Actress and comedian Yvonne Orji, known for playing Molly on the HBO hit “Insecure,” has an enviable Hollywood career. But she also has an incredibly unorthodox CV for showbiz – one that exemplifies the old Sinatra tune “My Way”. On this week’s “Renaissance Man”, the Nigerian American told me through her transition from academia to comedy and how she got a massive role with barely an acting credit to her name.
“I grew up in a very strict immigrant household,” she told me. “I did not even know that entertainment was an option. I was focused on STEM, science, all that. And I got my master’s degree in public health before I even realized that entertainment was an option. I was ‘Bamboozled by Jesus,’ “referring to the title of her 2021 memoir.
Growing up outside of DC, she attended a fancy Pennsylvania boarding school so she could be around the elite. But while attending school, she heard a call into the art world from two entities: Jesus Christ and organic chemistry.
“I was definitely still on my way to becoming a doctor. And I think that was when organic chemistry said to me, like, ‘Girl, you might want to choose another major.’ And I thought, ‘You’re right’ … It was the hard decision to say, ‘Hey, Mom, Dad, I’m not going to medical school.’
She realized she liked reading books. And last time I checked, the Bible is a book. She is born again. Yvonne also participated in a beauty contest, which required her to have a talent. After learning that being resurrected was not sanctioned, she prayed for divine invention. And no joke, she told me that God said she should make comedy, which gives me hope that Richard Pryor is in heaven.
“So slowly I leaned into it and I had two weeks to prepare. People ended up laughing and the rest is history.” She now has two degrees (undergraduate and master) and an HBO comedy special. She has opened up for Chris Rock at MSG and now also hosts the dating show “My Mom, Your Dad” on HBO Max. Romance is an interesting way because Yvonne, 38, is vocal about saving herself for marriage and has noticed the irony in her last name being pronounced “orgy”, but she is a virgin. You could say she is self-conscious and self-ironic.
She is also scratched. Before becoming an actress, she hosted shows, weddings and funerals. One of these concerts landed her on the radar of “Insecure” co-star and star Issa Rae.
“Issa actually saw me host a fashion show, and then she came out to see me do it
comedy and was like, “Yo, that was fun.” But it is years before ‘Uncertain’. So we kind of had a black girl in LA trying to get what you know, mood about us, and so it was like we respected each other. “
When the casting began for “Insecure,” Yvonne tried to move on to acting, but she had no representation. She hired a friend who worked for a management company.
“Basically, the arrangement was that if I got to the show, I’ll give them a cut … So it’s a lot of actors, actresses who have resumes in the wazoo, they kill it. And I’m just like that, ‘ Oh, okay, well, I just want to mention that I’m Yvonne Orji, and that’s enough. ‘”She made an impression by talking with her hands and creators so there. there was “something”.
“I was not their first choice when I went to the auditions, but every time I went to audition, I kept getting better because behind the scenes… I chose between paying my cell phone bill or getting a tutor for an hour, and I was like, ‘Well, listen, they’ll have to let me know by email if I get it, because my cell phone will be disconnected. And then it’s just all the little things I did to give me even a chance to fight. So they noticed it and they said, ‘Every time you came, you kept giving us something else. You kept adding to it, you kept becoming the character.’ Also [they said], ‘If she does this without any direction, imagine what she could do when we give her what we actually want her to work on.’
Sportingly, it’s like Jimmy Graham being drafted into the NFL with only one year on the field. But she attributes that work ethic to her immigrant background. Even when she was bullied as a child, her mother told her, “I did not come to this country to make friends.”
She admits it was hard, but it pushed her. She only saw herself succeed – even though she was an underdog in places like Hollywood. And “Insecure”, which she helped make a huge success, had a cascading effect on the industry. “I think it changed the television landscape … for sure, what is possible for black programs.”
What’s next for Yvonne? Well, medical school is definitely off the table, though she can conquer anything at this point, and she would have a good bed next to it. Whatever it is, we know one thing: She will be led by the Jesus GPS. And I want to tune in to it all.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, which rocked the college-hop world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before switching to a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want”, a fashion designer, and co-founded Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.