Despite starring in a show titled Insecure, Yvonne Orji feels comfortable sharing intimate details of her personal life with fans—including the fact that she’s a dedicated Christian who plans on remaining a virgin until marriage.
“I’m open, because why not?” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I’m grounded in who I am.”
She adds, “Before any of [the fame] happened, I sat down with myself and with God and thought, when I make it, how do you want me to represent you while I’m here?” The HBO star says she answered her own question: “It was like, OK, I know why I’m here. It’s to make you proud.”
Orji says she’s always more than willing to explain her decision to anyone who inquires.
“People ask about it because they’re curious, or they may not understand,” she says. “How will they ever get understand if I don’t talk about it? I can inform your curiosity, as opposed to everyone being in the dark and just sort of creating their own narrative about it.”
As for her personal narrative, Orji emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria at age 6. “It was the traditional immigrant story of my parents wanting the best for us and bringing us here,” she says. But life in Maryland wasn’t always easy.
“I was bullied because I have this thick Nigerian accent,” she recalls. “My mom would say, ‘We didn’t come to America for you to be popular.’ Which is fair, but as a kid, you’re just like, it would be really nice to have this thing that everyone else has.”
Later, after graduating with a master’s degree in public health from George Washington University, Orji says she shocked her family (who had always hoped she’d be a doctor), by announcing she wanted to move to New York to pursue stand-up comedy.
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“There was no signs of me wanting to do this,” Orji says. “We didn’t grow up with TV as a viable means of supporting yourself. [I told them] it would take me eight years to become a doctor, but give me eight years to make it in entertainment.’ And I’m happy to say, we did it in seven.”
- For more on Yvonne Orji, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
“I get people coming up to me and saying like, ‘I’m Molly!’ or ‘We just love that we’re seeing a black woman on TV who’s a lawyer because I’m a lawyer, too!’ ” Orji says. “It’s giving people an alternative. So much is happening in our community, in our nation, and now we get a chance to look on television and see a version of ourselves that we can actually relate to. I think that’s what speaks to the heart of a lot of people. It’s super cool to be in the middle of that.”
Insecure airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on HBO.
- With reporting by Jodi Guglielmi