Warning: This article contains spoilers from the latest episode of Insecure, which aired Sunday night on HBO Read at your own risk!
Insecure delivered a major surprise in the final moments of Sunday’s episode.
In the HBO comedy’s latest installment “High-Like,” Issa (creator Issa Rae) took a wild and drug-filled trip to Coachella with her friends and ended up spending some quality time Nathan (Kendrick Sampson), her latest suitor; however, the show saved its biggest move for last. While on a water run to 7-11, Issa ran into her ex-boyfriend Lawrence, played by Jay Ellis, who hasn’t been seen all season, in the final seconds of the episode.
And roll credits!
Ellis’ appearance comes as a surprise since both Rae and showrunner Prentice Penny previously said that the show was taking a break from the character in season 3. Clearly, they didn’t mean the entire season. According to Ellis, who spoke to EW exclusively, his return was also news to the show’s crew, all of whom were confused when he returned to shoot this scene.
“People literally didn’t know I was showing up to set. It was really amazing,” says Ellis, whose name was kept off of the call sheet the day he returned to set. “It was like a homecoming feeling. It was like seeing friends and seeing family that you haven’t seen in a while, but people were also kind of shocked when they saw me, which was really interesting.”
You can expect to see more of Lawrence in next week’s episode, which will dig into what this encounter means for him and Issa, who haven’t seen each other since their season 2-ending reconciliation.
“You can expect it to be fun to watch,” says Ellis. “I really think it’s just about the encounter. It’s all really built on that moment. Most of us, I would assume, who are reading this and are out there watching the show, [or] if you’ve ever bumped into an ex before, [know] what that moment is like and how awkward it may be and how you try to cover and how goofy you may act or rude you may act or surprised. You don’t know what to say, or you say too much, or whatever it may be. In a brief moment, we get to see Lawrence and Issa kind of go through that. We get to see these two people, who were obviously in a relationship for so long, figure out that brief encounter in the middle of the night.”
Below, Ellis opens up about how he found he wouldn’t appear in the first four episodes and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to start at the beginning. How did you react when you found out that you weren’t going to appear in the first four episodes of the season?
JAY ELLIS: Honestly, I kind of found out in a very sneaky way. I was down in the production office. I was in the writers’ room, and I kind of saw up on the board where they break down stories that Lawrence wasn’t up there. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got a long vacation.” I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure and I knew they were still breaking the story, but about a week or two later, Issa and Prentice actually called me, and they were like, “Hey, we want to try something. We think that’ll work in this way. And this is what we’re thinking, and what do you think?” I was like, “Yeah, guys, it’s cool. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be on vacation, so when you need me just let me know. I’ll be on a beach somewhere.”
So, I actually did go away. I was actually on a beach for hiding. But, it was great, it was super easy, and I fully understood their reason for wanting to do it and thought it would be interesting. We’ll see what happens.
Were you worried during that week in between finding out via the board and them calling you, or did you expect something like this?
No, I don’t think you ever expect not to be on the show that you’re hired to be on. I think that’s always a bit of a shock. I think anyone would be like, “Wait, what? Am I on the show, or am I not on the show? What’s going on?”
But no, I didn’t freak out, man. I think I’ve gotten to this place where I’m just very comfortable with like what will be, will be. I’m very much like a self-motivated, self-starter, super goal-oriented, so I’m always out doing other stuff anyway. It just happened that I was out pitching a couple TV shows, sold one of those shows, set up another one — set up both of them now actually. So, my mind was just so busy on other stuff that it really didn’t consume me, which is what I think most people would probably assume would happen. I actually had a really good calm about it.
Did you find it hard to keep this a secret?
I think I am probably a little bit more of an introvert than people would expect, so I don’t think it was hard for me to not talk about it. I definitely missed being with everyone for sure, but at the same time, I got to watch Y’lan [Noel] go out, and Yvonne and Issa. I stepped back and still watched everything they were doing and was just genuinely happy for them. One of the things I think is really cool, too, is I got to be a fan of the show. I don’t know what’s going on. I’m watching this stuff in real-time just like everybody else. That to me was a feeling that was really cool and unique, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to experience anything like that again, but it was just such an amazing thing. I didn’t have that much of a hard time because I was proud to sit back and watch everybody else kind of run with it. Also, I spent five weeks out of the country, so that helped.
When Issa said you weren’t going to be on the show this season, were you surprised that was the strategy they were taking?
Well, I’m going to back up. I think Issa was misquoted, and I think it’s actually very unfair that she was misquoted. I think what Issa actually said was, “We’re taking a break from Lawrence.” A break doesn’t mean a season. A break could mean an episode, it could mean 30 minutes, it could mean a year. She didn’t actually put a time limit on what the break was. I think that because she said we’re taking a break from Lawrence this season, people ran with what they thought that break was and therefore they thought that break was for the entire season, and that wasn’t the case. I think she actually chose her words very correctly, and I think people just kind of took it and ran with it in another way.
But, there were conversations that had been happening since March about all of this. I mean, you’re dealing with a network like HBO that’s like the gold standard in television, and they have great teams in both marketing and PR and development. So, it was a lot of, how do you market this show with this character gone? How do you surprise people? How do you push the show along when people are expecting that storyline? I gotta give Issa and Prentice a lot of credit. I had my opinions on it, and there were things I felt were really important and really strong and would make it more successful and believable. I think Prentice and Issa were really open to that and HBO was really open to that, and it all, hopefully, kind of worked out and will surprise people.
What input did you have on how the secret was kept?
There was always a question of, should I go out and do any of the marketing and all the promo we do for the show? For me, the answer was always no. My whole idea was if you really want people to believe Lawrence is gone, then he has to be gone and he can’t be a part of the early press, or he can’t be a part of the early promo.
Also, I think it really goes back to, more importantly, what’s true to the writing. What happens in life when you break up with somebody? You don’t always see your exes again. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. Our writers took the stance of, these two aren’t going to see each other for a while, and they’re going to randomly bump into each other. For me as an actor to live [it], and I also think for an audience to believe it, I think that person has to kind of disappear. Whether we’re characters or whether we’re fans, or actors, we’re all kind of taken aback when we then bump into that person somewhere down the line.
The #LawrenceHive didn’t take the news of your absence well, and there was even a petition to bring Lawrence back. How did you feel about the fan’s response to the news?
It was absolutely amazing. A friend of mine sent me the petition. He was like, “Have you seen this?” He’s a few hours ahead of me. I opened it up first thing in the morning, and I literally just started laughing. All I could do is laugh because it’s such a cool feeling and such an amazing feeling to get to play a character that people identify with and relate to and root for and feel so strongly about. All I could think is, “These fans are so amazing.” It’s a bit overwhelming, but overwhelming in a good way where it’s just like, “Wow, this is just so cool to know that so many people just support this dude and want to see his life and his story, whether he’s with Issa or not.” I think that’s a true testament to the writing, to be honest with you because I think our writers have done such a great job of making a character that’s so layered and relatable that people want to know what’s happening with him.
But I will say the Lawrence Hive is one of the most amazing hives to ever exist. I think only Beyoncé has a hive other than Lawrence, so that makes me feel pretty good, too.
How has Lawrence changed in the time that he’s been off-screen?
I would like to think he’s hopefully grown up a little bit. But I think we probably get to see some of that or hear some of that with him and Issa. I think he and Issa probably have a little bit of a conversation about that, so I think that’s something that we all get to see.
Do you stick around for the rest of the season?
You gotta watch to see.
Insecure airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.