Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Toks Olagundoye was raised in her native country as well as 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 actress relocated to Los Angeles and soon landed roles on such TV series as “NCIS,” “Prime Suspect,” “Switched at Birth,” “CSI: NY,” “Law and Order” and “Ugly Betty,” to name a few. She now stars in ABC’s new hit comedy “The Neighbors” 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, 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 imitating accents from around the world.
What interested you in “The Neighbors?”
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.
Tell me a little about the show’s wacky premise.
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.
How would you describe your character, Jackie?
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.
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?
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!
Does the show have a message?
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 … One should be open to new things and, above all, tolerance and understanding are essential for growth and happiness … We are all different and that’s okay. That’s not incredibly poetic, but it’s the message at its essence.
You’re half-Nigerian and half-Norwegian. Which do you identify with more?
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.
You studied theater at Smith prior to embarking on your professional career. Do you recommend that route to other aspiring actresses?
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.
Are you ever afraid?
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.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Carbs. Sad but true.
What was the last book you read?
The final Hunger Games book, “The Mockingjay.” Seriously, Suzanne Collins, I need another one.
What was the last song you listened to?
I was just listening to Radiohead’s “Reckoner.”
What excites you?
What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
Best: Moving to LA. Worst: Going into business with a friend.
When do you feel the most content?
When I take the time to look positively at my life, assess my accomplishments and truly allow myself to congratulate myself.
Who is the person who led you to become the person you are today?
What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
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.