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EXCLUSIVE: ‘You’re the Worst’ Star Kether Donohue Talks Feminism & How She Deals With Body Shamers

by James Patrick Herman 7:05 AM PDT, August 31, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

Arguably the worst of all the self-absorbed, morally bankrupt characters on You’re the Worst -- and that’s really saying something -- is the one played by Kether Donohue, thanks to her penchant for sex, drugs and froyo. Lindsay’s motto? “If you have a bad thought, just push it down. Or eat it, like I do.” Aside from effortlessly stealing her scenes on FXX’s decidedly unromantic comedy, Donohue -- a recent transplant from New York’s Lower East Side to Los Angeles -- also notably upstaged her costars as Jan, the least coordinated member of the Pink Ladies, in Fox’s Grease: Live.

Pitch Perfect fans will recognize her face as Alice, the snooty former leader of the Barden Bellas. As for returning for the third, Donohue is just as clueless as fans. "That would be super exciting if I was," she says. "But at the moment, I do not have any news to report." Meanwhile, others may even recall her unmistakable voice from Pokémon, which was a TV show before it became an online sport-cum-cultural phenomenon.

ET caught up with the singer, actress and rhythmically challenged dancer who has been hailed as “the millennial Lucille Ball” to discuss the upcoming third season of her hit TV show, her struggles with chronic depression and body-shaming bullies and why modern-day feminism can be funny. Hilarious, even.

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ET: So let’s talk about You’re the Worst. I just watched the trailer for season three. Is Lindsay going to keep the baby?

Kether Donohue: Oh, my God. I am afraid if I tell you, I’m gonna get fired. I want to be in the trailer for season four, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut. If I tell you, I might have to stab you.

Hypothetically speaking, then, what kind of mother do you think Lindsay would make?

This is a tricky question, because when I play Lindsay, I do not judge her and I have the utmost empathy for her. If you were asking Lindsay, she would say that she’d be a great mom. But speaking as Kether -- and I’m quoting Stephen [Falk, the show’s creator] when I say this -- he said, “I don’t think any baby should be born into your You’re the Worst world.” Which I, as Kether, agree with. If I was Lindsay’s friend, I’d tell her that she has to get intensive therapy and work on herself before becoming a mother.

Like Lindsay, do you have any desire to get married and have a baby -- or do you enjoy the single life in L.A.?

I absolutely want to get married and have children in the future. I love my mother so much. She was such a great mother to me, and one of my dreams in life has been to pass on that gift. I always felt like innately, I am meant to be a mom. My hips are certainly meant to bear children -- it would be a waste of curvy hips for me not to bear a child.

Photo: FX

What surprises are in store for season three that you are allowed to reveal?

Sunday Funday, which is episode six, has tons of exciting stuff. We do a scavenger hunt through Los Angeles. I don’t know what [else] I’m allowed to say.

Aren’t you wearing a nurse’s uniform and making out with Gretchen [co-star Aya Cash] in a parking lot at one point?

Yes. And for the record, Aya has the softest lips I have ever kissed. After I told her that, she said, “Oh, I’ve heard that before.” And I was like, “Well, I’m confirming it. Your husband is really lucky to kiss you.”

So in other words, you kissed a girl and you liked it.

Oh, yeah. I would love for Lindsay to kiss Gretchen more often, to be quite frank.

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Poussey from Orange Is the New Black has been reincarnated and joined your show’s cast as Gretchen’s therapist. How does Samira Wiley’s character change the dysfunctional group dynamic?

It was such a blast to have Samira on set. I only have one scene with her, which was a dream because she’s so talented and sweet. Her character does not interact with Lindsay much, but she has a huge impact on Gretchen’s evolution throughout season three. 

What has been the most embarrassing scene for you to film? I assume the one involving a turkey baster.

You know what? I am pretty open, so I don’t easily get embarrassed, which is kind of a blessing and a curse. It helps for doing some of the crazy stuff Lindsay gets to do, but then in my real life [it] gets me into trouble. In episode six of season one, when Lindsay is having sex with some guy in a van -- and cheating on Paul [her husband, played by Allan McLeod] -- in the script it says, “Lindsay destroys him.” I was like, “Alright.” I take my job pretty seriously, so I was going at him pretty hard in that scene. And midway through some of the takes, the guy looked like he was about to cry. I was like, “Are you OK?” He opened his shirt, and I had bruised him because I was riding him so hard. So that was a little embarrassing -- I was taking the sex scene so seriously that I inflicted pain on him. But some of the things I get to do are equally as fun as they could be embarrassing. Like when I am dancing in episode seven of season two. The directors kept telling me, “Just do weird dance moves.” It was embarrassing in a fun, goofy way. 

On a serious note, do you think that Lindsay might be an alcoholic and sex addict?

Absolutely. I think she’s a compulsive overeater. I think she’s an alcoholic. I think she does have a sex addiction. I think she has a ton of addictions.

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Do you draw on any personal experiences to inform your character? In other words, did you indulge in heavy drinking, drugs and promiscuity in your youth?

