Created by Chuck Lorre (Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men), Bob Hearts Abishola tells the story of Bob Wheeler (Billy Gardell), a divorced man who runs his family’s successful sock company out of Detroit. When the stress of the job causes him to have a heart attack, he finds himself immediately drawn to his kind, hard-working Nigerian nurse, Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku). Though the two could not be more different, Bob and Abishola’s relationship slowly begins to bloom as they both learn from and celebrate one another. Asked about her experience as the latest piece of the Chuck Lorre legacy of network comedies, Olowofoyeku asserts that his professionalism and expertise makes the process both easy and fun.
“It seems seamless working in [what I call] it the Chuck Lorre universe,” she begins. “I’m a sci-fi head so I think that’s appropriate terminology for all that he’s accomplished in this world. Considering that he’s been at it for decades and has been at the top of his field doing it, coming in it’s just like walking into a well-oiled machine. Everyone on his team works and functions efficiently and are experts to what they do, including himself. He’s a genius. Just watching him work, he comes into the room and knows exactly what you need to do. It makes my work easier as an actress. I’ve got it really easy so I must have built up some good karma. [laughs]”
However, despite Lorre’s history of creating comedy hits, Olowofoyeku also claims that she was able to bring her own ideas to the creative process in developing her character.
“Everything apart from the words on the script, everything about the character has been my choice,” she points out. “I guess they trusted me to execute and deliver that properly. But I was informed by what was written on the script… Most of the roles that I embark on, I look with any script for information about the character and then I develop her based on that, like the way I pronounce ‘Bob’. There was something in the script that was very specific to Abi’s reaction to the American name. So, I thought, I can’t just pronounce this in a Western sort of way… So, I said, ‘Okay, if [the way] I’m pronouncing Bob gets a reaction like this and I have to build a story around why I pronounce Bob in a certain way, that also informs the way my accent should be for the character.”
“Also, in the back of my head, I’m thinking that I don’t want her to be too much of a caricature. So, I have to find a balance between the two worlds having a strong enough accent to justify why I pronounce Bob [that way] and still not being caricature of my people. After finding a way to meld those two characteristics together, I then later on have to think about how to make it more intelligible for our audience. The way I’m going to approach the accent of the character in Nigeria… specifically geared to Nigerians is very different than I will an American [audience]…”
While Olowofoyeku feels that she and Abishola have very different personalities, she also believes that they both contain an inner strength of character.
“[Abishola and I are] extremely different,” she contends. “We have the fundamental things in common. We’re both Nigerian, both raised in Nigeria and then we made the move to America at some point in my life. But, I’m a lot edgier and crazier than she is. I’m not as strict. Certainly, I’m not as devout as she is. I certainly wouldn’t push my child to become a doctor because that was done to me in a different way and I don’t think that’s right. That being said, we also have a tenacity and a strength. There’s a tenacity and strength that I see in women. I grew up [seeing that in] my mother and my auntie–both Nigerian women–and all women, really, But, in molding this character, I drew from characteristics I’ve seen in Nigerian women growing up.”
Having immigrated from Nigeria herself, Olowofoyeku has some understanding of what it means to start one’s life over in a new culture. Nevertheless, while she believes that the show’s depiction of the immigrant experience remains relatively realistic, she also argues that her character’s journey remains quite different than her own.
“It cannot be accurate to my [experience] because my set of circumstances are completely different from Abishola,” she argues. “I moved here my own, I didn’t have a child and I didn’t move in with family… So, it wasn’t similar in that regard. However, I do think it’s still authentic. It’s authentic for those particular set of circumstances. It’s very common to see a Nigerian move to a foreign country and move in with family members that already established themselves there and, in an effort to save money, house together so that the income is based on whatever they’ve all got. So, I think it’s extremely realistic. And I see the dynamic between our Abishola and her Auntie and Uncle as realistic as well. There’s a lot of respect that’s shown in the Nigerian family, regardless of who’s right or wrong and the younger always respects the older. You see that with and Abishola. Yeah. So, it’s not specific to my situation, but yeah, I think it’s definitely an accurate depiction.”
In the midst of the current global pandemic, Olowofoyeku remains passionate about the safety and well-being of those within her home country of Nigeria. As a result, when she was approached by the One Campaign to join them in the call for greater health care, she jumped at the chance to help.
“We’re just starting off this relationship,” she beams excitedly. “Obviously, with the current climate in the entire world, I was wondering how I could be of use and helpful. I was looking for ways that I could be involved a little bit more hands on than just a donation or a couple of words in a post here and there. I really wanted to be involved. [The One Campaign] came to my team and mentioned some of the work that they’re doing and I had an opportunity to talk to them. I was really excited that they were working specifically in Nigeria because I would like to be able to help in whatever way I can. I’m really looking forward to see what we can accomplish together. I like that they’re that’s focused on keeping governments around the world accountable and make sure that they’re looking out for the low income, more vulnerable sectors. They also have a petition going on right now on their website, One.org, and it would be awesome if people could go on there and sign up. (You can access the petition here.) That helps them approach different… governments around the world to make sure that they are providing proper health care for their citizens, especially during this time.”
Since the current health crisis has caused much of Hollywood to shut down, it comes as no surprise that Bob Hearts Abishola would be affected as well. Although last week’s episode was dubbed the season finale, Olowofoyeku reveals that the season did not end as intended as a result of interruptions due to the current pandemic.
“[That was] not the finale. It’s the last one of the season unfortunately, because we had to stop shooting,” she clarifies. “We were two episodes away from the actual finale. That wasn’t going to be the finale. In fact, we were halfway into the second to last episode and were just about to start filming… If we do get to season two, and I’m really hopeful that we will, then those two episodes will be the first two episodes of the new season.”
In light of this, Olowofoyeku also has idea of what she’d like to see from the series as they move forward. Should they get the chance, she believes that their series has the unique opportunity to give the viewer a window into Nigerian celebrations first hand.
According to Olowofoyeku, “I don’t know if it needs to happen in the second season but I think it would be great to have them go to Nigeria and explore what it’s like landing at the Nigerian airport and have a wedding. Nigerian weddings last for days. We have an introduction, the white wedding, the traditional wedding. We have the Thanksgiving. It’s like a week-long festivity. I think it would be great to find an episode to each other’s days. That would be marvelous. We’ve never seen anything like that before, shooting an American show on foreign soil. I think that would be great. It’s mind-blowing, really… I think our crew and cast would have an amazing time of Nigeria. With the festivities, it would be so much fun.”
For full audio of our interview with Folake, click here.
Bob Hearts Abishola is available on demand now.