Call him an accidental sex symbol if you will — because all the buzz regarding Insecure’s hot and heavy sex scenes caught the show’s leading man, Jay Ellis, a bit off guard too.
“This is a completely different level,” the dashing actor told NBC News about the reaction to the groundbreaking HBO show and his growing popularity. “I mean, I stand in the grocery store, and I can literally see people staring at me. I’ve had dudes like pump their fist like, ‘You the greatest, Lawrence. The way you did that last scene, man, that was just inspirational, bro.’”
In that one particular scene during the Issa Rae-created series’ season finale, Ellis’s character, Lawrence engaged in a revealing sex scene with another woman as a reaction to his girlfriend’s admitted infidelity.
“I don’t think anyone’s really ready for that,” he reflected about viewers’ visceral response, which prompted the cult like hashtags #TeamLawrence and #TeamIssa on social media. “I had just got off a flight, and I flew overnight so I actually missed the finale, and I landed on the Monday after at LAX, and I turned my phone on, and it was just ‘ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding,’ and that was primarily text messages.”
After being cast on the show, the Sumpter, South Carolina-born, Tulsa Oklahoma-raised actor didn’t think twice about doing what he thought would be standard television nudity. After all, he convincingly portrayed rising football star Bryce “Blue” Westbrook on BET’s ‘The Game’ — which didn’t shy away from naughty subject matter.
But one of his managers hinted that there may be much more in store with his newest role.
“When they send the contract over, they have all these different deal points in your contract, and one of them was nudity,” Ellis, explained. “I remember specifically in the email that my attorney sent over it said: They’re not asking for nudity, but it is HBO so just be aware that it could come up. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s not a big deal. Like what? They just want me shirtless? Man, whatever. Okay. Cool.’
“It literally didn’t even cross my mind that I would be butt naked on screen multiple times a season, just out there for everybody to see,” he chuckled. “And so when the producers first said it [and] when I read the sex scenes, I never thought they were gonna be what they were.”
“And then when we got into prep for the episodes, they fit multiple outfits for a scene. And so when the sex scene came up and they’re like, ‘No, you’ll just have a robe. We just need you to tell us what kind of cock sock you would like to wear.’ I was like, ‘Excuse me. A what?’ And they were like, ‘You know, it covers you up when you’re naked.’ I was like, ‘I wasn’t aware that I’m gonna be naked,’” he revealed.
“So [showrunner] Melina [Matsoukas] came over and she was like, ‘You’re cool with it, right?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, nah. I’m totally cool with it, Melina. Yeah. Whatever you say, as long as you’re directing it no problem,’” he shared. “And it went down great. It was fun. We had a good time. I mean, it’s awkward, but we still had a good time and made the most of it and laughed about how awkward it is.”
Ellis, whose birth name is Wendell Ramon Ellis, Jr., initially fell in love with Insecure after he read the pilot script that a close friend told him about. “I read the script later that evening, and the next day I called my managers, my agents, my lawyer. I literally had six or seven people on the phone, and I was like, ‘Hey, how do I get this job? I love this script. What do I have to do? Who do we know?’”
He continued: “This material was the first time where I read something and I recognized I could relate to it. I had been a version of Lawrence myself. I loved the vulnerability of a guy like Lawrence who is lost and sits on his couch, and he’s frustrated, and he doesn’t know how to get up and go get a job. It’s not because he’s a deadbeat. It’s because he’s crippled with fear. He’s insecure, and I just loved all those layers. And so I begged and begged and begged to be a part of it.
After a waiting period and then auditioning and doing chemistry tests with fellow actors, Ellis attained the role of his dreams. And the fact that the first season of Insecure was so well received makes it even more meaningful to him.
“I think anytime we can get an audience to be that invested and to move emotions and cause people to think and have conversation, I feel like we’re doing our job,” he shared. “And then it also makes me realize there’s so many things that we don’t talk about at all, and they’re kind of just overlooked or they’re glossed over. It’s just an opportunity to have open dialogue about so many things, so I love it.”
But he’s still not letting the sex symbol status go to his head.
“I don’t ever think of the sex symbol thing. People say it, and I laugh, because I’m such a nerd at my core so when I hear it, I just always laugh and I’m like, ‘They’re definitely talking about somebody else, not me,” Ellis confessed.
Photo Credit: CharacTour