Toonzone recently got a chance to talk to Kether Donohue, one of the stars of the upcoming FX comedy, You’re The Worst.
You might have seen Kether in one of her roles, such as the girl with the cute haircut in a memorable iPhone 4 commercial or the mean choral leader in Pitch Perfect, or at least heard her voice in one of her many commercial and animation voiceover roles including the Mew Mew Power, the American dub of Tokyo Mew Mew, and Kappa Mikey. And if you haven’t, she’s certainly an actress worth getting better acquainted with. Find out how You’re the Worst pushes boundaries, what Kether means, why it’s good to be able to burp on command in the interview.
You’re the Worst premieres Oct 17 at 10:30 p.m. on FX.
First off, your name is interesting. Is it from (Jewish mystical tradition) Kabbalah?
Actually it is. It’s really funny because my little brother’s name is John, which is a normal name. I’m the oldest child so when I was born my mother chose my name. She actually did not find it in Kabbalah, she found it in an angel name book. So my name means “The Crown Angel” and she was drawn to that and then later in life I found out it was in the Kabbalah as well. So It’s a lot to live up to!
Do you get many comments about the name?
Oh yeah. It’s actually kind of nice, especially in my profession. When I go to auditions that’ll be the first thing a casting director will say, “Oh, tell me about your name.” So it’s a nice conversation starter.
One time I went to an audition and I sign the sign-in sheet Kether Donohue, and the casting director came out and she looked at the sign-in sheet and she was like “Heather Donohue.” I think there is an actress named Heather Donohue, she was in The Blair Witch Project. So I’m think maybe there’s a Heather Donohue in the room and I didn’t stand up right away. And then when no one was answering to Heather Donohue I was like “I’m Kether Donohue!” and she looked at me and was like “Oh, honey you have a typo. You spelled your name wrong on the sign-in sheet.”
I want to get the part so I don’t want to be rude to her so I was like,” Oh, Okay,”and I agreed with her. But I was like, “But that’s my name!”
Tell me about how you got into acting.
I grew up in New York, on the lower east side. My mother is a Pre-K teacher, so she’s very in-tune with kids and what they gravitate towards and very encouraging of arts and crafts in her curriculum in school. And so when I was little I just think she saw that that’s what I gravitated towards. I was always putting on a show for parents and friends. I always wanted to be in the school plays. I asked my mom to enroll me in an acting class when I was nine. It was just something from a young age that I always gravitated toward.
When I was around nine or ten an agent visited one of the acting classes I was in and they took an appointment with my mother and me, and I ended up signing with them and went out on auditions and did some little commercials and little modeling gigs.
I did that all throughout high school. I had an agent when I was in high school auditioning but I was kind of a mess in high school. I was overweight and pimply and definitely did not get a lot of work during that time.
When I graduated high school and enrolled in Fordham University that’s when I really started working professionally and booking television shows and films.
A lot of your early credits are in animation?
That’s actually how I put myself through college, doing Japanese animation. So what happened was when I was 17 I was taking an acting class in New York City. I was doing a scene with this really sweet girl, she was my scene partner, and she told me “Heather I’m going on this audition tomorrow for a Fox animation TV show. You have a really unique voice and I think you would do well in voiceover.” I just thought it was so nice of her that she invited me to the audition with her, because some times people get competitive and don’t want to have that competition.
I was like “Are you sure, I can just go with you?” She gave me the casting director’s phone number, so I called the casting director and said “Hey, you don’t know me, but I’ve heard about your auditions you’re holding and I’d love to attend.” And the woman was like, “Sure.” So I went on the audition the next day and I auditioned for the show and I ended up getting the part.
The animation community in New York is a very small world. So we knew each other and one job led to another and that was just how I was paying the bills. And I was having the time of my life. I loved doing voice-over.
How do you hit those high anime voices?
I think I have a naturally higher pitched voice. I remember when I was 10 I had this thing where I loved imitating my teachers to their face. And so I just discovered I could do different things with my voice. And one of them is that I’m capable of really, really high pitched voices. But I could also do low-pitched voices. I played a lot of little boy characters in animation as well, which is very common. I find that I’ve seen more women do boy voices than actual boys in the industry.
