March is a month for brackets, so this week on The Ringer, we’re hosting The Best TV Characters of the Century—an expansive, obsessive, and unexpectedly fraught competition to determine the best fictional TV personality of the past 20 years. To help the public make informed voting decisions, The Ringer has contacted some of the people who know these characters best: the actors who played them. Check back throughout the week for more interviews, and be sure to vote for The Best TV Characters of the Century Bracket here.
Kether Donohue, who played the coquettishly uncouth best friend Lindsay Jillian in the FXX dark sitcom You’re the Worst, was standing in line for the bathroom at a restaurant in West Hollywood a few years back when she felt the stare of a woman behind her.
“And I thought it was because I had like, horrible acne or something,” says Donohue, speaking by FaceTime over the weekend from her apartment in East L.A. and stroking a very clear cheek. “I was thinking, I know, I need to get a facial. But then she’s like, ‘I just have to say, I love You’re the Worst.’ And she says, ‘You know, I’m pregnant, and I’m married, and I just want to let you know I really connect with your character, because I’m so horny!’ She was like, ‘I really am embracing my inner slut because of Lindsay!’”
This was an enormous compliment for Donohue; over the course of five seasons on You’re the Worst, her character, Lindsay, was indeed pregnant and married and horny, sometimes at the same time. She knocked herself up with a turkey baster, stabbed her husband, flaunted her cleavage, fought with her insufferable sister, told pedophile jokes at the workplace, became a schemer and a fixer and a helper, and referred—I think earnestly!—to sugar as “sweet salt.” When she tells her best friend Gretchen, played by Aya Cash, that “you’re listening to poor-people radio, you have the bush of an Italian man, and you’re on crack,” it’s a legitimately motivational speech.
In a show packed top to bottom with irresistibly irredeemable characters, Lindsay is one of the worst, and thus best, of the bunch. Below, Donohue discusses the role, ditziness, and how to safely stab a fellow actor.
Hello! Thank you so much for the video chat!
Aya talks about this all the time, I think she even put this on her Instagram birthday post to me, but: I am a FaceTimer! Now, because of quarantine everyone is all of a sudden FaceTiming. I’ve been FaceTiming people since FaceTime came out and people always made fun of me. So this is great. And, no one can judge anyone. I look like a werewolf.
If I tilt my monitor down even once inch, all you’ll see is laundry.
[Through a mouthful of KIND Bar] I’m eating a KIND Bar for breakfast.
My only good FaceTime story is that I did a piece on A-Rod once and while I was interviewing him, J.Lo FaceTimed him and he turned the screen to me. So I FaceTimed with J.Lo.
When I was doing Grease: Live I did the Hollywood Today morning talk show and Kris Jenner was on before me and we were on the same couch and I was like, “life is really weird.” Because I was an actor promoting a show, I was supposed to think that was normal, right? But it’s not normal to be with Kris Jenner.
You’re doing great, sweetie.
Babe, your interview was great.
You’re the Worst wrapped up a year ago after five seasons. What do you miss most about playing Lindsay?
Playing Lindsay just gave me so much freedom and permission to do such bold, ballsy, out-there things, and it’s like, it was my job. I just loved the freedom. It was just such a gift to be able to play a character that littttterally has no boundaries.
I think I’ve learned to be more compassionate to myself, honestly, playing Lindsay. Because playing this character who does such out-there things like stabbing her husband—but you’re still supposed to love her, and I’m supposed to, like, understand why she would do that—you really have to have compassion. I think I just learned how to have more compassion for my darker side.
What’s your favorite episode for the character?
I have to go by instinct here: Season 2, Episode 6, “Side Bitch,” by Alison Bennett. It’s the one where [a newly separated] Lindsay has to figure out how to do everything on her own. She rides the bicycle …
Her power goes out because she doesn’t know how to pay bills.
I just love how in the writing of Lindsay, what I constantly appreciated was things could have been portrayed as on the nose, or “Oh, she’s just the dumb girl.” And what made You’re the Worst great was that it never stayed surface like that. There was always so much more going on underneath. So just factually, yeah the episode is like: “Lindsay doesn’t know how to do stuff. She can’t get home.” I loved the writing and the directing of that episode—there was just so much opportunity to show and just pull back the layers of Lindsay and see the vulnerability behind her. There was just so much opportunity to do broad humor, and classic comedy, but there was so much depth to it.
