J Squared
April 27, 2016
In The Mix

Dream Catcher

Far from awkward or insecure, Issa Rae is doing it all.

Christine Champagne

It seems only right that, as she chats on the phone, Issa Rae is on the way to her writers' room — where her upcoming HBO series, Insecure, is coming to life.

Creating, executive-producing and starring in her own show is the realization of a dream for the actress, writer, director and producer who grew up watching series like Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters.

"They're near and dear to my heart," Rae says of those '90s shows, "because they had characters I could relate to. They made me feel like I could do this, too — I could be part of this."

Rae grew up mostly in Los Angeles, though she spent two years in Senegal as a child. She first made a name for herself through The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. The comedic series, which debuted on YouTube in 2011 and has been viewed more than 20 million times, follows Rae's alter ego as she navigates work and relationships.

A graduate of Stanford University, where she studied political science and African-American history, Rae was working full-time at a nonprofit when she launched Awkward Black Girl. At the start, she was writing, directing and editing the series solo. "The process was extremely draining, but I loved it," reflects Rae, who eventually was able to hire a small crew.

On Insecure — the premise has Rae and Yvonne Orji playing women who realize they aren't where they want to be in life as they near 30 — she's grateful to be surrounded by support. Larry Wilmore, host of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, cowrote the pilot with her and remains a consultant on the show, which shoots at Sony Studios in Culver City, California. Prentice Penny (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Happy Endings) is an executive producer.

"He was so great, and it was such a learning partnership," Rae says of her collaboration with Wilmore. "I couldn't have the confidence that I do now in terms of writing without him.”

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