Desmin Borges on Edgar’s Harrowing Episode of You’re the Worst: ‘He Wants Someone to Beat the Hurt Out of Him’

By
Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

After depicting his experience with PTSD for two and a half seasons, You’re the Worst put Iraq War veteran Edgar Quintero in the spotlight with this week’s episode, “Twenty-Two.” The title is a reference to the number of veterans who commit suicide every day, and the episode commits to the dark tone all that implies. Written and directed by creator Stephen Falk, “Twenty-Two” follows Edgar, who decides to go off his meds at the beginning of the season, around Los Angeles as he’s ignored by his friends, confronts his thoughts of paranoia and suicide, and eventually finds solace when he meets a tow truck driver who is a fellow vet. It’s a haunting turn for You’re the Worst, emblematic of a sitcom that has grown into a sadcom, and eventually, something else entirely.

Edgar’s been near this breaking point for a long time, according to Desmin Borges, who plays him on the show. Talking over the phone, Borges explained how he started to research the experience of going to war, and living with PTSD afterward, back in You’re the Worst’s first season. He’s read veterans’ message boards, and months before the show starts shooting, he puts himself on an army routine. Edgar’s trauma, in his mind, is, and has always been, simmering in the background. Now it’s started to boil over.

Have you seen the episode?
I saw a rough cut of it this weekend.

There were a couple of scenes that were from last week's episode, seen from a different perspective. Did you shoot those at the same time?
We block shoot, so we shoot four episodes at a time, usually. We were shooting episodes four, five, seven, and eight at the same time while we were shooting this. Any of the scenes in four that also appeared in five, we would shoot four first and then a camera change would happen, we'd go to a steady cam or do a lens change, and Stephen would just come up to me and say, "Now we're going into five." And my mindset would change. Physically, something would alter. We'd just get done shooting four and then go into five, so the transition from one to the other was swift.

How did you get into that mindset?
For the four months before we start shooting the season, I go into my army regimen, where I'm working out at the same time every day. I got to sleep at the same time. I wake up at the same time. I eat at the same time. I eat basically the same stuff every day. And I have five outfits that I keep in rotation. I try to get myself into that mindset of, I don't make decisions for myself on that side, so that when I do come in and I get back into Edgar, that regimented, structured, rule-based feeling that is in his veins is there.

Edgar seemed to start to spiral at the beginning of the season. Did you talk with Stephen about the arc of the character, or how far he would go?
We hadn't really talked about him spiraling. Stephen and I had plenty of conversations about the statistical nature of PTSD and people dealing with mental health issues. They are very much a roller coaster ride. There's a lot of ups. There's a lot of downs. There's a lot of falling and climbing your way back to the top. For the last few seasons, we've seen him slowly rise. He's on a roller coaster going click, click, click, click, click, making his way up there. At the end of last season, he and Dorothy didn't break up. He was there at the top of the mountain. As soon as this season started, it's the front of that car starting to inch its way forward. Now, we're seeing him free fall forward, and we're going to have to watch him dig, claw, and fight his way back up to a more positive state.

What kind of research did you do to get into this character? You don't see a lot of veterans like him on TV.
No, you don't, and that's one of the things that I'm most proud about — that we as a show give voice to the voiceless, and how we are telling a very different vet story than we've ever seen on television before. As far as research goes, you can read as much as you want about it online. There are PTSD blogs that, you can't subscribe to them, but I'm on them all the time, trying to hear feedback from actual vets that are dealing with it in the aftermath. But I gained the majority of my knowledge from a few different people. I found out that a couple of my really close friends' dads who fought in previous wars have PTSD, and I've known them for like 18 years and I had no idea that they had PTSD. They don't walk around and you're like, Oh, PTSDOh, autism. Oh, clinical depression. You don't just name that shit when you're seeing people on the street. That gave me a really nice outer shell of how I wanted play with Edgar.