Also, when I was younger I went to Catholic school. And to make extra money I got a job as a receptionist at the rectory. So my job was to just answer the phone calls for the priests. But no one really calls the rectory, so I was really bored. So whenever we got a phone call I would just answer the phone in a different voice to kind of amuse myself.
I would answer the phone like (imitates a nasal, middle-aged voice)“Hello, the rectory.”
When I got hired to do different voiceover gigs I would just pull out whatever funny voice I had in my memory banks.
Burp on command is listed as a special skill on your resume. How often does that come in handy?
It’s so funny that you say that. In You’re the Worst, the character that I play, Lindsay, eats a lot. I’m literally eating in the majority of scenes I’m in. Because I can burp on command I’ve been trying to incorporate a burp in every scene that I do. I don’t think it has yet made any of the final cuts.
I did a guest star role on this NBC show called Perfect Couples a few years ago. I was playing this really rowdy southern character. So in the scene I was drinking a shot of whiskey and after I drank the shot I let out a big burp. And they kept that. So I incorporate burps from time to time in my roles. And when I was younger and I went to camp I won a burping contest. I burped “The Star Spangled Banner.”
You made big impression with the iPhone 4 “Haircut” commercial. Tell me about how that changed things for you?
I don’t want to say it changed my life, because that might be a little drastic. But that commercial really did help me out a lot. It was funny when I went on that audition, my hair was longer. When we were in the audition waiting room the casting director came out and she was like, ‘Hey girls, I just want you to know, whoever gets the part in this commercial is really going to have to chop all of their hair off.”
So a lot of girls left the audition because they didn’t want to cut their hair, but I stayed because I want to make money, I want to be employed, and I want to work with this director. Because at the time Sam Mendes was directing. So I was like, “I’ll shave my head for you if you want!”
So I ended up getting the part, they chopped all my hair off, we shoot the commercial it goes really well. A few weeks later my agents called me (about a posting on a casting agent website). Someone from Dreamworks said “Who represents the girl in the iPhone commercial? Please call us.”
So he calls and one of the heads at casting at Dreamworks said “I was at home last night and Stephen called me. He saw your commercial and wanted to know who that girl was.” And I was like “Stephen? Stephen Spielberg?” And he said “Yeah.” So apparently Stephen Spielberg saw the commercial, called the head of casting at Dreamworks and asked to just find out who I was. So I had a meeting with her and it went really well. So far Stephen Spielberg has not put me in any of his movies, but I’m really hoping that one day something will come of that.
Is your mean character in Pitch Perfect based on any real people?
I’m a nice person in real life, but for some reason it comes naturally to me to play a mean character and I don’t know why. It’s not based on anyone in particular. The lines themselves are pretty mean, so I just kind of allowed the lines to inform the character and take it where it went.
What was it like to work on the horror film The Bay with Barry Levinson?
I loved working on that movie. It was an incredible opportunity to work with Barry Levinson. I just had a lot of freedom on that film. I got to improvise a lot. I felt like the movie was a very collaborative experience. It felt like we were all finding the characters together and deepening the storyline as we went, as opposed to everything just being set in stone. Barry is a very open, generous director with actors. And he loves to explore and he loves spontaneity and improv. It was really great to work with him.
When you do your own personal projects do you want to make a social statement? Your short film about your father’s Vietnam experiences, “The Baby Daddy,” has a powerful message.
I went to Fordham University and I majored in communications and media studies with a concentration in film. Going to Fordham and studying those two things at the same time was very powerful for me, as an actor and as an artist.
We learned a lot about stereotypes in media and what groups are underrepresented and what story lines are told and what story lines aren’t. It was powerful to study that because I thought, wow, as an actor and as a writer and as a director I have the power to make projects and be a part of projects that I feel promote social change or don’t reinforce dominant negative stereotypes. And I get to be a part of something positive.
When I was writing “The Baby Daddy” I had a few different goals in mind. The first was, it was a cathartic process for me because it’s autobiographical, that really is my father in the film and I’m playing myself.
