AYA CASH

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When I meet Aya Cash, the redheaded, fire-cracking star of the FX/FXX series You’re The Worst, it’s an unusually hot Los Angeles morning. She has just starting filming the third season of the hit FXX show which she stars, and in general has been as buzzy as can be on the internet and the whispers among Hollywood’s most elite set, yet she still acts as casual and cool as a barista working at a Williamsburg coffee shop. The first thing she does in a low-key but glamorous way is welcome me like we’ve known each other for years and then ask me who makes the blue kaftan I’m wearing, (shout out to Rodebjer), she immediately follows the designer on Instagram and thanks me.

Raised in San Fransisco in an eccentric household surrounded by artists and creatives, (her mother is esteemed poet Kim Addonizio), Aya’s background and in real life character could easily be the muse of a Woody Allen vehicle.  She is a seasoned actress appearing in blockbuster hits like The Wolf of Wall Street and Begin Again. Her television credits have been full of fan favorites like Modern Family, Law & Order, The Newsroom, and The Good Wife.  In You’re The Worst, Aya stars as Gretchen Cutler a work infused, tortured PR girl with comparable problems and a cute semi-fucked up relationship. Relatable topics like mental health, sex, death, depression, marriage, dating, and work are presented in a sensitive yet hilarious way. 

The first episode of You’re The Worst will prep you for the rambunctious, gnarly energy of the show. Words like, “blow job,” and “fucktard” are weaved into the characters brassy vernacular with ease.

“Yeah, the pilot kind of just preps you for anything. And then we calm down a little bit.” Aya says with a grin.

Her earnest yet deadpan delivery, and relatable character quickly propelled her into the spotlight as the patron saint of all of us.  Aya acts out scenes with intensity and comedic delivery with juxtaposed delight. It makes her extremely watchable on screen, a method that has earned her Critics Choice Award nominations and a ton of Emmy buzz.

I get to know Aya a little bit more and she talks about collaborating with her mom, internet trolls, and starring on You’re The Worst.

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You’re The Worst has some pretty vulgar lines and scenes. Have you ever felt prudish about any of the material?

My mom writes about sex and drugs and drinking. So, it was a part of my upbringing to be candid about that kind of stuff. Sometimes, probably, too candid, but no, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all.  Also, the lines are funny and character-driven, so it never felt like we were saying or doing things for shock value. It all made sense to me. I mean when I  was in high school I wrote poems about sitting on Santa’s lap and feeling his erection–which, by the way, never happened. But I thought that all titillating stuff was cool.

That’s great you grew up with this all this creativity and adult humor.

My dad is a Buddhist priest now, so you wouldn’t think. But he’s also pretty frank. He’s maybe less obvious than my mom–my mom, you see her and she’s got tattoos and piercings and fingerless gloves. She’s kind of an outward badass. So my dad too is pretty open. He used to do naked street theater, so he’s not… neither one of them were prudes, and [they’re] both incredibly artistic as well.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in San Francisco–on 19th and Castro. When I was seven, I told my mom I wanted to be a man dressed up as a woman for Halloween. And she said, ‘You mean a drag queen?’ And I said, ‘No, like the one at the grocery store.’ I just had no concept. I grew up in a total bubble. But when people think of bubbles, they think of possibly a conservative bubble. I grew up in a liberal bubble. I didn’t know about homophobia.

It sounds very San Francisco! How did you get into acting?

I went to the Arts High School and I auditioned for acting only because my best friend was auditioning for acting and I needed to go to a public school because we didn’t get scholarships into private schools. So, my friend was like, “Pick something in the arts,” and I picked acting. I started doing all these Shakespeare competitions and doing fairly well at them and traveling because of that. I thought, “Oh, this could be something I can do.” I really love Shakespeare, he’s probably why I started acting. I love the homework of it, figuring it all out and making things funny to a modern audience is very satisfying. But also, I thought I was gonna be a dramatic–I did like, Queen Margaret from King Henry V Part III.  I thought I was gonna be a dramatic actor. And then, I was sort of unintentionally funny at first, then I was like, “Oh! This works!” I think I probably took myself too seriously, so then people thought I was funny. Then I was like, well, that’s immediate feedback, I want that. You can’t tell if they’re into it in drama.

Was fame ever a motivating factor?

Yeah. I mean, I had the normal kid fantasy of being famous, in terms of I thought, ‘Of course I want to be on tv and in movies, I’m so glamorous.’ But, in reality, the way I worked… I mean, I didn’t go to LA. I went to school for acting. I really wanted to be part of the Shakespeare Festival or something along those lines. So, the truth was, even though, of course, you have those silly fantasies as a kid, what I was really interested in doing was theater–classical theater. It wasn’t until I got to New York and got started working on new plays that I started to think that I wanted to do new work.

I really enjoyed the process of working on new plays on Off-Broadway. That became sort of what I did. And then, from that, came film and television. So, sort of a step by step thing. Of course, you’re eager, like, ‘Yes, make me famous.’ But I think, luckily, I got on TV late enough in my career that I don’t have those same fantasies anymore–or want that kind of attention in that way. The first time you’re on Law and  Order, you’re like, “Am I gonna get recognized now?” 

Have you been recognized a lot?

Yeah. With this show, I definitely get recognized. But, the nice part about it is that everybody who recognizes me watches my show. So they’re actually into the show, as opposed to someone who recognizes me because they know I’m in something or they have seen me in a magazine or something like that. It’s really just fans of the show, so it’s usually a really positive interaction. I haven’t had really negative interactions with fans, barring the occasional Twitter troll or someone who says really nasty things about the way I look, or things like that. But never in person. Luckily, those people are pretty cowardly and typing on their keyboards.

