Yvonne Orji: the path to becoming #goals
The actress talks Hollywood, stardom and style
Her character, Molly Carter, on the hit show Insecure is considered a cultural icon by many. Now, the actress is revealing how she’s not so different from the role that thrust her into the spotlight in this exclusive interview with Glamour’s features writer, Yolisa Mjamba.
Nigerian-born actress Yvonne Orji’s star is on the rise, but she hasn’t let that get to her head. She’s starring in one of social media’s most talked about series, and her budding stand-up comedy career has seen her headline for Chris Rock’s ‘Total Blackout’ tour. And yet she’s still a down-toearth girl who takes the New York subway like anyone else.
Here, the 34-year-old delves into the new season of Insecure, which premiered on Vuzu on 12 August, the surge of African talent in show business, the pressure that comes with the #goals phenomenon and why she’s not quite there yet.
1 Why has Insecure gained a cult- status and what can we expect this season?
The show depicts people of colour in a way that’s real. You can connect each of the characters with a friend or someone you know. A lot of the time, characters are created for non-black individuals or it’s a stereotype of what they think black people are. Whereas these characters are based off of regular people, so they’re grounded in that. This new season is going to be very different. You’re going to see the characters placed in very unique scenarios. Will they finally grow up and learn from
their mistakes? Will they figure out what works for them and what doesn’t? Season three will explore all of that.
2 How similar are you to your character?
Molly is a gem of an individual. I know a lot of Mollys and I can be a Molly sometimes, especially when it comes to work. She’s a power player, but she’s still figuring out how to be a boss. In the last season, Molly found out her male colleagues were being paid more than her. That’s happened to me, too. I also had to stand up for myself in order to sort the situation out. At heart, this character is just a hopeless romantic. She wants love, but looks for it in the wrong places. I think we can all relate to that.
3 Molly is a boss at work, but her personal life is a work in progress. As a whole, would you say that she’s a role model?
I think that she has the potential to be a role model, but at this stage in her life, that’s not what she aspires to be. But right now, she’s not a role model. She’s still at the Pixie Dust phase before she hits the Black Girl Magic phase. One day we’ll all be #goals, but at the moment, we’ve got to make the mistakes that will lead to that.
4 There is a wave of talent emerging from Africa making a splash in Hollywood – yourself, Issa Rae, Trevor Noah, Lupita Nyong’o. Why do you think this is?
Africans have always been storytellers, but the expectation from our parents excluded the performing arts as a viable means of success. If you travelled to the US, then you want your kids to live the ‘American Dream’. But the US has tons of opportunities, there aren’t just five occupations. We don’t all have to be doctors and engineers to excel. That’s why you see a lot of us coming out the gate and bursting through, because we can’t afford to fail. For other people it’s like, “If you fail, you fail.” But for us, you’d be failing your family and a whole village of people expecting you to do great things. And if you notice, a lot of this group of performers have different degrees – I have a masters in public health from George Washington University. We’re not bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We’re coming in like, “Yo, I’ve spent 24 years in school and now I’m trying to do things that no one else in my family has done.”
5 What advice would you give to young Africans looking to emulate your success?
Be your most authentic self. Some people come to Hollywood and they’re like, “This is how you should be a star,” and they try to make themselves into something they’re not. If you’re watching TV with your friends and you’re like, “How come I never see someone who represents me?” Then you should try to be the person that creates that.
6 What inspires you?
My inspiration comes from so many different places, from seeing my peers succeed to reading a bible verse or seeing something on Twitter. I’m inspired daily by so many different things and I think that’s what keeps the creative juices flowing.
7 Describe your style
I have two different styles. On one hand, I love being comfortable: sweatpants and a T-shirt are my everyday look. Plus, I have three older brothers, so I’m very much a tomboy at heart. But when I started doing the show, I was introduced to more fashion labels, especially on the red carpet. I like something that’s form-fitting with a pop – either a pop of colour or something with structure. I’m not trying to blend in or follow trends. I’ll put two things together and my stylist will be like, “Where did this come from?” I’m always trying to create something new from something that has always been there. I want to look like an exclamation point.
8 Best red carpet moment?
I’ve worn some really amazing things, but I really liked the green jacket and shorts set from Dries van Noten that I wore to the 2017 MTV Movie Awards. The Delpozo dress I wore to the Essence Black Women in Hollywood 2017 Awards is also a fave.
9 What’s the craziest fan encounter you’ve had?
Fan encounters are very interesting for me, because I feel like I’m just a regular person at the end of the day. I still think I can take public transport in New York City without anyone stopping me. This one time, though, I was on the train with a friend, and as we were getting to the subway door, this girl freaks out and starts screaming and hyperventilating. Her friend was literally trying to calm her down. I was just cool and friendly with her, I gave her a hug. But when I got off the train, I thought to myself, ‘What just happened?’
10 What are your career ambitions?
To keep growing, going and pushing forward. As a comedian, I’ll be heading to London to do a few shows soon. So I definitely want to keep growing in that area. TV wise, one of my biggest goals is to get my sitcom about a NigerianAmerican family, called First Gen, made. But I always stick to my mantra: Let’s just keep going, and let’s keep being better versions of ourselves and work hard.