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Insecure’s Yvonne Orji on How They Make the Sex Scenes Look So Real

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In its sophomore season, Insecure is bolder and more incisive than ever. In just five episodes, the series has covered the wage-gap disparity, open relationships, the fetishization of black men, and the awkward hilarity that comes with modern dating, all with utter panache. One of the best aspects of the second season is undoubtedly Yvonne Orji’s performance as Molly. She’s much more than just Issa’s best friend, but a lead character in her own right whose arc interrogates the ways black women become obsessed with perfection in order to survive, and what happens when life doesn’t shape up in the ways you hope when you’re approaching 30. Don’t let those great power suits fool you — she’s a bit of a mess, but that’s what makes her fascinating. Vulture spoke with Orji about the logistics of that sex scene with Dro, working with Sterling K. Brown, and why Molly will probably never move to Chicago.

I don’t think Molly would ever actually leave L.A. and go to Chicago, but do you think she’d ever consider leaving the current firm she’s at?
I think Clinton, who’s played by a Chicago native, Lil Rel, presents her with an alternative. Molly’s very one-track-minded, and it’s kind of like how the therapist presents her with, “Hey, your ‘shoulds,’ you say that a lot …” and she’s like, “What are you talking about? This is what I do.” It’s not until someone kind of bumps her with an alternative that she’s like, “Oh, I have another option.” Clinton is doing the same thing. He’s like, “You know there are other firms out there. You don’t have to be at that one place; you can leave.”

But Molly is into trying to form things to fit what she wants. It’s what happens with Jared. He told you what seems very off from what you expected, and now you can’t seem to unthink anything else when you think about him. I think Molly will probably consider it, but it’s new information that she does not know how to process yet.

I get that. What I find really interesting about Molly, and I think the writers and all of you working on the show are doing really well this season, is really forcing her to take a look at her own assumptions and her obsession with having a very perfect life, which is really fascinating territory. Even though my life looks completely different, I totally connect with Molly’s pursuit of having a life that looks a very specific way. What do you think of her pursuit of perfection?
I think there is the narrative of “black girl magic,” the presumption of “You gotta be killing it” and “Never let them see you sweat.” Molly is like, “Yeah, I’m going to be this chick, and this is what it looks like and what it takes.” It’s the reason our show is different. Issa said that there is black girl magic, but we’re like black girl pixie dust. Before the magic happens. There are other shows where the black women are killing it and on top of it and powerful, and our show’s like, “Ah, girl, we’re making mistakes in our 20s, but by the time we get to 30, we hopefully don’t have to do this anymore.” It’s her pursuit of perfection, but it’s almost kind of tainted, because she’s not perfect. She feels that she has to live up to this narrative of the boss-chick black woman who’s on top of her A game — but it’s like, yo, it’s all right to unravel; it’s all right to have a moment of weakness; it’s all right to not be on top.

Speaking of that, I really did appreciate the show touching on therapy, because getting help for any sort of mental issues or struggles is a touchy subject in the black community. It’s something I’ve noticed within my own family. Do you think we’ll see Molly get back into therapy? Should she be in therapy?
I definitely think she should be in therapy. Anybody who has ever gone through anything in life can use therapy. I’m not going to say everybody should be in therapy, but I think anybody who’s ever felt like “I just want someone to talk to who won’t judge me and help me process the situation” should definitely seek out therapy. That’s what it is: It’s a professional who can help you take things that are right in front of you, move them out, and help you see the bigger picture, or help you get to the root of a recurring pattern that you didn’t realize you had. After last week, I think she’ll need it.

So that ending scene with Dro — my friends who are watching it, we all had a feeling it was leading there, but I don’t think I expected her to be the one to pull him in, so to speak, at the end.
I think Molly was devastated. Molly was thrown for a loop. Some call it a moment of weakness. It was a moment where her life got turned upside down, and she had to take a minute to just sit right there. [Laughs.] Everything she thought was true became not, so she threw caution to the wind and was like, “I’m trying to hold on. Eff it. We gonna do this. This is what we gonna do.”

Some of us have had moments like that, so I really feel for her. But why do you think Molly is so attracted to Dro?
I think there’s a familiarity with her and Dro — it’s in the same way that Issa and Daniel have history. When you have history with a guy, it’s like, they’ve kind of known you from before you were who you are right now. You grow with that person. It’s kind of like when people are high-school sweethearts: “You’ve seen me at my worst! We’re not going nowhere! You love me. My breath stinks, great! We’re going to stink for the rest of our lives.” And I think also, Dro presents for her this fluidity — maybe not as fluid as an open relationship, but he presented a fluid nature of things. Lionel would’ve been Molly’s season-one boo for certain. There would’ve been no Jared. It would have been her and Lionel. We out here, and there would be nothing broken about it. But, after everything that happened in season one, she’s a different Molly.

How was it working with Sterling K. Brown, who played Lionel?
Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Anything you can think of, he surpassed it. He’s super funny. I cannot wait for him to be in a comedy because he’s super funny. But Lionel, as amazing as he is, seems kind of stiff. Molly’s still like a party girl who had her hoe phase and wants to settle down, but she wants settle down in a way that seems fun, easygoing, and spontaneous. Lionel has things stacked up, and I think that’s why Dro is kind of attractive to her. But again, if things didn’t happen with her parents, what happened at the end of episode five would not have happened. She was really hell-bent on, “Even if it’s not Lionel, I have to find some version of what my Dad is. I don’t want to mess up someone else’s marriage, because why would I do that?” She says, “Even if they are open and that’s cool, I don’t want that life.” And that’s what she says, but then, you know, life happens.

