AUP. Ep. 30 Lowkey KILLING IT: Natasha Rothwell


Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 12/1/21

Cortney Wills: [00:00:03] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast that dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio, and this week we’re sitting down with the ever impressive Natasha Rothwell, who has been making us laugh as Kelli on Insecure since the show started and has also been a huge force behind the scenes of the groundbreaking show as a writer, producer and director. So many fans of the series know Natasha for playing the role of Kelli on Insecure, but not everyone realizes that she actually started off in the writers room for the show had no intentions of being one of its stars. And just how much influence she’s wielded over the past five seasons as not only a head writer, but also as a producer and this season as a director. Natasha directed episode six of the final season of Insecure, so we talked to her about what that was like, as well as the impact that her role and her work has had on the culture. Prior to Insecure, we’d never really seen a character like Kelli take up space on the small screen. She’s so sure of herself. She is incredibly self-aware and makes no apologies for the way she just lives out loud, owns her truth and loves herself. Since Insecure, she has snagged multiple roles on some highly visible projects, including this summer’s White Lotus, and has an overall deal, which means we have a lot more coming from this fantastically talented woman. Let’s get into it. Hey, Natasha, how does it feel knowing that this journey you’ve been on this hugely impactful series that has wiggled its way into all of our hearts is coming to an end. [00:02:05][122.1]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:02:06] It’s just been an incredible journey to to tell these stories, and I just feel so privileged to be able to have done it for five seasons. I mean, in this industry, nothing is guaranteed. You know, you can shoot something and it never see the light of day, but to be a part of something that we were able to just really dig into the nuances of the Black experience and in a way that I haven’t seen, even as a consumer of content, you know, so it is definitely going to break my heart when I finally come to terms. [00:02:39][32.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:02:41] What were those last few days of shooting like for you on set? [00:02:44][3.0]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:02:45] Highly emotional. You know, some of our crew have been with us for, you know, all five seasons. And just to see the sentimentality of, you know, a surly grip or, you know, our our boom operator who would just kind of look at you and just play it because they’re just coming to terms to, you know, it really did create a family and I had to leave at the time, the day after I wrapped to go shoot Sonic in Hawaii. And so I was just I felt like I had my last day shooting been followed by a few weeks I could have, you know, visited, set and not be Kelli or, you know, a producer. So I just felt like it was happening so fast and I was just trying to soak it all up. I was trying to really savor, you know, my my last run, you know, my last run as Kelli. [00:03:38][52.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:03:39] Yes, gosh. And Kelli, she’s such a beloved character. She’s so many people’s favorites. I think she’s my favorite. I feel like I relate to her. And, you know, she’s just, I think, like you said, like, she’s you’re just going to be Kelli. Like, she’s so comfortable in her skin. And I feel like Insecure, like open the door to letting Black women be represented in such an authentic way, you know that we haven’t seen before. And you’re allowed to be comfortable in your skin and you’re allowed to be uncomfortable in your skin, depending on the day, the minute, the hour. And as someone who was so integral to cultivating, I think really the culture of the show not only playing Kelli, but as a producer, as a writer and as a director, I wondered for you creatively. Like, Do you feel like this project has stretched what you understood to be the possibilities of writing and playing and producing Black women? [00:04:39][60.0]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:04:40] Hundred percent. I think it’s stretched my idea of what it is to be a Black woman as a person as well. I think that Kelli is so free and so like, you know, self-possessed, and I often think about her as someone who was born in the world without anyone ever telling her to doubt herself, like she didn’t understand the concept, so she just never did. And so I unfortunately, was not born that way. And so over the last five years, I have learned from playing her that I can move through the world and not be in my head and not care about what other people think so much. And I’m so grateful for it. And I think also in terms of representation, you know, it’s it’s funny because it feels like sometimes we’re only allowed to express ourselves in, you know, pain porn or trauma drama or we’re Black girl magic, and we’re fixing white people’s lives and, you know, a lot of us, they’re just real regular, you know, we have our, you know, we’re neurotic. We make mistakes. We apologize to the furniture we bump into. You know, we have social awkward moments. And I think this speaks to that, that part of our our culture that helps the world at large see that we’re not a monolith. You know, we we have nuance. We have, you know that the beauty in the ordinary, you know, without feeling the pressure to be extraordinary in that, you know, being us is enough and to be a part of a show that is inserted that conversation, you know, in in the, you know, in the zeitgeist of what it is that we’re doing. I’m I’m just honored and it feels I often tell people I’m a fan of the show first. You know, I just happened to be on it, you know? And for me, I, I craved that representation for so long. And so I know that I’m not alone based on the response to the show. And so it just feels just fulfilling, you know, not to be hyperbolic, but it really is fulfilling. [00:07:01][141.5]