I’ve read that the way you received the scripts was that you only saw a few at a time.
We did block shooting, and that’s also a stylistic choice on Stephen Falk’s part. He didn’t want the actors to necessarily know what was going to happen. Every time I read the blocks for the scripts, for any of the blocks, I felt like an audience member.
Is there one that you got and almost dropped the page?
When I saw the artificially inseminating yourself with a turkey baster! That’s where I was just like … I think I said to Stephen and the writers, “Wait, so this is only Episode 2!” They said, like, “This isn’t even the max level of craziness.” I was like, buckle up. And then I had to delete the search history on my phone.
Online dating is hard when the world is full of so many pricks. Lindsay’s single when You’re the Worst returns 9/9.https://t.co/VmZPdmP9Tz— You're The Worst (@YTWFXX) August 31, 2015
When you were cast for the role, you lived in New York but have said you were lucky to wind up auditioning in person in Los Angeles.
This business is fucking hard and crazy and like, you often wonder, “Am I a masochist?” Like I’m voluntarily signing up to be in this world of rejection. Whenever actors are going through it, I’m like, no, hang in there because when I booked this, I had tried out L.A. and it wasn’t working. And my manager dropped me, my ex-boyfriend of eight years broke up with me. I moved back to New York. I was collecting unemployment. I auditioned for a toilet paper commercial.
I did an Audi commercial that [You’re the Worst director] Jordan Vogt-Roberts directed. It was shot in North Carolina because Claire Danes was in the commercial, and I played her bitchy publicist. And it’s so funny cause she was shooting Homeland in North Carolina. And I’ll never forget, she’s like, “Yeah, we’re shooting here because this is where my day job is.” Like my day job is, you know, waitressing at the Irish tavern. Your day job is Homeland!
Weirdly, my animation agent in L.A. calls like, “Hey, could you fly out to L.A. tomorrow?” I was like, sure. And that same week is when I got called in for You’re the Worst. And it was because Jordan, who directs the Audi commercial, who’s directing the pilot, he brought me it. It really felt like magical synchronistic circumstances. Some people are into synchronicities. I mean, I am one of the—I could be considered an annoying hippie person. It just felt very right. I’ll never forget going in the room with Stephen and the casting director. And like, if I had been in New York and done a self-tape, there [would’ve been] a different energy in the room.
I’m a prop person, too, which sometimes in auditions is frowned upon. I kinda, like, get carried away. I brought a juice bottle and was just like [extremely jacking-off gesture] shaking it a lot. I remember Stephen had an old headshot of mine where I had a pixie haircut.
From the Apple commercial?
FaceTime! See, I’m the first FaceTimer!
I have a mental image of a scene where Lindsay eats her coworker’s noodles out of the shared fridge with her bare hand. What kinds of things did you learn from playing such a vivid role?
Aya Cash always uses the example of how her character Gretchen is this high-functioning publicist. She’s brilliant at her job. But yet you go home to her place and she’s living like a disaster and her vibrator lights on fire. So the way that’s extending to my answer about what I learned playing my character was that it allowed me to embrace my own complexity because that’s something that I always struggled with.
What do you think you added to the role?
Growing up, I always felt like I had to prove to people that I was smart, because I am like a clown and I do say things that are quote-ditzy. The way I speak, you know, could be considered, like, “Oh, she is a Valley girl.” But inside I have so much soul and depth, and I am smart, and I felt like growing up I always had to prove to people that I am smart.
And I think playing this character, what it taught me was that I am comfortable with my complexities, that I know they’re there, and so that’s not really my problem if other people still judge. But I think it taught me to kind of really embrace the complexities of my own self and really appreciate the complexities of all women. We’re not just one thing—we’re so many things and women always feel so much pressure. We have so much pressure to prove to people that we have our shit together and we’re smart. It taught me to embrace my own mess.
Is there anything you would change about Lindsay?
No, because it was such a colorful—like, I don’t know what I would change, because I really felt I got to explore the gamut. Yeah, I mean, no! I loved her, it was perfect.
