Great Things Take Time: Yvonne Orji

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Y V O N N E . O R J I

Yvonne Orji had an interview with People magazine earlier this year and casually mentioned that although she’s 33, she’s chosen to remain a virgin. It was as though someone threw a lit gas canister at the internet, because it blew up.

She shrugged off the unending twitter shaming with, “I’m 33 years old and I’ve lived most of my life this way, so it’s not news to me.” Well said.

She couldn’t be more different from Molly, the “beautiful mess” she plays on Issa Rae’s Insecure. Molly is Issa’s best friend – a sexually liberated, high flying corporate lawyer who’s killing it at work, but struggling to find and keep a romantic relationship that matches up to her (some would say) impossibly high standards. She’s constantly asked how she pulls off Molly’s sex scenes, given that she’s never been in those situations in real life.

“It’s funny because everyone is like, ‘Well, you haven’t had sex, so how do you know?’ And it’s like guys, we’re acting. Also, I have directors screaming directions from the sidelines so, you know, I think we get the shots.'”

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Landing the role as Molly came at the end of a very long tunnel. Born in Nigeria and raised in Maryland, her parents put a lot of money into setting her up on a very clear path to becoming a medical doctor. Two degrees and a healthcare trip to Liberia later, Yvonne quit her job in public health and announced that she wanted to be a comedian. Of course, it didn’t go down too well. She struck a deal with her parents. If she didn’t make it in the same time it would take her to become a qualified doctor (8 years), she would quit her dream and get a ‘real job’.

“We didn’t grow up with TV as a viable means of supporting yourself. [I told them] it would take me eight years to become a doctor, but give me eight years to make it in entertainment.’ And I’m happy to say, we did it in seven.”  

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So she moved to New York, started at the bottom performing at comedy nights and weddings. She eventually moved to LA for a writer’s internship, secured a few guest roles and wrote a pilot for her own sitcom, FirstGen. But by then things changed and all these opportunities seemed to be drying up. Here she was, in her late twenties, broke and tired, contemplating having to move back to Maryland and explain to her parents what she had done with her life and why, after all the money they’d spent on her education, she was still nowhere with neither a career in medicine, nor entertainment. It was in the middle of this meltdown, with tears in her eyes and a heavy heart that she gave God an ultimatum to either help her, or she would quit.

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Later that day, the idea for FirstGen blossomed. She created a trailer, wrote the pilot episode, put it on the internet and the rest is history. Issa Rae saw it and she got the audition for the role as Molly because of it. Now, as well as having a recurring role in a major network TV sitcom, FirstGen is currently being developed – with David Oyelowo producing it for the Oprah Winfrey Network. Plus, we’re looking forward to seeing her star alongside Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish in Nightschool in September next year.

Yvonne is an inspiration to creatives everywhere. She stuck her heels in, did the hard work and persevered. Now her parents aren’t complaining.

“For the longest time, since I embarked on this, it was tough going home. I was the starving artist. On Mothers Day, I’d only offer to buy the card! But it was a real nice four-dollar card. Now it’s like, “Mom what do you want for your birthday? I’ll fly you out to L.A.”  

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Categories: THEATRE, FILM & LITERATURE

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