'Insecure' Co-Star Yvonne Orji Says Molly Is A 'Beautiful Mess'

Aug 19, 2018
Originally published on August 19, 2018 7:21 am

When Insecure debuted on HBO in 2016 Issa Rae and her best friend Molly were on the brink of 30. They navigated broken hearts, gentrification in Los Angeles, and workplace discrimination. Now, at the outset of Season 3, they're leaving their 20s behind and are still making mistakes — but with a little more confidence.

Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly, says viewers resonate with her character because she is "a beautiful mess." In fact, if things had gone a little differently for her in college, Orji says, "Molly is who I would have been."


Interview Highlights

On finding faith when she was in college

My faith has definitely been the guiding force in a lot of my life and a lot of my decisions. ... I went to a Bible study like two months into my freshman year and met this woman who referred to God as "Daddy" and I was like, What's wrong with her? She got daddy issues? Why is she calling God "Daddy"?

And there was something so pure and passionate about her relationship with God that caused that to not be weird for her. And I'm kind of competitive, but I always say ... I'm competitive in reverse. [Some] people are competitive for power – I was just like, I want to have a relationship with God like she does, whatever I have to do to get there ... that's what I want.

On abandoning her plan to become a doctor

I had plans: I was like, Yeah, I'm going to be a doctor. Don't know how. I didn't like organic chemistry or blood — but it sounds good.

And then God's like, Hey, what if I told you I had other plans? and I was like, Well, I guess this is one of those tests they talk about in the Bible, so, let's go! And I'm now currently living a life that I never imagined.

On her view that abstaining from sex can be empowering

Anytime you talk about virginity there's a lot of backlash for a lot of different reasons, right? ... People are like: That's not empowering to still be a virgin — because, you know, we don't tell guys to be virgins and so ... it's another way that the church holds women hostage. ... I don't get into that, because, for me, I'm like: Everything in life is a choice. So I always say: if you can look yourself in the mirror and you're happy with all the decisions that you make — then like, please, continue on.

On the saying she has tattooed on her wrist

[It] translates to: Nigerians don't finish second place. We don't finish last. ... Being Nigerian, that's what my parents taught me: You know, just this fearlessness, this resilience ... we don't fail.

On how her Nigerian parents reacted to her decision not to go to medical school

At the end of the day they just want you to succeed. They don't know that you can [succeed] in something that they are not privy to. A friend of mine who's spent more time in Nigeria than in America said: You know, it's not that your parents don't want you to do this entertainment thing. But you have handicapped their ability to be the best parents. Because if you told them you want to do engineering, they know Mrs. So-and-So's son is an engineer. They can call her. They can connect you two and he can give you instructions on what to do. He can help you find a job after you're done school. You have told them you want to be a "jester" -- which is what my mom called me when I said I want to do comedy — ... who can they go to to say: Can you help my daughter? If you fail it is a direct reflection of their failure. And it just put so many things in perspective for me.

On what she learned from her mom

My mom would say: You must be nice to everybody because you don't know if you're entertaining angels without your knowledge. And like, that's stuck with me. ... If you're good, then good will come back. And I was like, Mom, you taught me that and that seeped into my career. ... You did help me. You taught me resilience. ... you've helped me succeed in my "jestering" business.

On walking the red carpet with her mom

She came to the premiere. ... One of the special moments in my life was being able to fly my mom and my brother out here. My mom [got] to like walk the red carpet with me and just kind of see like this dream fulfilled. Because at the end of the day, everything I was doing was for the betterment of my family.

On what her mom thinks of the show, which can get a bit raunchy

I think the first time Molly cursed my mom looked at me and was like, I did not raise you to use such words. ... I was like, Mom, I don't curse in my real life. ...

Before any of the intimate scenes happen [in the show] she ... went back to Nigeria thankfully but then Insecure started playing in Nigeria and I was like, Aw, this is it! This is the end! But because we're such a heavily Christian country they edit out a lot of the intimate stuff. ... You know, God is good, he's always looking out.

Sophia Boyd and Ed McNulty produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

When HBO's "Insecure" debuted in 2016, Issa Rae and her best friend Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, were on the brink of turning 30, navigating broken hearts, gentrification in Los Angeles and workplace discrimination. This season, they're leaving their 20s behind and still making mistakes but with a little more confidence.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INSECURE")

YVONNE ORJI: (As Molly) Let me tell you right now. This whole vacation put everything in perspective for me.

ISSA RAE: (As Issa) I'm listening.

ORJI: (As Molly) OK, so, like, vacation bae was trying to kick it with me in LA, and I had to put him in his lane.

RAE: (As Issa) Bloop.

ORJI: (As Molly) Quentin was trying to do some long-distance [expletive]. And I said bleep, stay in Chicago. And my new John was trying to [expletive] with my babies, and I said, blam. You better get [expletive], BBO.

RAE: (As Issa) So you bloopin' and blippin' and bloppin'?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're bleeping.

ORJI: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yvonne Orji joins me now from our studios in Culver City, Calif. Welcome to the program (laughter).

ORJI: Well, I love that I got everything. I was like, that actually fits with this clip.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with you and Molly. Why do you think she's resonated so much with people who love the show?

ORJI: I think - you know, when I first got the script, I told Issa - I was like, Molly's who I would've been if I didn't get saved when I was 17 years old in college because some of the mistakes she makes or some of the lofty ideas she has. And I just, like - oh, I probably would've been her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you mentioned there, you were saved when you were 17. How has that sort of played out? Because, obviously, Molly's a very different kind of character than the person that you are in real life.

