There is something to be said for half hour comedies featuring Aliens.
It’s really only in such comedies that we ever get the kind of social commentary that just comes off as preachy in your run of the mill sitcoms. That is why it’s good that ABC brought us such a show in the form of the new series “The Neighbors” and we are in luck as TV Equals had the immense pleasure to talk with series star Toks Olagundoye, a wonderfully charming up-and-coming actress that Hollywood needs to keep their eyes on.
During the chat, the multilingual Toks went through the inner workings of the series, her approach to her character and how she would react if she had aliens as neighbors. Check out what she had to say below and don’t miss the next episode of The Neighbors “Things Just Got Real” which airs tonight at 8:30 pm on ABC.
How would you describe this series to someone who hasn’t heard of it yet?
Toks Olagundoye: The first thing I would say is that it’s incredibly quirky, which is what I love about it, but I would say it’s about a community of aliens who take over a golfing community in New Jersey. A human family moves in and shenanigans ensue. I think that’s the very interesting thing about this show, that instead of one alien family moving to earth, it’s an alien community on earth and a human family moves into that community. So it’s so many different levels of familiar and unfamiliar for all of them.
What was your reaction when you first heard of the series and your role, Jackie Joyner-Kersee?
Toks Olagundoye: Honestly, when I first heard about, just like read the breakdown, to me it was just like another audition that I was going in for, and of course actors always want whatever job they can get. So, for me it was like, ‘Yea. I have an audition,’ and then when I got the script, I read the script, I was really confused. I thought I liked it, but I wasn’t sure if I really go it. I was like, ‘Is it as witty as I think it is, or am I just reading too much into it?’.
So I went to my acting coach, and he goes, ‘Oh my God, this is one of my favorite pilots this season,’ and I was like, ‘Oh really? So it is clever?’ And he goes, ‘Oh my God, its so clever,’ and I was like, ‘Okay. I love it.’ Then I had so much fun preparing for it. What I did when I went in was actually a lot more quirky than they have me doing now, because I’m just a little bit of a goofball, but they let me have fun with it and they enjoyed it and they gave me direction, and it was great working with them from the get go. From my very first audition I had an amazing time with everyone. It was really good.
It must be fun constructing a character out of scratch and finding your own pace
Toks Olagundoye: Absolutely, that is the reason that I do what I do. That’s my background, it’s in theater. It’s in character acting. It’s in getting a completely different role each time and making it my own, and the more I can put in to something to make it my own, the better. I can change the walk and the way the character stands and the way the character acts and facial expressions. I live for that, and I live for direction. So we’re really lucky that we’ve had really amazing directors on the show because I really love having people throw things at me, different things to do.
You have some great scenes with Jami Gertz. What was it like working with her and the cast overall?
Toks Olagundoye: Okay, you’re the first person that I’m going to tell this to, but it’s going to come out sooner or later. When I was a kid, I had Jami Gertz’s posters on my wall. She doesn’t even know this.
No way. Really?
Toks Olagundoye: No. She doesn’t even know this. It was her, Winona Ryder and Sarah Jessica Parker were my three favorites when I was a kid. Seriously. Like, I owned ‘Sixteen Candles’ and would watch the parts with Jami Gertz over and over. I have just always thought that there was something so special about her, and working with her, just like because of that it would be amazing, but then I legitimately learn something new from her every single day.
She’s so focused. Her instincts are phenomenal. She’s amazing. Sometimes I don’t even learn from her as an actor. I learn from her as a human being. She knows so much about the business. She’s so gracious. She handles things with such good humor. The whole cast, the crew, everyone, there’s no one who isn’t amazing, but it is such an amazing pleasure to work with her everyday. I’m lucky, very, very lucky.
How many episodes have you shot so far?
Toks Olagundoye: We are starting episode nine this week, so we have eight full episodes that we have shot.
What can you tease about what’s coming up?
