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The Transformation Of Aya Cash From Childhood To The Boys

Aya Cash wasn't always an actor known for playing no-nonsense women who say and do what they want. But over the decades with shows like You're the Worst, Fosse/Verdon, and, most recently, The Boys, Cash has started to become synonymous with characters you probably shouldn't mess with. This makes her origins all the more interesting.

It wasn't any gritty, hard-hitting television or film that first inspired Cash to consider taking up acting, but one of the most optimistic, feel-good franchises of all time — Star Trek. In a profile for Forbes, Cash revealed that it was as she watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in her San Francisco home that she declared to her father, "I'm going to do that someday."

Acting doesn't run in the family per se, but Cash's relatives do have backgrounds which might've teed up her acting career a little. Cash's mother Kim Addonizio, most notably, is both a poet and a novelist. Just as interesting, though, is Cash's grandmother Pauline Betz, an extremely successful World War II-era tennis player.

With all of that talent already in her family, Cash went to the San Francisco School of the Arts before graduating in 2004 from the University of Minnesota. If you want to know how a young Aya Cash became the actor she is now, however, the first stop is in New York City.

The power of the Law & Order glow up

There are seemingly three things actors do in New York City: they wait tables, they do theater, and they eventually appear in at least one Law & Order episode. Aya Cash hit the NYC actor trifecta perfectly. Cash's first acting credit is the 2006 off-Broadway show The Pain and the Itch where she played Kalina. And while she would continue theater work in shows like From Up Here, Three Changes, and Offices, the true glow up for Cash in the 2000s was unquestionably her time on Law & Order.

While Cash never lasted for more than a single episode, she appeared on Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Law & Order Special Victims Unit. With each successive role, she slowly got more and more to do. In her first two Law & Order appearances, Cash played "woman who did wrong, but her boyfriend made her, kind of" — a real classic procedural show character trope. However, on SVU, Cash got a much larger opportunity to shine as Katrina Lychkoff in the season 10 episode "Hothouse." Katrina played a key witness in unraveling the murder of a teenage mathematics prodigy.

"Hothouse" aired in 2009, and, while it would be a few more years of playing one-off characters and turning up in TV movies, the seeds were sowed for Cash's first big ongoing TV break — the comedy series Traffic Light.

Playing Callie on Traffic Light

Traffic Light, a Fox sitcom based on the Isreali show Ramzor, may have only lasted for a single season, but sometimes one ongoing role is all it takes for an actor to show enough range and garner significantly more work. Traffic Light revolves around a group of thirty-something guys who have been friends for a long time, but are dealing with the struggles of staying close as they get older.

One of the friends, Adam (Nelson Franklin), life changes when he goes simply from dating his girlfriend a lot to actually living with her. As you may have surmised, Adam's girlfriend Callie was played by Aya Cash. Callie likes getting her feet rubbed, is not afraid of yelling at moving vehicles (although she will run away after the yelling has ended), and coughs very loudly around cigar smokers.

And while Cash was finding her footing, she also managed to rub elbows with another then up-and-coming actors who had a two-episode stint on Traffic LightKathryn Hahn. Watching over the series, you can see why it lasted only a single season. Cash's character Callie is dating the often-goofy Adam and their relationship is way more safe than it is biting. So while Callie herself is pretty sharp, she's not quite the character Cash would become synonymous with.

Gretchen Cutler in You're The Worst

Between 2011 and 2014, Aya Cash worked a lot appearing in shows like We Are Men, Modern Family, The Good Wife, and even an episode of Will & Grace. And while she had small roles in big movies like The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, a year later she starred in the show that, if you are a fan of Cash's, you absolutely know her from — You're the Worst.

Cash played one-half of one of the most caustic romantic relationships in the history of television. As Gretchen Cutler, a PR executive in the music industry, Cash worked opposite Chris Geere, who played failed writer Jimmy Shive-Overly. In the show, the two meet at a wedding, generally behave like feral cats, Jimmy gets kicked out of the wedding, and they wind up having a wild night together.

Over the course of five seasons, what makes the relationship between Gretchen and Jimmy interesting is that they are genuinely awful people a lot of the time — and they are really awful to each other, too. Not since Peg (Katey Sagal) and Al Bundy (Ed O'Neill) had there been such a pair of antagonistic lovebirds. But what made You're The Worst great (and earned Cash so much praise) is that the show genuinely deals with the trauma that makes Gretchen and Jimmy so mean and untrusting. And while the show takes the time to really look at what suffering from clinical depression does to Gretchen in all her relationships, it doesn't do it with sentimentality — just honesty.

Cash was nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for the 6th Critics' Choice Awards and Individual Achievement in Comedy for the 32nd TCA Awards. Between the critical accolades and the popularity of Gretchen Cutler, this was the moment Cash went from being a working actor to an actor whose work people really notice.

Joan Simon in Fosse/Verdon

Once you're an actor earning heaps of praise, you stand a much better chance of landing on prestige television. While You're the Worst was pretty high end for a show that could be sophomoric and gnarly in places, returning to FX to star in the biographical series Fosse/Verdon was definitely a very big deal for Cash's career.

Cash is a New York actor who got her start working on Broadway, so it's hardly a surprise that she leapt at the chance to work on a show dedicated to two of the most important names in Broadway history, Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Not to mention that those real life people are played by Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, respectively. But what is a little surprising is that, rather than play the brassy Gretchen Cutler character, Cash played a much quieter strength as playwright Neil Simon's first wife (and best friend to Verdon) Joan.

What made Joan such a departure for Cash is that she's not career-minded, she's not ego-driven at all — she acts in stark contrast to Verdon by being the kind of woman who steps away from the limelight entirely to become a mother. It's not played as the right or the wrong choice; just her choice. If you know anything about Neil Simon's life, you might know how things work out for Joan (spoilers: not great), but she remains throughout the kind of woman who'll wear a beautiful gown and have her hair done even if she's laid up in a hospital bed. Cash played her with incredible stillness and grace.

Stormfront on The Boys

And with her FXX and FX shows out of the way, we return to the place we started — The Boys. If there's an opposite of a glow up, it's probably Stormfront.

Sure, she's practically an immortal, she can fly, she's got super-strength, and she's so nigh on invulnerable that getting hit with Homelander's (Antony Starr) eye blasts is only painful enough to be a turn on, and that's all pretty cool. The other thing about Stormfront, though, is that she's a Nazi in the literal sense.

While characters on The Boys are played as over-the-top to the point of ridiculousness at times, Cash plays Stormfront very straight. A Nazi in the modern day is just as capable of being both dangerous and seductive as the time in which they first found prominence. And Cash uses her years of performing that playful sarcasm to mask Stormfront's earnestly evil aims to create a new superpowered master race. And while Stormfront may not have any limbs at the moment (nor is she currently slated to appear in season 3 of The Boys at this point), she could still return at any time.