Issa Rae on ‘Insecure’ Season 3, Drake and Toronto culture

Actress Issa Rae arrives at the premiere of HBO's "Insecure" at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on October 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Award-winning actress, producer and model Issa Rae has been busy working on season three of her hit HBO show Insecure, but she made some time to stop by Toronto for a unique experience showcasing local talent.

To celebrate the new American Express Canada global brand campaign launch, Powerful Backing: Don’t Do Business / Don’t Live Life Without It, American Express Canada unveiled the Live Life Experience — a unique pop-up art experience on Toronto’s Queen Street West. Backing a collective of local artists, Amex brought life to some of the things Amex card members are most passionate about, such as travel and adventure, dining and culinary exploration.

Global News stopped by the pop-up art experience on Queen Street West to talk to Rae about Drake, Insecure and her favourite exhibit at the Amex Live Life Experience.

Global News: Being from Toronto, I have to ask you about your experience being in Drake’s Nice For What music video. What was your reaction when you were asked to be part of it?

Issa Rae: (Laughs) It was just an honour. We were in the middle of shooting, but I was just like …’Duh! We’re figuring this out!’ It fell on a weekend, thankfully. Being in it was one thing, but seeing how dope it ended up being with all the dope, beautiful, powerful boss women in it was amazing. The director, Karena Evans — I just sat with her yesterday. She’s a powerhouse.

I had to ask, especially since Drake was the Easter egg in the second season of Insecure.

IR: I know! So it was just like a full circle moment for me.

How has the experience been shifting from basically no budget and creating your own YouTube show (Awkward Black Girl) to working with HBO on Insecure?

IR: Honestly, it’s the people around it that have made it such a seamless transition and that’s one of the things that drew me to even coming out here with AMEX, the idea of support and backing. A lot of the team has carried over from Awkward Black Girl the web series to Insecure and without that support I wouldn’t have been able to do it. But of course a network like HBO is so powerful at the end of the day and to be able to use their platform to amplify my independent voice has been huge.

Do you have a lot of creative control with HBO?

IR: One hundred per cent. They are very hands off when it comes to a lot of the intricacies and cultural specificities of the show. They’re just really great about story notes and things like that. And they are just great at what they do.

Do you feel like women’s voices have been amplified in film and TV today?

IR: I think there is definitely a search for women’s voices. There’s a spotlight now and people are definitely looking in a way that they have not been before. And women are taking the reins, just in terms of not taking no for an answer and demanding to be heard. To be a part of that and to be a part of people of colour doing the exact same thing just feels like a great time to be a creative right now.

Insecure has tackled many important issues for women on the show, like wage gaps. Will season three address the current news climate such as the #MeToo movement?

IR: We’re not, we wanted to take things on that felt topical to our show. We’re telling a serialized story and we didn’t want to just go in that way just because it’s the topic of conversation currently so we didn’t want to force it. I think just by existing we are part of the #MeToo movement. I think we’re constantly fighting for our voices to be heard and so in that way, we’re already on topic.

Is there any specific moment on Insecure that has destroyed your Twitter mentions, or you felt like you needed to explain something to the viewers about the storyline?

IR: So many moments! First season, for sure. People called me all types of h*es and b**ches when my character cheated on Lawrence. There’s just been so many moments where I’ve had to be like ‘OK, I guess I’m getting off social media this week because they can’t separate me from my character.’ But that’s just the most fun part, that people get so invested in the show.

Exactly, like all the people who were calling the bank during the first season of Insecure.

IR: Yes! They were calling the bank. They were literally calling Chase bank looking for a fictional character. The fact that Chase had to tweet, ‘Stop calling us, she doesn’t work here,’ is just the best thing ever.

Your character raps in the mirror a lot. Is that all freestyle or do you write it down before?

IR: I mostly write it down before, but I write it down in like one minute. It’s mostly whatever comes to mind. The Blocked rap I came up with right there. I didn’t even get a chance to write it in advance but it was coming from a place of rage so I was just like, ‘let’s do it.’

Would you ever consider a career in music?

IR: I would not consider a career in music. I feel like you have to be good and I will not disrespect music like that.

Everyone that watches Insecure loves those moments and you get everyone so excited.

IR: (Laughs) I’m glad! They work in the show.

So Team Lawrence or Team Daniel?

IR: Oooh! I mean, personally? I feel like I’m too biased. But you should watch this season because that question will come up. She’s living with Daniel now so we’ll see what we learn about his character.

Oh really? I’m Team Daniel!

IR: You’re Team Daniel? When did that happen? I’m curious.

During the first season for sure.

IR: Oh, first season you were Team Daniel? I love it!

Yes! It was easy to go to Team Daniel because she left Lawrence to go find something that made her happy and she came across Daniel, who was from her past.

IR: This is very true, I love that.

Can you give any hint for the Easter egg this season?

IR: It’s different.

So it’s not Frank Ocean and it’s not Drake. But it’s different than those?

IR: Yes, I’d say don’t look for that.

If you could describe Insecure in one word what would it be?

IR: I would say it’s ‘life.’

What has been your favourite exhibit here today?

IR: The Spicy Delights room with the big ramen noodles, I’m such a foodie. As soon as I landed in Toronto it was just about finding the best food here. I love that this exhibit is featuring local artists because I would have never had the chance to see so much of the culture here in Toronto in such a contained amount of time. The fact that Amex is supporting and having the backs of local artists is just so cool to me.


Did you enjoy going down the slide?

IR: (Laughs) I haven’t gone down the slide yet because I’ve been staining my clothes all day but I’ll give it another shot because this opens on Thursday so I might come back. Have you gone down the slide yet?

I haven’t gone down yet but I’m going to come back too and try it out.

Insecure Season 3 premieres on HBO August 12.

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The Live Life Experience converts a 12,000 square foot, multi-level space into a custom and immersive experience for Torontonians to enjoy and explore, brought to life by a collective of local artists including: Peru143, Bacon, Clandestinos: Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack, Troublesome Troy and SmugUgly, BIRDO aka Jerry Rugg, Hello Kirsten, Mediah, Mango Peeler and Francis Pratt, Duro the Third, Christina Mazzulla, Pascal Paquette. From entertainment and culinary explorations to travel and play, each experience presents a unique view of the moments that make life worth living.

The exhibit, located at 336 Queen Street West, is open to the general public May 31 to June 3 and June 7 to 9 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. For tickets, follow American Express Canada on Twitter and Facebook.

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[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

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