Issa Rae made recent headlines for her reaction to the lack of women represented in the list of directors nominated for Oscars this year, but she’s not focused on that.
“John Cho and I were told to just banter for five seconds as the teleprompter loaded, so that was my banter. I didn’t lie. I said congratulations to every man there, that was it,” Rae said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for “Insecure” on Wednesday.
When Variety asked her to respond to the fact that once again there were no women nominated, Rae did say she thinks it’s “unfortunate.”
“I think the Academy needs to do better. I’m kind of tired of having the same conversation. Every year it’s something. For me, it’s just pointing it out when I see it, but I don’t want to get too worked up about it. It is what it is at this point. It’s a conversation that’s happening behind the scenes. It’s annoying,” she said.
Something she is worked up about, though, is “about soundbytes,” as well as “being misinterpreted, things being taken out of context,” and “when you’re making art, the question of who it’s for. When you’re making a passion project and you have specific intentions in mind, how that’s perceived. The latter is something she has layered elements of into the upcoming fourth season of “Insecure,” which premieres April 12 on HBO.
Kerry Washington directs the penultimate episode of the season after previously shadowing production during the Season 2 finale. Of her, Rae said she “came ready [and] came very prepared” and is “phenomenal as an actors’ director, specifically. She tested all of us in various ways that was enjoyable. … Kerry challenged all of us to try different things and you see on-screen that we’re all better for it.”
“Insecure’s” return will come after more than a year and a half off-screen, but Rae said they haven’t “changed the way we approach comedy over the course of four seasons.” Since the inception of the show, she “never wanted it to feel like a traditional sitcom,” although she admitted there will always be “situational elements” to the show. Rather than focusing on jokes, she wanted to ensure the dialogue felt “naturalistic.”
The fourth season will obviously follow on that, with a story theme about “leveling up,” which Rae described as “characters entering that next phase in their life where they are trying to be intentional about the things that they’re doing.”
For Rae’s character of Issa, specifically, that is explored in how she is following a new path after quitting her job, while Molly (Yvonne Orji) is in “her first relationship in a really long time and trying to balance that and her work.” Lawrence (Jay Ellis) is still very much a part of the show, with a story that centers on the idea that many guys have that “you can never have three things at once: the right relationship, your finances in order and an apartment,” Rae said. Lawrence is dating Issa’s “current collaborator on her block parties,” she adds.
An additional theme the season will deal with is the “fallout that happens when you’re turning 30 — the relationships, the friendships you have to work at in a different way,” Rae explained.
Added executive producer Prentice Penny: “Are these relationships in my life for a season or a reason? We’re just trying to be honest to the people and the age and the culture of what we are.”
The motif of Issa rapping to herself in the mirror is still very much in place in the season, but as she is evolving as a character, “we wanted the mirror to speak back to her, and you’ll see why that element is so important this season as events unfold,” Rae said.
And as the city of Los Angeles itself evolves, with a lot of “black community staples [having] shut down, Inglewood with the new stadium, the rent has just skyrocketed and so many businesses have put up ‘for rent’ signs,” Rae said, that will come into the story, as well.
“We really have become a time capsule for the city,” she noted, reflecting on the earlier seasons’ locations in comparion to Season 4. “The character of Issa is heavily impacted and moved to make changes to prioritize our community in a way. We are very, very intentional about showcasing those changes.”
Further reflecting on the early days of the show, Rae admitted she does, at times, long for the simplicity of Season 1 “where nobody knew who we were and there were no expectations.” They try to shut out the outside world when working in the writers’ room to not be influenced by what people are saying.
“The instant feedback can be daunting, but it’s part of it. That’s the culture that we’re in and all you can do is continue to create and stay true to your work,” she said.