All eyes were on Issa Rae Thursday night at the premiere of her new HBO comedy, Insecure. However, when asked how she was feeling just days ahead of the premiere of the the series, insecure wasn't one of the words that came to mind.
"It just feels fake. It feels very surreal," the creator-writer-star told The Hollywood Reporter. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around it all, but I'm extremely excited and I'm just so grateful."
The eight-episode first season of the comedy aims to "normalize blackness," as Rae puts it, by showcasing two modern-day black women and BFFs as they face their own flaws and try to navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences.
The series is the follow-up to Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl that made her a YouTube sensation back in 2011 and garnered her 20 million followers just a few years out of Stanford. "We've always said where Awkward Black Girl is the college thing, Insecure is the grown-up, is the post-graduation version of that show," showrunner Prentice Penny said.
"We've all sort of grown up so it was, 'How do we take what people love about this, which is that character and all those themes - being awkward, being insecure, trying to find who you are - how do we take all these things that are cool and quirky, but then how do we grow that? How do we mature that?' That was really important for us, taking the heartbeat of that and then putting it into this."
However, it was a lengthy transplant. Rae first began working on the project for HBO back in 2013 with co-creator Larry Wilmore. Wilmore then departed for the since-canceled Nightly Show and Penny stepped in to help shepherd the project to the screen.
"Sometimes you do need to take a step back and look at something with fresh eyes. For me, I was very impulsive in terms of being on the internet and being like, 'I can just put this out right now!'" Rae said. "It really takes a lot of finessing."
Although they're different series, Rae says her end goal remained the same. "I wanted to see a black female character reflected that I could relate to, but in this particular series, I just wanted black people to have the opportunity to be regular," she says. "Regular meaning doing everyday things, being boring, having relationship issues and not having it fully centered on the burden of race."
The launch of Insecure, and the rise of Rae, comes as diversity continues to be a hot topic in Hollywood, in terms of talent onscreen as well as behind the camera.
"Its still a very small number," Penny said, pointing to successful African-American TV writers such as Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil. "So I think that she can contributes to that landscape where she feels she's a millennial, so it speaks to a difference audience. … There's no show that's talking about the things I think we're trying to talk about."
Co-star Catherine Curtin is confident Rae's voice will make an impact: "I think she's going to bring reality to Hollywood. I think Hollywood needs that. I think New York needs that. It's absolutely imperative. I think she is the voice of now. And we need that."
HBO president of programming Casey Bloys shared that sentiment as he introduced Rae and the series Thursday: "I think we all had an inkling that Issa was special, but this show confirms that Issa is a star."
After screening two episodes of Insecure, attendees - who also included Wilmore, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and Adina Porter - migrated to the afterparty at Studio 11, where guests noshed on fried chicken cones and Randy's Donuts to the sounds of - in nods to the series - Beyonce and Drake, among others.
Insecure premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.