‘Get Out’ Breakout Lil Rel Howery Reflects on a ‘Dope’ 2017 (Exclusive)

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Comedian and actor Lil Rel Howery has barely had time to catch his breath since his career recently took off, first with the breakout role in Get Out as Rod Williams, a TSA agent so in tune with his “tingles” that he tries to convince best friend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) -- a black man dating a white woman, played by Allison Williams -- that his girlfriend’s family is racist. Later, he was back on TV with the (sadly) now-canceled The Carmichael Show and season two of HBO’s Insecure.

Released in January, the Jordan Peele horror-comedy became a box office hit. Now, as the year closes out, Get Out has become an awards season frontrunner, named Gotham Independent Film Awards’ Best Feature and listed among the National Board of Review’s top 10 films and earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. 

Earlier this year, Howery told me the film came at a time when people were searching for a hero to connect with. “It’s interesting that with everything that goes on now, from shootings to everything, as time goes on, I’m just starting to realize just how bad people want to see a regular hero. All Rod is doing is being a good friend.”

His heroic take has earned him an MTV Movie and TV Award for Best Comedic Performance as well as a nomination for a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. The latter, he says when we reconnect in November, is one of the biggest honors he could ever receive. “There are certain awards shows that stand out to me: the NAACP Image Awards and the Soul Train Awards. I used to watch those growing up and with my family. So, it’s really dope to be doing stuff that my family will look at, and it makes them even prouder of me.”

This year, instead of watching from home, Howery was one of the presenters alongside Robin Thede at the 2017 Soul Train Awards. It was just one more item on a growing list of 2017 highlights that also includes appearing in the music video for JAY-Z’s “Moonlight,” from the rapper’s GRAMMY-nominated 4:44 album.

“To forever be connected to that album and JAY-Z is dope,” Howery says. In the Alan Yang-directed video, he appears with Jerrod Carmichael, Issa Rae, Tiffany Haddish, Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson in a recreation of a Friends episode. “In each video you have all these great actors that are a part of this new culture thing that’s happening in Hollywood that he reached out to,” he adds, referring to the many star-studded videos that accompany 4:44.

Released in August, the video capped a busy summer that also included the second season of Insecure on which he plays Quentin, a colleague at Molly’s (Yvonne Orji) law firm where they share their disdain for casual workplace racism. The pair end up sleeping together, and Howery says that he initially thought the scene was a joke Rae, the series’ co-creator, was trying to play on him. “I first found out about the sex scene when we were doing the ‘Moonlight’ video. Issa was like, ‘Are you ready for your sex scene?’ I was like, ‘You crazy,’” he recalls. “She said, ‘I’m serious.’ I was like wait, ‘I got a sex scene? Get out of here.’” Despite the two hooking up, Molly makes a decision to go back to the married man she’s seeing in the finale -- and that has Howery (and fans) wanting to see what’s next. “There needs to be closure between Molly and Quentin.”

While a return to Insecure, which has been renewed for a third season, has yet to be determined, Howery will be back on screen with several upcoming films, including Bird Box with Sandra Bullock, Brittany Runs a Marathon and Uncle Drew. “It’s been a really cool six months for me. I’ve been doing four movies at the same time. It’s been really cool playing different characters and working with great producers and castmates.”

Howery couldn’t reveal much about one of the new projects, but fans will see unexpected turns from the actor, such as Howery playing a father figure to Jillian Bell in Marathon. “[He’s] a father figure to her because she and her sister lost their dad at a young age,” he says of the movie, which has been filming in New York City. It’s a role not too unfamiliar to the actor, who is a father of three kids.

In fact, Judah will make his film debut in Uncle Drew, about a squad of geriatric basketball players, as a younger version of his father. “So, the first face you are going to see is him, and I’m really excited,” Howery says.

Meanwhile, Bird Box, the upcoming sci-fi thriller directed by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) about a woman and a pair of children as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic setting, is sure to raise Howery’s profile even more. The Netflix film, which features an ensemble cast including Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich, gave the comedian an opportunity to flex his acting muscles. “My character is insane, always wanting to believe this apocalyptic crazy stuff is happening,” he teases. “It’s fun playing a role that’s not close to me -- it’s way different than who I am.”

The projects are just some of the many to surely fill Howery’s busy schedule as Get Out makes a splash this awards season and more people take notice of the actor in 2018. No matter what the future holds, though, he’s ready. “Honestly, I’ve already exceeded expectations for myself. The sky is not the limit for me,” Howery says. “I think one of the big things that I’m going to do is to keep making movies. I just really want to keep doing dope content.”

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