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Culture

Natasha Rothwell Is Ready to Be the Lead

December 23, 2021

LOS ANGELES — In one of the last scenes of “Insecure,” Issa, Molly, Kelli and Tiffany are having a girls night-in when one of them gets a little emotional and they all come in for a hug.

Kelli, played by Natasha Rothwell, bursts into tears and shouts, “The f—- I’m crying for?!”

Rothwell was in character, but she knew it was one of their last hugs before the hit show that changed her life wrapped for good.

“That scene is only good because she was vulnerable enough to go there and then that let all the women to engage in such a way,” said Amy Aniobi, who directed the episode, and was the head writer and executive producer of “Insecure.” “That moment is so real and it’s because of Natasha. She’s a powerhouse.”

As the “Insecure” chapter of Rothwell’s life comes to a close, she’s writing many more. In “The White Lotus,” Rothwell stood out among an ensemble cast who all put in stellar performances. Rothwell wrote a romantic comedy with herself in mind to play the lead, and she sealed a major deal with ABC Signature to develop new projects for television. She also began filming the secretive, big budget “Wonka” in London alongside Timothée Chalamet, Olivia Colman and Sally Hawkins.

All of that in one year.

“It’s crazy,” Rothwell recently told The Associated Press on a video chat from London. “I could not have predicted this moment or what ‘Insecure’ has done to bring me to this moment. I used to sort of like, roll my eyes every time Taylor Swift was all, ‘Aw shucks, really, me?’ And now I get it because I feel that way constantly.”

She’s particularly excited about a show she’s writing and starring in as part of the deal with ABC/Disney. “It’s one of the things that’s been in my heart for some time,” she said.

The show will be the culmination of everything Rothwell learned on “Insecure” as a writer, actor, producer and for the first time this past year, director.

Part of that means creating an inclusive writers room, opportunities for female directors, and representing all people, including those with disabilities and the LGBTQ community. Rothwell also wants the show to bring attention to the issues she cares most about, like bodily autonomy and voting.

Ever since Rothwell got a platform, she’s been using it to talk about injustice and express her disgust with certain politicians. That includes tweeting “You are trash” to Donald Trump daily during his presidency. (Her new target is George Gov. Brian Kemp, whom she now tweets, “You are trash,” daily.)

She calls the tweets “a daily meditation for me to remind myself that this is not normal.”

“There’s so many issues … The list seems endless and daunting,” she said. “Sometimes all I can do is fire off a tweet. Other times I have more energy and resources where I’m just like, lacing up my boots, grabbing my sign and like, ‘Where we marching?'”

Shining a light on disenfranchisement, police brutality and other issues is important to Rothwell as a Black woman in the world.

“I was actually at lunch the other day and, you know, had a bit of racism done to me,” she said, adding that the experience happened at a London restaurant. “If he knew who I was, maybe my experience would be different, but even that is disgusting — where you need to be a person of color of note for me to give deference versus you’re a human and you’re just trying to order food.”

It’s part of the reason she dreams of starring in a rom-com, so that audiences can see a curvy Black woman be the center of her own story — without those qualities being plot points.

“All women of color, I think, oftentimes in rom-coms, are the prop, they’re the best friend, they’re the nurse, they’re the wise, sage person that’s going to tell you how to find your love,” she said. “And so to put out a plus-size woman of color at the center of the story is important.”

It’s not something she could find on screen growing up, instead having to perform mental gymnastics to project herself onto all the thin, white protagonists.

“If I had I seen plus-size rom coms growing up, I would have felt entitled to love,” she said. “And that sounds sadder than I think I mean it to … but I want to be able to create a rom-com where the gymnastics for the viewing audience that look like me isn’t so technical.”

For now, Rothwell is focused on her project with ABC/Disney and two others at HBO, and of course, filming “Wonka,” a prequel to the 1971 classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder.

“It’s a massive, massive, massive production. It’s the biggest production I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “I went to dance rehearsal the other day, I thought it was going to be six people. It was 75. So it’s those kind of adjustments I’m making like, ‘Oh, this is big.'”

As an Anglophile, Rothwell said she’s been geeking out to work with some of her heroes, including Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) and Jim Carter (“Downton Abbey”). And then there’s Chalamet.

“He’s just like, this ball of energy who’s like, awesome and cool,” said Rothwell, who’s 41. “It makes me feel cooler just by proximity. I’m just like, ‘That’s a cool, that’s a hip dude.’ I feel like my grandmother right now.”

Rothwell is also just trying to live in the moment. Otherwise, she said she gets overwhelmed.

“I’m just really, really sort of trying to white knuckle the present,” she said. “But yeah, I’ve got a lot of fun stuff cooking.”

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