When the Internet learned our favorite awkward black girl Issa Rae was taking her talents and awkwardness to the small screen, weird girls the world over rejoiced (and probably let out one of those weird laughs/snorts that weird girls sometimes do). Coming to HBO this fall, Insecure, helmed by Rae, chronicles the life of Issa G (Issa Rae) and her homegirl Molly (Yvonne Orji) as they try to navigate the dating terrain in Los Angeles and make sense of their lives now that they’re on the other side of 30.
And while Rae’s character has all this to figure out, she’s also dealing with her dead weight, down-on-his luck boyfriend Lawrence played by Jay Ellis. Formerly of BET’s The Game, Ellis’ new role is a stark contrast from who he played previously. To get into character, Ellis—who admittedly enjoys going to work—sat on a couch for a month, grew a beard and did his best to try and understand what it must feel like to simply lose ambition and collect unemployment after life throws a curve ball or two.
VIBE caught up with the talented actor at the 2016 Essence Music Festival, where Ellis spoke at length about the magic of the new comedy series and why Insecure will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to figure it all out on the fly.
VIBE: Tell me about Issa’s character and how you relate to her?
Jay Ellis: So Issa’s story is like she’s been in a relationship with a dude for a few years, who’s kind of given up, and he’s insecure in his own way. He went out on a limb, went to school, became very successful, took a job and then was like, ‘Oh I want to start my own company.’ He goes and starts his own company and that company failed, so he’s afraid to do anything. He’s crippled by fear to do anything. So he’s kind of sat on the couch and doesn’t do anything.
And what about Issa’s bestie, Molly?
Molly, on the other hand, is in her early 30s, a very successful, beautiful, black woman, trying to date in L.A. and is having no luck. She’s meeting dudes who just want sex. She’s meeting dudes who are just there for the night. She’s been through all of these dating sites and having a hard time finding a man. Some of this is out of desperation on her side, and then some of it is that the quality of dudes she’s meeting are just sh**ty. So, it really follows these two as they navigate life together.
A photo posted by Jay Ellis (@jayrellis) on
What kind of guy is Lawrence?
Lawrence is very smart. He’s a tech guy so he’s all about apps and technology and the digital space, but he’s also an introvert, so he’s very quiet and passive. He has to kind of find his way still. He doesn’t know what makes himself special yet. He doesn’t know what makes himself stand out. He has this vision to start this business to build this app, but at the same time, he doesn’t believe in himself. His self-esteem is low. He’s insecure.
There’s a clip in the trailer where Issa says to Molly, ‘I’m going break up with him TONIGHT!’ and then Issa goes, ‘Yeah, I’m not really breaking up with him.’ Is he a dead weight with Issa?
Yeah! I mean dude’s collecting unemployment and she pays the bills essentially. It’s her birthday. When we come into the pilot, he messes it up. She comes home to a dude who messes up another job interview, hasn’t had a job in four years, and then completely just blows her birthday off and doesn’t make it special in any way for her, whatsoever.
Will fans feel empathy for Lawrence or will it be a lot of “Men ain’t sh**?”
In the first episode you may get a little of “men ain’t sh**”, but I think he’s a lovable loser. You’ll see that he’s actually very capable. He’s just afraid and he hasn’t necessarily had support from someone who actually is a creator or an entrepreneur. We see overtime that he slowly goes out and gets a job, and he starts interviewing for better jobs, and he slowly starts to find his footing and grow into the man that Issa wants him to be, growing into the man that he wants to be.
A photo posted by Jay Ellis (@jayrellis) on
Insecure is on HBO. Will there be any vulgarity? Will there be any sex scenes?
There are sex scenes. Molly has a lot of sex. Lawrence has a little; Lawrence and Issa have a little sex, and then there’s a big, big sex scene at the very end of the season.
How was that?
I mean I was cool with it. Sex is a real thing. You have these young beautiful black people all together, and nobody’s f**king? Like c’mon! [Laughs] But on set, it’s 20 people staring at you with cameras and fans and wardrobe.
Right. Yet it’s different for you as a man to do a sex scene than it is for Issa as a woman. How did you made Issa feel comfortable?
Before we even start I say, ‘If you ever feel uncomfortable, please let me know. I may be aggressive, I may go far, but it’s not because I’m trying to take advantage of you in any way. I’m just trying to portray a real experience. So if you ever feel uncomfortable, please let me know.’ That’s number one. Number two, I have to be naked and have a c**k sock on. So I walk over there with my c**k sock options, and I’m like, ‘Hey other than the c**k sock options that wardrobe has given me, are there any of them that make you uncomfortable?’
This conversation is just so weird.
It is weird, but you know we’re professionals and even outside of that we’re humans. I never want to put a woman that I work with in a position where they feel that they were never considered, because it’s not just me in the scene. It’s us in the scene.
Who will the show speak to?
There’s something for everyone. Issa’s done such an amazing job of speaking her truth and her truth spoke to so many other black women in this country. And she brought that exact same voice to this show.