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How Natasha Rothwell Became A Standout Act

Culture

“I just didn’t know why I was resisting the thing that I was naturally good at and gave me the most joy”

In celebration of Black History Month, NYLON is running a spotlight series called UNAPOLOGETIC. Every day, we’ll celebrate different aspects of black culture through profiles, interviews, roundtables, reviews, videos, and op-eds. #Blacklivesmatter and we hold that truth to be self-evident.

“Awkward recognize awkward” is how Natasha Rothwell got in bed with Issa Rae and her hit HBO show Insecure. It goes a bit deeper than that, but the actress tells us their connection was one of many factors (timing, skill, and experience are some others). But when we chat on the phone from opposite coasts, Rothwell is far from awkward. She’s jovial, articulate, and charming, much like her character Kelli.

Insecure isn’t Rothwell’s first big break. She worked as a writer on a little show called SNL and starred in Netflix’s original show The Characters. But, we think it’s safe to say, it’s one of the reason’s she’s slated to blow up in the coming months. She was upped as a regular on the show toward the end of the first season and she’s developing her own comedy for HBO, which she’ll write and star in.

Maybe a more fitting motto would be "talent recognize talent." We’ll let Rothwell tell you about it herself in the interview ahead. 

Is there a moment you knew you wanted to become an actress? 
I've always performed. From the time that I was little, I was pretty precocious and always gravitated toward performing arts. But I was scared at first, deciding to do it for a living. So, initially, I majored in journalism, and I was pretty miserable. My parents were kind of dumbfounded that I even decided to major in journalism because they knew I loved to write, but they were like, “There are too many rules for you!” 

So, my freshman year of college I saw a play. I was definitely one of those theater people that knew I desperately wanted to be on stage, so I just hung around a bunch. There was a performance of “House of Blue Leaves,” and in the program for the show—I'm in the audience by myself being real deep—there was a Langston Hughes poem, "A Dream Deferred," and I just bawled. I read it before the curtain even went up. I was just having a moment in the audience where I was like, “I'm deferring a dream. I know what it is I want to do. I don't want to be in the audience. I want to be on stage. What am I doing?” And that was a really pivotal moment for me, and I remember having a sort of after-school special moment with my parents. I sat them down over winter break, and I was like, “I'm gonna major in theater!” And they're like, “Well, duh. What were you doing?” They were so supportive, and let me come to that conclusion on my own.

And is there a moment that you knew you wanted to focus on comedy?
I've always had a sense of humor. Jokes and a sense of humor are pretty much the core of my family—we're a very happy family—and making each other laugh was a big part of that. But I think after I'd majored in theater, I found a natural chemistry with comedic roles. I think to do comedy well, you have to really respect the gravity, you have to be really vulnerable and commit; there has to be a commitment when you do something full out. Like, you see Melissa McCarthy go balls to the wall, and it's like, “Oh, these people believe what they're doing.” So, I found myself drawn to those roles where it was just like, “Oh, it's requiring a lot of me to do this comedy in a real authentic way.” I mean, I resisted it. I graduated and wanted to do deep roles where I was like, “Oh, I want to play Medea in Medea.' Not Tyler Perry's Madea, you know what I mean? I was like, “I want to beat my chest and cry,” and I just didn't know why I was resisting the thing that I was naturally good at and gave me the most joy. 

How did you start working with Issa Rae on Insecure?
I've always been a fan of her work. I knew of Issa through Awkward Black Girl, her web series, before I knew her personally. I was so impressed by her putting a story online that was just similar to mine in that we're not glorifying a black woman as being something crazy, something that's this sexual object, we're not making her the “wise mama.” This is just an awkward girl who's trying to get through the day, and it really resonated with me. Shortly after I had finished working at SNL, and I was in the middle of my Netflix Characters special, my rep set up a meeting with Amy Gravitt, an exec over at HBO. After speaking with me and talking to me, she was like, “You know what? We have this show in development, we think you would be great for.” And it was the show. I met with Issa Rae and Prentice Penny, our showrunner, and, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it was love at first sight where I was like, "Yes! She's better than I thought!" You know there's the phrase, "game recognize game?" I think, "awkward recognizes awkward." I think we clocked each other's awkward, and I'm so lucky that she took a risk on me and hired me for a show. 


