The problem with Insecure is that the plot lines are so realistic and the actors are so convincing, that you start to believe they're actually like their characters in real life. I told this to Neil Brown Jr., who plays Chad on the hit show.
Unbeknownst to many, the Southern-bred talent with two sons ages 17 and 19, has been in the game for over twenty years. While Brown Jr. may come off as a 30-something cocky bachelor, he's actually been with his high-school sweetheart for 23 years. From Straight Outta Compton and Fast & Furious to NCIS and CSI, you've seen him more times than you may remember. But Chad, your favorite quick-witted guy's guy, is Brown Jr.'s first comedic role on television... ever.
It caught me off guard.
"I was out here in L.A. working in film when I had no agent or manager or nothing," Brown Jr. told ESSENCE about his early career. "I was very blessed, God took care of me. I just stayed the course. I haven't had a real job since I was 18. There wasn't planned intent. I was very fortunate to be able to work in Florida and then do some work out here [L.A.], but it took years for me to get work-work out here."
"My agent was like 'Yo, you ain't got nothing funny on the reel. We need to get some.' Insecure is my first TV show comedy. I was buggin'. I was a little intimated because these guys are all so great at what they do, you know?"
Having been discovered by a producer while in his Dojo martial arts class as a kid, the talent developed a love of acting from his ability to memorize lines and love of taking on characters. While the course to get consistent work was filled with up and downs —at one point living in a one-room apartment with his oldest son and pregnant wife— the journey was worth it all.
"I'm kind of an empath," he admitted. "I feel what other people are feeling and I have a hard time getting rid of these people out of my head. So I bring these people I meet to different roles."
When it comes to playing Chad, the best friend of Lawrence (Jay Ellis) on Insecure, who comically narrates his good and bad choices— while somehow staying out of the mess— we had to know who he channels for the role.
"I actually have been a Chad," Brown Jr. said. "I let my homie stay on my couch for 11 months. Yeah, some people call me like an angel, I don't know..."
Adding, "So I understand. That's one of the things that drew me to Insecure. The way it was written, it was close to real life. I mean, you see some shows that kinda touch on the reality that is our lives as Black people, as mixed people, I am mixed, but we're so varied in our existence. That's why we come in all shades, right?"
"Chad is everyone and no one at the same time" Brown Jr. said about the character that's a mix of his younger self, older uncles, show-runner Prentice Penny and good writing. "I've gotten a better understanding of how to portray Chad. It's the little things. For instance, he takes away the power from Issa by just calling her 'old girl' —so he doesn't make her a real person."
While the cast of Insecure is loving the reception of season two and are gearing up for season three, Brown Jr. is busy working during the in-between time. He's currently filming his CBS drama Seal Team alongside David Boreanaz and Jessica Paré.
"I'm just constantly trying to expand my skillset as an actor, grow and learn. And bring more believably to the roles that I play. If it warrants a moment of levity that is warranted inside of a film, I'm gonna play that. I'm just fortunate to be able to do the stuff, anyway."