ORJI: Yeah. I mean, my faith has definitely been the guiding force in a lot of my life and a lot of my decisions. So what it looks like at 17 is me thinking, I'm in college now. And I'm going to, you know, turn up as much as possible. And then I went to a Bible study, like, two months into my freshman year and met this woman who referred to God as Daddy. And I was like, oh. What's wrong with her? She got daddy issues? Why is she calling...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

ORJI: ...God Daddy? And there was something so pure and passionate about her relationship with God that caused that to not be weird for her. And I'm kind of competitive, but I always say, like, I'm always competitive in reverse. Like people are, like, competitive for power. I was just like, I want to have a relationship with God like she does. Whatever I have to do to get there, like, that's what I want. And then, you know, how that translates throughout my life is just this need to surrender to higher calling, higher power, whatever because I had plans. I was like, yeah. I'm going to be a doctor. Don't know how, didn't like organic chemistry or blood, but it sounds good. And then God's like, hey. What if I told you I had other plans? And I was just like, well, I guess this is one of those tests they talk about in the Bible, so let's go.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah.

ORJI: And I'm now currently living a life that I never imagined.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to get your take because in your industry, the conversations around women and sex are changing. And they're changing in the sense of trying to empower women. And you've been very open about how abstaining from sex has been very powerful for you. So how do we get more women to talk about virginity as something empowering instead of something that is taken from them?

ORJI: Yeah. You know, I mean, anytime you talk about virginity, there's a lot of backlash for lots of different reasons, right? There is obviously those people whose virginity might have been taken against their will. And, like, we can't discount that. And I always say it's like, hey. Don't let that define you or don't let that, like, beat you twice, you know, because there's still hope. There's still grace. There's still - like, you are still worthy, and you're still valued. But then there is this other side where people are like, we don't tell guys to be virgins. And so it's like it's another way that the church holds women hostage and - I don't...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what do you say to that?

ORJI: I don't get into that because for me, I'm like, everything in life is a choice. So I always say, if you can look yourself in the mirror and you're happy with all the decisions that you make, then, like, please continue on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're the daughter of immigrant parents from Nigeria. And I just want to know how that has sort of influenced you as you move forward, you know, in your career. Is that something that you kind of hold dear and sort of informs you?

ORJI: Absolutely. I have two tattoos on my wrist. One is a saying that we say in Nigeria. And it goes, (foreign language spoken), which translates to Nigerians don't finish second place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

ORJI: We don't finish last. And that's what being Nigerian - that's what my parents taught me. And so when I kind of derailed from the original plan of medical school, it was like, no. We passed the baton. You dropped it, and then you started running the opposite way. Like, this was not the plan.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the daughter of immigrants, as well, it's like, yeah. You got to be a doctor or a lawyer. Why do you think we came to this country? (Laughter).

ORJI: Because really, at the end of the day, they just want you to succeed. And a friend of mine who spent more time in Nigeria than in America, he said, you know, it's not that your parents don't want you to do this entertainment thing. He said, but you have handicapped their ability to be the best parents because if you told them you want to do engineering, they know Mrs. So-And-So's son is an engineer. They can call her. He can help you find a job after you're done school. You have told them you want to be a jester, which is what my mom...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Jester.

ORJI: ...Called me when I said, I want to do comedy - the jester in the king's court. You know, and he's like, who can they go to to say, can you help my daughter? If you fail, it is a direct reflection of their failure. And it just put so many things in perspective for me. I would go to work with my mom. And I would see her talk to the head of ER and then go around the corner and talk to the janitor. And I'm like - you know, like, as a kid, you're just kind of like - like, the head of ER seems a lot more important. And my mom would say, you must be nice to everybody because you don't know if you're entertaining angels without your knowledge. And, like, that stuck with me because it's just like, yeah. You don't...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I love that. I love that.

ORJI: ...The janitor may not be able to help you, but, like, he's still a human being. If you're good, then good will come back. And I was like, Mom, you taught me that. And that seeped into my career. And so for me, I'm just like, you did help me. You taught me resilience. You taught me - you know, you've helped me succeed in my jestering business.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your mom sounds amazing.

ORJI: She's great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does she watch the show? What does she...

ORJI: She does not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I was about to say - because, you know, it gets a little raunchy.

ORJI: You know, she came to the premiere, like - I mean, one of the, I guess, special moments in my life was being able to, like, fly my mom and my brother out here, my mom to, like, walk the red carpet with me and just kind of see, like, this dream fulfilled because at the end of the day, like, everything I was doing was for the betterment of my family. And then I think the first time Molly cursed, my mom looked at me and was like, I did not raise you to use such words.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

ORJI: And I was like, mom, I don't curse in my real life. It's just - she's like, I just - it's not the daughter I raised. And I'm like, all right. And so yeah, she doesn't - like, they're - before any of the intimate scenes happen, she, like, you know, went back to Nigeria thankfully. But then "Insecure" started playing in Nigeria. And I was like, oh, this is it. This is the end. But because we're such a heavily, like, Christian country, they edit out a lot of the intimate stuff.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh.

ORJI: So, you know...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So she gets the G-rated version.

ORJI: You know, God is good. He's always...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

ORJI: ...Looking out, God. I'm trying to tell you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: HBO's third season of "Insecure" is airing now. Yvonne Orji, thank you so much.

ORJI: No, thank you. I appreciate it. This was a fun conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.