The actress tells TV Guide the HBO series is still a love story between friends
Yvonne Orji is not Molly.
Although the distinction between the actress and the role she plays on Insecure is pretty obvious, some fans of the HBO comedy have been unable to separate the two, tweeting hateful comments about Orji and her character since Season 4 began. From the moment Insecure teased a falling out between Issa (Issa Rae) and her bestie in the season opener, viewers started taking sides, and not a lot of them were sympathetic to Molly.
"Going into Season 4, I definitely hit up the writers like, 'How could y'all do this? I gave y'all my best,'" Orji told TV Guide in a phone interview. Molly had been a hive favorite for three years until the tables turned in the latest season, and suddenly Orji wondered if she was going to be out of a job as fan animus against her grew on social media with each new installment.
"Is there something I need to know about what my character is doing?" Orji remembered asking the show's writers. "Let me know now because I've got big-girl bills. What's going on?"But the actress said the writers were genuinely surprised that more people didn't see things from Molly's perspective.
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"They were like, 'We are shocked because in the writers' room, we were just trying to play to a relationship that stalled. We did not anticipate the Molly hate. We don't understand how Insecure fans don't see what we see,'" Orji recalled. "And I was like, 'Really? You got me out here starting a fight at Issa's block party. You didn't think that was going to be a problem?' I want to believe they honestly didn't see how this could happen. But the other side of me is like, 'Hmm. OK. I got one eye on y'all.'"
Such visceral reactions could also be attributed to the strong performances Orji, Rae, and the rest of the cast of Insecure delivered in the fourth season, the show's most impressive and thoughtfully crafted season to date. As Emmy nomination season kicks off, TV Guide caught up with Orji to break down her Season 4 turn and what she drew upon for the teary season finale that still has people talking.
How are you feeling now that Season 4 is over?
Yvonne Orji: The Molly hate happened so quickly. People forgot everything else that Molly did for Issa the last few seasons leading up to Season 4. Man, I understand Shakespeare a whole lot more now. Et tu, Brute? Et tu? It's like Molly was never here for Issa. She drove Issa back to L.A. from Malibu. Issa called Molly's junk a "Broken P---y" in a rap song. Molly was the one protecting Lawrence (Jay Ellis) from Daniel (Y'lan Noel) at the party. You think you know somebody and it be your own people ready to throw dirt on you.
Did it hurt how quickly people forgot about all the good things Molly has done in the past?
Orji: You know the Bible says, "He who has eyes to see, let him see." And Michelle Obama says "When they go low, we go high." I'm just hoping real fans can see. All jokes aside, I think it shows how invested people are in these characters and how much they want them to work and all of those things. Issa and Molly's friendship is the most important relationship on the show. But I will say, a sister was looking at some of those tweets like, "Huh? What did I do? Come again? What did I, Yvonne, do to y'all? I apologize, but I'm not Molly. That's the character I play."
Do you think by the time your stand-up special, Momma, I Made It!, aired on HBO that those same fans were able to distinguish you from Molly?
Orji: It's so funny. When the special aired, some of the comments were like, "We see what you're doing, HBO. You're trying to confuse us and make us like Yvonne." But that was not a conspiracy, guys. I did that special before Season 4 of Insecure aired. And then other people were like, "I mean, as a collective group, are we going to support Yvonne?" And I saw several people respond with, "Yes, we are, because she's not Molly." I laughed at all of it. I thought it was quite funny. It's hysterical. I think that people who understood that Molly and I are separate got it and watched my special and they rocked with me and enjoyed it. But for people who don't know the difference and didn't watch because they don't like Molly, God bless them.
But you seemed to be having your own fun on Twitter. The clap back you gave Jay Ellis because his character Lawrence unexpectedly became a father was so funny and petty.
Orji: I was like "Who's calling who messy now?" Jay was like, "Not now, Boo. Not now." They had to let me have one. For so long it was the #IssaHive versus the #LawrenceHive and this season, all of that changed. And when it did, Jay was having a field day. We have a Twitter chain and Jay would send me jokes and poke fun at me because of all the hate Molly was getting. But when that Season 4 finale aired, I was like, "Ha! That's what I thought." I have to admit that was a lot of fun for me because Jay was enjoying the hate Molly was receiving just a little too much. I would tell him, "I don't need the recaps. I got it. I appreciate you, but I got it."
