A Google search for the star of the CBS comedy “Bob Hearts Abishola,” Folake Olowofoyeku, will result in video interviews like this one, in which the American interviewer struggles to pronounce the Nigerian actress and musician’s last name. But she’s never considered changing it. If she did, she certainly wouldn’t be the first to do so. Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Pandit Bhanji; Natalie Portman was Neta-Lee Hershlag; and musician Bruno Mars was Peter Gene Hernandez. And in her “defiance,” Olowofoyeku is forcing the industry to meet her on her own terms — although she admits that she has been pressured.
“There have been a couple of agents when I was in New York who suggested or advised that I change my name,” she said. “There was an agent that I was with who I liked, so she was the only one whose opinion could have possibly swayed me. But her approach was kind of like, ‘I’m just curious. I’m not saying you should, but have you ever considered it?’ And I’m grateful for that because it was never mandatory. She still represented me after that.”
In the Detroit-set “Bob Hearts Abishola”, Olowofoyeku plays Abishola, a Nigerian cardiac nurse who meets a compression sock businessman named Bob (Billy Gardell). The comedic examination of immigrant life in America, created by Chuck Lorre (“Mike & Molly,” “The Big Bang Theory”), Eddie Gorodetsky, Al Higgins, and British-Nigerian comedian Gina Yashere — who also plays a supporting role on the show — is billed as a love story about a middle-aged white salesman who unexpectedly falls for his nurse, a Nigerian immigrant, while recovering from a heart attack. He then sets his sights on winning her over, undaunted by her lack of initial interest or the vast differences in their backgrounds.
It is noted as being the first American sitcom on a major network to feature a Nigerian family, and also groundbreaking because its cast members speak in the Yoruba language. For Olowofoyeku, it’s all still quite surreal. “Sometimes I try to imagine myself not involved with the project, but as an audience member, watching this on American television,” she said. “And I wonder, how I would take a show like this coming out. And on CBS? It just blows my mind. It’s amazing and so beautiful, and very timely.” The series certainly arrives at an opportune moment, given the escalation in anti-immigrant sentiment that the outgoing president has stoked over the last four years. And on the surface, given CBS’ core demo as well as criticism the network has received over the years for its lack of a diverse programming lineup, the series may have seemed like a risky bet, telling a story about what American audiences would likely perceive as a kind of unconventional relationship. But Bob and Abishola are a couple that viewers can’t help but root for.