Most war films portray hot young soldiers with their shirts off and they almost glamorize being in a war, they almost glamorize a guy with a gun, and they make it look cool because there’s action. While that’s fun to watch and it sells at the box office, it kind of desensitizes people. And I think there need to be more films and television shows made with characters like my father, who is a 70 year old Vietnam War veteran who is still suffering from very severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This interview would probably go on all day if I told you how many illnesses he has directly related to the war.
I though it was important to tell a story about what happened to the young hot soldier with his shirt off when he’s 70 years old and sick and has a family and what impact does that have on his life and his family’s life. And also in you’re the worst, there’s a character named Edgar, who is (Chris Geere’s character) Jimmy’s roommate, and Stephen Falk, our creator, also had a similar goal in mind when writing that character. Edgar is an Iraq war veteran who has very severe PTSD he is dealing with. Veterans deal with issues like homelessness and drug use and unemployment, and the VA unfortunately does not always give the soldiers the best care they deserve without it having to be a fight.
How did you get involved with You’re The Worst?
I went on an audition for an Audi car commercial with Claire Danes that premiered at the Emmys. I ended up booking the part, so we shoot the commercial in North Carolina because that’s where Claire Danes is shooting Homelands. After the commercial I was scheduled to fly back to New York, because that’s where I live. But my animation agent called me and said, “Hey Kether, can you fly back to LA this week, they want to test you for a Fox animation pilot.” I was like, “Absolutely, of course I’ll come back.”
So I rearranged my ticket to fly to LA instead of New York. But it worked out so perfectly because that very same week that I was in LA I ended up getting an audition for You’re the Worst with Stephen Falk, our creator, in the room at the audition, which really helped. And it turns out, the director of the Audi commercial, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of The Kings of The Summer, was the one that referred me for You’re The Worst. So I ended up testing for the role and getting it.
It was all kind of a coincidental, all these events kind of happened at once where I just so happened to be in LA at that time. So I think it was definitely meant to be.
Tell me about character you play on You’re the Worst?
I love my character. I play Linsday Jillian. Lindsay is (Aya Cash’s character) Gretchen’s best friend. I am married to someone named Paul who’s an investment banker. But I am kind of miserable in my marriage. I definitely got married for the wrong reasons. To please my parents, compete with my sister, not really knowing what I should do in life and just kind of doing what I think I should do according to society. So the conflict of Lindsay in the script is basically I’m just torn by these two ways of life, this west side life that I’m trying to fit into, and my old party girl self with Gretchen, who also is I really am, just a fun girl who wants to let loose. So there’s a really nice conflict in the character to portray.
She’s also very sassy and bold and not unlike the Pitch Perfect character. I definitely get to say some really funny and out there comments.
The red band trailer for the show makes it seems like it pushes a lot of boundaries, especially for basic cable?
I think it brings a lot to the table. Contrary to what you might think from the trailer, not only is it very raunchy sexually, it’s a very smart, very well-written show. Stephen Falk is a brilliant writer. It’s very smart. I think oftentimes when you see raunchy sex shows on TV they’re just kind of superficial and don’t really have much to say. They just want to boost ratings by showing breasts. Our show is equally smart and well written as it is raunchy and sexy.
I think it really speaks to our culture, how we are in relationships. How we view ourselves and act and behave when we’re in a relationship. It kind of pokes fun at the expectations society puts on us, to get married and appropriate behavior in a relationship. And I think it really challenges ideologies that we’re used to.
Does it come at those topics from a feminist perspective?
Yesterday I did a scene, and one of the themes in the scene was questioning what feminism was. So what’s also great about the show is, it doesn’t bully the viewers into having a point of view. The show does a very good job at displaying different points of view, and raising questions about our points of view. So a lot of people think that feminism is one thing. A lot of people think that feminism is hating men, and being single and independent and not needing to get married. But then on the other end of the spectrum the show will challenge that and make ask yourself maybe feminism is the opposite. Maybe feminism is being brave and trying to actually be in a stable, structured relationship. Maybe that’s respecting yourself as a woman. The show does a really brilliant job of raising questions and making you think about what it means to be a feminist.
Any final words?
I’m just excited for people to enjoy all the hard work we’ve put into making this.