Somewhere around the 20-minute mark of our phone call, Kether Donohue warns me that she might cry. “I’m going to get emotional... again,” her voice cracks, but she catches it in her throat, and shifts into a joyful, appreciative laugh. It’s not unlike something her character, the hilarious and consistently underestimated Lindsay Jillian, would do on You’re the Worst, the FXX original romantic comedy about fuckups. She laughs, because she’s pleased that she’s realized the series will end the way it began: as a conventional tale told “without convention.” When the Season 5 finale airs on Wednesday (April 3), Donohue will be forced to say a final farewell to Lindsay, BFF to protagonist Gretchen Cutler (played by Aya Cash), and the role that broke her career.
Like most romantic comedies, You’re the Worst follows a love story, the on-again, off-again partnership of Gretchen and British narcissist Jimmy Shive-Overly (Chris Geere). And like most romantic comedies, their best friends—Jillian, and Jimmy’s closest companion and Iraq War vet Edgar Quintero (Desmin Borges)—act as the moral and comedic center of the series. Jillian’s friendship with Cutler is one of the show’s many realistic, kind and often ugly portrayals of human interaction that makes You’re the Worst one of the engaging shows on television, to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a cult favorite for future generations a la Freaks and Geeks. Last week, I spoke to Donohue about some of Jillian’s most memorable moments and what You’re the Worst means for the rom-com genre. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
JEZEBEL: So You’re the Worst is over.
KETHER DONOHUE: I’m not going to lie, I cried for, like, 10 minutes before this call. Oh fuck, I don’t think I’ve processed all of this. I intellectually know it’s over, and I say the words that it’s over, but I don’t think I’m emotionally, viscerally, feeling the reality of it. It’s really sad.
And then, of course, you have to talk about how sad it makes you to a million interviewers.
I know. I think it’s good; I think it’s therapeutic. This is kind of like a therapy session. I’m gonna cancel my appointment. I’m going to use Season 5 press as therapy. I’ll submit my phone bills for a tax write-off.
I don’t know if I can condone that, but I appreciate the sentiment! And for what it’s worth, I’m sure fans of the show find it to be therapeutic for them.
It’s been therapeutic for us, too. Hearing when it has resonated—with the depression storyline, anything that has resonated with someone... I think it’s therapeutic in a lot of ways.
For all of You’re the Worst’s fantastical schemes, it’s founded in reality—in its portrayal of mental health: Jimmy’s inability to grieve his father, Gretchen’s unglamorous depression, Edgar’s PTSD, and its portrayal of human events in general. I think Lindsay’s abortion in Season 3 is indicative of that. It wasn’t dramatic. It didn’t even happen on screen. Afterward, she eats pie. It’s presented as a normal, mundane, act of healthcare. Did it feel that impactful at the time?
Absolutely. Actually, I’m glad you brought that up, because that was a very significant time period, too. It almost feels like it was in the stars that it was supposed to happen at the time that it did, because the abortion episode aired literally a week before the [presidential] election. At that time, everyone was just so fucking angry. Everyone was just like, “What do we have control over here in terms of just, like, having some sort of liberal agenda pushed forward when we need it?” I remember [You’re the Worst creator] Stephen Falk was very clear that he wanted to make the abortion storyline very matter of fact. That was a very specific creative choice that everyone was on the same page about.
There were different things going on: Lindsay could be conflicted about the abortion, emotionally, because if she has one, that means she won’t be with [husband] Paul [Jillian, played by Alan McLeod] anymore, and that she and Paul won’t be a family anymore. However, in the world of You’re the Worst, the actual act of her getting an abortion—even calling it an “abobo” and going to Marie Callendar’s afterward—is very purposefully done in a very casual way to push forward the agenda that this should be normal. This should not be something that’s even a fucking question. This is her right. She doesn’t need anyone’s fucking permission.
In the plot of the show, the real importance of the abortion is that she’s taking control over her relationship-life, and not the actual act of an abortion, which I found to be really clever. The impact is Lindsay making the first real decision she’s made for herself in a long time. It’s her expressing her own autonomy.
Lindsay, prior to that episode, we saw her being such a quote-disaster—you could say, arguably, that [the abortion] was one of the most adult decisions she’s ever made up until that point because she’s actually being responsible. She’s thinking, “Oh my god, I’m not going to bring a human life into this world because I don’t want to, and I’m not ready, and I’m not in a right situation.” Like you said, it’s her first time, autonomously, taking charge of her own life. Thank god! Up until that point, she was the manifestation of someone having so much inner conflict, they don’t know what to do.
With all of Lindsay’s delightful messiness and outrageousness, do you think she’s found who she is? Or is the show ending while she’s in the midst of that journey?
After Season 3, I really think that it was all uphill. I really feel like we’ve seen her go from a conflicted person to someone more in alignment with her own self. [She’s] finding out who she is and what she wants [by] living on her own, actually getting a job, and supporting herself, and doing things she’s actually talented at. [They’re] really basic things other characters may already have as a given. It’s kind of cool to play a character that, as an adult, is just learning basic things that [many] take for granted.
Lindsay’s voice is one of her defining characteristics, and I think it might be higher than your natural speaking voice. Is that right?
What were you hoping to articulate, pitching up?
