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Insecure’s Yvonne Orji on her biggest hope for Molly after a tough season

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Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: Leon Bennett (Getty Images)

Insecure’s seventh episode of the season, “Lowkey Trippin’,” sent viewers on one of the tensest vacations we’ve seen in a while. Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, and Andrew’s [Alexander Hodge] trip to Mexico should have been a thoroughly sexy, relationship-strengthening sojourn with sun and cocktails. Instead, an overzealous hotel employee treats Molly unfairly over a towel, which turns into an intense lesson on the often conflicting ways different communities of color engage with race and anti-Blackness, as Andrew’s brother Victor unwisely tries to play devil’s advocate. As episode director Jay Ellis, who also plays Lawrence on the series, told The A.V. Club: “I really wanted Molly to live in the frustration of feeling like she always has to fight and everyone is against her. And this was not a fight she was going to lose that day.”

Unfortunately, it was just another difficult milestone for the embattled attorney, who is still dealing with the emotional impact of her explosive rift with (former?) best friend, Issa. Ellis describes, “Hopefully Molly’s journey in dealing with her unresolved issues with Issa can make people think about having their own neglected but needed conversations that they’ve been avoiding in their own lives with their friends. Pick up the phone! And don’t let those neglected conversations ruin what could otherwise be great moments in your life like Molly did.”


For Orji, who was also preparing for her comedy tour and editing a book during filming, this season was especially challenging. And while having an entire episode centered around your character in Mexico may be an actor’s dream, shifting into the starring position even temporarily is an adjustment. “There was no ‘Tomorrow is Issa’s day.’ Girl, it was [me], for days, at six in the morning,” Orji shared with a laugh. The actress and comedian shared with The A.V. Club her thoughts on this “sad” season and the way Molly handled that strained moment in Mexico.

The A.V. Club: Issa and Molly have had a very rocky friendship over the years, but they’ve always found a way back to each other. This was the first major rift that we’ve seen between them, and it almost came to blows. Was there a conversation between you, Issa, and the writers leading up to this moment?

Yvonne Orji: Not much more beyond “This is how this is going to go with you guys. This is the track that leads to the big explosion.” I was like, “Another fight?” [Laughs.] For me, this season was kind of sad because a lot of the magic of the show is centered around our friendship, and this time, we weren’t around each other a lot because we had our different worlds. Issa’s working with Condola [Christina Elmore] and [Molly’s] over here trying to figure out [her] stuff with Andrew, so as they were drifting, we were separated—even in the Thanksgiving episode. And every time they were together there was this air of turmoil seeping in. Then they get to the block party and they’re vibing and [dancing], and just when you think they’ve overcome the crescendo, you start to realize that it was a band-aid that was put on something that needed surgery. That was a rough one because it was like, “Damn, where do you go from here?”


AVC: Your co-star Jay Ellis directed episode seven, “Lowkey Trippin’.” Did you learn anything new about his or your own creative process through this experience?

YO: I think Jay had the hardest job. It’s one thing when you’re a guest director and you’re a fan of the show; it’s another to work on the other side of the camera in a new position where your co-workers have to do what you say. But our show is so community-oriented and it’s based on giving people a chance in the same way that Issa gave me a chance in season one. One of our editors got to direct an episode this season as well. It is literally the best environment to grow and spread your wings. The foundation of it is built on leveling up in more ways than one. Issa was literally like, “Hey, do you have any desire to direct?” When I said yes, she was like, “Well, you should try it next season.”

It’s so collaborative in a way that [makes me think] I’ve been spoiled. I don’t know where I can go next that’ll nurture me the same way that Insecure has. In the same vein, Jay was a delight. He was so respectful and very explanatory of his vision. There’s a scene where Molly has to do a zip line and he was like, “Are you good? Can you do one more? Does it hurt? We can put in your double, if you’d like.” Because as an actor, he understands those moments where we’re being pushed to the limit, so he always wanted to make sure we were good.

Also, episode seven was what we shot last. We had shot for four months, it was grueling, and then the company had to move to Mexico a week before Christmas. Everybody was tired. You have all these elements and I think we managed to pull off an amazing episode.

Yvonne Orji and Alexander Hodge
Yvonne Orji and Alexander Hodge
Photo: Merie W. Wallace (HBO)

AVC: When we spoke to your co-stars Jay Ellis and Alexander Hodge, both men named episode seven as their favorite of the season without a moment’s hesitation. They also immediately noted how heavy the subject matter was. How do you feel about the episode’s central tension and the way Molly handled matters with Andrew’s brother?

YO: There’s so much that we learn beyond the world that we’ve created. The episode is about race in a way that I don’t think we’ve seen [in Insecure], and it opens up a dialogue. One thing that I love about the show is that we peel the layer and we’re never like, “Here’s the right answer.” It’s designed for everyone to sit around, have their own conversations, and decide which elements are especially relevant. I love that this episode is going to force people to have those difficult conversations, which a lot of people just run from because either they haven’t been equipped [to handle it] or don’t want to be taken out of context, so they think it’s better to just avoid it. With this episode, Molly’s already upset at a lot of things—including herself—and and in this situation with Andrew’s brother, she’s not willing to mince words. It opens up Pandora’s box and there’s no conclusion to the conversation.

Discussions like that are beneficial when both parties can keep a cool head so that they can at least try to understand each other a little bit more. But Molly is already on the fence about dating outside of her race, and now this person who doesn’t get her rage in this situation that she felt was racist is problematic. Now it’s like, “Is this what I have to fight against? If Andrew and I go the distance, is this my brother-in-law? Will I always have to be defending my Blackness to this guy? See, this is why I didn’t want to do this in the first place.” In this situation, Molly goes from zero to 100 so quickly. It’s telling of how Molly handles situations: Her desire is to run away. “I’ve said my piece. I’m cancelling you. You’re blocked. Bye.” That’s one way to handle it, but maybe that’s not the best way.

It’s all very timely, especially with the injustices that are currently taking place against Black residents in China. Hopefully it’ll lead to a real conversation and not hate speech. We want to have conversations that educate and open people’s eyes to the nuances and errors in the thinking on both ends.

AVC: What do you hope Molly gain from this potentially core-shifting time in her life, from the blowout with Andrew’s family in Mexico to her serious rift with Issa?

YO: I hope she gains peace with herself. I think the biggest relationship Molly has to be in right now is with herself to learn who she really is, what she really wants and how she wants to get it. She spends this whole season apologizing—to Corey; to her dad, in her own way; to Andrew— because she keeps stepping on herself and in her own way. She’d minimize the amount of apologizing she’d have to do if she he just got centered. And the same goes for everyone. What I was able to learn through quarantine was that me by myself needs healing and could be better. That’s what’s going to make my work and relationships better. So that’s my hope and my goal, and I want the same for Molly.