Every week, the cast and crew of HBO’s Insecure — the new series based on Issa Rae’s successful web series — is taking EW behind the scenes of each episode. This week, co-executive producer Dayna Lynne North walks us through the third episode in the season, “Racist As F—” which she wrote.
On how conversations in the writers’ room led to this episode:
One of the things I think makes Insecure really special is that it’s Issa Rae’s voice and we all have a fun, communal approach to the episodes on the show. The show is full of relationships and workplace drama in every episode, but this one we sat around and kind of had fun group therapy about things that have happened to us at work and what it can be like when you are The One at your job and telling the stories from the perspective of being The One and sometimes ‘anotha’ one — shoutout to DJ Khaled — can show up and what that can be like, or what it’s like when you are The One at work and the pressure that you put on yourself or the pressure that can be put on you when you are heading up a team project. We ended up sharing a lot of stories, laughing about things that happen when you feel on the outside, or when you put yourself on the outside, or just all the back and forth that can happen at work. So, that was one aspect of this story that we commiserated about around the writing table. As you can see in both Issa (Rae) and Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) story, a lot of the workplace drama can come out, again, from being The One at work.
On introducing Issa and Molly’s circle of friends:
It was also really fun in this episode to meet the new ensemble of Issa’s friends. I really enjoyed Issa going to the party with Molly and being in that mode and bringing in this whole new squad and getting to see Issa and Molly’s friends for the first time. You get to meet Kelli and Tiffany, and that was really fun. You get to see the ensemble really shine. I love that. This is, to me, where the ensemble show element of Insecure really comes to life and you get to really see all of our recurring players, who are so talented.
On Molly using The League dating app:
Some of us [in the writers’ room] might’ve been trying to get on The League. I’m not going to name any names, but I’m just saying. It came up naturally because we talk about the dating apps we’re on. I was literally taking notes at different times on apps that I might not have been on yet that I was like, ‘Oh I don’t know about this one. Oh, I should try that one.’ It came up organically and different writers would talk about what’s going on with our dating lives.
It just felt like Molly is the kind of character who would definitely be about them apps and trying to figure out the best way to take her game to the next level. It just felt like she was trying to do the next level thing, because obviously in the previous episode she figured out she needed to stop messing around with the kind of guys she was messing around with before. It just felt like, ‘Okay, this isn’t working for me. I need to try something new.’ For her, The League felt like the natural progression of thinking, ‘How can I do this in a different way?’
This show — and Issa talks about this a lot — is very much culled from our lives. We literally come in, tell a story about things we’ve been going through. I honestly don’t even remember exactly who mentioned The League, but more than one us are maybe f—ing with some dating apps. I’ll put it like that.
On Issa’s struggle at work in the episode:
Issa, in some ways, is a little bit in a situation of her own making. Before she tried to slide by pitching something that wasn’t fully thought out, but then she ended coming up with a project. So, now her co-workers don’t fully trust her. Now, she’s in a situation of having to prove herself and it’s compounded by being the one black person at work. She’s feeling like an outsider, feeling like her partner in this situation doesn’t really have her back. Then, you have these badass kids on top of that who she’s got to wrangle. It’s just different ways that you can end up on an island at work when you’re the only black person. When you are the one black person, everywhere you turn you can feel a little bit boxed in. You feel boxed in because you’re on the outs, and then if you complain you look too sensitive. It’s very easy to feel like you’re crossing a line or stepping in the wrong direction.
On Molly’s interactions with the new intern at work:
So often you might see stories in television where it’s not being told from the perspective of being The One at work. You might see the one black person at the office just kind of running around in the background or she just pops in with a line here or a line there. So, in this situation, as we’re telling the story from Molly’s point of view, she’s the one black lawyer [at work] and then the intern Rashida shows up. Molly is excited to kind of reach out and say hello and be there for her, but then Rashida starts to show all of her many colors. This episode is about, what is it like when you’re caught in that situation at work and you feel like somebody is maybe going to drag you down with them and you want to be in solidarity, but you also don’t want to be caught up in something weird? It’s one those subtle moments that are fun to play on this show. It’s an intricacy of what it is [like] when you are The One at work. That’s what we were trying to play with there — Molly being caught in scenario of like, “I want to reach out, but now I might be regretting that I reached out.”
What’s really fun about writing and producing this show is that in any given moment, I feel I can bring out the Issa in me or the Molly in me. With the workplace craziness and awkwardness, I can so relate to that moment again when you’re The One and then the New One comes in.
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On working with the kids on the bus and the beach scenes:
It was a combination of fun and intense, but it was mostly fun. Of course whenever you’re doing beach stuff, you’re always doing that combination of how do we get everything, chasing the light, dealing with the sand, and all of those things [while] keeping track of these kids. But it was literally a beach day for these kids, who got to be out of school and were running around on the beach and having a great time with Issa and all the actors. The kids were great. It was actually a beautiful day.
The bus was crazy because it was literally just being up and down the 10 Freeway all day on a crazy, hot ass bus. It couldn’t have been a more realistic scene to what we were for portraying. [We were] looping around on the 10 Freeway and getting shoutouts [on Twitter] because people saw us filming that day. Then, the kids were very excited about their lines because they were getting to make all of these beach-bitch references with all the rap lyrics. We had to be like, “No, no, you’re not actually saying bitch. You’re saying beach.” The kids knew their lines in a heartbeat and nailed them every time. All of our ensemble kid players are fantastic and nothing like the little badass kids that they portray. All of our young actors are exceptional, fun, and game for whatever we need them to do. They actually make it great because we’re able to make our days, and when you have kids, it’s limited and you’re always stressing, making sure you have everything.
On Issa and Lawrence’s relationship in the episode:
There’s a lot of workplace story that we’re telling here about the racism, but there’s also a great relationship story to be told with Issa. This was a chance where you get to see Issa come to recognize her culpability in her relationship with Lawrence. There’s a real shift that I thought came together beautifully through the montages that we see both in the opening and toward the end of the show. I thought that there was a really beautiful arc that comes to life in the montages with Issa coming to understand, “Oh this isn’t all about what Lawrence hasn’t done and what’s wrong with Lawrence. How have I contributed to what’s going on in this relationship and where this relationship is?” In the previous episode, she came to understand, “Okay, maybe there are some things I could be doing differently [at work],” and in this episode, she comes to understand in her relationship.
On why she loves the bouch [a Thug Yoda gangster-ism for couch] moment at the end of the episode:
That’s another fun moment for me. It’s another example of a classic black people being black, throwing the bouch out on the curb. To me, those are the fun moments where our show lives— putting the couch on the curb and starting your relationship over — that I think are important to our show and keep it very real. Even though it’s a little moment, it was a big moment for us when we landed on it.
Insecure airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.
— As told to Chancellor Agard