Then, specifically, we had a vet come in in the very first season, and he told us his entire story, his ups and his downs. He's now at a place where he's very comfortable. He has a service dog. He doesn't have sleep to rage anymore. He's not dealing with insomnia or hallucinations. But just before that, there was that shooting that happened at the movie theater when the Batman movie came out [in Aurora, Colorado in 2012]. It freaked him out so much that he started carrying his service weapon on him again, not because he wanted to use it on anyone, but because he wanted someone to see it on him, feel confrontational, and beat the hurt out of him. Nobody who I had ever spoken with had said those words to me before. When he said it, he had tears in his eyes and I had tears in my eyes. I knew that we may not be able to show that considering it's a comedy — we now know that it's a very dark comedy, but this was before we shot episode two — but I just knew that the feeling of that was the baseline for Edgar. No matter how romantically involved we see him, or how much he loves cooking, or how invested he is in Rachael Ray or Jimmy and Gretchen's relationship, underneath all of that happy shit is this bubbling thing that, at some point, he wants someone to beat the hurt out of him.

Finally, in this episode, we've come to his breaking point. I traced myself back to that conversation a lot during this episode. Trying to remember his voice and the way he said it, to get the sense memory and use that as much as possible.

Part of Edgar's struggle is that he keeps getting thwarted when he tries to get help.
One thing I hope this episode does is continue to open up the dialogue about the way we view and treat the vets who so courageously defend our freedom on a continuous basis. It is true, after they come home, we pat them on the back, say "welcome home, son," "welcome home, daughter," and we kind of throw them to the side. It's not fair to them. We're dealing with people with a very vivid memory of what they were like before they went to war. Now, when they come back, they can't shake it. All they want to do is be the person they were before the experience. Even though they know, somewhere back in their mind, there's a very small chance that will happen, we owe it to them to give them every opportunity to get as close to who they were as we possibly can. It's our duty as a society to help them as much as possible.

Back in the first season, there's that episode where he thinks he's met a group of vets, but they turn out to be actors. In this episode, Edgar finally gets to meet this tow truck driver who shares his experience. What does that mean to him?
It's extremely difficult for anybody who's dealing with that to open up about it. When you're constantly being rejected, and when you do feel you're comfortable to open up to specific friends about it, or family members, it can be extremely disheartening. It makes you feel way more alone than you did before you decided to open up about it. The tow truck driver saw the papers on my seat, and then decided to approach me about it. Then, his stories and his and his friends' remedies of how they're coping with their PTSD give Edgar hope, ultimately, that, Hey, I don't have to walk into oncoming traffic on the 405. There are other ways to do it. I could hike the PCT. I could stab a door when I'm feeling rage. I might not get my deposit back, but at least I'll go through the episode. Finally, he might have found a community that we might be able to see him build a relationship with so that he doesn't feel as alone.

It seemed that part of the conclusion of that moment was that Edgar needs to assert himself in the midst of Jimmy and Gretchen and all their drama. Is he helped by his relationship with Jimmy, or is that something that has become toxic?
All of this will eventually help his relationship with Jimmy, Gretchen, and Lindsay. We're building blocks of confidence with Edgar right now. Sometimes the toughest things we face make us the strongest, and he's going to come out stronger after this bout and say, "Hey, I'm a fucking person. Listen to me, or I'm gonna be gone." It's like, "I do everything for you. It's your turn to reciprocate otherwise we can't be friends." I don't think he gets to that point this season, but I can see us building the blocks for that down the line. Knock on wood.

How do you find the comedy in all this? Even from the first season, Edgar's storyline has been grim, but he's also gotten to deliver deadpan jokes and comment on everything else.
Edgar has a warped sense of humor to begin with, so things that he finds funny, we can find funny with him. But ultimately, the comedy surrounding him and what he's going through has mainly to do with him being the straight guy and everyone else around him being the buffoon. Jimmy and Gretchen really represent our society on a much smaller scale, and the [way] that our society continues to push our veterans and their needs to the side. They're going to continue doing that, and that will transition over into cringeworthy comedy.

They're the worst, but Edgar is the least worst.
Yeah, but I'm really hoping that at some point he climbs the ranks a little bit. I would like to not be least worst anymore. Maybe like, third or fourth from the bottom. We'll see what the writers have in store for him.

