Jay Ellis Comes Home to Harlem

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Jay Ellis was buying snacks at a corner bodega in Harlem when a woman in a crop top and Ray-Bans approached him. “Oh my God, I’m so happy!” she said.

This was on a sticky Monday in September, halfway through a walking tour of Harlem, where Mr. Ellis had lived, on and off, in the mid-2000s, when he was a model trying to break into acting. After years of sporadic work, he landed a starring role on BET’s “The Game,” a comedy-drama set in the world of professional football, then booked the romantic lead on the HBO comedy “Insecure,” playing Lawrence, the boyfriend of the series creator Issa Rae’s Issa.

At the end of the show’s first season, Issa cheats on Lawrence. Lawrence retaliates by dangling the promise of a reunion, then bedding a co-worker. Which means that attitudes toward the character — and Mr. Ellis — are pretty divisive. (“Insecure” returns for a fifth and final season on Oct. 24.)

“I’m not a fan of yours,” the woman in the bodega clarified. “That payback wasn’t right. Nonetheless you’re a great actor.”




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