Spoilers ahead for Sunday’s episode of Insecure.
When season three of Insecure premiered earlier this summer and Lawrence (Jay Ellis) was nowhere to be seen, the backlash was swift and immediate.
Fans on Twitter lamented his absence with the hashtag #bringbacklawrence, calling the show awkward, trash, and boring without him. The #LawrenceHive launched a viral petition called “Where’s Lawrence?”. “Lawrence was something new for TV. He’s a strong black man who also isn’t afraid to be emotionally vulnerable,” it read. “This mess needs to be cleaned up… it’s time to get loud to bring him back!” It collected over 12,000 signatures.
Their prayers have been answered. In Sunday’s episode, Lawrence made a brief appearance, in a moment that will feel familiar to many: the awkwardness of bumping into your ex.
Of course, his return isn’t just good news for devotees. Ellis celebrated by attending the men’s final of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in Flushing Meadows, New York, in a suite sponsored by Grey Goose. An avid sports fan – Ellis played basketball at Concordia University in Oregon, and his first job was interning in the public relations team for the Portland Trail Blazers – he spent the afternoon cheering on tennis giants Novak Djokovic and Juan Martín del Potro. He also tried his hand at bartending, making the entire suite (including Ansel Elgort) the Grand Slam’s signature cocktail, the Grey Goose Honey Deuce. We caught up with Ellis at the tournament, chatting with him about his love of tennis, Lawrence’s return, and prepping for his upcoming role in Top Gun.
Why tennis? Why are you here?
A couple of reasons. I’ve always loved tennis. Arthur Ashe is probably one of my biggest heroes, and I would love to play Arthur in a movie at some point. Also, Nolé [Djokovic’s nickname] is a friend, so I’m here for him. I’m super excited to watch him play. And obviously, Grey Goose. I get to work with them and hang out here in this beautiful suite with all these really great people I’m gonna hang out with and meet and drink with and probably eat a bunch of food while I talk.
What are you eating? A lobster roll?
I’m gonna eat the lobster, not the roll.
Are you gluten-free?
No, I’m doing this crazy workout for work right now, so it’s like, I’m not enjoying eating as much as I used to.
You find new ways to enjoy eating. Maybe that’s a better way to put it.
I just get much more excited about a good meal now than I did before because I’m not eating a lot of carbs.
So when you do eat carbs, you’re splurging? How often does that happen?
One day a week. Anything The Rock does, I do. If Dwayne Johnson says he can eat pancakes and pizza one day of the week, that’s what I do.
So what are you doing the diet for?
It’s for Top Gun. I’m one of the pilots and I think that’s literally all I can say or else the Navy is going to take me out!
Do you like flying?
I love flying, actually. My dad was in the Air Force for 15 years, my grandfather was in the Air Force, another grandfather was in the Air Force, my step-grandfather was in the Air Force. My dad now works for American Airlines and his brother also works for it.
You must be so excited about Top Gun.
Oh yeah, I’m super-excited. They would prefer it was the Air Force over the Navy, but my dad’s still very, very excited!
So let’s talk about Insecure. Tonight, you returned to the show. Why was your character gone for so long?
It’s something that happens in real life. You break up with someone and you take a break. That’s just the nature of relationships, the seasons of relationships, and the seasons of life, right? That’s what we were seeing with Issa and Lawrence. The two of them were… not even taking a break, they were just living their lives, and for them to live their lives doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to cross paths anymore.
What did you think of the fan reaction when your character disappeared? There was a petition! There were hashtags! Did you see all of that?
Yeah, somebody put a petition on Care2. Also, they reached out to me about it. They’re really lovely people. They’re actually really, really cool people. If you go back to the finale of episode one and you see the creation of this #LawrenceHive hashtag, which became a big thing from that finale and then obviously carried on through season two, all of a sudden for that character to just disappear and create this void…I mean, I don’t think I ever expected it to grow to what it grew to be, but I hoped people would miss Lawrence. I hoped he would resonate with people and that people related to him enough where they’d be like, “Man, I miss him, I want to see him on TV,” because you don’t get to see a lot of guys like him, especially a lot of black characters of color who are going through all the ups and downs he’s going through – the relationship stuff, the vulnerability. I didn’t expect that it was going to be like…I mean, I saw a video of a dude protesting at a screening Issa did in Harlem –
Oh my god!
Another friend sent me a video of a dude protesting in L.A. at a bar that does its own Sunday night watch party. There were two dudes standing outside protesting, obviously petitioning like crazy. So those things, the media ran wild with it, and the amount of articles that I saw were absolutely insane. I mean, the articles were insane! Anything from like, where Lawrence could possibly be and what he’s doing now, to who Lawrence is with, to why Lawrence is gone, to if Lawrence is coming back and when and where he comes back. My Twitter feed was, like, blowing up for weeks and weeks and weeks! It still pops in every episode – “where are you? When’s he coming back? Why isn’t he here? We need him back!” It’s really cool. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain it.
