Insecure’s Natasha Rothwell On Making Kelli A Fully-Rounded Character Not A Caricature

February 23, 2018  |  

Natasha Rothwell

The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

You know Natasha Rothwell as the funny friend on HBO’s Insecure, but the beauty of her character Kelli is she’s much more than a sidekick to Issa’s lead character. And similarly, Rothwell’s talent extends far beyond being talent on camera.

The Saturday Night Live alum is credited with getting her start in the writers room of the sketch comedy show but Rothwell, who has a degree in theater performance, actually started out in front of the camera. After she auditioned for SNL, Rothwell transitioned into writing. But yet another transitioned happened when she joined Insecure.

“I was hired for the writers room and so that, to me, was the only thing I would be doing there. Then about two or three months into the writers room they reached out and wanted me to play Kelli and that was a happy accident actually,” Rothwell explained in a phone interview. “They really were a champion of me as a whole artist. They wanted to figure out how to use me best and I feel lucky that Insecure allowed that to happen.

Now through her character Kelli, Rothwell has become a champion of sorts herself, broadening the representation of plus-size women of color and moving that presence from the off to the side to front and center. Here, Rothwell, who is currently in talks with HBO about developing her own scripted series which she would write and star in, talks to us about the joy of playing Kelli, how things are changing for women in Hollywood, and why she doesn’t have time for men who are intimidated by her.

Talk to us about your character Kelli and what she represents to you

For me, what I love about playing Kelli is that she’s a fully formed, rounded character and not a caricature. I feel like she’s painted with a very fine brush and to me that’s important as well. As far as being a plus-size woman, I play a plus-size character by default and for me the visibility, that I think is key. And what I get the most pride from is when people reach out to me on social media and they’re so excited about there being representation of a woman of color and a plus-size woman of color owning her sexuality and being the rock in the group where Issa’s a mess, Molly’s a mess, and Kelli has got her sh-t together and is helping her friends. To me, that’s an exciting role to play. And she’s so far outside of my personality so it’s so fun to try her on and get to know her and play on stage and improvise and find her voice.

One thing we rarely see are sex scenes with women who are fuller figured. Is that something you’d be willing to explore through Kelli?

For me, I think the most important think about Kelli’s function, and Tiffany’s function on the show, and even Molly’s is we’re there to service Issa’s story. We’re sort of all extensions of her and versions of your personality, I think, are expressed through your friend group. That’s just true in real life. And I think that if it were to make sense for the story, maybe. But for me, I wouldn’t want to do it to say, “Oh I’m doing this for the cause. I put myself out there just to make a point.” To me that would really undercut the power of being a plus-size woman on screen. That’s kind of the grossest way to do it. To me, if it’s part of her story and it’s powerful and it’s strong and it make sense for the story we’re trying to tell then let’s talk about it. I’m less interested in seeing women used to make a point and more interested in telling really incredible bad ass stories. If sex and sexuality happen to be apart of that story, great. That’s what I’m excited to see.

Tiffany Haddish recently talked about the struggle of men being intimidated by her which seems to be a common issue for comedic women. Has that been your experience?

I think there is a fair amount of it. I think there’s truth in what Tiffany is saying for sure. The way I try to think about it is the positive spin of I am less interested in a man that is intimidated by my intellect or my comedic ability and more interested in the man that approaches me regardless. If that’s the way to weed out the wrong man then God bless. That’s how I feel. When it comes to Tiffany and other comediennes out there, we’re not changing. We’re not going to play dumb, we’re not going to let a joke go by if we want to make it just to satisfy a man we want to have in our life. Because I feel like any man that’s worth having in my life is going to appreciate those things about me and love those things about me and not excuse them.

As a female writer and actress working in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, do you feel true change is coming to Hollywood?

I do. I think that the movement is powerful and necessary and long overdue. I think that things are changing and with change things are uncomfortable. I welcome that discomfort because if this movement is going to cause men –and women for that matter — to think before they speak and adjust their actions in the workplace and on set then I think we’re moving in the right direction. The conversations that have come up and that I’ve had as a result have been really powerful and necessary. We’re talking about abuse and what’s acceptable and not acceptable and advocating for what you want.

What’s next for you?

Right now I’m promoting a show called Love, Simon which comes out on March 15 which I’m super proud of. It’s the film adaptation of a YA novel that’s called Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda and it’s such a powerful coming out story that’s been given a lot of love and it’s funny and it’s heart-wrenching and really necessary.

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