That is so… that’s just horrifying!

Yeah. It’s hard when it’s directed at you. It’s hard to ignore. I don’t see every Twitter message–I’m not on that much, luckily–but they pop up once in a while. And it’s hurtful. Sometimes you can just laugh it off; that’s what I try to do. It’s just so silly. Like, who would ever write something nasty to someone they don’t know? It’s just sad. And, I get also the adoration that’s unearned as well. So, if I’m gonna enjoy the adoration that’s completely unearned and has very little to do with me, I gotta take some people who have a problem with me for no reason too. It’s all the same, ultimately.

You’re the Worst, was among the first wave of these millennial-esque shows where the conversations and scenarios have been really relatable. There’s one scene where your character is walking with her boyfriend and just starts crying. He’s just talking and going on and not even recognizing that you are in pain. It’s a funny show, but it also hit really close to  home in that achy kind of personal way.

I think Stephen Falk, really hit on something that we were missing in our media. Now we have more examples of shows like this. A lot of the things that came out around the time of You’re the Worst, suddenly hit a form, like BoJack Horseman and Broad City–all these things are similar in that way.

What shows do you think your group of friends on You’re The Worst would be friends with?

I mean, I think Gretchen could get down with the Broad City girls for sure. Everyone knows I’m a Mr. Robot fan. Everything’s so serious on that show. I would love to see a Mr. Robot crossover. Like, Gretchen and Jimmy attempting to be hackers and fucking everything up and annoying everyone.

You’re the Worst has tackled so many things, like we talked about earlier–real issues that real people go through,..is there anything that you would like to see covered? Or anything that you guys haven’t done that you would like to do?

I get to read the scripts like a fan. I read them in chunks. We read about four or five at a time, depending on how many we’re shooting in that block. I like to see what the writers come up with. My ideas are never as good. So just reading the scripts, I get to really, truly enjoy the show for what it is. I like that.

It’s really cool that you guys all let us in and that you’re part of that–you can carry a show and get people attached to you and wanna hear your stories. That’s so cool.

That feels good. And being able to come back to your own show every season. There’s a larger recurring cast that we’re close to. And getting to come back every year for the past couple of years, getting to do the show together, feels really great.

What are some things that you’re passionate about, other than acting? 

Well, I just started to produce. I’ve executive produced a couple of things and now I’m producing a movie based on my mom’s book. That’s something I’m really excited about and learning about. I’d like to be doing some more behind the camera stuff. I also… you know, I love reading. I really like books. But I wouldn’t say it’s gonna be any part of my career at this point, except possibly looking for things to turn into movies or TV shows. As of now, I’m really passionate about my dog! I have a million pictures of her, she’s such a sweetie.

Any plans to collaborate with your mom?

Yeah and my mom actually wrote a play for me. It was gonna be a one-woman play and now I think it’s a four-person play.  She wrote that and at some point, maybe we’ll workshop it. It’s hard, like in any business, if you haven’t done that specific genre before, it can be challenging to get the ball rolling. But, maybe I’ll do some readings of that. Her book was turned into a script by a woman named Terrel Seltzer She’s actually the one who wrote the screenplay, but it is based on my mom’s first novel. I keep her updated and try to keep her hopes low. It’s hard to get anything made. But I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to go into production next year.

When did you first start reading your mom’s stuff? Did you discover it? Or were there books laying around the house? Were you like, ‘Hey mommy, what’s this?’

You know, I feel like I always knew. I can’t think of a time where I was just like, ‘Oh, my mom’s a writer!’ My mom would put my to sleep by reading me poems, mostly not hers, but you know, she would read to me every night. That was a big part of my life growing up. My dad would also read to me, but my mom specifically would read me poems. I remember there was one: “The apparition of the faces in the crowd, petals on a wet black bow”–was one of the lines. I remember every time she would say the word, “apparition,” I would laugh. I just grew up hearing poetry. It was always a part of her. She had her writing time in the morning; she’d spend three hours at her desk writing. I was always aware. I was published when I was three in a book called Across the Generations. She sent in some silly stuff I said as poems and I was the youngest poet.

Your mom is such a rock star!

I wish I had ended up cooler than I was, but unfortunately, I was a really precocious child and sort of a middling adult. Read her memoir. There’s definitely a lot of depression and drinking it is as well. [laughs]

Like my life!

Like all of us! Oh, her memoirs are great. It’s called Bukowski in a Sundress, if you ever wanna read it.

I love Bukowski and I love sundresses–I love your mom!

Amazing.

When do you feel like you’re the most powerful?

I would say… Wow, that’s a good question. I would say I feel the most powerful when I’m with friends or with my husband.  I feel powerful at work after a great day where everything has gone really well and everyone’s in a good mood. I think being on a show and being one of the leads–it’s your responsibility to create a positive work environment and to make everyone feel good and do your job well–be prepared and all that. That feels powerful. A lot of times when you’re a guest star, you’re coming onto someone else’s set and someone else’s experience; you don’t know the ins and outs. It’s an adjustment period. On our show, I think we all feel really good when we all make a really good work environment.

MORE AYA IN OUR #14 THE NEW FACES OF POWER ISSUE!

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photos /   Shanna Fisher

styling / Chris Horan @ TMG LA

makeup /    Stephen Sollitto @ TMG LA

hair /  Christian Marc @ Forward Artists

story / Koko Ntuen

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