In 'You're The Worst,' Even The Most Flawed Characters Find Love Producer Stephen Falk and actress Aya Cash discuss their FXX series about two self-centered people who fall in love. The characters are "stand-ins for the dark parts of all of us," Falk says.
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In 'You're The Worst,' Even The Most Flawed Characters Find Love

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In 'You're The Worst,' Even The Most Flawed Characters Find Love

In 'You're The Worst,' Even The Most Flawed Characters Find Love

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Yesterday, the cable network FXX announced it was renewing its series "You're The Worst" for a fourth season. When it premiered in 2014, many critics called it one of the best new shows on TV. The series was created by our guest Stephen Falk who serves as the executive producer. He was also co-executive producer of the Netflix series "Orange Is The New Black" and the Showtime series "Weeds." "You're The Worst" is sort of an anti-romantic comedy about Gretchen, played by our other guest Aya Cash, and Jimmy, played by Chris Geere.

They live in LA, and are both fairly successful at their jobs. Gretchen is a music publicist. Jimmy published a novel that was a critical success but didn't sell very well. He's working on his next novel. They're brash and self-centered and have been unsuccessful with relationships.

In the first episode, they meet for the first time outside a wedding reception. Jimmy has just been thrown out of the party because he caused a scene with the bride, who's his ex-girlfriend. Gretchen is leaving the wedding with a gift in her arms.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YOU'RE THE WORST")

AYA CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) You get another one of those?

CHRIS GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Pretty expensive.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Good job in there.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Getting married doesn't remove you from the burden of having to act like a human being.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Totally, those two are doomed.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Right? Has any couple ever had a more dishonest start to a marriage? I mean, the [expletive] to have a traditional Catholic ceremony...

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) When she's already had two abortions.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) You're pretty.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Thanks.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) How'd you know her?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) I'm friends with the sister.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) You're friends with fat Lindsay?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Yeah, me and fat Lindsay are hella close.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) So what have you heard about me?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Nothing, just that you're the worst.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Says the girl who just stole a blender from a wedding.

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) No, really? Oh, man. I thought it was a food processor.

GEERE: (As Jimmy Shive-Overly) Who's the worst now?

CASH: (As Gretchen Cutler) Yeah, well...

GROSS: After a one-night stand where they reveal to each other all the horrible things they've done, they decide to start a relationship. Although the show is a comedy, it's been praised for how it deals with issues like clinical depression, the death of a parent and PTSD, the subject of last night's episode. Steven Falk and Aya spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado.

ANN MARIE BALDONADO, BYLINE: Steven Falk, Aya Cash, welcome to FRESH AIR.

CASH: Thank you.

BALDONADO: Now, Stephen Falk, you're the creator of "You're The Worst." How did you first sell the show when you were trying to get it made?

STEPHEN FALK: I went into FX and basically said - I was always a big fan of "Mad About You," which was like an NBC show in - when I was in high school and early college, I think. And I found it really romantic. It was, you know, sort of a long-term depiction of a marriage, in this case, but of a relationship. And it was - really kind of went through the minutia of the day to day of that kind of stuff. It was like a rom-com in slow-motion. And I was always fascinated by that.

And so I went in - and then I was also sort of - had become really fascinated by British sitcoms and the fact that the Brits tend to allow for actual humanity in their characters and not to require their characters to hold up to some sort of false ideal of proper, good behavior. And so I sort of married those sensibilities. I kind of pitched it as a boozy English-ey, cable-ey update of "Mad About You."

BALDONADO: And how would you describe the main characters, Jimmy and Gretchen?

FALK: I think they're both narcissists. They probably have substance abuse problems to certain extent. They're both pretty good at their jobs, but they're incredibly self-involved and are sort of completely uninterested in their own psychology or in Jimmy's case too interested in his own psychology.

They don't follow normal societal rules. They talk in movie theaters. They are mean to kind of everyone they come across, if they deserve it. They kind of think everyone is dumb and annoying. And yet they very much love each other and think of themselves as a little team against the world. But really, I mean, they just sort of stand in for the dark parts of all of us that are still deserving of love at the end of the day.

BALDONADO: Stephen, one thing that works for them as a couple is that they started out by telling each other all the horrible things they've done at the beginning. They think, you know, why lie about it if it's going to be a one-night stand? Get all of that garbage, all of the horrible stuff out there early on. Do either of you have any experiences you want to share about that time, you know, that beginning of a relationship when you're figuring out what to share with someone or how to kind of craft what you want the other person to think you are?

FALK: (Laughter).

CASH: No, thank you. No, I...

(LAUGHTER)

CASH: Yeah. I mean, I think we all - we perform different sides of ourself in different situations and with different people. And I think when you're interested in someone romantically, there's a tendency to sort of try to show the good parts first. You know, bait and switch is a term that's used often. I feel like we think we have to hide certain parts of ourself.

