HBO

Jay Ellis thinks his 'Insecure' character could use some self-quarantine

On HBO’s Insecure, Jay Ellis plays the perennially confused Lawrence, whose relationship with Issa, the series’ main character played by Issa Rae, is as fraught as it is engrossing. By the end of the show’s third season, the pair reach something of a detente, and Lawrence appears to be moving on. In the show’s fourth season, which is currently underway, we find that he’s still got a lot of work to do if he wants to truly find himself.

The show premiered as the global lockdowns to stop the spread of coronavirus forces all of us indoors. It’s as good a time as any to get caught up on one of the best new comedies of the past several years and, as Ellis’s character himself might need, take stock of your own life. Mic spoke with Ellis over the phone last month to talk about quarantine, representations of masculinity on television, and who would thrive in a pandemic situation on Insecure.

Where are you currently quarantined?

I’m in LA. Right when this all hit I had been on a plane like 8 weeks in a row. When we got the quarantine news that was actually the first week where I wasn’t traveling. So I’ve just been here, you know. Going through it.

It’s an interesting time to be premiering a new season. Kind of prime conditions for binge-watching.

Yeah we got everybody stuck at home. Held captive (laughs)

What can you tell us about where your character’s head is at this season?

So when we end season 3, we see Lawrence and Issa in a kind of good spot and we see him go on a date with a new woman. In Season 4 we kind of pick up from there where he and Issa are still cool and in a good space. I think they’re beginning to let the past be the past and figured out how to be friendly with each other. He’s gonna have to find a way to work around some things with this new relationship too.

The most refreshing thing for me has been exploring vulnerability and what that means for men.

The Lawrence character is interesting because he kind of represents a more modern version of men. He’s definitely more in his feelings. Do you see the role as a refreshing take on masculinity?

You don’t get to see this that often on screen from men. And from men of color, for sure. The most refreshing thing for me has been exploring vulnerability and what that means for men. I think Lawrence can be confident in one space and insanely insecure in another, and instead of overcompensating, we see him experience that. And maybe he’ll stumble his way through it from time to time but there is something to be said for someone being confident in their masculinity while at the same time able to be vulnerable with someone. I think he’s a super layered dude. And he’s had a lot of growth over these seasons. It’s a fun role to play.

What’s it been like living in that role through all of these seasons. Can you get a sense of Lawrence’s growth?

I’ve definitely learned a lot from Lawrence. There’s stuff that he’s gone through in these past few seasons that I’ve probably gone through at some different part of my life but never really sat down with it and figured out why I was doing the things that I was doing or why I felt the way that I felt about certain things. I think because of playing Lawrence I’ve gotten to go back and kind of sit with some things and have some perspective on it. I think every version that we’ve gotten to see of Lawrence, a lot of us have experienced some version of. It’s just a matter of whether or not we can be honest with ourselves about it.

So what would Insecure look like in a pandemic situation? What do you think the characters would do?

At the start of the lockdown, me and Yvone did an Instagram Live together and someone asked the question of what would happen if a pandemic happened on Insecure, and we were just stumped. Our showrunner commented, “this is why you need writers.” He then went into this whole scenario of how Issa would be the only one to survive because Lawrence would be too in his feelings and go see some girl and end up catching the virus. Molly would get it from one of the dudes she was dating. Issa would be patient zero, but she would live through it and end up giving it to everybody else. But I don’t know, all of these characters could use some time to sit with themselves.