When You’re the Worst first premiered in the summer of 2014, the FX network promoted the show as a crass, anti-romantic comedy about two people who are consistently mean to each other and everyone else in their lives. It was a depiction of modern love that may have easily turned off viewers who want a little sweetness in their sitcoms.
But over the course of the first season, creator and showrunner Stephen Falk, a disciple of Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan who spent years writing for her previous dark comedy Weeds, managed to inject just enough heart into his main characters that those who stuck with the show eventually fell in love.
It didn’t hurt that he had two actors who could move seamlessly between comedy and drama in Chris Geere, who plays a one-hit wonder British novelist named Jimmy, and especially Aya Cash, who portrays the severely jaded music promoter Gretchen.
But You’re the Worst did not truly find its groove until Season 2, which ends tonight on the spun-off FXX network. And it was all thanks to a remarkably nuanced performance by New York theater veteran Cash, who, as Gretchen, spent the season publicly battling a disease that is all-too-often kept private: clinical depression.
Before Wednesday night’s finale, The Daily Beast spoke to Cash about how she approached this delicate material, while still managing to be hilarious throughout the 13 episodes. And she shared her hopes for Gretchen’s future after FX announced it was giving the show a third season, set to premiere in the summer of 2016.
Congrats on getting a third season pickup for You’re the Worst. That must have been exciting news to get last week.
Yes, I’m very excited. We actually heard a couple of weeks earlier but were sworn to secrecy. But you never believe it until it actually comes out in print.
I want step back a bit and ask what you thought of the pilot script when you first read it. Was Gretchen a character you could immediately relate to or not?
Yeah, I mean, I read it and it was very much up my alley. The humor was something that I felt like I understood, and the tone. Sometimes I get comedy scripts and I’m like, I don’t understand what’s funny about this. So, I thought it was hilarious and smart. And I think I’ve said this before, but I was convinced they’d never let me do it. But I thought I had to go in and try. And luckily Stephen [Falk] agreed that I could do it.
The first season of You’re the Worst mostly chronicled how these two, somewhat emotionally disturbed characters got together. And then Season 2 was about the challenges of staying together. That seems like inherently more complex and interesting territory for television.
Yeah, I think that there’s sort of an old misunderstanding about what people are interested in seeing, this idea that you have to keep the “will they or won’t they” going or else [audiences] are not going be interested in what they’re watching. And Stephen very much set out to make the opposite of that, which is not a “will they or won’t they” but “they will, and how.” And I think that he also comes from the Jenji Kohan school, which is don’t save anything. So if you have good ideas, use them. Don’t wait. Believe that creativity is a well that can be drawn from over and over again as opposed to a limited resource. And yeah, I think he took a big risk this year, he and all the writers, with how they decided to play out the relationship, but I think it paid off. I hope it paid off.
Definitely. The show is about as L.A. as it gets. I know you’re a longtime New Yorker, do you relish the chance to skewer us west coasters on TV?
Yeah, I feel like I made my peace with L.A. many years ago—meaning as soon as I got [a role on] You’re the Worst. I used to hate L.A. and was continually mocking of it, and then I realized my hating of L.A. does nothing to L.A., it just makes me miserable when I’m here. And I have to be here for work a lot. And there are still parts of L.A. that make me crazy, but I’ve learned to value the good parts. The truth is, there are assholes everywhere. And there are plenty of assholes in New York, too. But it is fun to send up a certain cultural area of L.A., like the eastside, which is of course exactly what I would belong to if I lived here. I feel I can send it up because I can also sort of identify with hipster culture. And I’m not ashamed.
One of the most innovative episodes of the season came about midway through with “LCD Soundsystem,” which featured Justin Kirk and Tara Summers as a slightly-older married couple with a baby and a dog. What did they represent for you in the context of the show?
I think there’s a sort of delayed adolescence in our culture, and also in the show. Nobody really wants to be a grown-up with the sort of grown-up signifiers. But as you get older you can’t help but need some more structure and some more stability in your life. I think it’s very hard to continue partying hard every night as you hit your thirties. And there are certain things I think that couple represented for Gretchen about how to live a good life. That you could still be cool and you could still be engaged in the outer world, and have a kid and a house. So I think they were a representation for her about how to be a grown-up and take her out of her depression, that there is a possibility for a better life in a way that she hadn’t been able to see. And of course that world comes crashing down around her by the end of the episode.
You mentioned depression, which was such a huge part of this season for your character. How did Stephen Falk initially describe this new development and how did you approach it as an acting challenge?