I guess Paul's also pretty good.
I want Paul and Edgar to become friends, now that Lindsay and him are divorced. I'd want to go tandem bike riding with him. I'd want to fly model airplanes, make craft brews in my house, or look at stars through a telescope. Paul is a pimp, dude! I don't know what's up with Lindsay. And nobody knows what he does! The guy's just loaded with cash. He's got the best life, out of everyone, except for Lindsay. That's his Achilles' heel.

There's a recurring bit where Edgar is a great chef. How does the food work on set? Do you end up making the recipes?
I don't make them personally. Our props people do an incredible job of that. But I am a huge cook. Everyone gets starstruck over actors and ballplayers, I get starstruck over chefs. If I'm in a restaurant and I see chef Cat Cora off to my right, I turn into a giddy schoolboy. If I weren't an actor, I'd be a chef. I think there's just so much love and art that goes into making beautiful meals and fulfilling people's souls that way that really speaks to me. I don't know if Stephen knew that before we started shooting or we figured it out later, but I'm really happy that we've stuck along those lines. I really enjoy shooting the insert shots where I am starting to cook some of the food and plate it and put it all together. It fills me with quite a bit of joy.

Wait until later in the season. I can tell you because it's already been leaked out there, but there is a thing called "breakfast sushi" that will be coming out. They're the cutest fucking thing in the world and they are absolutely delicious.

We don't really know much about Edgar's life before he went into the army, other than that he sold Jimmy weed a while back. Have you thought about what motivated him to go into the army?
I have my own personal thoughts about what that backstory is. I hope at some point we get to meet Edgar's brother. He's been brought up throughout this season and in past seasons, and I feel like Edgar's brother was probably his father figure. I just imagine he didn't have the most put together household growing up. Because the central theme of this season is family. The family that you're born into versus the family that you choose to have later in life. That's something that's key to the evolution of Edgar's character, and I hope we do get to explore it a little bit more. And it'd be even more amazing if, you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda finds time in his busy schedule to hop on over to L.A. and be my big brother. 

Let's start the petition now.
Yeah, just tweet at him after this interview goes up. 

Edgar also comes from a very different world from the rest of the characters, and seems to have different expectations about the world, being Latino and from a different class. It's fascinating to see that dynamic at play in a show about L.A.
Stephen's grasp of the class differences in L.A. is unlike everything I've ever seen before. He has an amazing point of view of what L.A. is at its basest point and loves to explore it and exploit it at the same time. Even though we're not a show that's hitting home about race and class and stereotyping, it's built in naturally within these characters. I have every iota in confidence in Stephen and our writers that we will continue to push that envelope. I know that's something that's important to them.

Part of the reason Edgar went off his meds at the beginning of the season was so he could have a sexual relationship with Dorothy. How is his relationship with her affecting him?
As a man, not being able to satisfy the person you love intimately in every way possible is a really hard thing to stomach. On top of that, you're dealing with a set of 11 medications that aren't really working for you. "What's the lesser of two evils?" is kind of the best way to look at it, as soon as you do something like going off your meds. He is doing it so not only he can feel more like himself, and to continue to fulfill his relationship with Dorothy in every way — but at the same time, selfishly, he knows that there are going to be masks and walls that are put up. Trying to navigate through them turns out to be more difficult than he anticipated.

And I can already tell you, from a lot of the veterans who watch our show, as soon as Edgar puts the pills down the toilet, every single one of them kept tweeting at me, "Oh no, what is Edgar doing? Don't let him go off his meds!" We [all] understand that it's a fictional character we're speaking about here, but how quickly they reacted to that, and how strongly they reacted to that, is a strong implication of that internal conflict. Ultimately, I think he makes the best decision for him, but probably not the best decision for that relationship. 

It's scary for people who have become close to the character.
If there's anyone that can stomach it, and help him through his tough time, it is Dorothy. She just has the greatest heart and is the most grounded, balanced, and well-rounded character in this show. That's part of the impetus in him doing it, because he knows that she will wholeheartedly go through it with him and try to help him come out on top.

This interview has been edited and condensed.