‘Insecure’ Actress Yvonne Orji On Self-Discovery
If you watched the highly-anticipated comedy Insecure by Issa Rae, Sunday night, you know this series is not only incredibly funny, but it’s also unapologetically Black. From the dope musical selections to relatable dating situations, there’s something on the show for everyone.
HBO’s Insecure centers on two young women who are trying to navigate life, love and relationships. There’s Issa who is awkward and dealing with her long-time boyfriend struggling to get his life together, and then there’s her best friend Molly — the successful lawyer thriving in her career, but not so much in her love life.
In the eight-episode series, Molly (Yvonne Orji), is trying to date someone on her level, and continuously finds herself in dead-end situationships and with a brokenheart.
As an actress and comedian, Yvonne is no stranger to the life as a Black creative. Though Insecure might be your first introduction to her, she is also the creator of the sitcom pilot, First Gen, which is based on her life as a first generation Nigerian-American who chose not to pursue a career in medicine to become a comedian.
JET caught up with Yvonne to discuss her character on Insecure, how the show speaks to a variety of Black women and the importance of trusting the process as a Black creative.
JET: I think so many women will see themselves in your character Molly. What makes her so relatable?
Yvonne Orji: I feel like Molly is an everyday woman. She has life in order, she’s killing it at work, but when it comes to love, she’s all in shambles. Everything she probably knows to do to get ahead and advance at life and work, she does the absolute opposite in love. At the root of it, I think it’s just her wanting love. It’s like the thing we want the most, we sabotage the most. She wants this quintessential relationship that it’s kind of elusive to her, but it’s the idea of I love love. [Molly] wants love to look a certain way and the minute it doesn’t, she thinks that can’t be it when actually she might just need to let things breathe a little bit.
JET: How has working on this show help you identify or address some of your own insecurities?
Yvonne Orji: I think what’s fun about this show is that we all have insecurities. Initially, you think it’s just Issa because people are familiar with Awkward Black Girl, and you think she’s insecure because she’s awkward. Like Jay Ellis’ character is insecure because he’s not at the place where he wants to be, so as a Black man in a relationship, that leads to insecurities. Molly is the only Black person in this law firm and a woman who’s trying to get ahead, so she has her own insecurities with that.
[With me], I’m also single so if you’ve ever been with parents or someone older you hear, “You’re not really a woman until you’ve been a wife.” What is that? I have African parents, I’m originally from Nigeria, and I’m 32 so it’s like (in Nigerian accent), “When are you getting married? Jesus, somebody, anybody help her.” Playing Molly was playing a version to some degree of my actual life. I want to be married. I think at one point in our lives, we’ve all made Molly mistakes, and that’s why I think she’s so relatable to so many people. Molly was fun [to play] because I got to bring that to life in the sense that everyone thinks that Black women are perfect, but we make mistakes just like everybody else. It’s great that this show lets us show the good, the bad, the in between and everything else.
JET:How does Insecure stay true to Issa Rae’s authenticity?
Yvonne Orji: I think what’s dope about Insecure is that while it deviates from Awkward Black Girl, it’s still her voice. It’s very authentic. Issa was very specific about shooting the show in south Los Angeles, and a lot of it was based in Inglewood. She was very adamant about showing that community in a light that it hasn’t been shown in before. It’s not all drugs and guns. It’s regular Black people being regular. I think that part of authenticity led to the story that you will see. I hope people are able to be open-minded and able to say it’s different, but it’s still good and it’s good in a different way.
JET: In ways do you think Insecure will connect with Black women of various backgrounds?
Yvonne Orji: I think there’s something in it for everyone. I told Issa I don’t have the same type of friends that she has. How Issa and Molly talk and how they fight is different. I don’t fight with my friends like that, but it’s still relatable. Issa’s introducing me to a new Black womanhood and Black friendship. It’s showing everybody, including other Black people, that there are different types of Black relationships and experiences. I also think White people will watch and say, “Oh, that’s so dope.” If you think about it, Issa is college-educated, Ivy-league educated, super intelligent and a super smart writer, creator, producer and she likes trap music––real ratchet trap music. That’s part of what makes her authentic and it’s part of what makes her a very exciting voice. It’s that she can live in multiple worlds, and people are multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. So if you like the proper, if you like the ratchet, if you like the hood, if you like the classy, it’s all in here.
JET: Aside from doing comedy and acting, you also have a project you’re working on. Can you talk about First Gen, and when we can expect to see it?
Yvonne Orji: Girl, I wish I knew when you can expect to see it too! (laughs) First Gen is near and dear to my heart. It is my story. I was born in Nigeria and when my family immigrated to America, I was supposed to be the doctor of my family. I took Organic Chemistry and was like, “The devil is a lie! Y’all need to stop playing with me. I will go back to Nigeria.” I decided to go back and get my master’s in public health just so I could stall from becoming a doctor because I was too much of a punk to tell my African parents that I was going to crush all their dreams. In the interim, I literally heard God telling me to do comedy one day when I was in a competition, and I was like, that doesn’t sound right, that’s not God because I never done comedy before and it wasn’t anything that I thought I could do.
But then I did it, stepped out on faith and ten years later, I’m still here performing and now acting. So First Gen is a young adult story and it’s an immigrant story. I think we’re all immigrants in a certain way because we all came here from somewhere else. I think we all have an immigrant story and it’s an underdog story. It’s also really important to have a show that depicts Africans just being the neighbor next door, and not putting anything more on them. They’re not fleeing genocide, they’re not war lords, they’re just regular people with traditions, customs, culture and actions that may be different from the norm but they go through things like everyone else. For me, it’s a project I’m very passionate about. David Oyelowo is one of our producers on the show so look out for it. I think it’s a story that needs to be told. My family is hysterical.
JET: What are some of the challenges you face as a Black creative?
Yvonne Orji: There won’t always be a wide open door, but there will always be a door. As a creative, when there has been little to no opportunities, I don’t even get mad anymore. In order to eat, I have to work so I [have to] create or get this next script out. And you do it because you want to eat but also by doing it, you get to create opportunities for someone else. That’s the dopest part. I’ve been grinding for ten years, but people are probably going to be like, “Oh, she came out of nowhere.” Through Issa’s hustle, she got to give and that’s the same thing I plan to do with First Gen: to open the door to people who have also been grinding and have been waiting for this opportunity. For me as a black creative, it really is about creating your own way and bringing other people along for the journey because it ain’t no fun if your homies can’t get none.
JET: What advice would you give to Black creatives on trusting the process?
Yvonne Orji: Trust the process [because it] is so essential. The ups, the downs, the quiet times, the starting times––it’s all building character. I think the process helps to hone that hunger and helps keep the main thing, the main thing because when you do get the blessing, you don’t forget. It’s frustrating, it sucks, it’s lonely, depression might be knocking at your door, but there is joy and fulfillment on the other side. Just hold on.