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“I have never known anyone who has felt that alone”: You’re the Worst’s Desmin Borges on PTSD

Borges learned a lot about PTSD to play a veteran on the FXX comedy. He told a Vox podcast what broke his heart.

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Desmin Borges
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Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

When he was cast in the role of Edgar on FXX’s darkly amusing comedy You’re the Worst, actor Desmin Borges knew the part came with a big responsibility: giving, as he puts it, voice to the voiceless.

Borges explains this responsibility on the latest episode of my podcast, I Think You’re Interesting, during a conversation that spans his career, his influences, and all the R-rated movies he shouldn’t have been watching as a child. And with the character of Edgar in particular, he says the responsibility of giving voice to the voiceless is twofold.

Edgar represents Latinos, who are still underrepresented on television. But he also represents US military veterans, who’ve returned home from war and struggle with PTSD, a topic that receives almost no attention on American television — much less in comedies. In You’re the Worst’s third season, Borges dug deep into the research he’d done on PTSD early in the show’s run, as Edgar’s story became more and more important to the show as a whole.

In particular, he remembered when series creator Stephen Falk asked a veteran to come discuss PTSD with people who worked on the show, between the filming of its pilot and the filming of its first season in 2014.

“It’s really more like a roller coaster than anything else. There’s crazy, crazy highs and exceptionally dark lows,” Borges recalls learning. “Every day, it seemed like there was going to be some great breakthrough, and then it just turned out to be a breakthrough.”

Borges’s most distinct memory of the veteran’s conversation with the You’re the Worst staff concerned the man’s experiences after James Holmes opened fire on a Colorado theater screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, killing 12 people. The veteran, who was struggling mightily with PTSD at the time, found himself responding to the shooting in an unexpected way.

“He started carrying a service weapon around again, and it wasn’t to inflict violence or pain on anybody else. He just wanted somebody to see that on him so that they would beat the hurt out of him,” Borges recalls.

The story devastated Borges, who says he wept when he heard it. “I have never known anyone who has felt that alone, or that small, or that helpless that they physically put a gun on them so that someone would see it to beat the hurt out of them.”

But he’s been able to weave the memory of hearing the hurt in the veteran’s voice into his performance of Edgar, thereby giving voice to so many who suffer from PTSD in silence: “I knew that with the lovely and hopelessly romantic Edgar that we were seeing there could be this guy underneath all that who wanted the hurt beat out of him.”

Listen to I Think You’re Interesting at its official site, on iTunes, or on all other podcast apps.

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