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Castle's New Partner, Toks Olagundoye

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Have you heard? With "Castle" going into its eighth season, the show is undergoing some changes in hopes of keeping it fresh: freewheeling mystery novelist Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is getting a new partner, while Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) becomes captain of the 12th precinct. The producers assure us that making Beckett into Castle's boss won't mess with the Castle-Beckett love story. We'll see!

Anyway, about that new partner. She is security specialist Hayley Shipton, played by the stunningly beautiful Toks Olagundoye, remembered as one of the space aliens on ABC's "The Neighbors."

Toks (rhymes with Cokes) describes Hayley as "a strong girl. She has her own sense of what's right and wrong and she has her own through-line of integrity. And she's really smart, really capable. She's sarcastic and kind of sassy."

Toks brings an amazingly eclectic background and skill set to the show. Raised in Nigeria, she is the child of a free-spirited Norwegian fashion designer mother and a dignified Nigerian banker father. She was educated in Switzerland and England as well as Nigeria, before coming to the U.S. to attend Smith College.

She does her own stunts. Well, mostly. "My stunt double is lovely, lovely, but she doesn't have to do much," notes Toks in crisp English burnished with a Nigerian accent. "She's done a couple of things I would have broken my neck doing, but just the basic fight stuff — that's kind of fun. I've gotten really, really banged up. It's a rewarding feeling as long as nothing is broken, you know."

She adds that Hayley "is feisty. She's a feisty girl; she's not scared of a little hand-to-hand combat. I've done stage combat and ballet. I was never a dancer but I did study dance for many years, choreography and everything."

Asked whether she felt the weight of expectations coming into such an established show with such a key role, she admits, "I still do.

It's very daunting for me. I take what I do very seriously, although it's only acting after all. I really like to make sure I'm doing a good job, not just for myself but I really want to give my fellow actors what they need. I want to give my directors what they're looking for. I want to bring to life what the writers were thinking. I definitely want to bring my best so that I can do what I've been hired to do.

"Whenever someone is brought into a series, they're going to add a new dynamic," she goes on. "I knew 'Castle' was a really, really popular show, but I didn't know how popular until I was in the process of getting hired, and it was like, half the people I knew were saying, 'Yay! That's my favorite show!'"

She is also very much aware of the "Castle" fans and their feelings about the series. "I'm not really concerned about anyone liking me or disliking me, but about making sure the fans are still able to enjoy the show they love. I don't want to be a source of contention for anyone," she says.

Interestingly, Toks has only seen about three episodes of "Castle" that she viewed when an actress pal had a recurring role. She deliberately did not binge-watch seasons past.

"My first instinct was to go back and watch everything they'd done, and then I thought, 'No.' If it had been a character who had known them throughout their lives before I would have done it, but Hayley is completely new to their world. After the experience of working with everybody I'm really itching to watch it, but I don't want anything to influence my reaction to any of the characters. I want it to be new and fresh for Hayley. I'm going to wait until I think halfway through the season before I start watching."

Helping to ease the pressure: "Everybody has been so nice — all of the cast, the background actors, the producers — everyone made a point of welcoming me. They're lovely. I never thought I would be as lucky as I was with 'Neighbors' again, but now here I am doing this."

COPYRIGHT 2015 STACY JENEL SMITH

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