Nice Guy Sam Richardson on Playing Against Type in ‘Ted Lasso’ and Being a Romantic Lead in ‘The Afterparty’

Sam Richardson’s profile has risen in recent years through roles such as eager aide Richard Splett on “Veep,” as well as the star and co-creator (with Tim Robinson) of cult hit “Detroiters” and even via the woefully under appreciated series “Champaign ILL,” which he top lined with Adam Pally.

But it’s Apple TV+’s “The Afterparty” that has cemented Richardson as not only a star — but also a romantic lead, opposite Zoë Chao.

That’s why Richardson’s Emmy nomination this year is extra sweet. As he and Chao film Season 2 of “The Afterparty,” Richardson… wait a minute. Sorry. Correction: “The Afterparty” should have been Emmy-nominated.

But instead, Richardson is an Emmy nominee for an entirely different standout role: comedy guest actor on a different Apple TV+ show, playing Ghanaian billionaire Edwin Akufo in Season 2 of “Ted Lasso.”

It’s big moment for Richardson as he celebrates his first Emmy nomination. But it’s also a tad bittersweet: The actor happened to be on the set of “The Afterparty” when he learned about his Emmy nom.

“It’s a weird push and pull,” he says. “It’s my first Emmy nomination and I’m over the moon. But I’m a guest there [on “Ted Lasso”]. Then to be with my family, and to get that nomination and find out that ‘Afterparty’ didn’t get any nominations, I was a little bummed. But the ‘Afterparty’ cast and crew and the producers were all very congratulatory and celebratory of my nomination. It just goes to show they’re all wonderful, good people.”

There’s plenty of serendipity to Richardson’s nomination: Among the other mentions for “Ted Lasso” is a supporting actor Toheeb Jimoh, who plays Sam Obisanya — a character that was named, and patterned after, Richardson. And in Season 2, it’s Richardson’s character who tries to lure Sam away from the show’s fictional football club, AFC Richmond.

“I was watching that first season, and I like texted [“Ted Lasso” exec producer] Joe Kelly, and I was like, ‘Hey, is Sam supposed to be me?’ And he was like, ‘Of course, obviously!’ So what a weird full circle then in Season 2 to get to go and be on the show and play across from Toheeb,” Richardson says. “I’m playing across from a character that’s inspired by me as a person. And then I get to be Ghanaian in that. It’s like a weird ‘Inception’ sort of exercise in knowing yourself!”

Jimoh’s character was even originally supposed to be Ghanaian; Richardson is of Ghanaian descent. But because Jimoh is Nigerian, they made the character Nigerian as well.

So what has Richardson learned about himself through that process? “Oh, I’m too nice, I think,” he jokes.

But Richardson has, admittedly, mostly played likable, good guys in his most high-profile projects. “I think it’s easier to be nice just in general, because it feels nice to be nice,” he says. “Who doesn’t like to laugh, as opposed to just be angry all the time? It’s nicer to drive and sing and be laughing about a podcast, than be driving with road rage and angry at somebody cutting you off. So I think that, applied to life, is how I try to be.”

Playing against type is also what appealed to him in taking the “Ted Lasso” role as Edwin.

“I felt like anybody who knew any of my previous work would probably look at that and assume it was going to be a little cup of warm soup on a rainy day,” he says. “And then they get that turn,” as Edwin becomes heavy in his attempts to steal Sam for his own team. “That twist, I think, hit even harder if you knew me from other things. It was really fun to get to play, just go really dark.”

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Sam Richardson and Toheeb Jimoh, how plays Sam — the character inspired by Richardson. Colin Hutton

Off screen, Richardson and Jimoh became fast friends — and had a lot of fun ribbing each other about their backgrounds.

“We were just giggling and laughing between takes,” he says. “Both of us in our natural accents — my American accent, his English accent. Then we call action and he’s Nigerian, I’m Ghanaian. And also we got to share the rivalry between Ghanaians and Nigerians that exists.”

Richardson says his family, and in particular his mom, were excited to see him play a Ghanaian character. “It’s not my accent, so it’s me sort of mimicking them, having grown up with the ear for it,” he says.

Richardson grew up in Detroit, studied theater there and soon became a part of the Second City troupe — first in Detroit and then in Chicago. It was there that he met folks including Jason Sudeikis and Kelly. Later, Sudeikis was instrumental in persuading Richardson, Robinson, Kelly and Zach Kanin to create “Detroiters.”

“Jason has put me in so many movies and so many things,” he says. “My first real movie credit is from Jason and it was ‘We’re the Millers’ and it was just him saying, ‘I know Sam can do this thing.’ ‘Horrible Bosses 2,’ Jason set me up with that. Jason was the one who was like, ‘You and Tim should do a show together!’ So those sort of relationships I am forever grateful for and especially to Jason. This thing from Jason got me my first Emmy nomination.”

Richardson has also popped up regularly on “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson,” which happens to be nominated this year as well.

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Dan Doperalski for Variety

“We can’t believe it,” Richardson says of his best friend. “To go from Second City, literally 20 years ago, to now is tremendous.”

The pals are even planning to attend the Emmys together: “My girlfriend Nicole and I will go, and I’m trying to make sure that I can be in a group with Tim and his wife, Heather,” Richardson says. “That’s the plan right now — to go to as many parties as I can, just really lap it up and enjoy this moment.”

Win or lose, Richardson is at a point in his career when friends are telling him that casting calls are asking for “a Sam Richardson type.”

“Let’s not get too many of those out here because then I’m out of a job,” he laughs.

Now, he’s trying to be more strategic with his career and not just say “yes” to any project that comes his way. “I have to think about what the right moves are so they can shape my career. So that it’s not 15 minutes, but 50 years. I’m very much honored and happy to be here but I’ve got to make sure that I recognize that I’m here because I’ve worked hard to get here.

One upcoming role that will likely bring Richardson even more attention is the long-awaited “Hocus Pocus 2,” in which he stars alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy and Bette Midler.

“It’s so amazing to get to have had the chance to work with them. I grew up watching that movie. I’m obsessed with Christmas and I’m obsessed with Halloween. So to be in the next ‘Hocus Pocus,’ I was pinching myself while being in the scenes.”

Richardson adds: “I play a character named Gilbert, who’s a bookshop owner in this world. It’s a bookshop and a magic shop.”

Yes, it’s the kind of shop that would have books of spells somewhere … and that’s all he can say about that.

So, what about a “Veep” sequel series? The finale revealed that Richard Splett eventually becomes the president and Richardson would be game to revisit the character.

“I still want to do that. I want to do the ascension of Richard to the presidency, even if it’s a miniseries,” he says.

And given the kind of momentum Richardson is experiencing, maybe it will indeed happen. “It’s a ‘pinch myself’ sort of life, and I’m very happy and appreciative of it,” he says.