Cortney Wills: [00:07:03] Did you go into Insecure season one knowing that you’d have such a big role behind the scenes as well? Or did you sign up just to be Kelli? And then it grew from there? [00:07:11][8.9]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:07:12] I didn’t even sign up to be Kelli. I signed up to write and I was in the writers room and it was, I want to say, two months into the writing process. We were writing scripts, and Kelli was a character that was created. One of the writers at the time, Ben Dugan, who was my work husband. I love him to death. So hopefully he listens. He was just like, you know, Issa’s friend group needs that friend, that friend. And he pitched Kelli and she was in the scripts and we did an internal table reads any time we had a completed draft and I kept reading. Kelli and Lisa had me kept really reading Kelli, and she called me at her office one day and was just like, You know, you’re Kelli, right? And I burst into tears because I just had no idea that she saw all of me. If that makes sense because I was an actor before I came to write on the show, but I was so hyper focused because it was my first writer’s room and I wasn’t trying to like, you know, be in everyone’s business. I was like, Let me just do this one thing well, and Issa is just so incredible in that she saw all of me when I was trying to hide some parts because I wasn’t trying to be, you know, be out of pocket and be like, Oh, I could do this, you know? Yeah. And so from there, it was just my hunger to learn and grow more. And she said it every step of the way, you know? And, you know, getting promoted to producer and supervising producer and directing consulting producer. So she just I credit her and Prentiss for being really open and helping me step into my own over the course of the show. [00:08:54][102.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:08:56] Did you write a lot of Kelli’s stuff? Or once you assume that role, you let someone else? I mean, how do you balance all of that shit? It’s like, Wait, what? You’re directing, producing, writing, starring how many hours were in your day? [00:09:08][12.8]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:09:10] I mean, the show with my life. I think that’s why it’s so hard to say goodbye to it and for the lines for Kelli, we all wrote every episode, and so we it was just a collective effort, even though, you know, obviously the written by a person is the point person. Yeah. Early on with Kelli, I made a very conscious decision not to pitch stories for her and not to push an agenda because just like, I mean, I never doubt myself just like I didn’t want to push an acting agenda when I was writing, I didn’t want to push story just because I was the actor. And when I did and there, sometimes it was unavoidable where I was like, I have very specific ideas, and sometimes they hit and sometimes they didn’t. And then by the time we got into season three four, and even now, they would write Kelli stuff, or I would write Kelli stuff and they would come in and be like, Read this out loud, real fast. And so they would come about and I would read it. They were like, OK, I will change it or I do so much improvising as well. And so even the written things that I may not, you know, because obviously you write and, you know, together as a group, sometimes one group is working on a script and another group is working on a different episode. Inevitably, when I would see the lines on stage, I would put my stank on it because I just know Kelli. I lived and breathed her. So, I’ll you know, and that kind of seasoning, which is I think so– I mean I’m very grateful to the directors we’ve had that let me play like that, but yeah, it’s it’s not one– Kelli is not just my voice, it’s all of ours for sure. [00:10:46][96.