Would you be friends with Molly after seeing how she behaved, because you are the one who brought her to life?
Orji: I would be her friend. As I was reading the script, I understood Molly's perspective. I've had shakeups in my friendships in real life, and I got what they were trying to do this season to show you how like friendships can go either way. My initial reaction before Season 4 aired was that the season was going to be really poignant. It's good storytelling. I was not thinking that it was going to be good storytelling on the strength of my neck. There was all of this weight. I didn't realize it was going to be so hard. I remember thinking, "Who is to blame? We'll never know." Meanwhile, fans were like, "You, ho! You're to blame!" I never saw that one coming.
Here's the thing: Episode 5 was so emotionally charged and so raw. It had everybody in their feelings. What was it like to shoot that? Was that ad-libbed? When you put your finger in Issa's face, was that on the page?
Orji: It was definitely scripted that "Molly gets in Issa's face," and the lines were there, but there was definitely some ad libbed Yvonne-isms that were added in. The clap and a few other moments I instigated -- those may or may not have been added by a certain actor playing a certain villain, but I also don't think Molly is a villain. This is a love story about their friendship, so Molly can't be the villain. Molly said Issa was her best friend and she meant that. This was literally an examination of what long-term friendships are like. What mistakes have you made in your friendships that you probably haven't owned up to, and how can we do better? It was a "How can we do better?" season, and I think people were so viscerally affected by it because they too have been in those kinds of relationships. They too have had those kinds of friendships, and a lot of fans were reliving those mistakes. They may have been realizing that they contributed the problems in their friendships in ways they hadn't thought about in the past. That's what really happened to viewers, and that's what we saw play out in their reactions.
Do you think being isolated in the quarantine triggered and heightened those feelings for viewers?
Orji: Probably. I really wanted to ask, "So, y'all are not going to deal with your own relationships?" I do appreciate the people who said they had been the Molly in their failed friendships. They understood, and when they watched the show, they could see their own growth. We've all made mistakes in our relationships.
Showrunner Prentice Penny has said there are more viewers who are like Molly than Issa, and they are mad because they are dealing with internal feelings. What are your thoughts on that? Do you agree?
Orji: That's funny. I will say that we weren't prepared for this to be about us as Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji, the actors. But that's what it became.
How did you shoot those love scenes with Alexander Hodge, who plays Andrew, and are they as steamy as what we see on the show?
Orji: We shoot them with as few people in the room as possible. We shoot them in a way where everyone is protected and we're all adults. There was a power that Molly wanted to have and a freedom that she wants to have in that moment. But it's never sexy to shoot sex scenes. It's so clinical. The director yells cut because the lighting has to be fixed and you freak out because you have to do another take of that. Then it's like, "Um, OK. That's fine."
Prentice Penny Says There's No Version of Insecure Where Issa and Molly Don't Love Each Other
Speaking of which, Molly and Andrew's relationship went through a lot of changes. Can you talk about that and the emotional scene in the finale when it seems like things are over between them?
Orji: Once we got to Episode 10, I was like, "Dang it, Molly." I've been there, where I thought my life was more interesting than his. Or I only wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that's what Molly was doing. She didn't want to be around his brother. She thought her work people were so much fun, but you have to consider the other person, and that means being self-sacrificing. You have to check yourself if you're doing the most. The relationship worked when it worked on her terms and I think that that's what she wasn't seeing. Andrew knows his self-worth, and he let things lie for a little bit, but after a while he had enough. He's still a man.
Prentice left that camera on for five minutes and said he wasn't going to call cut until he got what he knew I could give him. I thought I was giving him everything. And the more we sat in the silence of that moment after Andrew asks Molly what she is fighting for, the more I thought about the times when I fought for things I shouldn't have. Or old relationships where that fool didn't deserve the fight in me. And I thought of the relationships I've been in where I was the one self-sacrificing. I was conjuring up all these relationships of old and those were real tears coming out of my eyes. I forgot we were doing a scene and I had to go collect myself afterward when Prentice yelled "Cut." I thought I might need to go to another therapy session myself because I thought those feelings were dead and gone. It was real. Molly was trying to hold on, but what is she holding on to and why? Sometimes that's the hardest question to answer. In that moment, Molly knew that Andrew was right, but Molly was just trying to win in some area of her life. She wanted Andrew to let her have that one win.
Insecure has been renewed for Season 5. Season 4 is now streaming on HBO.