Yvonne Orji, who plays Molly on HBO’s hit-series Insecure, is an integral part of the show’s narrative. She’s an über intelligent attorney in addition to being successful, witty and a dedicated friend. It’s these characteristics, combined with her search for real love, that make Molly relatable and an undeniable role model to fans everywhere. Plus, there’s the indisputable chemistry and bond between her and co-star Issa Rae (who plays Issa on the series). The actress, who immigrated from Nigeria to the United States as a child, is relatively new to the game. As a young adult, she set her sights on stand-up comedy and was eventually discovered by Rae after she found a YouTube clip of Orji. The two formed a lasting friendship. Orji landed her part on Insecure (her first major role!), and the rest, as they say, is history. Recently, the actress teamed up with McDonald’s to promote Black & Positively Golden, the brand’s largest African-American-focused campaign in 16 years, which is designed to uplift communities and inspire excellence.
This week, EBONY.com scored an exclusive interview with Orji, who gives us an intimate look at her personal and professional lives, her upbringing and shares a few Insecure secrets.
EBONY: You know, we couldn’t interview you without speaking about Insecure. When we watch the show, it feels like the characters are friends both on-screen and offscreen. The chemistry is amazing, and it obviously resonates with the masses. Can you tell us a little bit about your friendship with the cast?
YVONNE ORJI: We were recently at the [NAACP] Image Awards, and at the end of it we were like, “We didn’t get our picture together.” We were literally sad we didn’t get a picture together like we do every year or whenever we’re together. That’s just how much we love each other and, you know, the chemistry is really real on screen because the chemistry is really real offscreen. Jay [Ellis], during the first season, would hit me up and give me advice on acting and being in the industry because he’s been on The Game and got in the business a lot [earlier] than I did, for sure. And Issa [and I] just crack each other up. We see each other and act like it’s the first time we’ve seen each other, even though we be like, ‘Girl, we were just on set yesterday!’ So it’s just a beautiful camaraderie. And then as the cast has expanded, you have Natasha Rockwell, who is a gem to be around, and even the writers! There’s a chemistry with all of us so that when they’re writing, they know our essence. And when we’re performing, we get to it and we know how to do it because we’re familiar with each other in such a beautiful way.
EBONY: It definitely reads that way on-screen! As a working millennial and someone who has graduated and is in my transition into adulthood, I resonate with Molly. Despite some of her flaws, many people look to her for advice. Do you see Molly as a role model?
Molly has a lot of great characteristics. [she] is a fully formed human being who will make mistakes in life and who’ll have lots of wins in life. If you don’t make any mistakes, you never have any opportunity to learn, and I think that is where we see Molly after three seasons. She’s learning a lot about who she is, what she wants, what she doesn’t want, who she used to be, who she’s trying to be. And I think that’s something everybody can kind of learn from. Then you see her as just a chick who’s like, “I’m on top of my game. I’m trying to be a boss.” So there’s something that somebody can take, good, bad or indifferent from Molly, which I think is the beauty of the characters the writers created and we get to embody.
EBONY: What inspired you to join the Black & Positively Golden Movement?
What they are doing is really very beautiful in the community. In terms of always highlighting, I said at the event, we used to have, “Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud!”; now we have kind of like, “Say it loud, ‘I’m Black and I’m Positively Golden!’ I think that speaks volumes [about taking] ownership of your Blackness! Take ownership of the fact that you’re Black and you’re positive and you’re living your life like you’re golden. Just like you have to be the narrative that you have about yourself, and those are the narratives that I have about myself. I’m a proud Nigerian. I’m a proud American. I live my life as positively as I can because me and drama . . . I’m allergic to it. Keep it far away from me. My co-host of the podcast Jesus & Jollof, Luvvie [Ajayi], calls it “noir pixie dust.” In regard to being Positively Golden, I feel like we just sprinkle our noir pixie dust all over the community and in our lives, letting it spread to whoever we meet.
EBONY: It does! I love that McDonald’s has always been an advocate for the community. What does it feel like to be teamed up and working with such an iconic brand?
It’s funny you said that because I told the folks over at McDonald’s there was a line in Season Three where Molly goes to her co-worker and says, “Ooh, look at that, looking like a McDonald’s commercial!” and I was so proud that I got to add, “Molly’s got a job!” like the old McDonald’s commercial, “Calvin got a job!” I remember being a kid watching that. “Calvin out here working!’ It felt good that it was a young Black man going to work! It was something to be proud of because he could [have been] out here in these streets, but he [was] being financially and fiscally responsible. I always remembered that commercial. So now to be on the flip side and to be a part of Black & Positively Golden, it was like a seed dropped in me so long ago. And now, like, that’s kind of full circle!
EBONY: Who were your role models growing up? Who are your role models now?
My mom. She showed me hard work, perseverance, dedication, faith and that you get whatever you set your mind to. I’m like, “Yo, I’m not even able to lose; I don’t even know what losing is because my mom grinds so hard.” I even thought about Issa! I’m inspired by Issa when I look at her career, her trajectory, her humility, everything she built and she’s building. How she loves and remembers so many people. I’m inspired by her. You don’t have to be inspired by someone 50 to 60 years older than you; you can be inspired by your peers. You can be inspired to love harder, be nicer, to really live golden. Actually, a life that is golden and not just in what we say but how we live and move. I’m inspired by people who want to leave a mark and a legacy.
EBONY: What’s your life motto?
Can’t stop, won’t stop. No, my life motto is “All things work together for good” in addition to “Can’t stop, won’t stop,” and that’s one thing I have always believed. The good is sometimes great and the bad sometimes sucks, but they’re all working together to get me where I’m supposed to be. So, if I messed up yesterday, it’s all good because I needed to mess up yesterday in order to get my life today so I could get through what I need to for tomorrow. All things work together for good. It’s not really a setback, it’s a setup!
EBONY: What can your fans and followers expect from you next?
More! I got this book that I’m going to drop soon called Bamboozled by Jesus: How God Tricked Me Into the Life of My Dreams. Doing a lot more stand up, Jesus & Jollof, the podcast. We’re going to be at the Apollo on April 13; Luvvie and I are super excited about that. We’re going to do a tour later this year with more cities. We’re really just spreading more goodness, more opportunities, more positivity, more creativity out in these streets! I told y’all there may be an album! Expect a rap album! I don’t know when. I don’t how many vocals are going to be on the album, but it’s coming! [laughs]