But the truth is that the things that you fall in love with are usually not the things that you're first presenting. The reasons why you - I think intimacy is created through vulnerability and through - through showing sides of yourself that you don't necessarily think are the best. So it's a misunderstanding of how we fall in love. Personally, I am a very patient person. I tend to date people who show me a lot upfront that would make people run away. I had a boyfriend get arrested a couple of dates in. I had a boyfriend pee in my roommate's closet a couple dates - actually, that's the same guy. And he ended up being a wonderful, wonderful human. And we dated for two years. But it all happened within the first month.

BALDONADO: I went back and watched the first episode. And out of the gate, there's a lot of sex on the show. There isn't nudity, really, but there is sex. But it's integral to the story and to the characters. Stephen, why did you want to include that aspect into the series?

FALK: Well, if it's - if you're going to have a show about - about romantic relationships, I think sex is integral to that. I think we're a bizarrely puritanical culture. American pop culture has gone in a really odd direction where sex is usually portrayed either as just for titillation, both in movies and TV, or it's treated, like, deeply, deeply seriously and with all the sort of sexiness of it stripped out. And that always really bothered me. And every time I, you know, got the opportunity to do sex scenes on "Weeds," to write them, I did because I think it's a great joy of being alive and being a human.

BALDONADO: Aya, what did you think when you saw those scenes in that first episode? I would think it could be something uncomfortable to do.

CASH: I mean, I want to answer that with, yeah. I mean, like, I'm cool with it, and I had no reaction. And I think philosophically I'm very much on the same page as Stephen. But in reality, I was like, oh, God, no. I mean, it's terrifying to do. And I had never done them before, and I've been very specific about not doing nudity and not auditioning for stuff like that mainly because it is so - you know, as a lady, you get asked to take your clothes off all the time. And I think most of it is pretty unnecessary because I thought this script was so interesting and good. And I sort of understood the point of the sex scene. I got on board, but that doesn't mean I didn't have normal sort of human insecurities and anxieties about it. I remember sort of getting the nudity writer and being like what nudity writer? We're on FX. What? What? And they were like you can show side boob and butt. And I said, OK, you get side boob but show his butt. I think that was the agreement we came to for the pilot.

So, you know, it's a scary thing. And maybe I'm just a product of the culture that I live in, but I was definitely sort of nervous about it. Doing it is different because all the lead-up is sort of neuroses and then you get there and you just - everything normalizes it's your - I don't feel super uncomfortable once we're doing that because it's with people that I like and trust. And your arm hurts because you're lying back on it for two hours, and your feet go numb. And, you know, it's not sexy at all.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview that FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Aya Cash, the co-star of the FXX series "You're The Worst" and Stephen Falk the creator of the series. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado recorded with Stephen Falk, creator of the FXX series "You're The Worst" and Aya Cash, the co-star of the series.

BALDONADO: Now, Aya, your parents are both artists, and you've said that you grew up thinking being an artist was a viable career, didn't have to be about fame and fortune. You know, you can be kind of a worker artist. Can you talk about growing up in San Francisco with artist parents and how that affected what you thought being an artist would be?

CASH: Yeah. My dad was a - he did street theater with a group called the Pageant Players. They used to go on in the intermission of the Living Theatre. And the Living Theatre would scream give them all your money you bourgeois pigs because Pageant Players were like more underground than the Living Theatre. So he did that for a while. He played in a Balinesian gamelan for many years which is like a Balinesian orchestra and traveled around the world during that. He then was a musician playing flute and some light drug dealing. Hi, dad - very, very minimal (laughter) nothing hard - and then met my mom by fixing her flute because he fixed instruments. Then he became a therapist briefly and now he's a Buddhist teacher and Les Priest. If that's not an artistic life, I don't really know what is. So he taught me, one, that money wasn't important.

Neither of my parents were money driven, and that life is not necessarily about the things that our culture tells you that they're about. And that's a very - that's a very privileged point of view. My mom is a poet and a novelist and a memoirist. She would kill me if I was on FRESH AIR and didn't say her full name and her new book - Kim Addonizio, "Bukowski In A Sundress" is her new book. She also has a book of poems called Mortal Trash. There you go, mom. By the way, my mom's reaction and my husband's reaction to going on FRESH AIR was the same thing was, oh, my God, [expletive] you.

(LAUGHTER)

CASH: Because they both love to be on FRESH AIR. So, anyway, my mom is...

FALK: At least it was in that order.

CASH: Yeah. They were very excited for me, and we hate you. So my mom my entire life was a writer. And so, again, never about money, she really didn't sell out at any point. I remember people being like you should write a screenplay or you should write this or do that. And she just did her own thing. If she needed money she wrote. I mean, she was in Penthouse with an erotic short story because it paid really well. You know, she did things to pay the bills, but she really - she's always stuck to her artistic vision and what she thinks is important as opposed to what anyone else tells her is important or valuable. And I really respect that.

