Natasha Rothwell Reflects On Kelli’s Growth On ‘Insecure’ And Saying Goodbye To An Era
Photograph by Merie W. Wallace/HBO

Insecure may be singing its farewell song but that doesn’t mean the writers behind the series have abandoned developing the type of characters we’ve come to love over the years. If there’s a standout fan favorite, it’s Kelli Prenny, portrayed by actor, writer, producer, and director of episode six this season, Natasha Rothwell.

Season five begins with Kelli being mistakenly identified as dead by her college’s alumni association. And for one of the first times in the show’s history, Kelli, who often serves as the show’s comic relief, displays her vulnerable side. Rothwell explained why it was important to see this side of her.

“We want to know her insecurities,” Rothwell told ESSENCE. “The show is called Insecure. I think she goes to her reunion and she’s presented with this idea of mortality. She begins to question how she’s being viewed. How do her friends really see her. I think the beauty of that premiere is that we see that they see her heart.”

While many could dismiss Kelli as a mess–I mean we still haven’t quite recovered from her behavior at that restaurant in season 2 –Rothwell believes that, in a lot of ways, Kelli is the most put together.

“She gets hers. She’s a boss at work. She’s a boss in the bed. She loves her body, loves her friends,” the 41-year-old said.

Truthfully, Kelli is the glue in her friend group. She often mediates between Issa and Molly and brings everyone together. Kelli also wonders if her friends recognize that about her. In the show’s premiere episode this season, we found out they do.

Viewers have a soft spot for Kelli as well and have been quite protective of her. On social media, the audience has noticed that the characters are all considering their legacies and even mortality (Kelli at the reunion, Lawrence on the plane etc). Theories are floating around that someone will might this season.

 “I’ve missed Black Twitter when Insecure is airing. One fan tweeted at me, ‘B-tch, they better not kill you!’ Rothwell said laughing. “I just love y’all, loving us. So thank you. I have seen those rumors. I can’t confirm or deny nothing.”

Whatever may happen to her character, Rothwell herself is alive and well. Even though she wears many hats on the HBO series, she shares that she’s also a fan of the show. That said, when it comes to the debate over whether Lawrence and Issa should ultimately be together, she shared this. “Every season, Issa takes polls in the room, ‘What team are you on?’ And I’ve not changed my vote once over the course of five seasons. I’m team Lawrence.”

Romantic comedy is Rothwell’s heartbeat and she roots for Issa and Lawrence despite all of the hardship they’ve had to overcome. Still, as a writer, she knows how to check her personal preference in service to the story. At the end of the day, she said “the love story that we’re there to tell is the Issa/Molly story. That’s the heart of the show.”

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Not entirely ready to let these characters go, fans have suggested that Kelli get her own spin-off. While Rothwell doesn’t know if there’s potential for that, she did say she’s learned to never say never in this business. And she was at least willing to imagine what a show centered around Kelli would entail.

“Some fans have said we would see a more reserved side. But Kelli is Kelli is Kelli is Kelli. That’s the beauty of it.”

Instead, a show about Kelli could show how she got to be so self-assured. “Of the friends, Kelli is the most sorted,” Rothwell said. “It takes a lot of work on yourself to get to that place. So I would want to start her series from when she was a mess.  At the beginning of season [five], she’s being introspective, which I think is more of what she’s probably [already] done to get to that level of self-acceptance and owning her choices. These are the things that Issa and Molly are still figuring out.”

Considering what the show might be called, Rothwell takes a minute before saying, Growth. She doesn’t do the accompanying hand motion. But I see it in my mind’s eye.

As she thinks about the last few moments spent creating the show, Rothwell said she leaves Insecure knowing they’ve done right by the characters. But as an actor on the show, it didn’t make filming her final scenes any easier.

“I could barely get through my last day. I was so emotional. Even thinking about it now, I could cry again,” Rothwell said.  “I just love that family so much. And they’ve, in no uncertain terms, changed my life for the better. It’s saying goodbye to an era.”

What gets Rothwell through those emotional days reflecting on the last episode airing is passing the baton to the next generation of creators.

“‘Insecure was, in part, a reaction to the representation we were missing. So I’m excited for creators of color to fill in the gaps that we missed because we can’t be everything to everyone. There are so many more stories to tell.”

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