Toks Olagundoye: Oh, God, there’s so much coming up. It’s like I can’t even try and group it into one explanation. It doesn’t even make sense. Last week’s episode, we went to the mall, and so the aliens get to experience the mall in a way where humans take for granted all of these things. I identify with that because I didn’t grow up here, and where I grew up we didn’t have any such thing as mall, and I remember the first time that I went to buy deodorant in the U.S. Where I come from, you walk into a store and there are two sticks of deodorant, you buy the one that you want, and I remember standing in the aisle crying, crying from frustration because I was like, ‘Well, which one do I choose?’ So there’s so much identifiable stuff like that, but there’s another episode where my character really wants to fit in. So take this the way you want to take it, but she does some research to find out how to be a real New Jersey housewife. I think you know where I’m going with that one.
That’s going to be interesting. I can’t wait.
Toks Olagundoye: Oh my God, yeah. We just filmed the Thanksgiving episode and my sisters come to visit, and in the Thanksgiving episode they don’t quite look the way that you think that they might look because of the human forms that they have taken as aliens. We’ve had some phenomenal guest stars. Just last week I got to work with Stacy Keach, who’s one of my mum’s favorite actors when I was a kid. I get to be around amazing, amazing people.
I find it hilarious that everyone in the alien family has the name of a famous athlete. How much do you know about your namesake, Jackie Joyner-Kersee?
Toks Olagundoye: I do not know much about her, actually. I do know that she is one of the most phenomenal female athletes and Olympian and runners in the world, and I do know that she suffers from asthma and she never let that stop her. Those are the things that I know about her.
What do you think you might have in common with her?
Toks Olagundoye: I think focus. I’ve always been incredibly focused. I’ve always been incredibly hardworking. I was an athlete when I was a kid, and I was actually trained in swimming for a very long time and I took that very seriously. I think that my background in sports and in dance gave me the focus and the discipline that I have for this career. People think it’s rather frivolous, all this acting nonsense, but it’s long days. My shortest days are about ten hours, usually twelve to fifteen, five days a week. It’s like your training for a marathon.
You have to feed yourself well, but you still have to be able to exercise and you still have to have energy for the day and you have to pace yourself and you have to be very well prepared. It’s focus and dedication and really having an appreciation for the fact that you are blessed enough to do something that you are good at, because not everyone gets that chance. You can be good at something, but not have the opportunity to really shine at it, and it’s a blessing. So I think the focus and the determination and the acknowledgement that it’s important, to really take it seriously.
Is comedy a genre that appeals to you in particular, or are you open to most genres out there?
Toks Olagundoye: I’m open to other genres, but I do prefer comedy. Comedy is something that I did a lot of in university. I did a lot of everything in university, but that was where I really had the most fun. I’ve done a lot of dramatic roles and I do very well at the dramatic roles. I’m a solid actress. I’m not Meryl Streep. Nobody is, but I do my job and I do it well and I take it seriously, but I do have to say that comedy is just…I was a really goofy kid. I have really odd parents. They encouraged me to be goofy. I have always been really attracted to goofy people. Most of my friends are goofy people. So, that’s just kind of where my spirit lies, is in good humor. I come from very funny people who try not to take things too seriously, and everyone is teasing everyone else. It’s where I feel the most comfortable and the most happy, I think.
What would were you reaction be in real life if you found out your neighbors were aliens?
Toks Olagundoye: Oh, wow, I’ve never thought about it, but I don’t think it would bother me much because I’m convinced my mother is an alien. I really do. She’s just not of this world, and if she told me at some point that she really was not of this world, I would believe her. Of course I’d be a little trepidatious because I don’t want to get eaten by anybody. I don’t want to be body snatched or anything like that.
I’m sure they’d be nice.
Toks Olagundoye: Yeah, why not. The time will come, I’m sure.
If you could guest star on any TV series, your pick of the litter, which one would it be?
Toks Olagundoye: I would have to say ‘Friends.’ That looks like a lot of fun and I love those characters and I loved that show.
And what about currently airing?
Toks Olagundoye: God, this is such a difficult question. There are so many good shows. Honestly, I would say ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ I love that show. It looks like such good fun. I’d love to guest star on that.
Top Photo credit: Jeff Gottlieb