After years of smaller supporting roles in such films as The Wolf of Wall Street and Sleepwalk with Me and series such as “The Newsroom” and “We Are Men,” actress Aya Cash landed a calling-card lead role like few others on television: as the self-centered but still lovable Gretchen on FX/FXX’s “You’re the Worst,” an astonishingly good series that began as something light and hilariously mean and became a genuine portrait of mental illness and the transformative power of relationships. Since then, Cash has appeared as Joan Simon (wife of playwright Neil) on “Fosse/Verdon,” in Joe Swanberg’s Netflix series “Easy,” and more recently on the current season of Prime Video’s “The Boys” as Stormfront. But it’s her role as successful horror novelist Fanny in writer/director/co-star Josh Ruben’s Scare Me that has finally brought Cash back to movies.
The three-person story finds struggling writer Fred (Ruben) sequestering himself in a cabin in the woods to finally write his great horror novel. But during a power outage, he and his neighbor from a nearby cabin, Fanny (Cash), decide to drink and exchange scary stories in front of a roaring fire. As the stories get more intense, the two go from simply telling them to acting them out, and the visuals of the film begin to shift in clever, familiar horror-movie ways with tricks of light, subtle makeup effects and spooky music. At one point, they are visited by a pizza delivery guy (SNL’s Chris Redd), and Fred is forced to face a few of his own personal fears about failure. Scare Me is energetic, funny and a real showcase for Ruben and Cash as performers. The film is currently streaming on Shudder, and it’s wonderfully unique in its approach to horror, while celebrating the act of storytelling.
I had a chance recently to chat with Cash about the challenges and thrills of making Scare Me, how “You’re the Worst” changed her life, and what upcoming project was rudely interrupted by a certain pandemic. Please enjoy…
I saw this film at Sundance and re-watched it recently, and both times it struck me that, just as an acting exercise, this must have been such a thrill. You get to play different characters as you’re telling these scary stories, and it’s a real tribute to the power of storytelling as both a written and performed medium. Did that pull you into wanting to be in this?
Yeah. Josh is a good friend of mine, so I was probably going to do it no matter what the story was, but what he said to me was that he’d read an article where I said that I wanted to be challenged and do something different. And of course, I meant some sort of Jane Austen thing, and he was like “I’m going to have a bunch of crazy characters.” It is exciting to have someone let you do something so different. Obviously, Fanny has some similarities to other roles I’ve played, in terms of her personality, which is probably why Josh was interested in me doing the role. But to give the trust to do a bunch of weird character shit that I’ve never done before, and he’s such an expert in, either he wanted to make himself look really good or he just trusted me to play it.
It looks physically exhausting on top of the acting portion of it. When you switch from character to character, you’re body language changes, you’re jumping around the room—you’re so expressive. Was it as tiring as it appeared to be?
Oh yeah. It was also the dead of winter and we all got very, very sick. We were all exhausted and tired, but in indie filmmaking, you kind of have to be okay with that. It is a rough and tumble thing, and that’s why you do it with people that you trust and love, for things you think are good, because it’s never an easy experience; there’s always something going wrong. It was still really fun, but everyone got very sick. But Josh would do things like bring me Skor bars—my favorite candy bar; he sent me a masseuse once to set. I have been on some big-budget stuff and never been treated that well [laughs]. It was lovely.
I know how movies are usually made, but since almost all of the action takes place in one location, were you able to shoot this thing more or less in chronological order? It certainly would have made it easier to capture the way things ramp up as the film progresses.
Not totally because of Chris Redd’s schedule. He had to come in and do his stuff in just a couple of days. But other than that, we tried to do things chronologically, which was pretty nice. It’s always confusing when you’re shooting something out of order, and you’re like “Wait, what am I going to be doing in the future, which is actually the past?” I think it definitely helps to try and shoot as much as possible in sequence, because then you know what you’re building upon, and you know the tenor of what you’ve already done in order to top that on the next take or scene.
It’s a deceptively simple film, but there’s a lot going on in each scene involving the lighting and makeup. It’s actually more complicated than it first appears.
Yeah, it’s definitely deceptively simple, but there were also opportunities for longer takes to get through the stories. Also, as an actor, you’re grateful that it’s broken up a little bit because otherwise, it’s so much dialogue to learn, but it’s nice when you have a second to say “Now I’m in this chunk of the story; I just have to now get through this chunk,” as opposed to four pages.
Because there are long stretches of just dialogue, did you and Josh work in a choreographic sense how to make that more cinematic?
That’s all Josh and Brendan [H. Banks], his D.P. I had very little to do with that. Obviously, we rehearsed it all, and if I had something I wanted to do or place I wanted to go, that would be worked in, but it was also pretty tightly choreographed so that we could make it all happen. But I take no credit for that.
What I really noticed the second time watching it was this barely-under-the-surface gender discussion happening. We really do get a sense that Fred looks at Fanny’s success as a writer as almost more luck than talent, and as the film goes on, he gets more resentful. Were you able to inform Josh in any way about moments where you found that behavior in other people?
Actually, Josh did his homework, so I didn’t actually have to be bear that responsibility. There has been a lot of talking about the emotional work that different people have to do to explain it to other groups at this moment, and I felt very trusting of him because he had done his homework, and as the woman on set, I was not asked to rewrite the script for him from a woman’s point of view, which is always great because usually you don’t get paid for doing that [laughs].
“You’re The Worst” was such a great calling card for you. Looking back on that experience, what was your deepest takeaway from being a part of a series like that and getting to spend so much time in one character’s head that you really can explore nuances or their personality?
Just how lucky I was. I could have gone my entire career without having that, and I hope I get it again, but at least I had it once. It feels like a great love. You’re like “It’s over, but I still love them, even if they don’t want to be with me anymore. Even if FX has cancelled us.” I still love them and will forever be grateful for the time I had. If I find great love again, I hope that I’m lucky enough, but man, some people don’t get it at all. I know that’s cheesy, but I do feel so insanely lucky to have had that experience and to do the kind of acting that they let me do.
Did you get a sense that it had the kind of loyal following that it did?
Fame is such a bizarro thing—I can’t imagine being a movie star and having that experience of people being really interested in your personal life to the point of being invasive. For me, it was the perfect level of anyone who came up to me who loved and watched and was moved by the show. The fans of “You’re The Worst,” I will always love the most; it was small but rabid, in a really good way. I never had a bad interaction with a fan, ever.
It sounds like certain film and TV productions are slowly returning to work. Did you have anything interrupted or put off that you were in the middle of or about to start?
I was actually on a Fox pilot in North Carolina called “This Country,” which is based on a British series, which is very funny. Paul Feig was directing the pilot. I was on that, and unfortunately we got shut down, but they did manage to cut together a little something from the one day that we shot, and I think it’s great.
You only got one day in?
[laughs] Yeah, it was just one day, but we got a lot done in that one day. You can shoot a lot in one day because it’s documentary style. I have to say, if you look up the cast, it’s a bunch of kids who have not done very much, and they are the future. They are so good.
Will you go back to finish, or is it dead?
Well, it’s like all shows. We’re waiting to hear when or if we can go back, and everybody is waiting and hoping that nothing conflicts so we can go back and finish and hopefully get it on air at some point.
Aya, thank you so much, and best of luck with the film and the new series.
Thanks so much. Have a good one.
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