You started writing for Insecure before you started acting on the show? 
Yeah! I was hired as a writer for the show. Prentice and Issa knew that I was sort of a writer-performer, and had clocked pretty early on an interest in having me on the show in some capacity.  I didn't know if they knew that that was sort of the dream. Although, just being on the show as a writer was a dream come true. Maybe two or three months into writing the show, Prentice called me into his office, and Issa was there, and I was just convinced that I had messed up. It felt like being called into the principal's office. And at the time we were working on the character [of Kelli] as writers and working on this character outside of myself, not even considering me for the part. But when he called me in the office, he was just like, “Would you like to play Kelli?” I screamed like a crazy person, and then tried not to cry on him, but cried on myself, and I was like, “Absolutely. I would love to play her.” And to his credit, and to Issa's credit, I am grateful that they were very focused on cultivating all of the staff's talents and abilities. They saw that I was a writer-performer, and have been supportive of that.

Is there one you prefer over the other? 
Honestly, I love both so much. I think I get so much out of both, and they're so complementary. I've always written, but, for me, the acting on stage was my access into the industry, and so that was my first foot forward. I think once I began to trust myself as a writer, I began to be seen as a writer. I don't know how I feel about other people needing to see me as a writer for me to be able to trust it, but that was a huge part of it, I think. Being asked to write for SNL, even prior to that I'd been writing and doing stuff at school. But that was a really big cosine of my ability, it really emboldened me to take risks. After that, I was able to write and star in my Characters special, and it really solidified me as a creative and a whole performer. So right now, it feels like my right arm and my left arm. If I'm not doing both, it feels kind of weird. 

You auditioned for SNL and didn't get hired as a cast member. Looking back, do you see that as a blessing in disguise?
Oh, absolutely. Having the opportunity to audition for the show came out of left field for me. Growing up, I had never seen someone that looks like me on the show so, for me, it was never a dream. Even just the process of being invited to Studio 8H to perform characters that I'd written on stage, to me, that was the victory. Sasheer [Zamata]'s a good friend of mine, and I couldn't have been more thrilled for her getting on the show because I really do believe that when one of us rises, people of color, we all rise. It was a real group celebration when that happened for her. I grieved when I didn't get it; I wouldn’t be very tuned in if I said, “Yeah, it was fine. It was whatever.” But the head writers reached out and they were just like, “You know, your piece is one of the best-written pieces we've seen. Would you write for the show?” To me, that was just mind-blowing, and such a huge, huge win for me personally, emotionally, and creatively. That they saw something in me on that stage that was worthy. It was a really cool experience overall to go through!

I noticed that you were at the Women's March in L.A., and you've been very vocal about everything that's been going on, in terms of politics, on social media. What was the experience at the Women's March like for you?
It was incredible. I moved out here from New York and I lived in D.C. for a super long time, so had I been back east, I would have definitely gone to D.C. But I was so grateful that so many people turned up in L.A. to speak out against what our president is doing and what he stands for. It was such a great community of people, of all walks of life, that were standing together for a cause, men, women, the LGBTQI community. I protested the night of the election, and there's a sense of public grieving when something like this happens—when you feel like your voice wasn't heard, when you feel that the person that's been elected to the highest office in the land doesn't represent who we are as a people—that when you come together and march, it’s medicinal. You feel like, "Okay here are like-minded people, I'm not alone, we have the strength to continue to fight and resist," and that is really important to me. And I also think the talk about the difference between feminism and the intersectionality of feminism is so important. For me, as a woman of color, I wanted to make sure that my voice was heard, to make sure that the feminism represented at this march was intersectional, and not, quote, unquote white feminism that seems to be getting a lot of pushback. That idea that you can be a feminist, but not support other's cultures, sexualities, it's an exclusive version of feminism that I feel was rejected by the marches, which I really liked.

What do you think is the role of comedy, or the arts in general, in politically tumultuous times like these?
I think it's important to make art for a myriad of reasons. The least of which is that I think laughter is medicinal, and I think there is an escapism aspect—an act of self-care. People reached out to me shortly after the election about how Insecure was helpful for them because they just saw themselves on TV. It was sort of very baseline, and it's not extraordinary, but, to me, that means a lot.

I think it's an opportunity to be vocal about where you stand and what you believe. I think it's so important for us to make art, and to be loud and to resist with our art. And, like I said, even if the baseline is just to make someone laugh, that is doing a good service.

Can you talk about the comedy project that you have in the works with HBO? 
There's not too much that I can say about it right now, but I can say that I'm really excited. I'm in the process right now of developing it. It's kind of a ridiculous opportunity; like when I sit back and think about it, I'm like, “I can't believe I tricked them into letting me have my own show.” (laughs). I'm so grateful for it, I think that, to HBO's credit, they've been real champions of me and my work, and I think in order to do what I do, I really have to be authentic as possible, and that's something they value here. I feel like my show will definitely allow that to show, so I'm excited about that. And it's a comedy, so that'll be fun too.