BALDONADO: Now, Aya, your training - you've done a lot of theater and your training was more for acting on the stage. And, like you were saying, "You're The Worst" is a comedy but it's a comedy-drama meld. I've read you talk in an interesting way about the difference between doing crying or sad scenes onstage versus for TV and film, specifically talking about Shakespeare and how you have to cry for Shakespeare. Can you talk about the difference of playing more dramatic roles for this stage versus for the TV show?

CASH: Yeah. Well, I think in both. If it doesn't say in a line I'm crying or, oh, I'm so sorry, did I get you wet with my tears kind of thing, I try not to - you never want to make a choice to cry. That's sort of not - and nobody's going like let me get - let me force these tears out in real life. It's sort of something that happens. So you want to stay sort of in the moment and let that happen or not happen as opposed to pushing it.

Onstage, you get a very long runway. So if you start at the beginning of a play, you have a - you have an hour maybe to get to a scene that you're having a huge emotional breakdown of being in that character and just sort of going straight through. It's like you sort of get on the ride and then get off at the end of the night. Film and TV is so - you do these little truncated bits sometimes a couple lines at a time. We had a - there's a scene in one of the episodes where I sort of go off on everyone. That was maybe a four-page scene that we would do in one. So sometimes you get a little lead-up, but it's definitely not the same experience as going from minute one and then finishing a play. And so I find that sort of harder to do. You know, the thing about TV is there's editing, too. So if you screw up a line or if you mess something up, they're going to take the best lines from the best takes and put it together. I mean, I do think that television is - in many ways, the actor is the least important and yet the most lauded because you can really craft a performance in the editing suite. I mean, not to discount that you need to bring something, but it's very manipulatable. So you also have to trust that and not get mad at yourself. If you stumble in a theater show, you know, you've got to sort of just get back on the wagon and keep going. But if you stumble in TV, you get to do it again. And that's a luxury that I have also enjoyed, that, you know, they're going to - and trust that they're going to pick the best.

BALDONADO: Another one of the strengths of "You're The Worst" are the supporting characters - Edgar, who is Jimmy's best friend, and Lindsay, who's Gretchen's best friend. I want to play a quick scene between those two friends played by Kether Donohue and Desmin Borges. They have asked for all four of their friends to - for all of them to go out to dinner together, and they've now been stood up a few times already. And Lindsay is wondering why their friends, Jimmy and Gretchen, don't seem to care about them.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "YOU'RE THE WORST")

KETHER DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Why are they treating us like this?

DESMIN BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) Lindsay, I think we're sidekicks.

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Ew, I am not a sidekick. I'm Beyonce, not Kelly Rowland. If I'm on a motorcycle, I'm driving the motorcycle, not riding in that [expletive] little side motorcycle thingy for poor people and dogs.

BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) Think about it - in your relationship with Gretchen, are you the Mary Tyler Moore or the Rhoda?

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Who are those people? They sound ugly.

BORGES: (As Edgar Quintero) OK, in "Flipping Out" on Bravo, are you the Jeff Lewis or the Jenni We-Don't-Know-Her-Last-Name?

DONOHUE: (As Lindsay Jillian) Oh my God. I am totally the Jenni We-Don't-Know-Her-Last-Name. Actually, I do. It's Pulos. I'm a big fan.

BALDONADO: That's a scene from "You're The Worst." Stephen Falk, can you talk about the supporting - they're more than that, but the best friend characters, Edgar and Lindsay?

FALK: Yeah. I mean, I love playing with form, and I think, like, when - I remember when I first - I probably read or saw "Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead" by Tom Stoppard. It's this play that takes two very minor characters in "Hamlet" and sort of makes them the - central to their own story, and everything that goes on in "Hamlet" is happening sort of around them and they're witnessing it. And I thought that was an incredibly interesting shift. So that's sort of where that idea of sidekicks becoming self-aware came.

And there's this trope in - when you have a rom-com, you need confidants. You know, it goes back to Shakespeare and probably before that. Juliet has her nurse. You know, you need someone who is working behind the scenes as a sounding board and giving advice and making the liaisons happen. And it's just kind of built into the form. But that always then kind of rankled with me. The idea that someone would sort of exist just to be subordinate to someone is not really how anyone lives their life. And, I mean, I'm sure Smithers has his own - he's central to his own drama and not just a sidekick to Mr. Burns.

So that was what interested me about that, of taking OK, well, I need Jimmy and Gretchen to be able to talk to someone about their budding relationship. But at the same time, the dramatist in me couldn't have those characters just be sidekicks, so I wanted them to have some sort of self-awareness in that. It's a little bit of a meta moment, but it's - it helped springboard them into their own storylines.

BALDONADO: Stephen Falk and Aya Cash, thank you so much.

FALK: Thank you.

CASH: Thank you.

FALK: Thanks for having us.

GROSS: Stephen Falk is the creator of the FXX series "You're The Worst." Aya Cash is the co-star. They spoke with FRESH AIR producer Ann Marie Baldonado. The new HBO series "Westworld" premieres Sunday. John Powers will review it after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

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