On TV, Jay Ellis is a man who appears to be a good guy, but might not quite make that cut.
That’s thanks to his character Lawrence on hit HBO comedy drama Insecure, which has catapulted his career into the stratosphere.
But outside the show, which airs in South Africa on DStv’s Vuzu channel, there are plenty of reasons to find him endearing.
Fans have spotted the actor around Cape Town for the last three months, where he has been filming Sony’s psychological thriller, The Maze.
He’s been learning some isiXhosa and isiZulu in street or on-set lessons and shares the details on his Instagram account.
“I’m learning a little bit each day as I go along. My tongue is definitely getting a workout – it’s not as lazy as it was when I first got here. I still mess up quite a bit though,” he says.
About the phenomenon that is Insecure, Ellis says:
“With this privilege I try to stay focused on work and use my platform to hopefully make the world a better place and help someone find their dream in some way.
“I get recognised a lot more, and it makes moving around a little bit hard and keeping a low profile a little more difficult than what it was before Insecure.
“I’ve been to Croatia, India, South Africa, Serbia, Greece – there’s not a country among those that I haven’t been recognised as Lawrence.
“We just go to work and have fun, so it doesn’t really hit us how many people around the world are connected to it.”
The 35-year-old star wears multiple hats, as an actor and now executive producer for mockumentary web series Hard Medicine, about a quirky well-loved medical doctor at a low-income health clinic who, with the help of her staff, fights greedy corporate heads to keep the clinic open.
Ellis describes it as Scrubs meets Parks and Recreation or The Office.
He leaves South Africa at the end of next week.
“At the moment I’m looking forward to Jaycation – Jay on vacation. I’m reading a few scripts right now, but don’t need to rush into anything.
“Luckily, I’m on a great show and work with great people and if that’s the only job I do every year then I’m very grateful for it and I can be a little picky.
“I’m also developing a digital project with Tristen J Winger, who plays Thug Yoda in Insecure, for Comedy Central.
“With that I’m just trying to use the platform that I have to give opportunities to other people.”
Ellis is on a personal mission to fight HIV/Aids in the black community, after two family members contracted the disease.
“In the 1990s I lost an uncle to Aids and at the time we weren’t fully sure what it was. As I got a little bit older and started to realise how he passed, it was something that really hit me.
“I watched this man the last two days of his life; I watched him slip away.
“Later, I had another family member who contracted HIV, who lived for almost 20 years with the virus. I realised that with this platform I couldn’t just not give back.
“I want to make sure that my community knows that we’re at risk and that this is something that’s hitting us harder than anyone else.
“We need to wake up and be part of the conversation about how we stop the spread, transmission and infection rate.”
Ellis has seen quite a bit of Cape Town in breaks during his rigorous six-day work week.
“Camps Bay is absolutely beautiful and reminds me of Malibu. Sea Point feels like everyday life. Khayelitsha was a great cultural experience.
“I got to go out and be with someone who lives there, go to a house party and listen to music and have a drink.
“Muizenberg for surfing. I was terrified that I’d get eaten by a shark the entire time. Constantia Nek – I had some great wine.
“But Table View is probably my favourite because you turn around and you see Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.”
Ellis says he can’t reveal much about The Maze, directed by Adam Robitel.
“This will be my first thriller and it has been interesting … a lot of stunts and action. I’ve been able to do a lot of the things I haven’t been able to do on my other TV shows,” he says.