We Spoke To Natasha Rothwell From "Insecure" About The Final Season
"It’s been awesome to feel the love and know that the themes that we have hit on in the show are universal."
In October 2016, the first episode of Insecure debuted and viewers everywhere – especially Black ones – exhaled. At last, a show just about living. No intricate drug cartels or plantation-based drama, instead we were immersed into the relatable, hilarious, and extremely well-written lives of young Black adults trying to find their way.
Over the past five years, audiences have enjoyed the ups and downs of Issa Dee’s imperfect life, and as we bid adieu to a show that captured the hearts of many, we look forward to the new ventures in which the castmates are to undertake.
While Issa Dee and Molly Carter serve as amazing protagonists, recurring character and unequivocal scene-stealer Kelli Prenny – played by seasoned writer, producer and actor Natasha Rothwell – quickly became a fan favourite. With hysterical one-liners and scenes that seem made to be meme’d, her boisterous character offers amazingly timed comic relief in even the tensest of situations. In London for the filming of an upcoming film, Natasha Rothwell sat down with Seasoned for a lighthearted chat on all things Insecure:
If you could marry any of your Insecure castmates who would they be and why?
That’s such a good question because I could answer as Kelli and I could answer as myself [they’d be] two totally different answers.
I think Kelli has always had this weird flirtation with Derek, Tiffany’s husband. There have always been jokes across the course of the series where she does a little too much and tells Tiffany like “If you need a break..” [Laughs] she does it in jest, so it would be cool to see that.
I also think Chad would be a really good partner for Kelli. I think Wade, who plays the character of Derek, has a Chad relationship with me in real life because we just rip on each other and it’s all jokes jokes jokes. So I think Chad or Derek for Kelli.
I think for me it would be all of them? [Laughs] They’re such good guys! They’re just really sweet. They’d be sister-husbands rather than sister-wives.
Aside from Kelli, who is your favourite Insecure character?
There’s too many to count. Chad though – he cracks me up, his rhythm... I think also as a writer, writing for him is so fun just because he’s got that kind of rapid-fire, a comedic pace where it’s like you can’t pause at all, you’ve got to just write him for the conversation. He’s so much fun to watch and to write for. And of course, Issa – that feels obvious! I just relate to her character so much and I’m like Team Issa for life.
If you could play another Insecure character, who would you play?
Also too many to count! I would say Issa; she’s so nuanced, she’s so complex – it’d be her or Molly. I think they’re such deep, well written dark-skinned characters who are like living a really relatable life and have these moments of comedy that just punctuate the drama in such a great way. I would tackle both of those characters in a minute.
Are there any similarities between Natasha the actor and Kelli?
Ooh. I think in a Venn diagram of her and me, people often think it’s just a single circle but I could not be more different than the character. Kelli is so entirely brave and self-possessed. I like to think of her as someone who was born into the world without any self-doubt and never taught any; she’s got this confidence that’s unshakeable and unwavering. But I think for me I struggle in that area, so playing her over the last five seasons has definitely been medicinal, and so I think there’s a little bit of overlap in the self-confidence now that wasn’t there in the beginning. We also both ride really hard for our friends, very protective, loyal and we’re very aware of the importance of chosen family... But that’s kind of where it begins and ends. [Laughs] She just takes those aspects of my personality and cranks the volume up to a 10 and that’s the joy of playing her.
Of course, you’ve formed an attachment to Kelli and the show – how did you feel about the decision to end Insecure?
I think it just made sense. There’s no version of the show where anyone wanted to write it into the ground, we wanted to leave it on a high and do right by the story and the characters. But the reality of that decision did not settle in and has still not quite settled in. On my very last day of shooting, it became very real and was very emotional. I moved to Los Angeles for the show and don’t personally have any family there, so they became my family – the writers room, the cast, the crew, and so I really don’t know Los Angeles without the show. It’s been one of the greatest loves of my life. It’s really sad, I think I’m in the denial stage of that grief [laughs]. I don’t think I’ll be able to wrap my head around it until after the final episode airs, but I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.
What was the set like while filming the final season?
