**Multi-episode spoilers included below. If you are caught up, read on**
The fifth and final season of HBO’s hit comedy, Insecure, is all about moving upward and onward, okay? The series is swiftly approaching its mid-season mark and just as we thought lead character, Issa (Issa Rae) had it all together finally, it’s realized that her love life is still very much in shambles.
At the end of season 5, Episode 2— aptly titled “Growth, Okay?”—in a shocking yet awkward cliffhanger, Issa ended up sobbing on Nathan during what was supposed to be a late night hookup. After consoling her until she fell asleep, Nathan snuck out in the middle of the night. Episode 4, “Faulty, Okay?” picks up a week after the abrupt departure and of course, the estranged lovers are still not directly addressing what happened.
Luckily, we got the chance to speak with Kendrick Sampson about the state of Nathan and Issa’s relationship since his character was introduced in season three. Sampson also talks Nathan’s mental health journey, the sneak-out, romantic reunion, how similar he is to his character in real life, and if Issa and Nathan survive the rest of the season.
VIBE: How do you feel Nathan has evolved as a character since his bipolar diagnosis?
Kendrick Sampson: I have a special affinity for him. Nathan is my family. He is me sometimes. I know this man, inside and out. I have a lot of empathy for him and I understand what he’s going through moving from Houston to Cali. I’ve done that *laughs* And I have a brother who has gone through all the trial and error of trying to find the right medication and how to deal with bipolar disorder.
Just like anything else, when you have a problem and you find the root of it, now the real work can start. I’ve had some really bad anxiety problems and it affects what I can eat. When I first found out, they were like you can’t have spicy food and all that stuff that I love. [Naturally,] I’m like, my life is over. I can’t eat this and that; y’all trying to restrict me, you’re trying to kill me.
And then I realized there’s so many other things that I can eat within those restrictions that’s just as amazing. I’m not saying it’s a breeze, but I feel good and it’s the same thing with getting a mental health diagnosis. It’s just, now what? How do we navigate that? What’s so cool about Insecure is it’s just Black people being black and part of being Black is dealing with mental health issues, with romance [etc.].
In episode four, when Nathan is in that awkward confrontation with his cousin, and he learns that his cousin is the reason why he got kicked out in the first place, do you feel that Nathan is ashamed for not fully explaining his behavior?
I think rather than ashamed, I think he’s just really frustrated. I can relate in trying to explain to my family how much I love them, even though I’m really busy. Just really trying to figure out how to prioritize activism and a career that I love so much. And also prioritize the people that I love most. When the communication isn’t translating properly, when it ain’t getting through— I think it’s still new for him. He hasn’t found the right way to tell everybody, because you don’t know how they’re going to react and one bad reaction can actually can take you back a few steps in your progress.
So, it is a very frightening thing to navigate. But I think he’s doing a pretty good job. It could have gone so much worse than it did and I hope that people don’t discount the restraint and the breathing, you know? I hope that people really understand that; it’s very hard to even explain how impactful a conversation like that can be and how difficult it can be.
It was really challenging to read and act, because I was just imagining all of the Black men in my family who have messed up and just want to find a way to explain what was going through their minds. That they didn’t have bad intentions [and] this is something that they’re working through. You know how it is with your family? Sometimes there’s certain things that your family just won’t ever be able to see you past. They only see that. We all can relate to how frustrating a conversation like that would be where we feel like we got our s**t together finally. Then, all of a sudden they’re like tearing you down and reminding you exactly who you were.
Do you think things would have gone differently had Nathan just told him that he was suffering from like manic bipolar disorder?
It depends on the person. Just like the anti-blackness that permeates Hollywood, there’s very controversial depictions of mental health. The most common [misconception] we see mental health portrayed [as] is oh, that’s why he’s a stalker. Oh, that’s why he went to jail. Oh, that’s why he’s violent. And there’s so much depth in mental health issues. There’s—cause so many people deal with them.
It all depends on what their personal experiences are with it and then what they see on TV, in film. So usually somebody reveals that they have a mental health issue. There’s something in the back of our minds that goes [off]. It always goes to worst case, most violent scenario when it’s like the smallest fraction of a percentage of people that deal with mental health issues are actually violent. But then you’re 16x more likely to be killed by police. If you’re experiencing a mental health episode, especially if you’re Black, it’s even higher.
That reaction can either be helpful or very harmful. So you never know what it’s going to be. A lot of time, we do fear what people are going to say. And it hinders us from just being vulnerable like that. We have to handle it very delicately, especially with mental health issues [and] I just want to clarify real quick when I say that. I just want to be really careful [because I mean] it can end up violent against the person dealing with mental health issues. You know, not the opposite way.
Does that explain why he ghosted Issa?
The major factor in his bad communication is his mental health journey. I feel like no matter what goes on between them, it’s one of those relationships where even if y’all are not on good terms, you can leave them with things that you hold close to your heart. That you can reveal things to them and that they’ll respect it. And I feel like they’re in that place where even if it doesn’t go right, I just want you to know that there were other factors. That it wasn’t just that I don’t like you, or I had some negative intention. That I actually have issues that I need to work through.
Do you feel that he truly trusted her reaction ahead of time?
I think he might’ve told her sooner if, if he trusted her reaction like that. He took his time in telling her when he was ready. She had an appropriate reaction, a very realistic one where it was just kinda like, ‘oh s**t. Like, what is going on, what’s going on with that now? How do you feel?’ I’ve told people about my mental health issues and I’ve had some pretty traumatizing reactions. So, I can only imagine what Nathan has gone through and we also have to factor in like, who else has he told? What was that experience?
With episode 2, when Issa burst into tears on your chest, has that ever happened to you in real life? And how did you handle it?
Yeah, that did. It was hard to get through that scene because I was trying not to laugh. I ain’t even gonna lie. I was feeling so bad for Issa’s character and still understanding where Nathan is in that moment because I been there. Tears aren’t exactly indicators that I’m going in the right direction when we trying to have sex. He’s already nervous about them being alone together and hopefully rekindling a friendship because he hurt her.
It’s been some time, but now it’s like, “should spend the night?” It happens and you’re like “this is amazing.” And then she started crying and then you’re thinking, “is this—are these tears because of me? If she tells me, is she telling me the truth? You know, did I hurt her again? I don’t want to hurt her. Am I supposed to be here right now? Am I making it worse just by him being here with my presence?”
Was Nathan right in leaving Issa the way he did?
Was he right? No, [but] I don’t necessarily think he was wrong. We need to learn a little bit more about what his reasoning is, what his intention was. My personal situation, I was home. So she left. And that was after some long talks and explanations. [With] me and Nathan, that’s the only place that we’re much different. If I make a decision in a conflict, I have to explain everything. I need to know what your reasoning is. We have to have a full conversation to an annoying degree. I’m like, “no, we gotta get to the root of this thing.” Nathan is more like, “all right, well, we’ll talk about this later.” I ain’t gon lie to you. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night and been like, “I don’t know what to do. Can’t sleep. Don’t necessarily want to be here. My bed is more comfortable. Should I leave a note, text?”
Imma leave that where that is.
I haven’t ghosted though. I will say I haven’t ghosted.
Then, you’re not a terrible person. In episode four, you kind of explained to your friends that you didn’t know where Issa’s head space was at, but then you guys finally have a vulnerable conversation and you reconcile. How do you feel about the trajectory of your friendship and relationship with Issa up until that point?
See, that’s the main thing about these dang-on conflicts. That’s why I like to address mine head on, right. Because all the tension could have been avoided. You’d be all tense and stuff like, ‘oh man, I wonder if she misinterpreted or, if she understood or if she’s mad at me.’ But at the same time, he’s drawn to her. They are drawn to each other. And there’s again, like I said earlier, there’s these few people that you feel like you can go to in life where they address conflict in some way. Where they make you feel better about yourself or whatever it is. And I think that they are that person for each other, where they do enjoy going through other problems, not their [interpersonal] problems, but their problems with other people.
He found the space to be able to tell her because he was already telling her what was going on with his cousin. And that opened up the space for him to be like, well, this is also something I got going on with you. That moment is an example of their healthier selves. Where they can sit down and talk to each other and help each other through things and their own issues. I think it shows they’ve both come a really long way in communication and in their relationship.
Can you share if Issa and Nathan’s revived relationship will survive the rest of the season?
Well, first I wanted to go back to the thing with the getting up and leaving. When we were talking about how I’m usually much more inclined to talk about it head on, because I don’t want to have to deal with the tension later… That was the main thing that I was pissed off about with Nathan. If you text right after and say, “I’m here,” y’all can deal with that conflict. It wasn’t that he left, it’s that he left and didn’t communicate. I think that the fact that they can talk about that and pinpoint it and get through— shows their growth. Will their relationships stand the test of time [and] make it all the way through the finale? Only time will tell *smirks*
Insecure airs every Sunday on HBO/HBO Max at 10 p.m. ET.
Relive Issa and Nathan’s first date around LA below.
This interview was been condensed for time and clarity.