Aya Cash hates auditions; the anticipation, the waiting, all the other actors who are potentially more suited for the job. The experience is a nightmare, harboring all the fears of working in a profession where work is chosen seemingly on a whim.
“This idea that talent wins all is just not true in any business, ever, but we like to pretend,” Cash said, sipping green tea on a rainy Brooklyn afternoon. “The dream: we can all do it as long as you have access to x, y and z.”
Cash knows that talent and pedigree—as well as a love for acting and the material—doesn’t mean it will all work out. She still walks by Chat n’ Chew in New York City’s Union Square after a tough day to remind herself of how far she’s come, from waitress working 60 hours a week to pay the rent, to full-time actress. It still doesn’t make rejection any easier. The day we met in a quaint Brooklyn pizza spot, she got turned down for two potential jobs. Cash still suffers through some of the same struggles that befell her before getting the career changing role as Gretchen Cutler on FXX’s You’re the Worst. She still has to audition.
Getting the part wasn’t straightforward for Cash. While she was show creator Stephen Falk’s first and only choice to play the female lead opposite Chris Geere, FX initially said no after a screen test. Falk persisted, though, and network executives gave Cash a second chance. After taping a second scene the network agreed with Falk and signed her.
The night Cash got the news she got the part, she celebrated backstage with the cast of the play she was in, then proceeded to have to act as if her head was being smashed into a wall and play out an attempted rape scene. “It was a very, very dark play and we were so thrilled,” she recalled.
You’re the Worst became a critical success, with continued accolades as it enters its final season, and devoted fanbase willing to follow two seemingly terrible people through the trials and tribulations of their relationship. Geere’s portrayal of the egotistical British writer Jimmy Shive-Overly juxtaposes Cash’s equally introverted and destructive Gretchen in a way that feels hyper-real. They’re two souls scared of commitment and struggling to give up what they’ve built: a life without boundaries but void of personal meaning. It’s that dynamic along with the pitfalls of modern relationships—hookups, dating, moving in together, commitment in a world where we can cancel any subscription or relationship with the push of a few buttons—that allow Cash to flourish into one of television’s most rounded female characters.
The show has been lauded for its spot on depiction of mental illness and the effects of depression on relationships. Take season two: Gretchen spirals into a depression that hits the hallmarks but gives her room to breathe. The show doesn’t play it for cheap jokes or easily digestible nuggets with some lesson at the end. Instead, it’s a multi-episode story arch (and recurring plot note) that lets Cash show and express the dark and deep seeded feelings that come with clinical depression through her subtle and expressive acting style.
“[Cash is] such a good actresses. She is a theater actress, which is something I hold in high esteem. I think not a lot of this town cares about training or pure acting chops, which is something I do care about,” Falk tells me over the phone. “They are more interested in ‘are they right for the role?' rather than ‘are they just a kick ass actress who could legitimately do Shakespeare or a multi-cam and still be great because they are just that fantastic.’”
With final season of You’re the Worst beginning on January 9, Cash sat down with VICE to discuss the show and how she got to where she is today.
(The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
VICE: I read watching Star Trek was your ‘I want to be an actor’ moment. But even with that, how did you decide that, at however old, ‘I want to act?’
Aya Cash: Ultimately I auditioned for the arts high school because my parents were worried about me going to public school and the private school didn't give us enough scholarship money. I was a very tiny person and they were worried about me, I think literally just physically that I would get the crap beat out of me because I was very small. I auditioned for the arts high school for acting because my best friend was auditioning for acting and I thought it would be fun. I did In the Boom Boom Room by David Rabe, which was a very inappropriate monologue for a 13-year-old. I was a stripper, I believe.
VICE: How did you come across that play then?
I don't know.
VICE: Was it in your mom's bookcase? (Cash’s mother is poet and novelist Kim Addonizio.)
No, I found it in a monologue book. I chose a monologue, but I was always attracted to darker stuff probably because my mom wrote a lot about the seedier elements. My mom is a poet and novelist and she wrote a lot about drinking and sex and poet things.
VICE: Charles Bukowski is who I reference when people say “seedier things.”
Her memoir is called Bukowski in a Sundress, which is what someone called her once, which is funny because Bukowski is kind of a misogynist and my mom is definitely a feminist. She was interested in those things, so I was probably drawn to that, if we want to therapize me. I was probably drawn to that because I was connected to my mother and I thought that was artistically interesting and valid because that's what she was working on and I was like, great, I’m going to play a stripper.
VICE: Had you acted before that?
The only thing I remember doing was when I was like five I was in some sort of short play. I remember this—you know they say memories, the more you remember them the less true they are; if a memory comes to you that is a truer memory because you sort of write stories in your head. I have a memory of being five years old and it was The Princess and the Pimple, and I remember running because I’m running in the scene and I fell down and I got up and I looked to the audience and said, “I fell because I am so excited to go see myself in the mirror.” I improvised something and everybody laughed and I remember being like, oh, thats cool. Other than that, I can't think of any other real moment of wanting to be an actor. I think it's one of those things you want as a kid because everyone wants to be a singer, an actor, or a vet.
And then I got really into Shakespeare randomly at my performing arts high school. I was super interested in working on Shakespeare and then it became like, oh, this could be a thing that I do.
VICE: You’re the Worst is about relationships and the proposal scene was almost identical to mine except I didn’t run away. I felt the same way, though, I didn’t know how to ask the question.
Proposals are weird because we really only see them on TV. I ran from my ring. My husband tried to propose and I said yes but I couldn't let him put it on. It was so strange. I kept running. He was like, "do you want to put it on?" I was like, "yeah, I want to put it on." Proposals are strange.
VICE: The whole thing is strange, but that's what I think makes You’re the Worst work, it doesn’t hide from the strange.
It doesn't pretend that things are different. I always think it's the most romantic comedy because it's cynical and that's what romance is. The reason Romeo and Juliet is romantic is because they're fighting against all odds, against their families, and that's what the romance is. Not because it was like, hey, I think you're great, I think you're great too. That's not romantic. Romantic is at odds with something.
VICE: Romances are usually the saddest.
Same with comedy. I always think comedies are the saddest.
VICE: What does the show say about modern relationships?
I think that all humans are flawed and there is someone there for everybody. People were so surprised to see these people are so fucked up and narcissists and drunks and whatever, but we're all fucked up and you just have to find the right other kind of person who is also fucked up and compliments your fucked up-ness. I think modern relationships are great: you get to decide what makes your relationship work. It doesn't have to look like your parents’ relationship or your cousin's relationship or your friend’s relationship. You get to decide on your terms within your relationship and I like that.
VICE: We don't always know what we want.
No. And sometimes what you want in a relationship changes. I’ve been in my relationship for 13 years, what I wanted when we first met was very different from what I want now and how we interact.
VICE: What else are doing?
Last year I did my first clown workshop and I'm doing another clown workshop this weekend.
VICE: It’s great to do something new and totally different.
It's not about being a clown for me, it's about being a beginner. I think it's good to be a beginner and not expecting yourself to be an expert immediately. I want to do something that is freeing and I found it really freeing last year, not because I was good at it.
Last time there was a lot of non actors in the class and that was really fun. It's expression and letting go. I am definitely a control freak. The thing is about needing boundaries, but I think that is fine. But also it's totally letting go in this and I think that is healthy. I could also do 'shrooms but I am going to do clown class instead.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.