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Jay Ellis

This ‘Insecure’ guy loves ‘Luke Cage,’ bumps Biebs, and wants you to believe him when he says he’s 6-feet-4

Best known for his role as wide receiver Bryce Westbrook on The Game, as well as for his appearances in small-screen films November Rule and My Favorite Five, when Jay Ellis, 34, read the script for HBO’s Insecure, he knew he was in for a character unlike any he’d played before. Script in hand, he tasked himself with transforming himself into the now infamous Lawrence, a 20-something unemployed tech enthusiast hoping to turn his luck — and faltering relationship with Issa Dee (Issa Rae) — into something more promising.

“I’m loving it,” Ellis said. “I feel like I got the best job in television. I get to work with people who are insanely talented, down-to-earth and grounded. Just good, kind people.” What Ellis enjoys most about Lawrence is his authenticity and relatability. “We don’t see black men like [Lawrence] that often,” he said. “He’s not a superhero, he doesn’t have his s— together, he’s not the smartest dude in the room, but he’s not dumb. He’s got wit, but he’s not always telling jokes. He’s got ambition, but at the same time he’s scared of failure. Part of me feels like him … part of me doesn’t. The part of me that doesn’t is what excites me about exploring that. ”

With the first season ready for binge-watching, and a second season underway, there’s plenty of time to figure out if you’re #TeamIssa or #TeamLawrence. In the meantime, check out how Ellis feels about his role, a haunting pair of yellow pants, and why he has no shame in bumpin’ Justin Bieber. Ellis isn’t so insecure after all.


What social media platform are you most active on?

Probably Instagram, especially since they started doing Instagram stories.

What Instagram page are you currently obsessed with?

It’s such a mix. Some of it is friends of mine, and some of it is … fashion blogs, sports blogs, Nice Kicks, NoChill. Issa. It’s such a random mix.

What’s your most frequently used emoji?

I do the really big eyes, the ones looking to the side. I use those a lot. 👀

” ‘What’s it like working with Lauren London?’ Like every dude asks that question.”

What question are you asked most by fans?

From dudes, it’s always, ‘What’s it like working with Lauren London?’ Like every dude asks that question. Women always ask me how tall I am. So many people are surprised I’m as tall as I am.

What are your responses?

I’m pretty tall. 6-foot-4. People are like, ‘No you not.’ I’m 6-foot-4! Why would I make that up? I’m legit tall. For the dudes, it’s such a weird question because Lauren to me is like a little sister. She’d probably call me her little brother. She’s good people. She’s a firecracker, a sweetheart, a great mother. I have started to get a lot of, ‘What’s it like working with Issa Rae?’

What’s your current fashion obsession?

Might be the Chelsea boots.

What’s the last show you binged through?

I’m in the middle of Luke Cage right now. It’s pretty good. It’s amazing because it’s both entertaining and educational. Cheo [Hodari Coker] did a really amazing job.

What’s a game you play competitively?

Cards Against Humanity. I was into Madden for a while, but I haven’t played at all in the last three or four months. I used to be big into Madden.

What will you always be the champ of?

Good times, good vibes. Happiness.

“Like [Tim Tebow] never even had a shot.”

Which pro athlete would you never want to trade places with?

Tim Tebow. I feel like that was just up in flames from game one. Like he never even had a shot.

If you could go to dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

Barack Obama. And hopefully the first lady could come, too, but if she’s busy, I get it.

What is the worst purchase you ever made?

I got some yellow pants, and I’ve actually worn them, too. But by far, it’s these yellow skinny pants that I got and I wish I could give them back. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was like, ‘Oh, those would look good on me.’ I don’t know what happened. I don’t even know what shoes or shirt I was thinking about going with them. I’ve only worn them one time, and I wish I never wore them.

Who would you want to play you in your biopic?

Michael B. [Jordan]. I’m gonna go with Michael B.

What’s one thing you did in the past year that you never thought you’d do?

Spent a month in Africa. I worked in South Africa, and I worked in Ghana. I actually spent five and a half, almost six weeks in Africa. I never in a million years would’ve thought I’d be on the continent that long.

Where do you get your serious news?

Definitely comes via Twitter, and it’s probably always CNN, NPR, something like that.

And your entertainment news?

I try to dial out of that. I read industry stuff. I read Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

“I feel like a grown man shouldn’t be driving around listening to Justin Bieber, but, whatever.”

What is the most embarrassing music you have to admit you listen to?

Here’s the thing. The album was low-key a banger this year. Justin Bieber. I was like, ‘Oh, OK.’ What Do You Mean? I can get with that. I feel like a grown man shouldn’t be driving around listening to Justin Bieber, but, whatever. It’s not gonna hurt my feelings.

What do you hope people gain from Insecure?

I hope they get that these stories are universal. I first hope that everybody realizes it’s relatable. It humanizes black people. You only see certain stereotypes on screen, and I don’t know if any of those stereotypes are really in this show. There are so many different and unique stories and perspectives, and that’s what each one of these characters brings. It’s OK to not be secure, and it’s OK to not have your s— together. It’s OK to be figuring it out, because wherever you are is where you’re supposed to be. It’s all a journey and we’re all walking towards something, and growing towards something.

Where does your courage come from?

I have no idea. I tell people I think I’m just dumb enough and just smart enough to believe that I can.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.