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:10:46] And now that we’re at the final season, I feel like from what I’ve seen, which is one through six, you know, like we’re trying to get there, it’s like we’re racing to this finish line right in, like getting everything in that we need to make sure that we get what was the pressure like as a writer and as a producer and knowing that this would be, you know, the kind of swan song for this series that means so much to so many. [00:11:09][22.7]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:11:10] Well, one of the things I credit Issa and Prentice for from the beginning, I want to say after our first season when we realized that it was like a hit, they really protected the writers and producers. They protected us. And then they also protected us from, like even studio notes and ideas that felt like we were trying to write to someone’s expectation. You know, they were just like, what got us here was staying true to Issa and Molly and that love story and telling this journey. And so that was our true north and making sure that we did right by story and not even allowing the pressure of her views. And you know, all the chatter about the final season and like we have, it has to be this crescendo. It was let’s just honor the story on the page and have us feel satisfied as a group. And I think that that is the success I think folks will see of this final season is that there was no abandoning, you know, the recipe. Yeah. You know what I mean? [00:12:16][66.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:12:16] Yes, you stuck to the script. [00:12:17][1.1]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:12:19] All right. I was going to say that, like, literally and figuratively. [00:12:21][2.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:12:24] You know, I think Insecure has really changed the landscape of TV and has opened doors for so many projects to come after it, and it’s launched careers in such a wild way, from Issa’s to Yvonne’s to yours. I mean, I’m I remember meeting you. Season one and I hadn’t known your work prior to Insecure, but I was like, I cannot wait to see what this woman does and like, Look what you have done and you’ve got an overall deal, right? Like, you’re in London right now doing something. I don’t know if it’s a secret. [00:12:57][33.7]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:12:59] It’s not a secret, though. [00:12:59][0.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:13:03] You went to Hawaii to shoot Sonic like you are booked and busy and creating, and it must be a whole new world for you after this as a creative. So what’s next when you’re kind of introduction to the public is such a big one. Like, you know, how do you navigate the next chapter? [00:13:22][19.0]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:13:22] Yeah, I think for me, it’s been a it’s been a wild ride. I’ve just been trying to say yes in like a very open sense and not be too prescriptive about expectations because none of this was expected. And I feel like that was kind of the beauty of how things shake out for me and I’ve been Yvonne and everyone else, I think. We didn’t anticipate this. And so I really do move through the world and to this industry with an immense amount of gratitude because it’s it’s not lost on me that, you know, this act that I’ve taken is not one that everyone gets to take. And so I want to really do right by it and with that does come pressure because, you know, I want I don’t want to mess it up, but I think that I try not to let that, you know, those fears that are sort of natural to get in the way of doing the work and doing what makes me happy. And, you know, writing the things that make me laugh and doing the projects that bring me joy. And I think with success comes agency. And I think what I learned is that that agency, I think, was there before, but I didn’t allow myself to to honor it. And so I’m trying to really honor that agency and make choices that are right for me as a person and not feel beholden to Capital C-career, you know? And it’s hard, you know, it’s not easy and it’s filled with imposter syndrome and anxiety. And, you know, just worrying about the state of the world and the state of the industry and wanting to be a good representation for us and also for, you know, thick bitches everywhere wanting to make sure I shine and do right. And that’s a lot, you know, like– . But that’s important to me. And so I want to continue to ride this momentum to do more of what you know, I’ve been able to do create opportunities, you know, taking a page out of Issas book and making sure that the behind the scenes and in front of the camera really. Represent the world we live in, and I’m really hopeful. I’m really excited by where my career has taken me and where it will go. But it’s yeah, I can’t even begin to try to guess what the next five years will look like. Honey, I had no idea what the last five would look like. [00:15:56][153.7]

