Insecure star Jay Ellis unpacks that 'frustrating' Lawrence-centric episode
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the third episode of Insecure's final season.
This Sunday's Insecure was the Lawrence Walker (Jay Ellis) show.
Picking up from Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence's premiere break-up, the third episode of the HBO comedy's final season followed Lawrence as he juggled his new job in San Francisco with his responsibilities as a father to the son he shares with his ex-girlfriend Condola (Christina Elmore). From the many flights to parenting arguments with Condola, being a long distance father proved to be more difficult than he expected. Over the course of the half hour, Lawrence learned there's a big difference between wanting to be there for your child and actually being there, and realized something had to change.
During an interview for our recent Insecure digital cover, EW had a chance to talk to Ellis about this tough episode. Here's what he had to say:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you react to the decision to break Issa and Lawrence up?
JAY ELLIS: It's interesting, this is the first season where the writers never told us what the season was. Usually, Issa and Prentice would call us or they'd bring us into the [writers] room and they would chart out the whole season for us and tell us what it is, and then we would talk about storyline. We'd talk about any similar moments we may have had in our lives or friend's lives or anything like that from story points. But, this was the first time that they hadn't done it, so reading those scripts was all brand new for me, obviously. I was heartbroken for Issa and Lawrence, for sure, but I think even personally, I enjoy working with Issa so much, so all of the sudden it was like, "Aw, man, I'm not going to work with Issa this season? Damn."
So, there was something that was also there for me of having this distance, which is so wild because when I go to work on Insecure, literally this entire time that I've gone to work on the show, outside of my stuff with Issa, I'm actually by myself. I don't ever really work with the girls, right? We pop into an episode every now and again together but I really don't spend that much time with the girls. So, in a lot of ways, the setup of them coming back together at the end of season 4 in a lot of ways was very reminiscent for me of them in episode 4, season 1. So, all of the sudden I was like, "Oh, cool, I'm about to work with the homie again. We going to tell jokes all day long. It's going to be great," and then it was like, "Oh, no, I'm back by myself again."
But, I was definitely sad for the characters for sure because I think Lawrence wants it to work. I think he definitely realized, I think, in 408, in [consulting producer Natasha Rothwell's] episode last year that [cinematographer Ava Berkofsky] directed, and in 409, which Kerry Washington directed, I do really think that he knows that that's his soulmate. I think he respects her decision. He's heartbroken by it, but I think he understands that it's too much for her and I think, after everything that they've been through, he knows that he can't try to force it and try to talk her into it in any way because the love and respect that he has for her.
I thought it was very interesting watching Lawrence trying to be there for his kid, but also realizing wanting to be there isn't enough. How did you feel about Lawrence's journey in this episode?
That was… It was a frustrating episode. I say that not because of the production or because of the writing. It was frustrating in the way that it was very lonely. There were parts of it that felt very lonely. I shot a lot by myself. I think it made me very much step into Lawrence's shoes. It really helped me in a lot of ways in all those moments where you see Lawrence in the apartment by himself and building the crib and looking at the office and realizing maybe it should be a baby room, and then ordering all of those toys, and then putting the crib together. But it's always empty and he's always by himself.
Then, I think the frustration comes out like you just want him to do better. To your point, wanting to be there is not being there. Wanting to be a good dad is not being a good dad. Wanting to be a good co-parent is not being a co-parent. You have to do. So, I think it was just really frustrating because in the moments where he could do, when he's in L.A., he just does it wrong. He's never trying to include Condola in what he thinks is good parenting. He's trying to put his good parenting on her. Never getting any response or engagement from her or just asking, "Hey, what do you need? How can I do better?" Just never asking that as opposed to just pushing it on her. I think all those moments were so frustrating because you just want to be like, "Yo, just stop being stupid. Just step out the way. You're not the only one in this." I remember reading it though at the table read and I was like, "Yo, America? America about to hate Lawrence, dude. I don't know. I might have to get out the country for this episode. It's going to get rough." If they was mad at Lawrence back then? Oh, my God. I remember going to Prentice and I was like, "Hey, man, you think we maybe went too far with this one because it's rough?" And he was like, "Nah, I think we have to explore this."
One of the things I think is so brilliant about our writer's room is they always say, "If it causes an argument in the room or someone's emotions get messed with in the room in some way and they get triggered, it has to go in the script, because that means it's going to happen for a viewer as well." I think this episode is 100 percent that.
For me, that was Lawrence declaring he was going to see his son with or without Condola.
Who says that? It's just such a crazy statement to throw at somebody. In some ways, you understand it and you understand that he wants to be there, spend time with his son, and he wants to not have to be parented while he's parenting because that's what he's feeling. But, at the same time, you're like, "Bro, you're not really doing that much work. You just popping in 48 hours at a time. So, who are you to be making all these threats to this woman who is taking care of your child every single day?"
That was a rough scene. Christina Elmore is one of the most lovely human beings on the planet. I am so grateful that she ended up in this role. I think she made me a better actor every single day, to be very honest with you. She probably didn't talk to me for 48 hours after we shot that scene. She was so pissed off at me because… I think also her being a mother, right? She knows that I have a kid. So, I think our own stuff that was just coming out in this where it wasn't anything we would ever do in our relationships, but it was like, "Oh, I wish somebody would have said this to me when I was in this moment." You know what I mean? It lived in such an amazing way. Everybody on the set would be like, "Eek. Ew. Lawrence, what are you doing, bro?" Everybody hard me that week. And most of the world will, too, probably.
But then Lawrence does have that come to Jesus moment after some turbulence on his flight back to San Francisco..
Obviously, the episode resolves far more hopefully. It looks like he's going to course correct and figure out how to do better. But, those moments are ... I remember the first flight that I took after my daughter was born; [it] was actually to Mexico to go shoot my episode that I directed [in season 4]. I remember we hit some turbulence coming into Puerto Vallarta and I was like, "What's not right in my life? Let me call my Mama, 'Hey, I love you,' my grandma." It was because of the kid. That brought a whole new layer of what it means to be present every single day and be responsible. I think for Lawrence, obviously, it will be a part of his course correction in this and how he hopefully will not just want to be a better father but actually to be a better father.
Insecure airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO.