It may sound earnest, but all Jay Ellis wants to do is make a change. On the hit HBO show Insecure—in which he stars as Lawrence, Issa Rae’s sexy, sensitive boyfriend—that takes the form of his character getting off the couch and out of sweatpants to start a new tech job (he also decides to leave Issa’s eponymous character in the season-one finale, after she cheats on him). But in real life, the 35-year-old, South Carolina–born actor is taking on a greater challenge: educating the masses about HIV/AIDS and its impact on the African-American community and beyond.
“I think there’s this younger generation that doesn’t remember the AIDS epidemic,” says Ellis, whose uncle died of AIDS complications. The event spurred him to become an activist and later a board member at amfAR. “We still owe the people who have passed and who have lost,” he says, “but also ourselves and future generations. We have the responsibility to eradicate HIV and AIDS.”
He’s brought that same passion to his acting career. The former military brat and college basketball player moved to Los Angeles in 2007 before scoring his first gig, on BET’s The Game. Then came turns on How I Met Your Mother and Masters of Sex. But Insecure, which returns July 23, is his biggest—and most important—role to date. “I want to change the narrative around young black men in this country,” Ellis says. “One way to do that is onscreen. If I can be in someone’s home every week, I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”
Photography: Austin Hargrave
Styling: Mark-Paul Barro
Hair: Ananda Tuyes
Makeup: Michelle Diaz
Suit: Topman, Sweater: COS
Like what you see here? Subscribe and be the first to receive the latest issue of Out. Subscribe to print here and receive a complimentary digital subscription.