The interview series “How Are You So Hot?” is a thirsty journey into the minds, tastes, and attractions of foxy people we like.
Yvonne Orji strutted into the cultural consciousness in 2015 in HBO’s Insecure as Issa Rae’s best-friend/rival Molly, a voluble go-getter. Last year, Orji was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy for the role, which has also earned her three NAACP Image Award nods.
Her portrayal of her character is so real that an annoying uncle now calls her “Molly,” though Orji let it be known in her 2020 stand-up special on HBO, Momma, I Made It!, that she doesn’t put up with that for a second. Outside of Insecure, she’s very much her own person—one who wants exactly what she wants.
Momma, I Made It! felt like she was really introducing herself—not as Molly, but as the funny, choosy woman who got her comedy start telling jokes in the talent portion of a beauty pageant. The special is a mix of Orji telling jokes onstage while outfitted in the sleekest bob and a sharply tailored jacket, then strolling around the market in a homey, sweet visit to her parents and friends at their homes in Nigeria. It demonstrates Orji’s conviction to bring all parts of her life into her art: In one bit, she can’t find bananas exactly to her preference “three days after they were green” at Trader Joe’s, so she brings her love of haggling in the market in Nigeria to Los Angeles and tries to negotiate the price. She fails, is then recognized as an actress, and she shuffles away, warbling, “Don’t let these HBO checks fool you!”
This year, Orji started development on First Gen, an autobiographical series she’s making with Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo for Disney+. In May, she’ll publish her first book, Bamboozled by Jesus, which might resemble a self-help book, but Orji distinguishes it as a “get yours” book that covers her career, her life, and her Christianity. She’s determined to have “fun and faith” at the same time, because, as she writes, “I don’t like to choose. I’m greedy like that.” This seems to be Orji’s general worldview: an abundant, vivacious, greedy in a good way outlook on life. All we want, however, is to know: Yvonne Orji, how are you so hot?
VICE: When do you feel most like yourself?
Yvonne Orji: When I’m in a group. Just being surrounded by people and holding court, or just being in community. I’m a bird. I love meeting strangers. I wanna touch people. During my comedy tour, before I shot the special, I was always in the midst of the crowd. People came backstage and I got to hug them and hear them.
What advice do you have for people who aren’t as stranger-inclined?
If I don’t know anyone, if it’s a new room, I’ve got to take a moment and assess, and then I tap into my superpower. I don’t need to know everybody—I need to connect with one person so the world becomes a little bit smaller. Either I compliment somebody or make my way over to where the food is being served: You can always strike up a conversation about the food. If I can win one person over, that’s the start.
What’s a skill you have that we might not know about?
If you tell me you have a passion for something, my mind will be finding resources for you, without you even knowing, or without me even knowing—and then something [you mentioned] will spark with someone else and I’m like, “You two should meet.” People will cite me as the source of their friendship and I’m like, Oh, yeah, you did meet because of me! I don’t hoard things. Whatever is going to be mine is already mine. In my book, I have this lyric by this rapper Nate Dogg, “It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t get none.” To be the only one who goes to get the bill? No. I want it to be like: “I got it,” “I got it,” “No, I got it,” “No, I got it.”
Is there some specific skill that you don’t have at all, that you would love to suddenly acquire?
[Foreboding laughter] I’m horrible at singing. Issa, Kendrick, Jay, Natasha—everyone on set is like, Make it stop. If I could sing, I would be a stripper. I don’t know why that would be the correlation, but I just feel like I would be the singing stripper. Not having a singing voice keeps me very humble.
On Insecure, so much of Molly’s relationship with Issa is about wanting to support her friend in her decisions about love, but also wanting to protect her. Do you like to give your real-life friends your opinions about their love lives?
I will definitely tell a friend [if I don’t like someone they’re dating]. I told a friend, “I don’t feel comfortable around your boyfriend. He’s giving me weird vibes. You can do with that information whatever you want.” She stayed for a little bit, and eventually they broke up. It wasn’t an I told you so type of thing—I was just like, I’m glad you saw it, because it was creepy! Then, obviously, the conversation becomes, like, How can we see this sooner?
The group knows what we want, who we are, and what we’re not compromising on. It’s good to have a group of people you lean on that are in the same space. We’re holding each other accountable: We’re just like, OK, this is what we’re ignoring and what we’re not going to tolerate anymore.
You’ve talked a bit about lavishing people with presents and surprises. How do you approach finding gifts for the people you love?
I love giving gifts. Especially for someone hard to shop. I’m like, Nah, I know. I got it in the bag. I’m still a Nigerian who is trying desperately hard to overcome perfectionism. I will prove to you I actually know you—I know what you will like because we are friends!
I listen. Sometimes people say things as an aside. If somebody says, “I always wanted whatever whatever,” I put it in the Notes section of my phone. Like, I really like your bag. Noted! They’re alerting you! Follow through.
What clothes make you feel most attractive?
I always think, You know what, girl? Even if your jokes bomb, your outfit is going to be the bomb. It’s a goal of mine that the audience could be like, “The show was trash, but those shoes were great—did you see those shoes?” Thankfully, no one ever said I was trash, but that was always my thing: You gotta give ’em something, it can’t be all bad.
Shooting my special, I was like, I want to come out like a superhero. I want to be the lead girl in my own music video. I know my legs and thighs are my assets. I love a thigh-high boot; the longer they are, the better. Shorts and boots with a jacket: That’s my aesthetic. I love structure. A mix of hard and soft, which is what I am.
What did you think was hot—in yourself and in others—ten years ago?
I used to find color contacts to be the thing. Do you remember color contacts? I surely do. I had a gray contact, but they looked purple. When I see people with color contacts, I’m like, Your eyes are a whole entire shade of the moon! What are we doing? Your eyes are a beautiful shade of midnight—that is not your eye color.
Is there anyone whose approach to life or their creativity or their career you think about emulating for your own like?
Shiona [Turini], Insecure’s costume designer, is notorious for speaking her mind. One day, I was like, “How do you do that?” She said, “It for sure gets me in trouble! Everyone doesn’t vibe with it, but I have to do it.” In my mind, I saw her, and I was like, Oh, she just does it and everyone falls in line. And she was like, “No, there are consequences. but I’d rather take the consequences than not be my true self.” That’s rubbing off on me.
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