Spoilers ahead for Sunday night's episode of Insecure.
Just as every Gina needs a Pam and every Daria needs a Jane, any show with Shine Theory at its heart needs a classic TV best friend. For Insecure's Issa (played by the HBO show's creator Issa Rae), Molly's her anchor. Carried with winning confidence — even when it's tested — by comedian Yvonne Orji, Molly is the woman you want in your corner when it's time for a reality check. She'll be the one taking care of business as a rising attorney (and the only senior black woman at her firm) during the day, and refilling your wine glass by night. What Molly has refused to be throughout the show's daring first season, however, is one-note, emotional support for Issa. She's an equally flawed twentysomething with her own needs, especially as she plays the exhausting L.A. dating game. Vulture spoke with Orji about how Molly subverts best friend–character tokenism, acting in sex scenes as a virgin, dating apps, and how the show handles sexual fluidity.
Molly is already such a classic TV best friend, but with a twist because Insecure is just as much Molly’s story as it is Issa’s.
Yes, it's been so great! Since Awkward Black Girl, Issa’s had this vision for the kind of friendship she wants to see within the black experience. Molly’s fun, has her quirks, but she’s also insecure. I love that people are really identifying with us both. We’re all a little bit Molly and Issa, and we’ve all known a Lawrence and had a Daniel.
Once again, this week, Molly's thirst for a boyfriend blew up in her face, which led to some painfully awkward scenes with Jidenna. How was that whole experience?
We’re both Nigerian and from the same tribe, Igbo, so we kind of had that whole, “Hey you, I see you, my brother!” thing going. We would play around on set, but he definitely was eager to learn a lot and do the character justice. Fans were excited to see us together in last week’s episode, but I don’t know if they’ll still feel that way now. You know, Molly makes a lot of mistakes. She’s always looking outside of herself to see how she measures up to other people, instead of looking inward and saying, Maybe there’s something that I’m doing that could disqualify me as a potential candidate for a future mate. With the doctor last week and now Jidenna, we start to see, Ooooohhh, maybe Molly’s not as polished in relationships as she is at work.
That fear of settling drives her to sign up for The League, an app I had no idea existed before this show.
Oh, it’s real. I’m not a big app girl for all the reasons Molly mentions: judging me off a picture and three things I wrote to gauge my personality. I’m very old school — I need hands on, let’s go out, and let me see you in your element at the grocery store. Like, “Oh my god, you’re buying zucchini, that’s great!” I like a more tangible experience and am a firm believer in the hook up, meaning a friend hooks you up with another friend, then you go on a date and see what happens. I like things to happen organically. I was on Coffee Meets Bagel for less than a week and I was like, “I guess I’ll just eat carbs cause this is not working out” [Laughs]. What’s funny is after the episode aired, a friend of mine joined The League and asked me to join with her. I quickly deleted the app. I was there with you in solidarity, but it’s not gonna work. I’ve been on a lot of dates since I’ve lived in L.A., but nothing substantial. Especially when I was still trying to make a name for myself, the hustle was real. I wouldn’t have been good as a girlfriend because work was my first priority and I had a timeline for myself. But now that things have settled, I’m more open to a relationship. But I have different criteria: What are your intentions? Do you have an HBO Now account? [Laughs.]
Do you think having a best friend in a long-term relationship has pressured Molly to find a man?
We all want to be boss chicks, have a good job, have a nice apartment, and be able to afford trips. It’s nice to have girlfriends to do that with and not wait for a guy, but we want that other part. There are so many professional women who have to be this boss, but when they get home, it’s like, “Can someone take care of me? Can I not be so powerful?” Molly’s looking for that. And even though Issa’s not necessarily happy in her relationship, at least she has somebody who cares about her. You don’t want to be out here in these dating streets! It’s not for the faint of heart, trust me. While Molly doesn’t want to settle, I think she would take the state of Issa and Lawrence’s relationship versus being single. It’s someone she can either fight with or fight for. Right now, Molly doesn’t have anyone to tell her she’s amazing and put her love on top like Beyoncé! It’s a fear. Jered was the guy who actually allowed all the intricacies that make her who she is — awkward and maybe a little annoying — but she wanted more, like for him to have a law degree. Molly's always looking for great.
You’re very open about the fact that you’re waiting for marriage to have sex. How do you then, as an actor, approach Molly’s sex scenes without that frame of reference? Especially given Molly has much rougher sex than Issa?
I see Molly’s sex scenes more as comic relief. This week with Jidenna was more of a light make-out session, but I actually haven’t watched the later episodes where Molly gets it in. But I know that Molly is not Yvonne, so I had to figure out how to marry the two. How do I be true to this character but at the same time protect my brand? We found a middle ground where you’ll see I have my clothes on for the most part. Debbie Allen directed next week’s episode and we talked about what wouldn’t be shown. I would never do something I’m uncomfortable with. It’s funny — because I haven’t had sex before, there were technical things they thought they had to teach me. But as a woman, you’re in tune with your sexuality. And I’ve seen movies! I’m not a prude. I didn’t grow up in an Amish land with no TVs. So I was like, “Hey, I’m familiar with how this works. I’m just not engaging in it.” It was just a matter of making it realistic.
Next week’s episode hints at "down low" culture within black communities, and it does it in a way that makes women, specifically Molly, just as complicit as men in casual homophobia. Were you surprised the show went there?
I think it’s less him being on the DL and more of a question about fluidity. We talk about how if a girl kisses another girl it’s just, “We made out, but I’m not gay.” But then when it’s the other way around, Molly can’t wrap her head around it. I just saw Moonlight and me and my friends were talking about how we don’t think the main characters would identify as gay. They just want to be with each other. Some people just don’t subscribe to labels. If you were to ask Chiron or Kevin, “Are you gay?” they’d probably say “No, I like this man.” Even when Chiron says he hasn’t been with anyone since that night, it’s less “I’m gay” and more I have an emotional connection to this man and want to be with him. People would say, well, then you’re gay, but it’s deeper than that. There’s levels to this. So what we bring up on Insecure is this notion of, where’s the fine line? He told you it was a one-time thing, but in your mind you can’t get over the fact that it happened at all. But DL is a different conversation; I don't think Molly sees that. She's like, “I already compete with other women out here, now I gotta compete with dudes, too? Can I win?!” Molly just doesn’t know if she can believe him, and her friends aren’t helping. She’s asking the wrong people how she should feel about this.
People might not know that you’re also a stand-up comedian and had a webseries, just like Issa did, before this show. Issa has said it was a struggle going from DIY to HBO because TV’s a much slower world. Was it frustrating for you?
Comedy’s my gateway drug, I always wanted to act. But I’m not the kind of person who sits around waiting for opportunity, so I wrote FirstGen but had to remember, they’ve also never seen Africans on American TV not being a caricature. I had to shoot a sizzle trailer to change minds and it got the attention of David Oyelowo, who's an executive producer. We were in the process of developing it just when Insecure came along. But the goal was always to transition to TV. Issa’s right: Online you’re able to write your own thing, push a button that says "publish," and then it’s out in the world, and people can give you immediate feedback. Working in the TV landscape adds a lot more voices to the mix and that has its advantages and challenges, but at the end of the day, what you get is hopefully a product that’s true to the voice you started out with.