Exclusive: Jay Ellis Talks HBO’s Insecure

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Exclusive: Jay Ellis Talks HBO’s Insecure
Posted by Wilson Morales

October 7, 2016

insecure-posterComing out this weekend on HBO is their latest comedy series “Insecure, executive produced by and starring Issa Rae. Created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, the comedy series INSECURE launches its eight-episode season Sunday, OCT. 9 (10:30–11:00 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.

The comedy series stars Rae as Issa and Yvonne Orji as Molly on the show, along with Jay Ellis and Lisa Joyce.

The show explores the black female experience in an unclichéd and authentic way. Modern-day black women are usually portrayed as strong, confident and “flawless.” But Issa and Molly are definitely not “killing it.” These best friends must deal with their own real-life flaws as they attempt to navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences.

Insecure

Over the course of the season, Issa attempts to figure out what she wants out of life and how to take control of it, while fumbling her way through this journey. Molly, a corporate attorney who appears to have everything together professionally, struggles inside as she looks for external ways to fix her life.

Meanwhile, Issa’s boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), who has fallen victim to complacency, works to get his own act together. Frieda (Lisa Joyce), Issa’s overeager white co-worker, whose enthusiasm is both annoying and endearing, is at the crux of Issa’s racial frustrations at work.

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For Jay Ellis, the show represent a new home for the South Carolina native. For the last few years, he was on BET’s comedy drama series The Game as football wide receiver Bryce “Blueprint” Westbrook. Besides the two comedy shows, Ellis got a chance to expand his chops in a more series nature as he starred in Leila Djansi‘s dramatic film Like Cotton Twines, which explored young African women involved with religious customs and sex slavery.

During the 2016 Urbanworld Film Festival, Blackfilm.com spoke with Ellis about his two latest projects as he was being honored by Bleu Magazine.

Can you talk about being on a BET comedy show and to now an HBO comedy show?

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Jay Ellis: You know, it’s amazing. I’m very very grateful to BET, will always be grateful to BET because they gave me a shot. They gave me an opportunity to go to work every single day and hopefully show and prove myself a little bit and that I could possibly one day be a good actor if I’m lucky. I think it was training ground. Learning from Mara Brock Akil, Salim Akil, Kenny Smith, Jr., and the gang , it was the Olympics of acting. I feel like there was always so much being thrown at you and that really trained me as far as just showing up to work every single day, and bringing your A-game every single day and also the way you prepare and the way you study.

When I got the opportunity to audition for Insecure I felt like this is mine. I felt like there was nobody that was going to stop me from taking it. Of course there’s things you can’t control, but I felt like I was so in the zone and so prepared and so ready for it.

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HBO has been absolutely amazing. First of all to get the chance to work with Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, and Prentice Penny and Melina Matsoukas and the list just keeps going. They’re such talented people with such strong vision, such amazing variety, such amazing like visuals, and I feel like I’m the luckiest kid on the planet. I get to go work at one of probably the best network on television and I get to be a part of that family. That family’s been great, HBO’s been super great to us. They’ve been very very supportive of the show and of Issa’s vision. It’s amazing. It’s a blessing.

How would you describe your character Lawrence?

Insecure - Issa Rae, Jay Ellis

Jay Ellis: He starts out as a big of loser, a bit of ass when you first meet him. He’s not a likable dude, but then there’s a moment when you sort of feel for him a little bit. When Issa’s character breaks up with him, you feel for him a little bit. Or maybe breaks up with him, she just storms out the door, we don’t really know what she did, but he’s an ambitious guy.

I think he’s a guy who is full of insecurities. He’s a guy who’s afraid to try because every time he’s tried he hasn’t gotten the response he wanted. He hadn’t gotten the outcome that he wanted. He’s failed a couple times. Now I think he’s crippled with this fear of actually going out there and trying. But he’s a good guy, but he’s just a little lost.

Insecure - Yvonne Orji, Issa Rae

Had you seen Issa’s Awkward Black Girl web series before?

Jay Ellis: I had. I randomly met Issa in like 2012 maybe, 2013, at an Urban League event in LA. We were both being honored and maybe two or three months before that a friend of mine had said “hey have you ever heard of Awkward Black Girl” and I was like “No I haven’t.” “Have you heard of Issa Rae?” “No I haven’t.” She was like you’ve got to go check this out, so I got online checked it out, watched a few episodes and I was like I dig this girl. I see her specificity. I see her vision. I see her voice. There’s something really cool here that going to come around.

You had another film that played at Urbanworld, Like Cotton Twines. That’s a total departure, totally different, and brand new look for you. Can you talk to me about working on that film.

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Jay Ellis: Yeah, Like Cotton Twines is a completely different animal. It was an independent movie. It was made on a very very low budget. We shot in Ghana for 27 days. It’s a very heavy drama dealing with child slavery and all kinds of human issues, civil rights issues that go on in Africa. We have a blind eye to it here, and we see it every once in a while on the news when it’s 30 or 40 young children at a time taken, but what we don’t realize is that one by one this is still happening over there. It’s something, and not just there in parts of South America and parts of Asia and Europe, and I think it’s our responsibility as humans to be paying attention to this and try to find a way to be a part of changing the conversation. That’s what this movie was about.

Did you take on the film to show others that you have range having been on a comedy series for the last few years?

Like Cotton Twines - Jay Ellis and Ophelia Dzidzornu

Jay Ellis: Yeah. I think any time I read something and I’m afraid of it I think I’m automatically interested in it. I think I always want the opportunity to try and expand and to try and grow as an actor. I feel like there’s so many people, I mean there’s seven billion people in this world right so there’s so many opportunities and the world is limitless and playing characters that aren’t like me is what excites me.

Playing characters that like I look at and I go “oh that’s a challenge for me.” I want to do those things because I think it will make me a better actor. It will make me dig a little deeper and find something that I didn’t even know was in me. This is an opportunity again to like tell this story, again a drama, I got to visit Africa, I got to see where the slave trade started. It was special. That’s something that will always be on my heart.

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What’s next for you?

Jay Ellis: Whatever comes may come. I’m very excited about Insecure that’s where my focus is right now. I definitely hope, and knock on wood, we get picked back up. I definitely would like to do a couple of features between now and then. I would like to just keep growing, just keep expanding, finding characters that are challenging. Finding characters that people typically would never think of me as.

You wouldn’t think like that’s Jay, like he should do that role. I just want to keep finding characters like that, characters that like defy what it is to be, what the standard is or what the status quo is to be a black man because I feel like we have so many, we’re so different and the diaspora is so wide but the same story keeps getting told over and over again. I think that’s one of the reasons I love acting so much. I got into acting because I love changing the narrative, I love changing what the conversation is about black men, so any role that I see that does that I think I want to be a part of that.

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My character on The Game was a nerd who was also one of the best football players in the world. We don’t ever hear that, we don’t ever hear about the dude who graduated with a 3.8 and won the Heisman and is a great NFL player. We rarely ever hear those stories but they exist.

This dude now that I’m playing is another nerd, but he’s crippled with insecurities. We don’t ever hear about black men being crippled with insecurities, black men are just cool. We all can dance, we all can play basketball, and that’s not true. I don’t know characters like that. Those roles that change the conversation are characters that really interest me.

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