The vibe was happy and energetic. We were also shooting during the height of COVID – pre-vaccination – so it was a relief to be working for sure, I think everyone was very cautious and there was a bit of anxiety due to the circumstances. It was kind of sad too because you know some of the crew and the team I’d been working with for the past six years... I couldn't see their faces because of the masks. You want to be able to behave in the way you’ve grown accustomed to but you can’t run up and hug Tony, our boom operator. You’re elbowing someone you want to hug and cry with, so it was definitely a strange way to go out, but I think we did it our way. We were supportive, we found ways to connect, to celebrate each other and then as vaccinations started happening we were able to see more faces but yeah it was super wild to do over this past year.
How does it feel to know you have fans worldwide – is it weird?
It is! I’m in London right now shooting a movie and it’s the first time I’ve been recognised here with my mask on for the first time and it’s like is this [gestures towards eyes] part of my face that recognisable?! But the love is real – Especially my brown Londoners [who] have been really vocal and incredible. It’s been awesome to feel the love and know that the themes that we have hit on in the show are universal and people are connecting to the stories we’re telling and the characters we’ve created.
In Season 4 Kelli puts on a fake British accent to impress her date – how much British slang do you actually know?
[British accent] Erm, I can’t say I know a lot but I’m trying to pick up some whilst I’m here. I’m really chuffed.
Do you know what ‘peng’ means? In a sentence: “Lawrence looked peng in the last episode”.
Fine AF! Like Fiiiine AF, oh my gosh I’m going to start using that! Do you guys say super fit? Like “Ah that guy is super fit!”?
Erm.. yes I guess? But I would say that Black British people use that less...
Ooooooh yessss! Okay so if I went up to someone and said “Oh man he’s peng!” how would they react?
I think they’d be really impressed. I would say it all the time from now to get brownie points!
Oh my gosh yes, thank you, thank you! I’m ready now [laughs].
We’re used to Kelli being a scene-stealer, but rarely having scenes of her own. In this season’s opener we saw a more vulnerable side of her character – can we expect more of that this season?
I think there’ll be some other moments throughout the season where you’ll get to know Kelli a bit more, but I think with Kelli the goal has always been and continues to be, to allow her and any of the other characters that are in Issa and Molly’s orbit to serve the story. The use of Kelli, Tiffany, Derek, all of us are there as tools to serve the love story of Issa and Molly, that friendship love.
Does that mean we’re not getting a Kelli-centred spin-off?
I mean... I never say never but that’s because I’m very much a Libra, so I’m balanced in my approach. But Kelli is like salt. If you over-salt your food you’re not going to really enjoy it, but what makes Kelli work is that she's not used all the time. As far as the depth we see from her this season, there are moments like that throughout the series. Whether it’s crying in the parking lot after Tiffany doesn’t let her plan the baby shower, hunting for Tiffany at the end of the finale last season – we see her super vulnerable and super scared for her friend. So there are peeks of who she is as a person and I will say the onion gets peeled a little bit more, but it’s all in service of the greater storyline. But yeah, I never say never, though I do think all of the characters’ journeys are done after this.
Is there an upcoming episode that you think will shock viewers or is one to look forward to?
I feel like I can never predict what you guys will flip out over – and I try! Like sometimes I’m like “they’re definitely going to flip out over this!” and then they pick up on something that’s like super small, [laughs] so I think it’d be foolish to say that there’s just one moment that will blow people away – but I am super excited for episode six because it’s my directorial debut – audiences won't see me in the episode because I’ll be behind the camera!
You’re also a writer on the show, so I’m curious about how many of Kelli’s lines you write?
It’s a collaborative effort in the writers' room, we all contribute to the scripts. I’m just grateful to Issa and the directors who’ve allowed me to improvise and so I’ll always do the lines as written, then they let me play within the parameters of the lines. It’s been such an honour of a lifetime to bring her to life and be able to infuse her with so much of who I am and how I approach character creation. I can’t take sole ownership of the words that she says but I definitely do take ownership of who she is as a person, and it’s been really important to me to make sure she is not a caricature but a character.
One of the things that makes Insecure so great is how relatable it is, especially for young adults experiencing growing pains – what advice would you give to those who are trying to find their way like the characters in the show?
If you find yourself in the position of anxiety and fear of what the future holds, all you have is today, make sure you do the most with the time you are given, don't assume that any time or relationship is forever. I think being present is such an important key that I wish I had mastered when I was Issa’s age, and understanding that you don’t know everything and mistakes are inevitable. So don’t try to know everything, ask questions and when you make a mistake have grace because I think that the pressure to get it right, especially when you’re brown – or in my case brown with titties [laughs] – we can be hard on ourselves, so we need to have grace and self-compassion.