Aya Cash: “It is our responsibility not to be seduced by sensational headlines”

There are cases that arouse the interest of the public simply because of curiosity, because of the curiosity that arouses the blood, that awaken the facts that distort what we thought of everyday and peaceful with their strangeness. Others, on the other hand, captivate the audience (even crime is part of the world of entertainment) because they offer a window to a hidden but urgent world, they suddenly stage, with violence, deep and invisible problems. Conrad Roy’s death had both.

In 2014, in idyllic Fairhaven, Massachusetts, a young man with a history of depression took his own life, evidencing the profound loneliness of adolescents, the anxiety that eats away at them, the lack of solutions in the environment, the disconnection between parents and children in a generation raised from the screen, the stigma that weighs on mental health, the overwhelming desolation of the 21st century; but the investigation later found that Conrad had been prompted by Michelle Carter, a casual girlfriend of sorts, to make the decision.

The trial was, of course, what they call “an event” in the United States, with 24-hour commentary from experts and not so much. Erin Lee Carr, the director of “In the heart of gold”, made a documentary about the case, “I love you, now die”, and now the case comes, fictionalized, to the Starzplay screen: the miniseries “The Girl from Plainville”, which lands on the platform on Sunday, has Elle Fanning (“Super 8”, “The Great”) as Carter, and Aya Cash as one of the voices of conscience, prosecutor Katie Rayburn.

In the midst of the media scandal surrounding Roy’s death, the prosecutor tried to do justice by accusing Carter of being guilty of Roy’s death for having incited him through text messages, although, as she herself commented at the end of the trial, “There are no winners: Conrad, an 18-year-old boy, is dead, and a young woman is sentenced for his death: two families have been torn apart.”

Cash, the actress who played Stormfront, the Nazi superheroine of “The Boys” and starred in one of the best anti-romantic comedies of the century, “You’re the Worst”, embodies a paradoxical Rayburn: on the one hand, she pushes the realization of the trial against Carter, despite the fact that initially there were few elements to not consider the case a suicide, and he does so because he believes that it can be an advance in his career; but, on the other hand, she believes in what she does, she believes that her pursuit is fair.

“The Girl from Plainville” premieres its first episode on Sunday, through Starzplay

“I don’t think our justice system is perfect, in no way, if you think the system is infallible you are lying to yourself, there are human errors and prejudices…”, says Cash, in dialogue with EL DIA. “But since she was my turn to play her, I embodied her thinking that she believes that what she does is the right thing to do. So they can both live side by side: she’s both ambitious, she wants to push the case for her own benefit, but she also believes it’s true. And it’s her job, and she’s very good at her job.”

To play Rayburn, Cash says he didn’t watch too many trial movies, an entire genre in America, but instead focused on “real-life lawyers. That interested me more than exploring the film genre, because the part that interested me was the performance aspect of being a lawyer: lawyers have to memorize lines for trials, like actors, and like actors have to act out those lines, but often hiding the acting, because the actors have to be realistic… And at the same time, there are moments where a layer of acting is added: they don’t always have to sound natural, the lawyers also have moments where they emphasize the performance, they elevate it”.

Cash also studied, of course, Rayburn, although, he says, due to the little footage of the prosecutor and a creative decision by the creators Liz Hannah (screenwriter of “The Post”, by Steven Spielberg) and Patrick Macmanus, “not we look for a direct mimicry”.

“The creators were clear: they wanted to use Katie Rayburn as a springboard. There is a lot of her life and her case that she never saw, which is why she is a fictional version. So there are differences, my hair is a different color… ”, she comments.

“But,” he adds, “I did watch the documentary a lot, to get a good feel for what it was like. And what I brought to the role in the series is his ambition, his intelligence. Also the way she carries her head, the way she brings her forehead forward, little things like that, but without trying to mimic, be faithful in the sense that Elle (Fanning) had to do, because about her character yes there was a lot of footage and that fidelity was asked of him”.

“I don’t think our justice system is perfect, by no means, if you think the system is infallible you are lying to yourself, there are human errors and prejudices…”

Ayah Cash,
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn in “The Girl from Plainville”


It is that Michelle Carter became a kind of infamous icon, a character that the American newspapers devoured, writing, during the months that the trial lasted, thousands and thousands of characters giving their opinion on the case, with that kind of fervor that is quickly consumed The verdict is barely out. As the tabloids, the entire country had an opinion about Carter and the text messages she exchanged with her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, pushing him to take his own life.

Carter hated being ordinary, and the death of her partner put her center stage, a suffering young woman who organized events to honor her partner and raise awareness of mental health issues in a rather cynical way.

Cash has experience working on television around mental health problems: before fiction focused its lens on depression almost obsessively, she played Gretchen in “You’re the worst”, a bittersweet comedy in which her character she distances herself from her romantic interest in the face of fear, stigma, and distress that comes with her clinical depression.

Can fiction raise awareness of these problems? “I hope so,” says Cash. “I think I have to believe it, to continue doing what I do, I have to believe that what I do has some effect, that if we see people’s stories we have more empathy, more understanding. I, without a doubt, had that experience with this case: I thought it was a crazy, wild case, I got carried away by sensationalism, but seeing the documentary, having worked on the series, I have much more empathy for these two boys.

“And that,” he closes, “is important: I think I will never see a headline again without thinking that there is much more about these people that we do not know, and that it is our responsibility to look deeper, not to be seduced by the headlines.”

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