Jay Ellis On The Men Of ‘Insecure’ And The One Lawrence Joke He Hates
On a summer night in August of 2017, actor Jay Ellis found out just how powerful his Twitter fingers were. He was staying at the Arlo Hudson Hotel in New York and noticed that they were screening Game Of Thrones in the lobby that night. He figured it would be cool to have some friends over to watch the latest episode of his show Insecure, especially since his character, Lawrence, was in for a lurid good time.
So, at 6:17pm he innocently tweeted out, “New York, I'm doing a pop-up screening of tonight's #IncecureHBO @ the Arlo Hudson Hotel 231 Hudson St 10:30pm. Come kick it with me!!”
Within hours the hotel’s lobby looked like a micro-festival with over 400 members of the #Lawrencehive standing shoulder-to-shoulder, some even sitting on the floor in an overflow room balancing cocktails on their laps. It was a testament to the show’s popularity and Ellis’ connection to his fans.
“Yeah that was crazy. I never really thought about my influence in any way,” Ellis says, reflecting on the moment from the comfort of his couch. His pop-up watch party is a reminder of just how much life has changed in 2020 with the current shelter in place directives. “Obviously, I was hella grateful because people responded and they showed up and came out to support. To me that was such an amazing thing because it felt like, even though I’d never met these people, it felt like I’d known them for a long time. It was a surreal moment. I did not expect that. The manager of the hotel was like ‘Next time can we talk before you do something like this, because we can’t handle this kind of capacity.’”
The episode he was eager to watch with the people was “Hella L.A.” from season two. A newly liberated Lawrence hooks up with two white women for a threesome that doesn’t go quite as he’d hoped. But two seasons later Lawrence, who we met as the live-in boyfriend of the show’s protagonist, Issa D, has found a new love interest, Condola (Christina Elmore). Now with a job and new relationship, this is as far from season one Lawrence as we’ve ever been.
“I think he’s grown up in a way,” says Ellis. “When we met him he was kickin’ it on the couch. It seemed like he had a business plan but he didn’t have a life plan. And I think now he’s figured out more who he is professionally and he is most excited about creating in the tech space. He thinks he’s most valuable to an employer, working with a team. For a while it was ‘Me, me, me; my app, my idea, when I get on.’ And I think he realized that he’s stronger when he’s a team player. And I think a lot of us go through that. I think you can have all the success you want and still shine and figure out who you are on a team, how you best elevate a team and make it better. And he’s trying to balance all of that with his personal life.”
Lawrence’s personal life post-Issa has taken some interesting twists and turns. There was a sensuous but complicated relationship with Tasha (Dominique Perry), a beautiful bank teller who exposed Lawrence’s character flaws while providing one of the sexiest moments of the series.
After running the streets a bit, Lawrence has settled down with Condola, an event planner he met at Tiffany (Amanda Seales) and Derek’s (Wade Allain-Marcus) baby shower. The twist is that Condola has been working with his ex, Issa, on her star-studded block party.
“Bruh, for Lawrence I bet he wishes social distancing existed when we were shooting before,” he jokes. “It’s a fine line, man. You gotta be in a really good place with your ex to be able to balance both of those relationships or to know that a friendship could exist between those two people without you in it. Obviously, Lawrence has to figure that out and what it means for him and how he interprets things on both sides. Is it a conversation he has with Issa or Condola? He has to figure out how does he interpret that and not let it drive him crazy, or be more insecure.”
Like most men in a bind, Lawrence goes to his boys Chad (Neil Brown, Jr) and Derek for advice and it often makes for some of the funniest moments in the show. Ellis admits that he does lean on his friends for support and input in real life (“They can come to me with whatever. Except for borrowing money.”) but his on-screen squad is just as important to him.
“Neil Brown, Jr. is a pro. I met him working on Insecure but he has become one of my closest friends,” says Ellis. “So, getting to work with him every day is a joy, period. I’m super excited anytime he is on the schedule. It makes me happy. And then you add Wade, when the three of us get together we have as much fun off camera as on camera. I think we’re always trying to surprise each other.”
What makes their interaction work is that Lawrence sits in the middle of Chad’s extremely unfiltered, borderline misogyny on one end and Derek’s responsible but haggard married man reality on the other.
“So, there is this constant game of listening to the other character and how can I get him to break,” says Ellis. “It literally just turns into 13 hours of that when we get to work together. As actors we play into each other’s strengths and come together to make a scene funnier and make it hit. And obviously we have great writers and directors who are constantly guiding us and yelling at us to stop laughing.”
There is a scene in season four where a distressed Wade is confessing to Lawrence about a particular challenge of new fatherhood that is almost guaranteed to break Twitter.
“Hearing Wade say that line is one of THE funniest things ON THE PLANET,” Ellis says with clear glee. “And then he whispers it? It’s brilliant. It’s absolutely brilliant. One day you know it’s gonna happen and you can’t do nothing [sic] about it.”
While Ellis can’t wait for audiences to see how Lawrence juggles his new job and relationship, there is one revelation about his character that he wishes stayed in the draft stage of the writer’s room.
“I was so pissed that they wrote that for Lawrence!” he says of a minor quip about him eating french fries with mayonnaise. “And I’m not joking either. I was like can we do anything but mayonnaise? This is some bullsh*t. Black people don’t do this! Unless they’re from the south. I have some family from the south, I feel like they eat mayonnaise. I don’t mess with it though.”
To find out what else Lawrence has a stomach for, tune in to Insecure Sunday night on HBO.