Yvonne Orji is a breakout star as friend Molly on HBO’s ‘Insecure.’

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Yvonne Orji of HBO’s ‘Insecure’ talks worst dates and the brilliant thinking behind a ‘foodie call.’ USA TODAY

NEW YORK — For Yvonne Orji, shooting Insecure is a lot like sex-ed class. 

In HBO’s hit comedy (Sundays, 10:30 ET/PT), the Nigerian-American actress plays the sexually liberated Molly, a recovering serial dater and confidante to awkward best friend Issa (series creator Issa Rae). But in reality, Orji, a devout Christian, is staying celibate until marriage, a topic she covered in her recent TEDx talk, “The wait is sexy.” 

Oftentimes while shooting sex scenes, “I’m like, ‘I’m not familiar with this position — how is this done?’ Because my mind goes from zero to 100,” Orji laughs. “It’s so funny when someone’s like, ‘For someone who hasn’t had sex, you play this character very well.’ I’m just like, ‘If you only knew. I’m under sheets, wrapped like a mummy.’ Thankfully on our show, the guys do all the work.”

But Molly is wading out of the dating pool in Insecure‘s second season, which has hit ratings highs this summer behind Game of Thrones and Ballers. Instead, the successful lawyer prioritizes self-improvement, turning down her most promising prospective boyfriend, Lionel (guest star Sterling K. Brown), in last week’s episode as she tries to figure out what exactly she wants out of relationships. 

“Since Season 1 ended, Molly realized, ‘Maybe I move too fast. Maybe I need therapy,’ ” says Orji, 33. “He was a season too late, but I also think Molly is just trying to do things differently and take things slower.”

Molly also came to another painful realization professionally, when she accidentally received the paycheck of a white male co-worker at her high-powered Los Angeles law firm and discovered he was paid more. Depicting her character’s struggle to speak up and get what she deserves is important, Orji says, particularly as a black woman. 

The gender pay gap is “so common, not only in Hollywood but in everyone’s regular life,” Orji says. “It’s such a delicate space, especially for women of color, because you have to handle it where you’re not perceived as the angry black girl and you’re not emotional, but then you’re one of a few brown faces in a sea of white men.” .

Even as life throws new wrenches into her plans this season, Molly is ever the hopeless romantic and focused go-getter — two phrases that Orji uses to describe herself. Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Orji and her family moved to Maryland when she was 6. She always thought she’d be a doctor and earned a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University, but those hopes stalled when it came time for medical school (“I don’t like blood.”). 

At 22, she discovered her love for stand-up comedy during the talent portion of a Miss Nigeria in America pageant, where she earned laughs for jokes about growing up in America with immigrant parents. The set planted the early seeds of FirstGen, a sitcom pilot that originated before she was cast in Insecure but remains in development. 

The semi-autobiographical project, a collaboration with Selma‘s David Oyelowo, follows a young Nigerian woman who trades medical school for stand-up comedy. 

If picked up to series, “it’ll be the first time an African family is represented on mainstream American TV, not in caricature form or fleeing genocide, but as normalized citizens of the world,” Orji says. “Immigrants have been given a bad rep in the country as of late, so it’s time to give a face to immigrants and first-generation kids.”

 

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