I think it might be a subconscious thing. Have you ever read Jane Fonda’s autobiography?
Reading it was really impactful for me. Throughout the whole book she talks about her work in feminism and what she’s learned. She’s continuously learning. She has this whole section about when she came into her own in the third act of her life, when she really felt connected to herself as a feminist. Her voice register started to drop and she felt more connected to her gut. I remember when I read that, something clicked for me. I don’t think I ever sat there, doing my lines, and [mimics Lindsay’s voice]: “I’m going to make Lindsay high-pitched now.”
When we got the script, from the pilot from Season 1, on the page Lindsay doesn’t know who she is. She’s not really connected to herself. I think that might’ve been why [I pitched my voice up] on a subconscious level. Reading that, it made sense when I was rehearsing this character because she was, at the start, a little bit disconnected, and maybe my voice went higher than normal? I feel that it’s related. But I also have to say, because I hate when people make things so cut and dry, that you can have a high-pitched voice and be connected to your identity. I have a high-pitched voice and I feel that I am my authentic self.
There’s a gendered discrepancy, right? People associate a higher-pitched voice with a baby voice—women who are and can be infantilized and sexualized.
Right. I think Stephen has succeeded at writing really subversive female characters that are full of paradoxes and contradictions. I like playing with that idea. On the surface, Lindsay could be labeled or pigeonholed as just the cartoon sidekick and then, out of nowhere, Stephen writes in these wonderful dimensions for her. And Gretchen, too—she’s super disorganized, and her house is a fucking mess; she burns her house down with a vibrator, but she’s a badass at her job, and when she shows up at her job, no one would ever know that she’s messy. I kind of like how Lindsay has that, on the surface, cartoon quality, but then underneath, there is way more there. I can relate to that. Someone might label me as dumb or underestimate me because of my voice, for example, but actually, I’m smart. I know what I want. I know what I’m doing.
One thing that strikes me in You’re the Worst are Lindsay’s sex scenes. It’s so unfortunate that this feels noteworthy, but it is rare to see a woman, especially a curvy woman, engage in playful, raunchy, adventurous sex on screen. The ass eating in this season was great, when Lindsay begins to see Gretchen’s boss, her first time with a woman. She has such a sexual appetite, and she enjoys satiation. Did you have any say in the kind of sex you’d depict?
Stephen showed us a picture for the ass-eating scene [in a group chat]. I wasn’t on set, so I wrote back, “That’s what I’m doing to a burger right now!”
Yeah. [Laughs] I think it’s lovely. You said she satiates and she has an appetite and I think that’s symbolic for a larger message he might’ve been trying to get across with his portrayal and writing of female characters. He never wanted them to be ashamed of having an appetite, both literally and figuratively. It’s a very specific choice that Lindsay is always eating or having sex. Why is it so wrong to want to consume something as women? We’re always so afraid of taking up space or being too much, and one of my favorite parts of getting to play this character for five years [is that] there’s no such thing as too much. The more, the better. The more, the merrier. I think that’s resonated with a lot of women.
Prior to You’re the Worst, the first thing I would think after I got cast [in something was], Oh shit, I gotta go to the gym and work out and diet and lose weight. There was always this underlying paranoia that I would get fired if I looked fat or heavy on camera. I remember on this show, that was never an issue. My body was allowed to go through changes and fluctuate. I was just allowed to be a human being with a body. It’s not good or bad—it just is. I really appreciate that Lindsay’s weight doesn’t have anything to do with her personhood. I think women [often] associate personhood with their BMI and weight, and it was very freeing to get to play a character that can have sex at a size 14, or whatever the hell size I am now. It’s not an issue. It’s not like someone in the scene before has to say, “Oh, did you see Lindsay gained weight? She’s still having sex!” No. She’s just having sex, period.
And more sex than everybody else!
She’s fucking the most out of everybody. She’s fucking enough for all the characters. It’s also nice because we’ve had a lot of female directors, and my favorite sex scenes were directed by Ryan Case [from Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine]. She came on for the second block this season. She really wanted to collaborate on coming up with creative ideas for the sex scenes. There’s one episode where Lindsay and Edgar are having sex and they’re in a side position, and me and her would just text each other different stick figure sex positions.
What do you hope You’re the Worst’s legacy is?
I keep in mind what Stephen said very early on, which set the tone for the whole five years. There are two things he said that I think have been the heart and soul of the show the entire time. The first thing he said... he encouraged [us] to be fearless, and bold, and [to] just try things. Even if someone doesn’t like what you tried, at least you tried something. I think the legacy of the show is going outside of the box of what we’re used to seeing in a comedy. The depression episode, Edgar’s PTSD episode—in every season Stephen, tried something new that played with chronology or points of view or how something was shot.
And two, he said human beings struggle with the primitive side of their brain that’s just impulsive, and instinctive, and living from the id, so to speak. We’re always struggling with that: what’s more traditional or conventional. I really think, from day fucking one to the end—you’ll see the way the show ends—it’s the same sentiment of how it started, which is: You’re telling a classic tale in an un-classic way. Ooh! The legacy is respecting an untraditional way of doing something otherwise untraditional. I really feel good about that realization. We made a romantic comedy and flipped it on its head.