Who are some of your favorite TV characters from other shows?
I’m a multicam sitcom lover, and I love Chrissy from Three’s Company. I’ve always loved that character so much; that show, old-school multicam. Then, it sounds so obvious, but I have to say Lucy from I Love Lucy. I love Elaine from Seinfeld. Am I allowed to say Jem?
Oh my gosh, we must be similar ages. I grew up on Jem.
My first grade folder, I wrote “Jem.” Like, I pretended my name was Jem. I might have to get back into Jem during the quarantine. l also love Samantha on Sex in the City and Miranda—I love Cynthia Nixon.
I was trying to figure out my favorite Sex and the City character, and especially as I get older, I’m like, dude, Miranda.
I was like, fuck it, it’s Sophie’s choice. I would choose Miranda, too, but as an adult. In high school Samantha was my favorite, I don’t know if I’d want to be Miranda. But now as an adult I’m like, fuck yeah! Miranda all the way. You know when she moves in with Steve and spills the marinara sauce and has the whole monologue about how she’s messy? That’s probably one of my favorite monologues.
A few lightning-round either/or questions based on Lindsayisms. Is Lindsay the hot one or the dumb one?
The hot one!
“New Phone, Who Dis?” or Great Sex, Bud. Real Horny?
I love “Great sex, bud. Real horny.” It’s also so random. Just the fact that it’s two brief sentences with a period. And when I said it I felt, like, Southern. [In a deep drawl] Real horny.
Which singing performance are you most fond of: the karaoke performance of Kate Bush’s “A Woman’s Work” from the Season 1 finale or the “Don’t Know Much” duet between Lindsay and her on-again, off-again husband, Paul, in the last episode of Season 2?
The Kate Bush. I loved filming that duet with Allan [McLeod], and I fucking love that song, but the Kate Bush is so classic. And also just the way Stephen got the rights to the song! Like, Kate Bush doesn’t license her music. I think we tried to get the rights for it and it wasn’t allowed.
And then Stephen wrote Kate Bush a personal letter. And he said the reason why he put the song in was in college, Stephen’s girlfriend broke up with him, but she gave him a mixtape of breakup songs. Who does that?! And the Kate Bush song was on there and shit. So Stephen always joked that he pictures Kate Bush in like a castle in Ireland, watching You’re the Worst.
You weren’t specifically “a singer” before this, right?
I wasn’t trained. And it’s so odd that acting roles that I’ve done in the past few years have seemed to have some musical element.
What was it like to film the scene where Lindsay snaps in the kitchen and stabs her husband?
That was a really scary scene because it was a real knife! There was a stunt coordinator, and Allan had to literally wear a huge block of foam that was taped around the side of the stomach. Like, I’m chopping the onions and I had to turn and quickly stab him at just the right place. It was nice that I got to do Grease before that, because I was thinking about dance numbers: like five, six, seven, eight. This scene was very choreographed. It had to be like, chop, chop, chop, stab, chop, chop, chop. The success of this scene was very contingent on the timing of the beats, but also, like, on a practical level, I genuinely could have stabbed him.
In addition to singing and “dancing,” you also showed your range with some memorable You’re the Worst–style sex.
Yeah, [one] was my first-ever [sex scene] as an actor. When she’s riding Aiden in the van, the script says, “Lindsay destroys Aiden.” And I was like, all right, well, I take my job very seriously. And the kid who got the role of Aiden—he’s not a kid, he was 20—he’s like, from the Midwest, came to L.A., and this is the first job he booked in a year. All the writers were like, “Kid, this is a good first job!” Sitting in a van and having this girl destroy you.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts was directing that episode and he does a lot of takes. We were on take, like, 50 and I’m riding him in the van. And the kid looks like he was gonna cry and I was like, “Oh my God, are you OK?” And he was like, [puts on an extremely Pete Buttigieg–sounding voice] “Um, yeah, no, no, I’m great, I love this, I’m really happy, it’s just uh, in the next take, I don’t know if this is a continuity issue, but can you grab here instead of here?” And I’m like “Sure, why?” And he opened his shirt, and I had bruised him. Like, he was really white and he had like, baaa-lack and baaaa-lue everywhere. Our makeup artist was like, “He might have low iron?”