If there was one piece of advice that you would give a young black boy or girl living in America right now, what would it be?
I would say, you are beautiful, you matter, your life matters, you're valuable, and they are loved. There's a twitter hashtag that was circling, I think around the Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings, of just young black children being happy.

Yeah, #CarefreeBlackKids, I think it was.
Yes! That's what I would say: be carefree right now. We're fighting a fight for you so that way, hopefully, you don't have to fight it. To me, that's the most important thing; I don't want the young black children to be robbed of that joy. I'm fighting and will continue to fight.

Photo by Rachel Dennis

Finally

"What do girls even do together?" This question, or some iteration of it, is frequently posed to me once someone finds out I'm bisexual or hears me mention my girlfriend, or if I make any reference to being interested in girls. I would be annoyed by it, but I have empathy because I know how hard this kind of information can be to find. In fact, the details of how two people with vaginas have sex isn't very widespread information. And, I know that I didn't really have all that much information about girl-on-girl sex before, well, actually having it myself. It's precisely this kind of situation that queer sex educator Stevie Boebi is trying to fix.

Boebi has gained a big following for her informational YouTube videos about how to use a strap-on, how to scissor, how to fist someone, how to choose a vibrator for yourself; any question you could have, she will get you an answer. She doesn't shy away from topics that people wouldn't be quick to ask someone about IRL, either, like BDSM. And she covers the kind of things that are definitely not what we're taught in sex education classes—likely not even in the most progressive curriculums. A study from GLSEN notes that only 4 percent of teens reported learning anything positive about queer sex in their sex ed classes, and points out that in some states, it's actually prohibited to mention queerness at all.

Particularly when it comes to sex with two vaginas, the lack of available public education leads to a general lack of understanding of how we have sex, which then leads to a lack of understanding in the queer community, too. "I just think that lesbian sex is so oversexualized, and we're the least educated," said Boebi when I asked her recently why it's so important for her to spread knowledge about queer sex in particular.

Boebi said that she started out on YouTube making videos about technology, but after she came out as a lesbian, her audience flipped from mostly male to mostly female, though she would prefer a less rudimentary gender breakdown ("the algorithm only deals in binaries, sorry," she quipped).

Ultimately, her sexuality led her to change her content entirely, because she wanted to educate people who couldn't find answers to their questions anywhere else—even on the internet.

"I started getting a lot of what I called 'stupid questions' from very confused teenage girls saying, like, 'How do I do it? Can I get AIDs from fingering someone?'" Boebi told me. They were questions that probably should have had easily Google-able answers, but, when Boebi looked for lesbian sex education content to send to fans who were asking her, she came up empty-handed. "I couldn't find anything. I think I found, like, two articles on Autostraddle, and that was it," she said. "And then I was like, Well, shit! If no one else is going to do it, then I guess I will."

Boebi's audience is mainly comprised of 13- to 24-year-olds, so she keeps in mind that she's helping people who may not be experienced, or even out yet. She uses her own experiences to inform her work sometimes, but also researches extensively and talks to people she knows who "have fancy Ph.Ds in sexology and shit," who can answer her questions or point her to resources she should be referencing.

Boebi's charm is in her relatability; even if she's talking about things we've been conditioned to feel shame around, she does it in such an open and honest way that all that shame disappears—as it should. She does this by perfectly meshing professional talk with jokes and sarcasm, and even uses characters based on star signs. She knows the importance of taking on taboo topics, because there are so many people who won't otherwise find answers to their questions. "I don't actually struggle in my everyday life asking people if they've ever been anally fisted before," Boebi joked with me. "I'll take that burden."

And keeping her tone light and humorous is of the utmost importance to her. "When people are laughing, they're comfortable, and I want people to feel comfortable," Boebi said. "And I want people to know that I'm comfortable talking about sex, and they can be, too." It helps also, Boebi told me, that her audience is separated by a screen, and she's not "in a room with a 12-year-old talking about my labia."

Beyond instructional sex videos, Boebi also deals with other rarely discussed facets of sexuality and physicality. Boebi is polyamorous, and talks openly about it, confronting the stereotypes and the misinformation about the identity head-on. And, she was also recently diagnosed with Ehler's Danlos Syndrome after going years without a diagnosis, and she aims to start working more with disabled queer sex educators to make her work more inclusive of people with disabilities. Though she pointed out to me that her work was already encompassing of disabilities, she "hasn't been a part of the disability activist community for very long," and so she has a lot to learn.

And, though Boebi's happy that she has the platform she does, she wants a more inclusive array of sex educators to join the scene. "My voice is my voice, and it's unique to me, but I think there should be way more," she noted. "Especially people [with intersectional identities]. That would make me so happy if we could diversify sex educators."

