Kether Donohue On ‘Grease,’ Sunday Funday, And Why ‘You’re The Worst’ Is Revolutionary

Getty Image

While it started out as a ruthless comedy about twentysomethings behaving badly, You’re The Worst has evolved into an insightful look into depression and growing up, featuring some of the most well-rounded characters in any comedy on television. While many shows get stuck in a sophomore slump, You’re The Worst has somehow avoided getting mired down in sameness and instead has presented new challenges to its characters — and even more brunch scenarios.

Part of the beauty of You’re The Worst is how each character gets their time in the spotlight, no one more so than Lindsay. On a lesser show, “the best friend” character is usually only there to be a sounding board for the lead’s relationship woes. Instead, Kether Donohue’s charismatic former housewife is no one’s Kelly Rowland. Following her much needed but still confusing divorce from Paul, Lindsay has struggled to find out who she is on her own this season. As she crawls her way toward independence, Lindsay is learning that the first step toward adulthood is just paying the power bill. Kether Donohue spoke with us about being a part of one of the sharpest comedies on television and whether or not Lindsay will be able to pull herself out of her funk.

You’re the Worst is such a unique sitcom, especially this season with Gretchen’s depression and Lindsay’s backsliding. Did you anticipate this kind of storytelling when the show started?

Well, I’d say yes and no. I say yes because from the minute I read the pilot, when I auditioned for the project in season one, I knew that Stephen Falk’s writing was special. I knew it was unique and I knew it was something that had never been done on television before, in terms of making a romantic comedy that was still what audiences love about a romantic comedy in a universal sense, but also with a twist and an edge and a darkness to it that I had never seen before. I did anticipate that diving into season one and season two that the writing would take itself to new, interesting, out-of-the-box places, but I must say, especially after episode seven of season two, I could never have anticipated how incredibly bold and daring season two has become. I just feel like it’s been elevated to a new level.

Just reading all the great feedback that everyone’s given us, saying that it’s the best portrayal of clinical depression in the history of television, that is something I don’t think any of us could’ve prepared ourselves for. So I’m really proud to be a part of that.

Was that something that you were looking for in a project? Are you drawn to comedy that goes to such real places?

Absolutely. I’m grateful and I’m lucky because, as an actor, it’s hard enough to even get an agent. It’s hard enough to even step your foot into an acting class. I’ve been studying acting for so long. I remember being in acting school when I’m nine and when I’m a teenager and when I’m in my twenties and taking acting lessons and walking out of acting school feeling sh*tty about my work and really just trying to hone my craft.

So even being an actor is hard as it is to even feel good about work you do in an acting class. On top of that, it’s hard to get representation. On top of that, once you do have representation and you’re actually going on professional auditions, it’s hard just to get a call back or book a job.

Getting to the place where I’ve been pursuing this career for so many years to being in the place where I can do work I’m proud of, I’m so grateful and it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do because I love comedy. Comedy is something that I can’t live without. It’s part of who I am, but drama is also something I can’t live without either. That’s a part of me too. I’ve always been drawn to quirky, interesting pieces of art that have got a real laugh-out-loud comedy mixed with guttural, heart-wrenching sad stuff. So You’re the Worst is this delicious mix of all of that and it’s beautiful to be a part of.

Let’s talk about Lindsay specifically. This season, she’s stealing sperm. She’s using Edgar. I shouldn’t be rooting for her, but I do every single week. How do you take such an empirically terrible person and turn her into a compelling character?

Thank you, by the way. However, I don’t see her as a terrible person. One of the first rules in acting is that you can’t judge your character, even if you’re playing a character that does “terrible” things. You always have to come from a compassionate place as a human being when you read a script and you’re diving into a role.

I defend Lindsay and I look at why she’s doing these things. Like her freezing Paul’s sperm, that doesn’t come from a bad place. It actually comes from a genuine place of feeling hurt and missing him and not knowing what to do to get him back. She’s just trying to find a plan, maybe in her back pocket. I think when she put the sperm in the freezer, she wasn’t plotting like, “Oh, in four weeks from now I’m going to artificially inseminate myself.”

