On HBO’s hit show Insecure, Yvonne Orji plays Issa Dee’s beautiful, successful and opinionated best friend. Last season viewers followed the high-powered lawyer and self-described “former hood rat” on her quest to find a man, and ultimately watched her crash and burn. Hard. This season opened with a seemingly more relaxed Molly in therapy and taking things one day at a time, which led many to believe that this time she would find the man she’s been searching for.
Which is why this week’s episode threw everyone-well at least me-off. After what seemed to be a promising date with Sterling K. Brown’s character, Molly considers a major shift in her romantic intentions: dating a man in an open marriage.
Orji would never consider an open relationship in real life. In her own words she says, “I can personally never imagine Yvonne Orji in an open relationship.” In fact when it comes to her character, Orji seems to be Molly’s polar opposite, which only makes her acting all the more impressive. And not because she’s a virgin playing an openly sexual character. But because Orji captures the essence of Molly, and further enforces that Black women are not a monolith.
We caught up with Orji to talk about how her character has changed since the first season, open relationships, her love for DMX and more.
The opening of that first episode where your character is in therapy was a big deal, because it’s very rare that we see black people in that setting, let alone on TV.
Yvonne Orji: Molly’s kind of been in denial that she might have been the problem in her life. And the first step is coming to the realization that this is the issue…I think that it’s important to start the dialogue so the conversation can exist beyond the show.
The show does that so well. You guys never force the audience to feel a certain way or get a certain point, but I know you go online every week. There’s always a conversation happening.
Absolutely! The genius that is Issa is her coming out the gate saying “this is not a show for every Black woman.” Because she didn’t force anybody or pressure anybody to watch this organic relationship developed. The narrative is different.
Well this week we saw your character get thrown for a pretty big loop! She met this great guy played by Sterling K. Brown, and then her friend Dro, who is in an open marriage comes on to Molly. Can we expect that relationship to go anywhere?
Well, Sterling last season is the person Molly would have gone with. So she decides I’m just going to go with the flow, and then she meets Dro’s character who is literally going with the flow. So I think she’s torn. All this time [Molly] is trying to be this kind of person and [she’s] single. But Dro is a different kind of person and he’s married to a baddie!
And on the show she says does anyone have a relationship like my parents anymore? They’re married and they have the three kids and the nice house. And that’s the hang up. Her parents have painted a picture of what love looks like.
What does love look like?
I call myself a hopeless romantic. I think there’s another human being on this earth that gets your version of crazy and they get your version of crazy. And together you contain each other’s crazy but make each other better. You incubate their dreams, you empower them to be a better version of themselves, you inspire them to aspire to be more. I believe there is a person you can do that for and can do that for you…I’m a sucker for it. I know that exists.
Could you ever imagine yourself in an open relationship?
I can personally never imagine Yvonne Orji in an open relationship [laughs]. I’m waiting until I get married to have sex, and for me that’s so important, it’s one thing I want to share with my husband. I only want to know one other man. And obviously in open relationships there is a huge sexual component to that and I’m just like nah that’s not what we doing. I’m also not equipped to be emotionally attached to more than one person at a time. Nah, that’s just not in my makeup. But for some people it works for them.
When I was watching the episode and I was like I know she is not about to do this!
Girl! I know you were like she went through all of that therapy and situations with men is she really about to go there with Dro? But like he says in that episode, he’s open and honest with his wife so it isn’t cheating. It works for him.
That is true, and if she does go there it isn’t cheating. Issa and Lawrence, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Do you think couples can recover from cheating?
I mean, I think anything is possible. You have a lot of couples today who have rebounded from cheating. As far as rebuilding trust, that’s going to take work from both people. On the cheater to ensure the person doesn’t have to worry about what happened happening again. Like I will go to any length to prove you don’t have to worry about it and I don’t have to prove it anymore. And it requires the person who stays to make themselves vulnerable again and trust them when they say they aren’t going to do it again.
Of course! It’s so funny watching Twitter during the show, the double standards are crazy. If that was a dude you know people would say Issa should take him back in a heartbeat. But the tables are turned and people are still asking the same question: Should Lawrence take Issa back?
If the 4:44 album taught us anything, it taught us that men are not in tune with their emotions like women. So if a woman cheats it’s devastating and it’s at the core of a man’s heart. Men don’t know how to process stuff. Or they don’t have an outlet.
There’s that one scene [in “Footnotes for 4:44“] where JAY-Z says Beyoncé was walking away and he was like “I felt something in my heart.” That’s emotions! That’s love! That’s emotions what’re you talking about? And it took everything in him to be like “don’t go.” That was so hard to just be so vulnerable. And this is a grown man. A successful man. You’ve been exposed to so many types of relationships and power players, Obama and you are friends. It’s not like you never saw it work.
So if that’s Jay-Z having these issues then what about the average man? There’s a disconnect in terms of really delving into the depths of what you feel as a man and how you hurt and how you deal with hurt. It’s a bigger issue than a double standard.
And the scary thing is there’s a whole generation of men who are ill-equipped to be introspective. And this is our dating pool…You have to step to me correct, fully-formed, and vulnerable enough to change. And if you can’t take that first step to recognize it’s possible or necessary then I’m not the one for you!
Well let’s step out of Insecure for a bit. Tell us a little bit about First Gen Show.
I want it to come out so bad because it tells such a different story…For me First Gen is the story of immigrants. You know when people see Black people they’re like “they all Black right?” And they lump us all into having one unified experience but it’s so different! Even under the First Gen umbrella, you have Africans, you have Caribbeans, you have Afro-Caribbeans, and then you have Dominicans, but what we share is this drive. This otherness. When our parents come here they have hopes and dreams they are directly correlated to giving us a better life.
And this story is about what happens when your parents dreams for you don’t match God’s dreams for you, or your dream for yourself. How do you navigate the guilt but also the duality of life that you live, where you have cultural restraints and American freedoms?
I’m also excited to put Africans on TV in a way that doesn’t make them caricatures or victims of genocide. The same way Issa made two Black girls on TV special without adding no extra sauce on them. Just being able to be, I want Africans to just be normal, your neighbors next door, your cab drivers and your kid’s best friend. I want us to exist in the spaces that we naturally take up. But I also want it to be informative.
One thing that is beautiful about [Insecure] is that white people are watching, and identifying themselves and these characters and learning maybe I have delivered some microagressions at work that I didn’t know. It’s learning without beating you over the head with it.
Before you go I have to ask your favorite rapper, dead or alive!
I want it to be DMX or Lil Kim. But how can you leave out ‘Pac? Because when I heard “finger tips on the hips as I dip gotta get a tight grip, don’t slip…put a little twist in her hips cause I’m watching.” But then there’s Biggie and Jay. Ah you can’t pick! You can’t make me!
I will say I did go to a DMX concert in like 2014 and everybody clowned me like “mam why are you doing this?” And I was like “yo, I’m a DMX fan.” And Lil Kim, that Hardcore album. I had it the day it dropped!
So if I could choose a guy and a girl I guess I could go with X and Kim. But that’s not excluding Biggie and Pac and Jay-Z.