Jay Ellis on Playing Lawrence and Facing Fears Head-On
by Olivia Armstrong
What went through your head when you first got ahold of the scripts?
I wanted to play Lawrence or Daniel -- I just wanted to be a part of the pilot. Lawrence jumped off the page to me a little bit more. As an actor, I was afraid of the commitment it would take to explore Lawrence and figure out that character. That curiosity and apprehension made me even more drawn to him. I thought the scripts were absolutely amazing. I thought they were real: that’s how people around me live, talk, speak and interact in the world. I felt immediately connected to it.
You and Issa have such a genuine onscreen dynamic. Did you rehearse together?
Actually, no! We didn’t. We did a table read for the pilot and shot it. Then we table read the other episodes, but we did that like a month in advance of starting production. That’s when you sit around the table with executives from the network and the producers and all of the guest cast -- so it definitely wasn’t an intimate, “Hey, let’s figure these beats out.” It was just us listening to the words and listening to each other. You get in there and you actually start doing the scenes and Issa’s just so damn cool that it was easy. I immediately felt comfortable with her.
Lawrence is more in the background of the pilot, but we get to empathize with him in Episode 2. What do you think he’s most frustrated about at this point in his life?
That he’s not successful. And because he’s not successful, he’s not able to provide or live the way he would like to live, or provide the things for Issa he would like to, or drive the car or go to the office he would like. He’s just failed so many times and things haven’t gone his way, that it’s crippled him with fear. So now he’s in this place of frustration with himself and about his career, and it’s crept over into other areas of his life -- obviously in his relationship with Issa and even with his friendship with Chad.
Can we talk about that phone conversation with Chad? There’s a lot going through Lawrence’s head that he doesn’t choose to express. What do you think he wanted to say?
I think he would just ask for help. The reality of it is, he just doesn’t know what to do. And Chad seems like the guy who’s always had things work for him. Lawrence just needs somebody to talk to and somebody to be able to let him let it all out. Men don’t talk -- and we don’t talk to each other. I think he wants to ask Chad, “What the hell do I do? How did I get here? Can I be your assistant?” Anything, at this point. He’s just afraid to say it. He doesn’t want to be rejected or be made fun of -- so he’s kind of stuck in this place of emasculation.
Issa says that Lawrence is too comfortable with their current situation. Do you agree?
I definitely think he’s comfortable. No way around it. I mean, this dude didn’t try for her birthday at all, whatsoever. But I also think he is misunderstood because he’s not able to voice his frustrations and insecurities. And when you’re in a headspace like that, it affects your relationships with other people. Friends, family, girlfriend, boyfriend, whoever it is -- it affects people in a way that you don’t even know is happening, and that’s what’s happened in their relationship.
At the end of Episode 2, he mentions his upcoming appointment with a headhunter. Is Lawrence giving up on his true business passion? Or just tabling it for now?
I think Lawrence is doing what he needs to do to show Issa that he loves her. To prove to Issa that he is here, he wants to do this, he’s going to get up and he’s going to make an effort. If the business plan at this point still hasn’t panned out, that means he needs to go out and get a job. It’s his way of showing Issa that he’s trying. For anyone who’s ever tried to start a business, that’s just in your blood, so I don’t think it will ever go away. But at this point, this is about preserving his relationship and showing the woman he loves that he’s going to do what it takes to be with her.
What about your character do you think audiences will find most relatable?
I think everyone’s been in a dark spot before. Some days you wake up and you don’t want to go to work. Some days you roll over and you’re like, “Damn, this person is still here?” It’s OK to have those thoughts. And that’s what’s so relatable about Lawrence. He’s isn’t sure of himself and isn’t sure what to do. A lot of us feel that way if we’re not where we want to be in life. I’m over 30 and there’s this feeling when you look up at 30, like, “How the hell did I get here? This is not what I planned, this is not where I’m supposed to be.”
That is such a relatable thing for everybody. You’ve either been there, or you’ve been with someone, or know someone who has been there or is currently there. But at the same time, that person is ambitious and smart, and they can get up and achieve. Just not today.
What advice would Lawrence have for someone approaching 30 who is uncertain about the future?
Try. Don’t be afraid to just try. You’ll never know if you don’t try. I mean, it’s cliché, right? But that’s the reality of it. If you don’t get up and go do it, you’ll never be able to achieve it. You might fall a few times, but you just have to keep getting back up. I think that’s a lesson he learns, and I think that’s a lesson we all need, no matter what age you are.