I think she’s just in a bad state and, as human beings, we’re not perfect. We go through confusing times. To answer your question, I just don’t look at anything she does as being terrible. I try to look for the truth of why she’s doing what she’s doing.

One of the things that is most refreshing about the show is how in control and unashamed of their sexuality Gretchen and Lindsay are. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing, but it really is. What is it like playing such an uninhibited character?

I’m very happy. It shouldn’t be a revolutionary thing, but it is and I agree with you. I feel like when you look at the stories that are being put out there in media, whether it’s even reading a magazine or television shows, films, it’s rare that we see women embodying the complex humans that we really are in real life. We are sexual and we are dirty sometimes.

My best friend got me this book for my birthday called Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, and it’s about unleashing all you are as a woman. That includes the dark part and the dirty parts and the rage. To get to play a character who isn’t confined to one thing is a dream. It’s why I do what I do. I want to be an actor so I can portray characters that I’m passionate about, and then on top of that has some sort of positive effect in society is wonderful.

I’ll have to add that to my book list.

You have to. I’m obsessed. It makes me feel like a wolf.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the breakthrough that Lindsay had in the Halloween episode? Is paying the power bill her big step toward being more independent?

Yeah, absolutely. Even though it seems like such a silly thing, any adult should be able to pay their power bill, but for her, it’s larger. It’s symbolic of not being dependent on Paul or being dependent on a man or being dependent on anybody else for her own security. Security is something that’s very important in all of our lives, and Lindsay was lacking the ability to be secure as an individual. It’s an exciting journey that you’re going to see from the next few episodes to the finale of season two. It’s symbolic of her going on this journey of learning who she is and learning that she can be an individual and independent.

Switching gears just a little bit, you are playing Jan in the Grease Live production, correct?

Yeah, I’m so excited. Yesterday was my first day working on it. We did the gallery shoot. We shot some promos and pictures that will be part of the posters. It was very exciting.

Do you have a background in musical theater? I know you did Pitch Perfect and a ton of voice work, but have you done stuff like this in the past?

Not professionally. I did musical theater when I was in school, and I’ve always loved musical theater. It’s funny because I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer. Before Pitch Perfect, I had never professionally trained as a singer. So many projects at this point that just started with me auditioning for a character that was acting related, and it just so happens that the characters I’ve played in many projects have ended up singing. Pitch Perfect is the first thought project that spawned that. Now I hired a vocal coach, who will say,”Kether, whoever told you you’re not a singer? You have to stop saying you’re not a singer because you are.” So I guess I’m a singer now.

Were you a Grease fan from the get go, or is this new territory?

Absolutely. I don’t know anybody who’s not a Grease fan. If someone’s not a Grease fan, I don’t want to associate with them! I played Frenchy in my eighth grade school musical production. I’ve always wanted to play Jan, so when I got the audition for it, I was so excited. I went in the audition like a little five-year-old in pigtails and had a blast.

Sunday Funday is such a huge part of the show, so what would be on your list for the perfect Sunday Funday?

Actually the cast of You’re the Worst are all very close. We’ve become a family, literally. When we’re all in town together, because not all of us live in Los Angeles, but when we are all in Los Angeles together we all enjoy our own Sunday Funday. We actually went to the same French place where we shot “Sunday Funday.” I guess we were kind of mimicking what we do in the show. My perfect Sunday Funday would be to wake up late, sleep in a little bit. Relax. Not have any pressure or expectations for the day. Go out to a nice brunch with some friends and have a Bloody Mary and good conversations. I love driving in my convertible with a good friend. I don’t know if you look at my Instagram, but I like to do little dance videos over in the car. Driving with the top down to the beach. Just dancing and singing and eating.

You’re The Worst airs Wednesday nights at 10:30 EST on FXX.