And, though Boebi says there's no "ideal way" to educate people about sex, she's definitely on a better track than the public education system, and she makes clear that there's nothing shameful about sexuality—in fact, it's just a part of being human, and a really fun one, at that.

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Screenshot via YouTube

The band shared details about their new St. Vincent-produced album that will drop "you into the world of catastrophe"

Sleater-Kinney just shared more information about their St. Vincent-produced album and dropped a new single.

Per Billboard, Sleater-Kinney revealed that their new album, which they've been teasing since early this year and will be their first since No Cities To Love from 2015, will be called The Center Won't Hold. It's due out on August 16 via Mom + Pop Records. "We're always mixing the personal and the political but on this record, despite obviously thinking so much about politics, we were really thinking about the person—ourselves or versions of ourselves or iterations of depression or loneliness—in the middle of the chaos," Carrie Brownstein said in a statement. Corin Tucker further noted that the new album will "[drop] you into the world of catastrophe that touches on the election."

Janet Weiss noted that the band will "explore a different sound palette" with this album, and pointed to St. Vincent as the reason behind it. She said that St. Vincent "has a lot of experience building her own music with keyboards and synthesizers so she could be our guide to help us make sense of this new landscape and still sound like us."

To satiate us until then, the band released a lyric video for new single, "The Future Is Here," which is very grungy. Bump it, below.

Sleater-Kinney - The Future Is Here (Official Lyric Video) www.youtube.com

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This is so satisfying!

Even Jon Snow knows just how unsatisfying the final season of Game of Thrones was, and he's ready to apologize. Well, a deepfake of him is at least. A heavily-edited version of Snow's speech from the fourth episode—just before the bodies of those lost in the Battle of Winterfell get burned—now features Snow apologizing for the conclusion of the show and lighting the script on fire.

"It's time for some apologies. I'm sorry we wasted your time," Snow begins. "And I know nothing made sense at the end. When the Starbucks cup is the smallest mistake, you know you fucked up! We take the blame. I'm sorry we wrote this in like six days or something," he adds, before signaling to his peers to light the script with torches and "just forget it forever." "Fuck Season 8," he says before the pages begin to crackle and burn.

If there were more lines left to alter, we would have loved to see Snow also tackle how messy Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister's story line ended up, as well as Bran's kingship, Cersei's boring demise, and the water bottle appearance.

Watch the entire deepfake and try to heal the wounds left by HBO below.

BREAKING: JON SNOW FINALLY APOLOGIZED FOR SEASON 8 youtu.be

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Photo by Darren Craig

It premieres today, exclusively via NYLON

In LP's song "Shaken," the most recent single from her 2018 record Heart To Mouth, she tells the story of seeing her lover out with someone else—ouch. Today, exclusively on NYLON, she releases a cheeky animated music video that pokes fun at the song's heightened drama and perfectly demonstrates all the angst that comes with falling hard for someone.

"She looks at you like I used to/ And I'm just sitting in the corner sh-sh-shaken," LP sings, as the visual—with art by Maayan Priva—depicts the singer hanging out in a bar, watching the girl she likes meet up with another girl. Despite the situation's inherent drama, "Shaken" is less of a ballad and more of an upbeat bop. LP told us she loves the way "this little video captures some of the fun of the song, and its inherent comical anxiety." Sure, heartbreak isn't that funny, but our (sometimes) overly dramatic reaction to it kind of is.

"'Shaken' feels like a bit of a wild card on this record," LP says. "It's the closest I've come to writing a musical, which I hope to do one day." We heartily endorse this idea: Please, LP, give us the queer jukebox musical we crave.

Until that day comes, though, you can watch the music video for "Shaken," below.

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Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

This cameo has the Beyhive buzzing

I went to see Men In Black: International alone. Which would have been fine if it wasn't for the shock I received when I saw two specific characters on the screen. Unable to keep it to myself, I shared a curious look with the stranger next to me, who was obviously thinking the same thing as me. "Is that them...?" I whispered first. "I think… so," she replied. Then the two men in question started to dance, and we were both sure: "Yep, that's them."

It was Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, better known as Les Twins. Fans of Beyoncé will recognize the duo as the talented brothers who often accompany her on tour and in music videos. In Men In Black: International, the two of them play shapeshifting entities—they're more like energy forces than aliens—who pursue Tessa Thompson's and Chris Hemsworth's characters throughout the duration of the film. The twins' ability to manipulate their bodies in ways that are graceful and otherworldly really helps sell them as extraterrestrials and is fun to watch.

So if Thompson in a suit or Hemsworth shirtless weren't enough motivation, here's another reason to go see it. If you look close, you can see them in the trailer below.

MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL - Official Trailer www.youtube.com

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