Cortney Wills: [00:15:57] Do you find yourself to be more attracted to opportunities to direct or write and produce over acting? Are you equally passionate about all three? Like, where do you sit with that? [00:16:06][9.2]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:16:07] It really depends on the project. Like, I will read something and I will know what part of me it needs. If it’s just like, Oh, I really want to do, I want to be behind the camera and direct this project, or I need to play this character, or I don’t need to do either of those, but I want to do everything I can to see it come to fruition. How, you know, mentor writers as a producer and, you know, play connect the dots with, you know, you really need to talk to this studio or you need to talk to this producer, this director, and do that matchmaking. So it depends on the script, honestly. But they say dance with the one that brung ya. And I got my degree in theater from University of Maryland and started out with acting, and I transitioned into writing and producing. Directing happen much later. I think because when I was coming up in college, I feel like I was one generation ahead of the hyphenate generation where it was just like, Oh, I don’t have to choose. And so when I graduated, it felt like I had to make your choice. I’m going to be an actress, and that’s the thing. And post-college, it was just being in the real world, doing the work. I was like, Oh, I don’t have to just do the one thing I can express myself with the myriad of paint brushes. I don’t just have to use the one. And that’s how I really see it. I’ve just being able to find the project that scratches that particular itch in the moment, and because I’m very much a Libra I don’t like, I don’t like things to be out of balance. And so if I’m doing a ton of producing or if I’m doing a ton of writing and I have have, you know, I don’t have an acting project on my slate, I get very antsy and saying, conversely, if I have a ton of acting stuff and I’m not, you know, producing something or writing something, I get antsy. And so I’m finding doing all of them, you know, really does fulfill me. And I had no idea my first big gig out of the gate would let me do all of them. And so that’s like, I mean, I really I’m just like, I don’t know how to replicate it. That’s the goal, that is the goal [00:18:20][133.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:18:21] So I want to get into this episode that you directed. I mean, OK, number one, the one before it, y’all. Y’all are shooting babies through an imaginary basketball hoop, kicking babies mamas in the belly like, wow, you really just let Issas mind go. And your episode kind of picks up right there in this like, you know, what is Issa going through? She seems to be very much grappling with some of the things that you just talked about imposter syndrome and anxiety and should have, could have, would have, as I think with Lawrence, like what is really going on right now in the season for you? [00:18:59][38.0]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:18:59] In this season I think the beauty of the premiere is that the thesis is sort of like, what do you want your legacy to be? What do you want to, you know, leave the world when you’re gone? And, you know, I think all of the characters in their own way are trying to figure out their happy right? They’re trying to figure out, like, you know, how do I become whole as a person? How do I become, you know, someone who has joy in their lives? And specifically, for my episode, it is you have to own your choices. You really do have to make a choice and not worry about if that choice is going to pull you away from someone else or bring you towards something else. Those aren’t the considerations. It’s what do you really authentically want as a person? What authentically makes you happy and work life personal, professional? And so thematically, that’s sort of the most potent in my episode, but I think over the course of the series, it really is that journey that I think we find ourselves in when we’re in our thirties. And really, just like, you know, we realize we are a capital A-adults like in a lot of the boxes we take on, you know, you know, things we fill out, we move to the next box, you know? And so you’re no longer in that eighteen and twenty five, you’re like, Oh, I’m in the next box. And so you have a group of, you know, people. We’re trying to figure out, OK, well, this is the box that I’m in, how do I define it? Like, what do I say it is? And I think it’s a really beautiful thing because you watch people sort of, you know, fail upwards? It’s just like any life. You’re just making the mistakes you learn. You grow, you make the mistakes you learn and grow. And so it’s it’s yeah, it’s that’s the season in a nutshell. [00:20:59][120.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:21:01] I will say that one other thing that you really left I think me with and so many people with is representing for the thick bitches in such a way, like I don’t I can’t recall Kelli ever making like a self-deprecating joke. You know what I mean? Like she is fly. Her fashions are fierce. She’s just allowed to exist and be as beautiful and as desirable and as confident as the as the skinny chick next to her. And was that on purpose? Because it was and it is a thing. Like it is absolutely impactful. [00:21:38][36.7]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:21:41] Thank you for saying that and it means everything, and it was a thousand percent intentional. The conversations that I had in the room from the very first sort of scripts where we were when I realized I would be Kelli, it was evaluating what we’ve written and not feeling the need to go back and add fatness to the page. Like what? The like that makes zero sense. Like, we’re allowed to be Black and fat and not have those be plot points. We can just be and we can just exist and not be this thing we need to fix, you know? And that has been truly the top joy of this for me is to be in that skin. And it has really changed my life personally. Like it has really made me fall in love with the body that I grew up hating. And and it’s been such a powerful experience to have, like other fake bitches in, you know, DM me and, you know, screenshots and be just like, I’m I’m getting that look, you know, I love that fear and just have them excited to be seen and not being self-deprecating. And Shiona Turni who’s our costume designer like. She is incredible. And she I’ve been I’ve been doing this for a minute and I’ve worked with many different folks, and some folks are dressing you to hide you and they’re just, you know, they are trying to figure out how to fix something when there’s just nothing to really fix. It’s like, celebrate it. And she own it just knew that from the job and was just on board and even opened up my eyes because I had a limited view about what I could and couldn’t wear. And she’s like, We’re going to get you in this fit. You’re going to wear those little white boots this tiny little Gucci dress and I’m like, I didn’t even know Gucci went up to my size and I was like, Okay, oh yeah. So she really opened my eyes, and it’s just been an honor to play Kelli. And a big part of what I’m doing with The Academy productions over at Disney is, you know, a part of the mission is the otherness that other people see fat, Black, whatever that is going to be resolved before page one our stories are not going to be centered around, you know, trying to justify our humanity, and that’s what it is when you’re on the page trying to do that. And so let’s just assume our humanity and tell stories, and that’s what I’m excited to do. [00:24:13][152.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:13] Can’t wait to see more from you, Natasha. I’m such a huge fan. So grateful for the work that you’ve done and so glad you took the time to talk to us today on Acting Up. [00:24:22][8.5]

Natasha Rothwell: [00:24:22] Yay. Thank you for having me. I’ll see you next time. [00:24:25][2.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:25] You’re welcome. Bye. Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to podcasts@heGrio.com. Acting up is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and acting up, check us out on Instagram @ActingUp.Pod. [00:24:25][0.0]

The post AUP. Ep. 30 Lowkey KILLING IT: Natasha Rothwell appeared first on TheGrio.

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