I do see the chemistry between Dro and Molly, but it’s very convenient that Candice is always gone lately. What’s up with that?
They’re both open! That means that maybe Candice is off living her best life. Nobody is thinking, The same way Dro is getting his rocks off with Molly, Candice is getting her rocks off with another dude if they’re open!

That’s true.
Yeah! Everybody’s concerned about when she gets back, but maybe it’s just, “Oh, what’d you do this weekend? No, for real? Okay, cool.” You know? So we’ll see.

Can you walk me through the logistics of actually shooting a sex scene, specifically that one with Dro?
Well, all the sex scenes are super technical. I guess we do a really good job of making it look real. Even before you shoot the scene, there’s so much legal stuff that happens. You get a waiver: “This is what will be shown.” You talk to the director before the day [of the shoot] — in this case, it was Tina Mabry. Tina called me and was like, “Here’s what I think. We won’t show this …” I definitely have limitations on what I will and won’t show, and she has to explain to me, “We’re going to cover you. He’ll have his arm here, but I want shots of you kissing, or your hands grabbing the head.” So, okay, cool. The day of, we have a closed set, and it’s very minimalist in terms of who’s allowed in the space: one or two camera people, one or two costumers with a robe standing by, Dro [Sarunas J. Jackson] has on a cock sock, which is what it sounds like, and I have on a bandeau and boy shorts. We have mostly female handlers, so that’s very comfortable for the females. On our show, the men are mostly nude. They’re the ones that get nude the most, but Issa hires women handlers to make the women feel safe. But everyone in general feels safe. No one’s going, “Hey guys, let’s see your booty!” [Laughs.] Dro’s like six-eight, and I’m like five-seven.

Yeah, he’s like dumb tall. So it’s very technical because he has to cheat a little so his legs aren’t hanging off the bed. He’s literally hitting my thigh. We’re not dry-humping. It’s very technical. It has to look symmetrical. Even when I watch it I’m like, “Dang, this looks kinda real!” When he has the final scene where he goes down, he went just two inches out of frame, but it makes it look like he’s going all the way down. It’s like, “Man, TV magic is real!” The camera was just really tight on my face, and once he goes out of frame, you just pretend he’s still going down, but he literally stops right out of frame. It looks amazing, but in reality, it’s a choreographed dance, if you will.

There’s been a lot of conversation about whether the characters are practicing safe sex, which I think demonstrates the added pressure that comes with having a large fan base that’s very vocal. This also reflects the pressure that comes from being a black-run, black-led show. What do you think of this conversation, and do you think Insecure has more pressure than other shows to represent safe sex and a lot of other things?
What I think is that BET did a really good job with their Wrap It Up campaign! God bless them! [Laughs.] I think it’s phenomenal that people are questioning it, on one hand, and I hope those questions transfer into people’s real lives, right? It would be unfortunate to try to hold a fictitious show to a certain level that you don’t hold in your own life, if that makes sense. Because this is not reality. I know it feels like it’s reality, because y’all tell us that we got hold of your diaries and are displaying your lives — which we did not — but obviously, it’s important to talk about. We have shown with the sex scene that Lawrence had with the threesome, there were condoms implied because they’re on the nightstand, and I know in season one when Molly and Chris are having sex, there are condoms right there. It’s sporadically placed.

In the editing room, when you’re trying to create a moment, it’s not like, “Hold on, let me get this Magnum, and let me watch you watch me put this condom on.” Imagine that ending scene with that beat of Molly reaching back with Dro, and then it’s supposed to cut hard into, “This is the frustration she’s had from this day; this is the frustration she’s had from not getting paid,” and then that moment is, I would say, slowed down. Artistically, the directors, editors, and producers are trying to convey a point. As a comedian, there’s timing involved in every joke. Everyone knows if the timing is off, whether it’s funny or not, the joke will be off. So when they’re trying to fit something into a 25-minute [episode], it’s like, “How do we show we’re practicing safe sex, but at the same time, hit the beat?” So that it cuts from “Dro don’t go” to “Oh my god, I’m finally getting the relief I’ve needed for the last five episodes.” It’s like, we understand. Issa’s been very vocal about how we get it, we hear you, and we’ll absolutely do better next season.

But to your point, I know Amanda Seales [who plays Tiffany] had said that the larger issue is, rather than the condom use, we should be asking, “Where are the other shows that portray black love in a way that we don’t have to be the only show where you’re seeing that, and you now say, ‘Hey, you have to be the end-all/be-all/catch-all, so you have to show condoms, so you have to show therapy, you have to show this.’” Jesus Christ, we can’t show all of that, y’all! So there is that pressure to be all things to all people, and whether it’s fair or not, it is what it is. I think what we try to be on the show is authentic and honest to the story we want to tell, and the voice we want to have. That doesn’t mean that there’s no margin for error. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be callous. It just means we’re doing the best we can with what we have. It’s so great that our fans are so involved and so in tune. And again, we hear you and we’ll do better for season three, but at the same time, understand creative liberty, understand that this is not the real world, and we hope that the same pressure you put on us to practice safe sex, we hope you put on yourself, your friends, and anyone in your circle of friends to practice safe sex.

What’s next for you beyond Insecure?
Definitely doing stand-up. Definitely still trying to go after First Gen [the half-hour sitcom she’s developing inspired by her life, about a Nigerian girl who trades medical school for a career in stand-up comedy]. I told my agents I want to do a really dope indie film, something I can really sink my teeth into that’s different from Molly in a way that forces me to use a different muscle than I’m currently using on this show. So, you know, we’ll see.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Insecure’s Yvonne Orji on Filming Sunday Night’s Sex Scene