Absolutely. I grew up in New York City. Growing up in the city did open me up to a lot. I grew up really fast -- let’s put it that way. I had my first fake ID when I was 13 years old. I started drinking and experimenting with stuff at a pretty young age. I know people who have drug and alcohol and sex addictions and I am very empathetic. There are certain things I understand about those addictions that are definitely helpful when preparing for a role.

There is a lot of talk about feminism between your character and Aya’s. Would you say that You’re the Worst is a feminist show?

Hands down. It starts at the top with Stephen. The whole show stems from his vision, and he is a feminist. He shows that in the workplace: This year, the only other director besides Stephen is a female. He always makes sure there are female writers on his staff. The way he chooses to write Lindsay and Gretchen is very feminist -- they are not in-the-box, cookie-cutter characters. I am very grateful to play a supporting female character in comedy who does not follow certain sidekick female comedy stereotypes. Lindsay is so multifaceted and layered. Above all, I’m just excited about the material.

You have such a body-positive attitude. But have you ever been a victim of body shaming on social media?

Oh, my God. I’ve been body shamed in real life and on social media. Someone once wrote on one of the [show’s] message boards, “Kether has gained 10-15 pounds since Pitch Perfect. I hope she’s OK!” I see so many female actresses standing up for themselves and coming out about their experiences being shamed. And the more we do that -- and the more women stand up for themselves and are proud of their bodies that don’t fit into this ideological view of what an “acceptable body type” is -- the more it will change. When I read those comments, I’d be lying if I said sometimes I don’t get hurt. Of course I have tons of insecurities, and sometimes I get down on myself. But I am also proud of myself that I’m choosing to view those comments differently. And this may sound strange, but I have compassion. I almost feel bad for those people that they unfortunately have that outlook that can be so judgmental toward another person -- ultimately, it’s probably a reflection of their own judgments they have about themselves.

Photo: FX

What bothers you the most about the negative feedback?

What I’m most concerned about is young girls and what they see when they watch television. Not just young girls -- all women. When I was at Fordham University, I majored in communications and media studies and a lot of what I learned there was about how what you read, see and hear in media can either reinforce dominant ideologies or can challenge them and be a force of social change. Statistically, many girls have admitted that they have eating disorders because they feel that they don’t look like what the “perfect woman” is in a magazine or on TV. It’s so necessary to show eclectic body types that reflect the beauty -- and the reality -- of what all different women look like. Again, I’m really grateful and excited that I just get to be myself. 

In episode one, your character is referred to as “Fat Lindsay.” How did you decide to embody that role?

When I got hired for this job, Stephen and I met for dinner to get to know each other and to talk about the project. I asked him very seriously, “Do you have a preference of what you want me to look like as Fat Lindsay? Is it bad if I lose weight? Do you want me to gain weight and look a little heavier?” And his response was, “You got this role because I liked your audition. And I like what you bring to the character internally. So, honestly, you’re great just the way you are -- and if you’re a little heavier or thinner, it doesn’t matter. I just want you to be happy and healthy.” To have a boss tell me that was so profound for me. It gave me the freedom. Whether you’re 160 pounds or 120 pounds, you can still have an addiction or an eating disorder. And I’m an actress, so I can play a complex character with flaws and show the beauty and vulnerability in that. 

Your curves have been widely praised and celebrated as well.

It’s cool to play a female on TV where I could look like how I look. I am 150 pounds in real life and I am 5-foot-3, and by some people’s standards that might be considered heavy. But you know what? I’m healthy. And I love my body. I like to focus more on the positive comments and posts I get online. I have women and girls write me every day to say, “Thank you so much. You helped me to see myself as beautiful.” 

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You’ve talked about suffering from bouts of depression over the years. What was your lowest point and how did you transcend it?

Oh, man. That’s a tricky question for me, because I still struggle with depression. In my experience, I have not found that there is this magic key where it’s like, “Now depression is gone for good.” I know that in my life, when I have experienced depression, it is circumstantial, and what helped me was going to therapy and understanding the roots of where my current depression stemmed from unresolved childhood issues -- and becoming more conscious of how those issues were affecting my adult life. Once I became more aware, I was able to make different choices. Also, support systems for me were very important: Just knowing I have friends and family who will be with me through dark times and not just good times. 

What was the biggest challenge of overcoming depression for you?

When you’re experiencing success in your career, there is this pressure to put on a happy face. Like, “Yay, everything’s great!” And it’s painful when on the inside, you’re feeling depressed because you’re like, “Wait, I’m supposed to be really happy right now. All these great things are happening in my life.” I was so low, but I felt like I had to hide it because so many people know me as fun, happy, cheerful Kether. I felt, like, guilty if I wasn’t being fun, happy and cheerful all the time. And then I got scared that I would push people away. So I had to learn to allow myself to experience some really shitty feelings -- for me, that was the only way to come out the other side. And as painful as it was, that was what I needed to do in order to see the light again.

You’re the Worst season three premieres Wednesday, Aug. 31 on FXX.

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