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Samira Wiley on playing therapist to the Worst patient

(Photo: FXX)

Samira Wiley didn’t have to look far to find inspiration for Justina, her character on You’re The Worst. “My mother, actually, is a therapist,” she told The A.V. Club about playing the woman saddled with the thankless task of providing counsel to the extremely resistant Gretchen (Aya Cash). As depicted in the show’s latest episode, Justina and Gretchen’s first session begins with a disruption from Gretchen’s boyfriend, proceeds to the patient challenging her therapist to a fight, and ends in a heap of insults. Later, Gretchen barges into one of Justina’s other sessions, and makes a creepy attempt at following her home. In a phone interview, Wiley helped The A.V. Club break down Justina’s barely restrained frustration with her newest patient.

The A.V. Club: It seems like for a lot of this episode you’re holding back your exasperation with Gretchen. What was the process of doing that like?

Samira Wiley: Well, being able to work with Aya was a treat. I think I learned so much from her from being on set. She made everything so easy. Her character is so fleshed out. It felt natural and easy to be able to play with her because she’s so good at what she does.

AVC: How soon does Justina know that working with Gretchen is going to be very hard?


SW: I think she knows from the very beginning. She’s a young professional, and she’s definitely been taught a certain way of doing things. She hasn’t had that many clients in her career so far. A person like Gretchen who is amazingly special comes into her life and I think she immediately recognizes, “I won’t be able to use the tactics that I know.” She has to reach down and do things in a different way, because that is what Gretchen requires.

AVC: Do you think Justina always really wants to help Gretchen, or is there a moment where she’s ready to give up?


SW: I think she really does want to help her, even though I think that there are moments of exasperation where one can sort of go into that mode of “I don’t want to do this anymore. This is too hard.” But I think she cares about what she does and she cares about her patients.

AVC: Gretchen has that rant where she talks about calling Justina “mommy.” As the relationship develops, are we going to see Gretchen projecting motherly qualities onto Justina, and is Justina going to buy into that at all?


SW: I think Justina is really, really trying to, during the course of the episodes that she is featured in, draw the line of, “No, I can’t be this for you.” I think that Gretchen’s character really does push that. She tries to have a relationship with her that is a little inappropriate. At the end of the day, I think Justina actually likes Gretchen, despite everything, and that does drive her to want to help her. If you’re passionate about what you do, you can embrace challenges, and it makes you feel good to be able to overcome them. So I think that she’s maybe even ready and excited for this challenge that has been presented to her in the form of Gretchen.

Samira Wiley and Aya Cash in You’re The Worst (Photo: FXX)

AVC: What do you think it says about the dynamic between them that Justina, who is pretty put together, is dealing with Gretchen and her friends who are much less mature but basically the same age?

SW: [Justina] has this regimented, by-the-book way of doing things. She doesn’t really have experience with people who can be as difficult as Gretchen. She wants to be able to show someone that she is qualified, so I think she does put on an authoritative—I don’t want to say it’s a show. She just makes sure that she’s professional. That’s definitely a thing, if someone walks into your office and you’re supposed to be a therapist, you’re supposed to be someone who’s helping them out. And if [the person is] the same age as you, it’s definitely like, “What? My expectations were going to be that you could help me. How could you help me?”


AVC: There is that moment where Justine starts getting really mad about her boyfriend’s cargo shorts. Is that sort of a glimpse of something that we’re going to see more of? Does that indicate that maybe her life is maybe not quite as put together as she wants it to appear?

SW: Oh, absolutely. Because Gretchen pushes her and tries to see her sometimes out of the office, and you see parts of her life you are not supposed to see. You see that there are parts that are not as put together as she is in her work environment.


AVC: The second season of You’re The Worst had a very realistic portrayal of clinical depression. How do you see Justina’s role factoring in to the continuation of that discussion?

SW: Number one, I think it’s really beautiful the way that the show has handled depression. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV before. The level of honesty in it is remarkable. The next logical step is to have a character that is a therapist to come in and try to help. I think that it’s an amazing conversation to be having, because it’s a very real thing. Sometimes it can be a taboo thing to talk about. To be able to show it right in front of us is I think very smart, and I’m so happy to be able to be involved.


AVC: What were the conversations with show creator Stephen Falk like about you taking on this role? Did you do any sort of research?

SW: When I was younger, [my mother] actually practiced out of our home. I brought a lot of her to the role. The conversations that I had with Stephen were that he said he thought of me for the role, and he couldn’t get me out of his mind for it. And I’m just so happy that he did. There are people in my life that I know have suffered from depression, and I brought a lot of that to it. A lot of it, though, really had to do with my mom.


AVC: Did you have conversations with your mom about playing this part?

SW: Yeah, definitely. Not any specific conversations, but it’s an ongoing conversation that I’ve had with her over the years. You take so much on as a therapist, you just sit there and listen to people talk with you, and you’re trying to help people, and it can be draining. I think that it’s so important to be able to draw the line between a professional relationship and a personal relationship, which is exactly the opposite of what’s happening right now. Which I think is pretty funny.

Wiley in Orange Is The New Black (Photo: JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

AVC: Justina meets Gretchen’s friend Lindsay after Gretchen attempts to stalk her, and Lindsay says, “I am so wet right now.” Are you mostly just working with Gretchen or do you interact with the rest of the group at all?


SW: It’s really more so a relationship with Gretchen. I think it’s important to see that, to see the work that the two of them can do together. Of course, it’s funny and great to see when the other beloved characters comes in. But it is primarily just a relationship with the two of them.

AVC: The moment where Gretchen challenges Justina to fight is really funny. Later, Justina says, “I do kinda want to fight you right now.” Will they ever fight? Is this a foreshadowing moment?


SW: I think that it, if anything, is an indicator of Justina’s feelings about what she wants to do. But I think she values her professionalism over wanting to fight her.

AVC: This is a transitional role for you coming off of Orange Is The New Black. What are you excited to show people who only know you from that role?


SW: The actors that I admire are able to step into so many different roles. Playing a character for four years, in people’s minds, that’s who you are. I’m just so excited to be able to show people that that’s a part of what I can do, but it’s not everything.

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