron Howard, Mike Nichols, Kenneth Branagh… Bring it!
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
TO: Yes: “Would you like a few million dollars? Because I happen to have a few extra I can give you tax free.” Ha! No, not really, I’m just glad that anyone wants to ask me anything at all.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
TO: Constantly, but it’s a big driving force in my life. I’m more likely to try and tackle a fear than let it control me.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
TO: Absolutely. I am truly blessed.
KW: The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you had a good laugh?
TO: About 10 minutes ago in a cab in New York, leaving the home of one of my four best friends. Yes, four. They are all the best. Like I said, I am blessed. I refuse to pick one. You can’t make me. All my friends are funny, witty, fun-loving people. As are my parents, and the people I work with. I get at least a couple of good laughs in every day.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
TO: Carbs. Sad but true.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What was the last song you listened to?
TO: I’m was just listening to Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner.’
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
TO: Whatever I know the person I am feeding will most enjoy.
KW: The Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?
KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?
TO: Oh, wow! All of these “pick one” questions…. Arrrgh! I mean, there is so much wonderful stuff and so many amazing people in this world. It is hard for me to pick my favorite one… I have always loved Chanel. I am big fan of Dolce and Gabbana. My newest favorite is AllSaints. I also love Proenza Schouler, and Rachel Zoe’s line is phenomenal. Balenciaga is always amazing! L.A.M.B. is amazing, and you can’t go wrong with Louis Vuitton. And there is an Italian designer, Patrizia Pepe, whom I really enjoy. So many beautiful clothes!
KW: Dante Lee, author of “Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
TO: Best: moving to LA. Worst: going into business with a friend.
KW: The Michael Ealy question: If you could meet any historical figure, whom would you choose?
TO: Joan of Arc.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
TO: A map to my life lit up by smiling eyes. I know: Eww! But true!
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
TO: A cure for cancer.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
TO: Sitting in the living room of the apartment we lived in when I was about 2 or 3. We had a balcony which my mother had enclosed with chicken wire so we had birds flying amidst a forest of plants. I remember watching the birds through orange and white curtains.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
TO: When I take the time to look positively at my life, assess my accomplishments and truly allow myself to congratulate myself.
KW: The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?
TO: My mother! My mother! My mother!
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
TO: Be sure of what you want, focus, work hard, be ready to pick yourself up, do not take rejection personally, be as prepared as you can, always be learning, and eliminate negative people from your life regardless of who they are.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
TO: However it is, I hope it makes the rememberer smile, possibly even giggle.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Toks, and best of luck with the show.
TO: I greatly appreciate that! Thank you, Kam, for giving me the opportunity to answer such great questions! As you can clearly tell, I had a good time with them!