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With a critically-acclaimed role on one of the best shows on TV, Aya Cash is officially a name to commit to memory. On FXX’s biting comedy You’re the Worst (now in its third season), she continues to deliver one of the most important performances on the air today. Created by Stephen Falk, You’re the Worst centers on her character, Gretchen, and her romantic entanglement (and eventual relationship) with fellow self-centered partier Jimmy, played by British actor Chris Geere. As the San Francisco-born daughter of a poet-writer mother and an eccentric Buddhist-teacher father, Cash, 34, graduated the University of Minnesota Guthrie BFA acting program with dreams of becoming a rep actor at a theater company (she performed in a handful of Shakespeare festival plays during her final year of school). Cash eventually moved to New York and split her time between a waitressing gig and auditions—making appearances on Law & Order, Sleepwalk with Me, The Newsroom, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Good Wife and landing the FXX gig that catapulted her career.
While themes of toxic behavior and self-destruction are interwoven throughout the FXX hit, last season ended with the series tackling Gretchen’s clinical depression#8212;including her eventual agreement to seek help. Cash tells Paste that this was a deeper layer of the storyline that she didn’t see coming.
“I always thought the show was smart and funny and interesting, and had moments of real depth, but I was not expecting the depression arc,” she explains. “You just don’t expect a comedy to go there, because we’re conditioned to think of comedy as limited in some way.”
Both critics and viewers lauded Cash and the show for tackling the subject in a way that was nuanced and relatable, without the shroud of doom and gloom. “I was super-proud and happy that people actually found it to be helpful, and would come up to me and say that I’d helped them in some way,” she says. “People who suffer with clinical depression are everywhere—it’s not just someone locked in an institution. And as in life, there are also moments of levity.”
You’re the Worst’s steady rise in popularity season after season appears to come at a time in TV where more shows are embracing and celebrating, multi-dimensional female characters (see: Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer) that challenge viewers to do more than pigeonhole them as merely likeable or unlikeable. If you ask Cash, it’s about time.
“It’s sad that it has to even be talked about at this point—you think you’re in one place in the world and then you realize, ‘Oh yeah, our media has been feeding us nice, pretty girls for a long time, so it’s shocking to see complex female characters,’” Cash explains. “It makes me a little sad that we have to have the conversation about things like the fact that Alicia Keys doesn’t wear makeup anymore, which I think is incredible and so brave, but the fact that it has to be brave and incredible is also sad.” Her lassitude concerning the subject is perceptible and completely understandable.
You’re the Worst’s third season is now well underway, and fans of Cash will soon see her flexing her acting muscles in a different way, in the Chicago-based 8-episode Netflix anthology series Easy. The series, from notable mumblecore producer and director Joe Swanberg, premieres on September 22, and also stars Orlando Bloom, Marc Maron, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Dave Franco.
“Easy was a completely different experience,” says Cash. “Even in the audition process, Joe just talks to you. We had probably three or four conversations ranging anywhere from an hour-and-a-half, to three hours long.” These conversations, Cash explains, helped Swanberg develop roles outside of what the actors typical play—and without a script.
“It was so fun and terrifying,” she says of the improv-based role. “You don’t have any lines. You just talk and you use different parts of yourself. You create this character, and you decide what she says and then Joe will say, ‘You know, I think you’re going down the wrong path with this,’ or, ‘I think we want to talk about something more like this,’ and he shapes the scene that way.”
Cash is also charting new territory in the form of producing, a role that she says was born of necessity.
“I would love to just be handed jobs all the time and just be an actor, if I’m going to be totally honest,” she says. “However, it’s not how the business works. I may produce for other people at some point, but right now, I just want to do good, interesting work, and I’m a woman in a business that does not value aging as a woman. I want to set myself up now so that I can create interesting, good work for my entire life.” Her latest producing project is a screenplay adaption of her mom’s first book, a novel called Little Beauties, that’s slated to begin shooting next year. She adds that, so far, she’s been working almost solely with female filmmakers.
When asked what advice she’d give to herself if she could go back 10 years, she admits it’s the same advice she’d give herself now: “Be kinder to yourself, don’t take rejection so personally, travel more and develop your life more outside this business.”
If You’re the Worst gets picked up for a fourth season (a likely occurrence), Cash says she’d like to spend a month living in a different country before filming.
“Right now I am living the dream, and I want to be doing better things with that,” she explains. “Because otherwise, what a waste. Who knows how long this will last? I want to really enjoy this time.”
You’re the Worst airs Wednesdays at 10 PM EST on FXX. Easy premieres on Netflix September 22.