TV

Issa Rae on Feeling Secure in “Insecure” and Why It’s an “Obama Show”

"I want to get away from thinking about this [administration], and I want to celebrate us, as black people."

Issa Rae has come a long way from her YouTube past.

Her web series, Awkward Black Girl, garnered critical acclaim after premiering in 2011, with Pharrell signing on to produce the second season. From there, her blow-up is herstory. She’s created, written, and starred in HBO’s Insecure, for which she’s been nominated for two Golden Globes and is in the running to win this year’s Emmy for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Rae’s also just graced the cover of Ebony after hosting the CFDA Awards. Awkward no more.

While her real life is flourishing, the Season 3-version of Issa on Insecure is having a harder time, having moved in with her on-again-off-again friend with benefits, Daniel (Y’lan Noel), who contributed largely to her split from former boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis).

We sat down with Rae to get answers to some of our Season 3 burning questions.

You’re leading a glamorous life these days. Do you still relate to the girl who started the web series?

Yes, I still identify with the awkward black girl—the insecure part, not so much. I feel like, there’s a confidence in knowing and doing what you love, and I’m here. What’s next? I know I can do this now. It’s just a matter of how long I can do it. But the awkwardness, yes. There’s a social element, and people are always saying, like, “Oh, be sexy. Show me your real side,” and I hate compliments and things like that, so for the social aspect of what’s expected of you in Hollywood, yes, I still identify with that awkward black girl. There’s so much to mine for the show. And I don’t think that’ll ever change.

Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Is there a significance for changing the name from Awkward Black Girl to Insecure when you moved to HBO?

I think just because they were different shows. With Awkward Black Girl, we had 24 episodes online. It felt completed. By the time the HBO opportunity came, I was older, and had new experiences, and the HBO show felt more raw and closer to my life. Awkward Black Girl was a chapter—my early and mid-twenties. Insecure was me transitioning into my thirties.

Is the Lawrence-Daniel saga something you drew on heavily from your personal life?

Definitely. I think it’s [a situation that’s] existed in the past, and I think the show exaggerated it a bit more. And made it more dramatic and dynamic.

Lawrence is not in the new season and people online have been freaking out. What’s that been like?

There’s a petition with, like, 10,000 signatures. I’m like, “What do you think is going to come of that? You think HBO is going to enforce it?” It’s already filmed. It’s edited. We made a decision. But that decision came pretty easily, creatively. We all love Jay Ellis. He’s a phenomenal actor, and has been a huge presence in the show. But on a creative level, it just makes sense. She moved in with Daniel. We didn’t really know who Daniel was outside of Issa’s eyes. It excited us to have a new male perspective, and new stories to tell through his POV.

Aaron Davidson/WireImage
From left: Yvone Orji, Jay Ellis, and Issa Rae.

Is Issa on the path to getting it together?

She’s hit rock bottom. She doesn’t have an apartment anymore, she’s living with her not-really ex, she’s broke, and so we wanted to get to a point where it’s just like, “Girl, you’ve got to do better.” It’s one thing to float above water, just barely making it, but to swim—she has to want to do that, and want to make the decisions to get there.

The world’s in flames right now, especially in America. Did you feel going into this season any weight around wanting to create something for people who are oppressed or disenfranchised?

If anything, we felt that last season. But then I was just, like, “There’s too much acknowledging this administration already.” I want to escape. I want to get away from thinking about this, and I want to celebrate us, as black people, for who we are on a day-to-day. This was very much an Obama show. This was possible because of Obama. I just don’t want anything to do with this administration. Behind the scenes, when I’m off that set, yes, I’m thinking, and stressing everyday thinking about how I can use my voice so there are tangible results.

New episodes of Insecure Season 3 air Sundays, 10pm EST, on HBO.

Hilton Dresden is a writer, illustrator, and dancing toad working with outlets including Out, Paper, and them. SJP once said he has “big beautiful blue eyes.”
@hiltondresden