'Insecure': Inside Sterling K. Brown's Surprise Appearance

Issa Rae Sterling K Brown - 2017
(Photo by Araya Diaz/WireImage)

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Insecure, "Hella Open."]

After a long timeline of dating struggles, Insecure's Molly (Yvonne Orji) found herself on a date with one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. Sterling K. Brown made a surprise appearance on Sunday's episode as Lionel, a single and very eligible bachelor whom Molly meets in a bar.

"He was a big fan of the show," Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't know if he called Issa [Rae] or if they met somewhere, but he reached out to her and was like, 'Hey, I would love to do anything on the show.' "

Penny says both he and Rae instantly warmed up to the idea of having the Emmy winner, who recently earned his second nomination for This Is Us, on the show. "Issa and I were just like, 'Uh, yeah.' (Laughs.) We said, 'What can he do? What can he do?' " says Penny. "You can't give him so much because he obviously has his own job on This Is Us. So we thought, 'What's a role that he can do that's kind of interesting?' "

The result is Lionel, who takes Molly to a fancy brunch for their first date and has no problem sharing his desire to settle down in a committed relationship and start a family. The image of Lionel as the perfect date was specifically a play on Brown's public persona and his current hot streak in Hollywood. (In addition to This Is Us, his upcoming film roles include Black Panther, The Predator, Marshall and Hotel Artemis.)

"This is a character who is very open," says Penny. "I wouldn’t say thirsty, but very eager to be in a relationship. We liked the idea that I think right now, obviously, everyone is in love with Sterling K. Brown, and we liked the idea too that he's like a male Molly."

While the outlook appears good for their romantic future, when Lionel tries to ask Molly out on a second date via text, she tells him she's busy and essentially blows him off, ignoring his second text message. The quick end to their romantic relationship was also a way to trick viewers who may have assumed an actor of Brown's caliber would be sticking around for a larger role.

"Last year, she would have been very excited to date him, but this year, she's kind of grown up, and the fact that she puts Sterling K. Brown on the back burner, I think, is just kind of awesome and unexpected," says Penny. "You're thinking, 'Of course they're going to get together,' and I like that we didn't do that."

Insecure airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.