It must make you feel so wanted. I mean, that’s the word that comes to mind.
It’s more than being wanted. I think being wanted could be dangerous mentally. But it fills… a lot of actors will say that one of the things is, you just do the work. You’re in a vacuum, you do the work, and it’s gone. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s now in the editor’s hands, and once it’s out of their hands, it’s into the world and there’s nothing you can do. And one of the things we all hope for and want is that it resonates with people and they relate to it. It’s not about the feeling of being wanted. It’s about, “Oh shit. It actually landed.” People actually care about that guy. They want to know what’s happening to him. They want him back. That, to me, is what is the feeling.
So when did you know that you were going to be back on the show? Or did you always know?
I always knew.
So there was no anxiety.
No, no anxiety. I will say, the phone call from Issa and Prentice [Penny], our showrunner, about not being in the first few episodes, I could tell in their voices they were “Hey, so what’s up? Just wanted to talk to you.” And I was like, “Guys, it’s OK. Don’t worry about it. it’s OK. It’s fine. I’ll see you when production starts, I’ll take an extra-long vacation,” which was exactly what I did!
Where’d you go?
I went to Europe. I was in Italy for two weeks, and then I went to London for a week to go see some friends and then I came home.
What did you do on vacation?
Chill. I wrote a lot, actually. I got a lot of writing done. I was prepping for a couple of pitches and looking for a house. I’m an actor, so I love working. That’s part of why we do it and what drives us, being there day after day in front of a camera or on stage, or whatever it is, portraying these characters. [But] the break was nice just because it allowed me to take care of some personal things. It allowed me to spend some time with my family, and my house, get that situated.
When we leave you on Insecure, Lawrence is navigating the tech industry. Did you do any research on Silicon Valley for that aspect of the character?
A ton. I called a good friend of mine – I actually call her all the time now about stuff. She works for one of the blockchain companies, so I literally call her nonstop going, “Hey, what does this mean? Hey, what about this? So if this were happening if it were a takeover, how would this all work?” I’m constantly calling her. I watch Shark Tank a ton. I know episodes by heart. Even seeing businesses, I can go, “Oh, they won Shark Tank season two, episode four.”
One of the biggest moments for your character last season is the episode where Lawrence has a threesome. Can you talk about what it was like to shoot that?
I actually bumped into Hayley Kiyoko the other night, who’s actually a really good friend of mine! I haven’t seen her in forever. And now like, her music career has – BOOM! She’s turned into this massive pop star. She played at Coachella! She’s killing it! She’s going on a European tour in a few weeks! We shot that threesome scene together. It was the first time she ever shot a sex scene on television.
Wow! Did it bring you closer together?
It definitely brought us closer together.
How do you even prepare for a scene like that?
No carbs, lots of push-ups! No, I think you gotta have open, honest conversations with people. It’s obviously insanely intimate. What I’ve realized is my job, I’m a series regular on the show, so I’m there every single week and I’m comfortable with the crew, the director, with all these people. Coming in as a guest cast, you’re not. You don’t know these people and it may be your first time shooting. So I often feel like part of my job is to make sure that you’re comfortable, just because you’re a human being. I want to make sure you feel protected and that you know I got your back, and if you need something, please just ask. But then also, to get you in a space where you can act and be comfortable acting so it feels real to the camera and looks real to the audience. And it’s just like, “Hey, is there anywhere you don’t want me to touch? This is where you can touch me. I was thinking I was going to touch here, or grab here, or bite there,” whatever. [It’s] having those conversations and seeing what people are comfortable and not comfortable with.
Are there any parts of the show you connect with as a person? Any scenes where you go, “Actually, I’ve experienced that in real life, as Jay Ellis?”
A lot of stuff. The finale of season two was really powerful because it was about closure, and there are plenty of relationships I’ve had in my life where I did not have closure. Watching that, I thought, “Oh man, that’s what I needed.”
Then there’s moments, you know, like you see in episode five, where you bump into your ex and you haven’t seen them for five or six months, or a year or two years. You’re dumbfounded. It’s like a billion things rush through your mind at one time. What do you say? Do you want to say they look great? Did they break your heart? Did you break their heart? Do you just turn around and act like you didn’t see them? There’s so many things racing through your mind at one time.
Got it. So where do we find you in the next episode?
I will say that it is definitely a continuation of that moment.
And what about the next season?
Next season they just got picked up for, for season four, so I’m very, very excited. But yes, I’ll be around. I’ll always be here.
So what are people going to see next? Any hints?
You know, it’s Insecure, so you can imagine what you’re gonna see! You’re gonna see some insecurities from multiple people! It’s…I’ll say that one of my favorite moments still truly is the moment where Lawrence and Issa bump into each other. It really, really is. It’s a moment that, if you ever have bumped into an ex before, it’s going to hit you. Your gut is going to, “Oh, I know what that is. I’ve been there before.” It’s 100 percent one of those moments of, “Oh, I know what that is,” even if you saw them and they didn’t see you.
This interview has been edited and condensed.