Sometimes, you’re depressed. And sometimes, you’re the friend of someone who’s suffering from serious depression. Both situations are intimately familiar to Kether Donohue, who’s become a breakout star this year after supporting roles in FX’s “You’re the Worst” and Fox’s “Grease Live!”
On “You’re the Worst,” Donohue plays Lindsay, the vaguely sociopathic best friend of Gretchen (Aya Cash), who we learned in Season 2 was clinically depressed. In the real world, Donohue told Indiewire that she’s struggled with depression herself, which made the show all the more powerful for her. “One of the things that inspires me about being an actor is being a part of projects that are not only entertaining, but actually have something to say and can help somebody,” she said.
Donohue has been slogging away in the Hollywood trenches since she was a child actor — “I’ve been auditioning for literally 20 years now,” she laughed — which means she has an intimate understanding of the importance of casting directors for her and her fellow thespians.
“Casting directors are your biggest chance in as actors. I’ll go in an audition for a casting director that I auditioned for literally ten years ago when I had no credits, and it’s kinda like you’re all a team,” she said. “What’s so cool is that when I go in these rooms, it’s just a nice, supportive relationship where we can all celebrate how far we’ve all come together.”
That said, Donohue does not plan to coast on her current success. “I think it’s a trap when actors think to themselves, ‘Oh, I’m on a show now, so I don’t have to work harder. I don’t have to hustle, I don’t have to grind.’ I like to go in with the same mentality of when I was collecting unemployment, which is like, I’m honored and I’m grateful to still go in rooms and fight for roles that I want and put just as much fierce preparation into my auditions.”
To get specific: “If you’re going to have longevity in any career, it’s all relative. No matter how much success you get, you still have to grind and hustle and be hungry and work really hard and show that you care.” Below, Donohue opens up about the realities of depression, and what a certain level of success means to your workload.
Looking back at Season 2 of “You’re the Worst,” what surprised you the most?
Oh my god. I mean, the reveal in episode seven that Gretchen is clinically depressed… That was the biggest surprise and it was just such a bold, daring, brave move on [creator] Stephen Falk’s part and we were thrilled that the audiences responded well to it. The nicest thing for me was reading tweets about fans who have also struggled with depression and I just thought it was a great way to raise the conversation. It’s a real thing and it needs to be talked about. The stigma needs to be taken out of depression.
There’s that great moment where you come in and you confront her over the fact that this is not a new situation, that this has happened before. It’s this opportunity to play something that’s incredibly tough, which is the friend of someone who’s dealing with depression.
For me and Aya, that was a very special scene for us as actors and as human beings. Because we’ve become sisters at this point and I’m just constantly in awe of how talented she is. So in that scene, I have to admit, there were certain times that I was in that scene where I felt like I was just thinking, Kether thoughts, like “Oh my god, she is fucking amazing. [laughs] Okay, I have to be in the scene now.” But she’s just so brilliant in that scene. I learned a lot from her.
You say it was a surprise. But looking back over Lindsay’s friendship with Gretchen, how did that color it for you?
What I really liked about that progression of the relationship is that you can have scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny with Gretchen and Lindsay, that are kind of on the superficial level. Because that’s funny, that’s entertaining. But because we know that deep down, they’ve been through thick and thin together, you always know that that’s there. That realness is there, they’re not just superficial friends that drink and party together. It goes deeper than that, which I think speaks to real life female friendships. You could go out and take shots and have sex with randoms in Vegas [laughs] with your best friend, and then you could call them at three in the morning when you’re having a nervous breakdown. And they’re there for you either way.
And especially when you talk about depression, it is so tough to really be able to connect with people when you’re in that state. That makes the friendships even more important as a result.
Absolutely. I’ve struggled with my own depression and it’s hard because when you’re going through a dark depression, it’s very unique to be in therapy, unique to kind of dive into that darkness to understand why you’re going through this. But the outside world doesn’t really understand. So you’re in this balancing act where you’re feeling like pushing people away because you can’t really be happy when you’re out, and people expect you to be happy. But then you also know it’s important to dive into the darkness with therapy and figure out what’s going on, blah blah blah. So in that state, it’s so important for friends, true friends, to support you and let you know that they love you no matter what state you’re in. And I think just in my own experience — I can’t speak for anyone else — that’s the key element to healing depression and also not feeling ashamed of yourself.
Did you get the sense, when filming, that “You’re The Worst” was actively stripping the stigma from depression?
Yeah. Totally. Generally speaking, the outside world likes people to be happy and joyful. And when you’re struggling with something dark or some wounds from your past, that’s not necessarily the funnest thing to talk about and it can push people away when you open up. I think when people are going through really serious clinical depression for a long period of time, they feel lonely and they feel that they have to hide it from people. And they don’t wanna talk about it because they feel ashamed and they don’t wanna be judged. When you see characters on a television show revealing the reality of this, I think it unveils stigma. And I think people feel that they’re not alone. That’s important, and that’s necessary. One of the things that inspires me about being an actor is being a part of projects that are not only entertaining, but actually have something to say and can help somebody.
This is the great thing about art. It’s subjective. You can have a piece of media that portrays depression, that doesn’t show its solutions. And that could be equally as powerful as watching something that actually has a solution. When I watched the end of Season 2 of “You’re the Worst,” what I found refreshing was the message that you can’t fix somebody. I think a big thing was Gretchen just trying to make Jimmy understand that “you can’t fix me.” Like, “if you’re in a relationship with me, you have to understand that this is a part of me.”
With auditioning, it seems like the number one thing that I’ve heard actors say gets them jobs is being confident. But if you’re not confident, that’s such a tough thing to have to put on.
Absolutely! And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The fun challenge of being an actor is that you do have to be confident when you go in rooms, and you do have to have thick skin because you get rejected so much. But you also have to balance that with being vulnerable and soft because when you’re playing a character, you have to play the humanity of that character. So it’s, “Oh, this is what I have to be. Here’s the business me versus ‘Oh, this is when I have to be vulnerable and soft.'”
I’m wondering if the amount of work never changes, but maybe it’s the type of work you have to do that does.
Exactly! When you’re consistently working, you’re busier, but you still have to prepare with the same intensity as you would if you’re not working. Ten years ago, I would maybe have two auditions a year [laughs], and those two auditions were my life. I put my everything into them and now, fortunately, I’m grateful I have more auditions, but I put the same level of work into them as I would if I only have two a year.
How big is the casting director community? Do you pretty much know everyone at this point?
No, no. I definitely don’t know everyone, but I’m grateful that I’ve had opportunities to meet casting directors that I’ve always wanted to go in for since the success of “You’re the Worst” and “Grease.” And there’s always more people that I’m excited to meet. But just what’s nice is the ones that you go in for, it’s just like, “Oh my god, you knew me when I was 17.” Those relationships are special.
“You’re the Worst” is streaming now on Hulu.
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