Natasha Rothwell on the Radical Power of 'Black Women Being Regular' on TV

We caught up with "Insecure" actor and writer ahead of her new HBO show, which she's producing, writing, and starring in.

by Linda Yang
Feb 15 2018, 6:57pm

Image courtesy of Natasha Rothwell

If comedian, writer, and actress Natasha Rothwell is on screen, you’re most likely cracking up. On HBO’s Insecure, Rothwell plays the outspoken and hilarious Kelli in addition to writing for the show. Before stealing scenes on Insecure, the UCB alum wrote for Saturday Night Live and had her own sketch comedy special on Netflix. Now, an original project of hers is in development stages with HBO—which she'll executive produce, write, and star in.

While her most recent venture is still in the early production process, Rothwell told Broadly, “It’s for sure a comedy and definitely takes place in New York. HBO has allowed me to work from the ground up on a character that is trying to figure out who she is an what she wants.”

As a writer, Rothwell realizes how important her narratives are to the people watching at home—less than 5 percent of Hollywood writers are Black. "I’m really excited to bring a different perspective and point of view that’s missing from the scene,” she said. “Visibility has lasting community effects and I think it’s beyond important, it’s crucial.”

Rothwell spoke with Broadly over the phone and discussed her years living in New York and how her parents helped her realize her performance aspirations.

BROADLY: You went from UCB to Netflix to Insecure —and now, you are writing, starring, and executive producing your own project with HBO. What did you learn from your come up?
NATASHA ROTHWELL: Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hours of work you put in to get good at something. I think of that. My time in New York was working really hard and seeing the payoff later. For me, it was confirmation that I was doing what I was meant to be doing. It’s so funny because people say it happened so fast and came out of nowhere and I think, I’ve been working for a while. It’s like you work hard and then you continue work. I learned that work begets work, you have to plant the seeds and work really hard, water them, and watch them grow and continue growing as an artist and a person.

You’re living in Los Angeles now but grew up and lived in the East Coast for many years. Are you sticking with the West Coast?
I chose New York and Los Angeles chose me. When I was younger, I romanticized New York and living there was so impactful for me creatively and personally. It’s definitely in my DNA. I feel like I’m slightly betraying the East Coast by being out here but it’s been nothing but lovely being in LA, with work and people. It’s been really dope. I’m working on a show for HBO right now that’s set in New York because that makes the most sense for who I am. I don’t get to go back to New York by choice, [so] I’m going to make work that brings me there. I’m going to figure out how to get there.

"The more representation and visibility we have gives people an opportunity to see themselves and aspire outside of their own circumstances."

What borough were you living in New York?
Brooklyn, baby. Brooklyn. I was in downtown Brooklyn for most of the time I was there. I was in a sublet in Queens for six weeks that was just a classic disaster: 147 women sharing one bathroom. I found it on Craigslist. It was just so beautifully crazy. My parents, I remember they dropped me off in Queens just shaking their heads and like, looking out at me from their car window like, what is she doing? I ended up in Brooklyn and loved it.

Your Twitter bio says, “I’m a writer/actor/comedian living and working in LA. This worries my mother.” What is she worried about?
My mom is incredible. She is my biggest fan and is a huge supporter of me and my dreams. But she’s a mother at the end of the day and worries about all things rational and irrational. She, I think, exacerbates that because she’s back east. My parents were both born and raised in Philly and they’re really enjoying this post-Super Bowl week. They definitely worry about me from far away but it feels good to be loved that much. They care enough to text and call and make sure I’m doing alright. She worries a lot!

Did your parents always support you entering a creative field?
For sure. Initially, I was a journalism major in college but I had always done theater. In high school, I was always in the plays. Somehow I convinced myself—probably because I watched too many after school specials—that I needed to do something legitimate because my parents wouldn’t approve. Then, after my first semester of journalism school, I remember dramatically coming home and confessing, saying, “this is not what I want,” and my parents were like, “yes we know.”

They said that they were surprised and thought I was going to major in theater. It took the wind out of me because I thought it would be some dramatic moment. They knew I always wanted to perform and that it was something I love. They were unsurprised and equally supportive or even more so. I just realized I lucked out with who I got as parents. Even if they don’t always understand this vocation because it’s nebulous and not by the books, they are so supportive.

What are you most proud of doing over the past year?
In the wake of the election, I was awakened politically. While as a women of color I have always been political, the election lit a fire under any amount of complacency that might have been there. Since then, I’ve been participating in the marches, volunteering in the women’s center in downtown LA, hosting a Planned Parenthood benefit. If I had to find terms to describe a silver lining of living in this administration, it’s that people who were silent before are now speaking out. People who were quiet now have something to say. It’s also made me have crucial conversations with friends and family. There are conversations we need to have for change to take place.

You’re an outspoken advocate for diversity in television.
I didn’t know how important Insecure was, or even being a plus-sized woman on a show who wasn’t a caricature but a real, thoughtful character, until I started getting messages on social media with people telling me, “I see myself!” I was moved to tears because I understand that so personally. Growing up, I had Family Matters, The Cosby Show, Good Times, and these other shows that have people of color but there were so few and I had to think, these people aren’t living my exact circumstance but I have to find a way to connect to them. For me, the more representation and visibility we have gives people an opportunity to see themselves and aspire outside of their own circumstances. I think it has direct impact on your everyday values. If you see yourself represented, it automatically attaches a value to who you are as a person. I’m worthy to be talked about and have songs written about me. Everything could happen to me. [That] there’s a show on HBO now where it’s just Black women being regular, to me, is extraordinary.

If you weren’t a writer and actor, what job or lifestyle would you pursue?
Oh man. I have an unhealthy obsession with HGTV so I would want to create the Black Fixer Upper and decorate homes.

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That is such an amazing concept.
I would just love to. I love the idea of decorating and renovating, in theory. The actual work behind it, I’m not sure if I have it in me but that could be a different profession. I’m also an anglophile and I would love to be a Black Bridget Jones and just live in London and feel like I’m a part of that world in a way. I also think that I secretly want to be Adele and sing. I don’t have the skill set at all but I just imagine being in a jazz club and just killing it. But in reality, it’s me in my shower singing into the shampoo bottle.

You could totally be Adele-Bridget Jones living in London.
I feel like there’s a cross-over! I could figure that out.