When I first read the first four episodes, I also had the cliffhanger that everyone else did, which is [Gretchen] drives off into the middle of the night and we don’t know where she’s going. And I was like, “You have to tell me what’s going on.” So he told me what was happening: that I was depressed. That I was crying in my car and playing Snake. So I knew that. He didn’t really lay that much else out for me. I didn’t really know the specifics of it. I just knew that I was someone who had suffered from clinical depression for a long time. And I that was entering a depressive period. I prepared in the same way I do all the time, I think. I just always look in the writing and fill in any gaps with my own experience, whether that’s through friends or family or myself. You don’t ever think, “I’m making something important. I’m playing an issue.” That’s sort of the death of all art, I think.
It’s pretty unique to be able to do that kind of work in the context of what is really a half-hour comedy show.
Yeah, and that’s really fun. None of us in the show are stand-ups or sketch people. None of us really come out of the pure comedy world. So it’s fun for us because it’s more in line with what a lot of us have done on other jobs. We all have done a lot of comedy as well, but it has not been our sole bread and butter. So it’s fun to merge different sides of yourself as an actor and get to play all the notes.
One particularly devastating moment comes at the end of last week’s episode, when Jimmy has contacted everyone Gretchen knows in attempt to make her feel something. And then, just when you think he is going to ditch her for good and go away for the night with his new bartender fling, he stays behind to be with her. Can you talk about that cathartic “You stayed!” moment that comes at the end of that episode?
You know, it’s funny. If I’m going be totally honest, I have to cry a lot in the show and have some emotional moments. As an actor, the trick to crying is trying not to cry. Crying itself is sort of the easy part, but you don’t earn it if you’re trying to cry. So you’re never going, “OK, now I have to cry in this moment.” It either happens or it doesn’t and I try to take that pressure off myself. Shakespeare’s the worst, because he often is like, “Oh, these tears,” and you’re like, “Fuck, I have to be crying right now.” But [with You’re the Worst] I really felt like I wasn’t worried, I just sort of let what happened happen throughout the season.
And then that scene I was actually concerned about. I felt like maybe I was pushing it. It was super hot in the fort and some days you just have a bad day. Kether Donohue [who plays Lindsay], goddess that she is, we’re very honest with each other, so I just went up to her and was like, “Tell me if I was bullshit.” And she was like, “You weren’t bullshit.” And I said, “OK, I’m just going to trust you because I think you’re honest.” But it was one of the few scenes where I got very nervous that I had completely blown and ruined the entire series.
Well, I think it ended up being one of the most powerful moments of the entire series so far.
Then, this week is the season finale and it seems like Jimmy and Gretchen are going to make it, even uttering those three scary words to each other at the end. Can you share any details about what we can expect from their relationship in Season 3? Have you heard anything or learned anything about what’s coming up?
So, I don’t know if you’re heard of Iron Mountain, but that’s essentially where Stephen keeps all of his ideas, locked inside a mountain that you can only enter by password. We have no idea. I am so glad I’m not a writer on this show, because I remember after Season 1, we got picked up for Season 2. And Season 1 went pretty well and the critics were pretty complimentary and very excited about the series and I was like, “Well, shit, I don’t know what they’re going to do next year. I hope they don’t blow it.” Because I’m a pessimist, so immediately, as soon as something good happens I think, And then there will be bad. So I kind of have the same feeling [now]. I’m like, “Wow, they did a really good job this year. Now what?” I have no idea. So I’m just here to say their words once they come up with interesting things to do.
Do you have any hopes for Gretchen moving forward? Do you think she’s going to be OK?
I think she’s going to be OK in the way that people are in the world OK. Clinical depression is not something that just magically goes away. It can come on with almost magical immediacy, and sometimes leave in that same way. But it always comes back. So I think that she will continue to struggle. She may not be in a depressive episode in Season 3, because I think we have shown what that is and what that has done to the relationship. She’s going to get help in a different way, I would guess, next season. Because at the end of this season she’s going to look into drugs, which means she also needs to look into therapy, because you have to go to a psychiatrist in order to get those drugs. So I assume there will be some sort of exploration of that. Chris Geere has said that this year was “Jimmy against Gretchen” and next year he wants “Jimmy and Gretchen against the world.” And I feel like that’s a smart and probable thing.
Any dream casting for Gretchen’s psychiatrist?
Oh God, I mean, I have plenty. Frances McDormand. She’ll never do it, but that would be a dream. I think she would make a great psychiatrist. Let’s just keep saying it and it’ll happen. You have that power, right?