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The Boys’s Aya Cash on the ‘Complicated Decision’ to Play Stormfront

Aya Cash. Photo: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

This interview contains spoilers for season two, episode six of Amazon’s The Boys. 

When Aya Cash first appears in the second season of The Boys, the superhero she’s playing, Stormfront, seems to channel the vibe of characters you might’ve seen her play in comedies like You’re the Worst. Stormfront speaks truth to the powers that be at Vought, the corporation that runs the superhero operation on the show, freely snarking about the faux-feminist framing she and the other female heroes are forced into.

But very quickly, Stormfront reveals herself to be a bigot in private, a fascist white supremacist who — as revealed at the end of this week’s episode — was created by Nazis during World War II. She seduces Homelander, the Trumpian Captain America at the head of The Boys’s superhero squad, trying to convince him to join her as a champion of whiteness. It is as if a far-right troll commentator had been gifted with superpowers. “There are these people who are spewing hatred,” as Cash describes it, “but it’s wrapped in this cute, smart, almost punk type of thing.”

In the comics series that inspired The Boys, Stormfront is male and more obviously a villain from the get-go. For the show, creator Eric Kripke and the writers made the character into a woman with social-media savvy, and 4chan-era tactics that twist white feminism to her advantage. Cash says that she hesitated before taking the role, wanting to make sure that The Boys would approach this character and her genre of hate thoughtfully. She spoke to Vulture over the phone about what convinced her to take the part, and how it made her face her own blindspots.

I felt like I needed to take a decontamination shower after watching the scene at the end of this episode where Stormfront reveals that she was created by Heinrich Himmler. What was it like to shoot that?
We actually shot that scene on one of the last days of shooting. It was very late in the season, so I’d already done a bunch of disgusting, horrible things, and yeah, it’s pretty upsetting. Even knowing that, having to play her passionate plea for winning the culture is pretty awful and horrifying, and very topical.

Did you know that the soundtrack would kick into the Golden Girls theme after that moment? It just makes it ickier somehow.
I did not know! [Laughs.] They don’t consult me about music choices, weirdly.

What was it like going into playing this character, where I assume you knew you’d have to play scenes like this?
It was definitely a complicated decision. This is a superhero story, but the superheroes are, for the most part, really vile people. They’re showing all types of disgusting humanity, and we live in a world where that exists. Genocides happen, the holocaust happened, there are plenty of normal people who are evil, and who have been warped and conditioned to hatred. It didn’t feel like we were creating something that doesn’t exist and saying, “look how fun.” The world of The Boys is an attempt to satirize and comment what is happening in our own world.

That felt like an exciting opportunity, but obviously I wanted to make sure that the people who are actually making the show — because I don’t write the show — were also being thoughtful about it. The Boys had not come out when I got cast, so I watched a few episodes of season one before they were released, and I talked to [the show’s creator] Eric Kripke beforehand about the character and how it was handled and how he created her.

In the comics, he’s just a straight-up Nazi wearing a swastika. This is obviously an updated version that makes her somewhat likable in the first part of the season. That’s a dangerous thing, but that’s also the danger that’s in our world right now: these people who are spewing hatred, but it’s wrapped in this cute, smart, almost punk type of thing. The misdirects, I do think, pay off. It’s hard to talk about this when you’re not through the season, to see the writers’ full intentions for that character, but hopefully once the season comes out people will have a better understanding of the ideas behind it.

When you talked to Eric about his ideas for this character, was there something specific that made you feel like you could put your trust in the writers?
He talked a lot about real-world examples of the people he was basing Stormfront on. I’m not gonna name names, because I don’t want to promote those people, but they exist. He had been going on a deep dive on those people and how they handled media and messaging, and that felt very thoughtful. It’s not “look at this badass new superhero,” it’s “look what happens when you give power to these people.”

This version of Stormfront, who styles herself as a “badass feminist” in air quotes, made me think about about how white women can get positioned or position themselves as advocates for white nationalism, because they get a lot of reflexive sympathy. There was a recent book, Sisters in Hate, that focused on that. Did you think of her in those terms?
I think I read the article about that as well! It wasn’t something that I had thought of before, and I was a little embarrassed about that. But over the last year, understanding the violence and exclusion of white feminism and how problematic it’s been, that’s absolutely spot on. I assume the writers were thinking of that and I’m slightly behind the ball. Coming at it from an actor’s perspective, which is about creating the reality asked of me on the page, I’m actually looking for humanity, even in this terrible person. For me, those moments [where she’s acting superficially feminist] were places to connect with me. That forced me to look at my own blindspots about that. Someone as a viewer who may connect to those moments hopefully will also have to think about the history of that, and why we are so easily charmed by that charisma.

I think of your work mostly from TV comedies, shows like You’re the Worst. The Boys is a big superhero show at its core, there are stunts and elaborate costumes and all that. Does it feel different, working in that that genre?
We shot You’re the Worst in four-and-a-half-day episodes, and this is 12-day episodes, plus an extra month and half of shooting at the end. It’s a longer day, and getting dressed in the morning is not just putting on a pair of pants, it’s shoving my body into the suit. But that’s also fun. On the day, you’re going, “Why am I hopping up and down?” and then seeing yourself fly in the series is a very fun experience.

Were there any stunts you were proud of pulling off yourself?
Most of the stuff that looks great is not me, it’s my stunt double. Except the wire work. I actually really like being on the wires and flying. I understand what a b.s. sentence this is, but I love aerial yoga, so I really enjoy being in the air. When you see me in the air, I actually am on a crane, quite high up.

How did you figure out what Stormfront would look like? If you’re remaking the character for this version, you have a lot of latitude.
At first I thought she was going to be bleach blonde, with pink lipstick, holding an AK-47. But then when they started putting me in things, it was much edgier, and actually a better critique than being as on-the-nose as that. There was a really short wig at one point, and I had extensions at another. Finally they just said “we’re going to shave part of your head” and I was like, “Okay, I think you’re paying me enough money to do that.”

Everybody on The Boys seems like they get coated with tons of blood and entrails at some point in the show. Did the rest of the cast have to prepare you for what it’s like having to sit in makeup for that?
I lucked out, I don’t have much of that … until I do, let’s put it that way. They really got me near the end. I had something that took six and half hours of hair and makeup. But I just put a podcast in and conk out when it’s that long. You can chat for a while, but at a certain point you’re like, I have to rest.

You also have a movie coming out on Shudder in October, Scare Me, that goes into horror. Are you trying to branch out on purpose?
I would love to tell you yes, but I’m just an actor for hire looking for a job. For Scare Me, [director] Josh Ruben is a friend of mine and he was like, “Hey, want to go shoot a little movie in the woods?” And I was like, “Sure!” Then everyone got crazy sick on that movie because it was like negative 10 degrees around Woodstock. It wasn’t quite as much fun as we’d hoped, but it was still a great group of people.

After You’re the Worst, I didn’t want to do anything super long term and I wanted to do something different, but I didn’t have an agenda about what it would be. I did just say to my agents that I’m only playing nice people from now on. So expect something else next!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Boys’s Aya Cash on Playing a White Nationalist Villain https://pyxis.nymag.com/v1/imgs/2ce/260/afb1861dfaf62117260e96324a2edcf8e7-aya-cash-chat-room-silo.png