“How honest can I be?” When Aya Cash lets these words fly out of her mouth during our interview, I’m too busy laughing to think about the fact that this is an incredible moment. How often does an interview subject ask that? “How far can I go?” Cash is basically asking, and—now that I think about it—she’s mimicking the setniments of her new series on FX, You’re the Worst. A hilarious, dark-ish, romantic comedy that consistently tests the boundaries (right before saying, “Eff it,” and breaking straight through them), the show is a true gem.
Cash plays Gretchen, and it’s a bit difficult to say much more beyond that. She’s the love interest… sort of. She’s the female protagonist looking for… something… maybe. Gretchen really is, thankfully, different from what we’re used to seeing on TV. She’s not an adorable, fumbling, manic, pixie you-know-what; she holds down a good job as a PR agent, but she stumbled into it, just as she stumbles into a relationship with Jimmy (Chris Geere). And while their relationship has that will-they-won’t-they bent, it’s more interesting than that because, individually, these characters have layers that we care about, beyond the romance. Paste caught up with Cash to talk wild and crazy auditions, art school girls, and that line about the black son she aborted in high school.
Paste: I read that you attended a school for performing arts, is that right?
Cash: Yes, I went to high school in San Francisco at the School of the Arts, mainly because my mom said, “I don’t want you to get beat up in school, because you’re a strange person.” (laughs) “So go to the arts high school.”
Paste: I went to an arts school, so I know a little about the magnet school world.
Cash: Oh, awesome!
Paste: What kind of experiences did you have there, that might have prepared you for what you’re doing now?
Cash: Hmmm, how honest can I be? (laughs) I had a really good time in high school. I don’t know if I was getting ready for this career. But what you learn in any acting class is how to make a fool of yourself, and enjoy things, and get out of your head.
In school I really loved Shakespeare, and I participated in a country-wide Shakespeare competition. But I also enjoyed the, um, other aspects of high school—partying and things like that. So I had a good foundation, but I also had a really good time.
Paste: (laughs) I am going to read into that on so many levels.
Cash: (laughs) Well, let me just say that I got it all out of my system before I turned 20. But I had a good time, and I can identify with early Gretchen a little. But I’ve never done coke! Let me just say that. I’ve never done coke.
Paste: That’s good to hear. I feel like those types of people are ready to settle down earlier sometimes, and get to work in their mid-twenties.
Cash: I think that’s true. And an arts high school is a great environment for anyone, even if you don’t end up getting into whatever you “majored” in. A creative environment is good for everyone. I didn’t have that typical high school experience of feeling ashamed of who I was. I once wore a superman cape and pajamas, and I thought that was awesome—and some people didn’t! But some people did, and it was an arts high school, so nobody made me feel bad about who I was.
Paste Magazine: So, how’d you get involved with You’re the Worst?
Aya Cash: I just straight-up auditioned. I’d met Stephen [Falk] about a year earlier on another project, but was unavailable for that. We had coffee and chatted about growing up in the Bay Area, and really got along. So when this came up I was interested, first off, because of him, and I also just thought the script was great. I had about four auditions, and then they finally gave it to me.
Paste: After each audition, did you ever feel like it wasn’t going to happen?
Cash: The first two auditions were just for Stephen, and I could feel that they went well. The third audition was a test, a chemistry read with Chris [Geere] and Kether [Donohue], and then I didn’t get the job. Chris and Kether did (laughs). FX was not sure about me, but Stephen fought for me. He had me go in and re-test in New York, and then FX said, “Alright, you can have her!”
Paste: Interesting. Did you ever find out what it was that they were looking for, that they initially didn’t see in your auditions?
Cash: Part of it was a hair, makeup, and clothes thing. I had gone in a little too trashy (laughs). Stephen was like, “Never do your hair and makeup yourself again.” I had smeary eyeliner, I ate a muffin right before the audition just to be obnoxious, and ended up with stuff all over my face. I was in a leather miniskirt, which was what I thought the character would wear.
Paste: Right, I can see how that would make sense for Gretchen.
Cash: But they were also interested in seeing the sweeter side to her. So they had me come in with a button-down, and a lot less makeup. Normally I get the note “more makeup,” because I’m an actress. “More makeup, more tits,” but they wanted me to tone it down so they could see if I could go to the other side. And it’s a testament to FX that they let Stephen have me. A lot of times the network says, “We’re the network, and we don’t care what you want.” But they believed in Stephen, and I have a great relationship with FX now. Once they embraced me, they embraced me fully.
Paste: I’ve been in love with the show and all its weirdness since someone first recommended I watch an episode. Was there a particular scene that stood out to you when you first read the script?
Cash: The pilot episode is hilarious. When we started shooting the series, I say the line, “I love my client like the black son I aborted in high school,” I was like, “we are going to do something really interesting here.” I would never expect to hear that on basic cable, and I couldn’t believe what we were getting away with.
Paste: Can you talk a little about working with some of the other cast members?
Cash: We really all met about a week before the pilot, and had an amazing time together. Stephen makes fun of us because we’re all so in love with each other and hang out, even when we don’t have to (laughs). We got very close. And that’s really all Stephen. That’s Stephen being like, “We don’t hire assholes, and we don’t hire people who aren’t good at their jobs.” We had a blast.
Paste: Your co-star Brandon Smith also had so many good things to say about Stephen! His name kept coming up—it sounds like he’s a pretty awesome guy.
Cash: He’s ah-mazing. I think you can see in the show this hopeful, romantic comedy aspect that really is Stephen. He’s a sweetie pie, with a wicked sense of humor.
Paste: The finale is coming up. What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects we should know about?
Cash: I’m just horribly depressed. That is my next project. The show is ending, but all I want to do is You’re The Worst, year-round!
I’m doing a play that a friend of mine, Matthew Lopez, wrote. And I’ll be getting into other things. But I feel like everything will be a letdown after You’re The Worst. It was such a great experience.
Paste: Has there been any news about FX renewing the show?
Cash: We don’t know yet, and we have no control over that.
Paste: Well, I’m over here keeping hope alive. I’ve really loved the show, so thank you so much for this.
Cash: Thank you! Thank you for watching.
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.