Heléne Yorke is telling me about her Zara hack. It’s not so much of a hack as she goes online, looks at what the model is wearing and buys the entire outfit. What she doesn’t like, she returns. What she does, she keeps. That’s what led her to the bag on the table: a clear, hard-plastic rectangle clutch that houses her makeup, some cash and other miscellaneous items. The bag also comes with a “jingly” tortoiseshell chain, which she took off for the day because it was too “intense.” “I have to be very focused about Zara, and then I find a fucking see-through bag,” Yorke says.
We’re sitting at a round dinner table in a ballroom at The Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California, where Yorke has been promoting her new Comedy Central show, The Other Two, a comedy about a teen music sensation and his two less successful older siblings. The evening is winding down, but Yorke shows no signs of someone who’s spent the day in back-to-back interviews. Within seconds of meeting her, she tells me about Zara, her see-through clutch and the oversized, tiger-print dress she wore specifically for how she looked when she put her hands in her pockets. It may sound like an odd conversation starter, but for Yorke, a once shy kid who used comedy as a way to make friends, nothing is awkward. “I like to say that I’ve never met a stranger,” she says.
Yorke, the eldest of three, was born in Vancouver, Canada before moving to Los Angeles at the age of one-and-a-half. Her dad was a computer software salesman, so her family moved around a lot, from L.A. to Atlanta to Minneapolis. To make friends, Yorke used comedy, a medium she learned from watching her dad tell loud, boisterous jokes at dinner parties. “I was sort like, ‘Oh, laughing is so much more fun,’” Yorke says. “I discovered that making people laugh was my way in.” From a young age, Yorke knew she wanted to be a performer. At the age of three, she danced ballet. In middle school, she sang choir. In high school, she acted in L.A. So when it came time to apply for college, it was an easy answer for Yorke to pursue musical theatre. “I really, genuinely was not good at anything else,” she says.
After graduation, Yorke packed a car and moved across the country to New York, with the hopes of making it on Broadway. She lived out of boxes in apartment in Astoria, Queens, traveling to the Upper West Side each day to work coat check at a Reebok Sports Club. “I would get jealous of people with a 9 to 5 because I would look at them and think, ‘Oh my God. They are going to a job with a schedule and they have health insurance and they have a savings account and they probably own a couch,’” Yorke says. In 2007, she booked her first Off-Broadway show, a musical called Walmartopia. The show led to High School Musical on Stage!, which led to a Broadway revival of Grease, which led to a tour of Wicked.
By 2010, Yorke had starred in several Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and was set to play the lead in Bring It On: The Musical, which would have become her first original Broadway role. But in her last rehearsal before the show was to debut in Atlanta, Yorke broke her ankle while practicing a cheerleading move. “The spotter didn’t quite get me and I came down on my ankle. It blew up immediately,” she says. Her leg was put in a fiberglass cast, and Yorke was out of the show. “That experience was over very quickly,” Yorke says.
Things will happen to you that you don’t expect. It’s how you choose to incorporate them into your life and how to get after it.
Devastated, Yorke was faced with a choice. She could stay sad or try something new: TV. She chose the latter and moved back home with her parents in L.A. for pilot season. “My mom drove me around to every audition, and I would hobble around the lots here in L.A. on my crutches, and people would look at me like, ‘What are you doing here?’” she says. Her persistence paid off. In 2013, she booked a recurring on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. The show proved to be a big break for Yorke, leading to other roles on shows like BoJack Horseman and Family Guy. But when Masters of Sex was cancelled in 2015, Yorke found herself again without a job. To make ends meet, she went back to a front-desk job she had at Physique 57, a barre workout studio in lower Manhattan, where she used to work at as a struggling actress. “I’ve never had an ego about that,” Yorke says. “If the going got tough again, I would get another side job.” As for those who recognized her from Masters of Sex, here’s what Yorke would tell them: “I’d say, ‘I really love the show too. Are you here for the 6:30?’”
In 2016, Yorke starred as a character named Lainey in the HBO comedy, High Maintenance. The character was only in one episode, but Yorke’s performance made an impact on Saturday Night Live writers Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider who thought of her years later when they were casting for The Other Two. The show follows two thirtysomethings—Cary, an aspiring actor, and Brooke, a former professional dancer—as they wrestle with the fame of their 13-year-old, younger brother, Chase, who becomes an overnight success after his song, “Marry Me at Recess,” goes viral. “Reading the byline of who Brooke was and reading the pilot, I remember stopping and taking a breath and being like, ‘Damn it. Now I want this,’” Yorke says.
After a 45-minute audition at 30 Rock, Yorke received the call that she booked the part. “I was in my apartment with my brother, and I totally freaked and cried. I got very quiet, which is new for me,” she says. But for Yorke, Brooke is more than a role. Not only does the character mirror some of Yorke’s life (Brooke also broke her leg, leading to a career-changing move, which Yorke says is a “pure coincidence), but the character also reflects what Yorke wants herself to be in the face of the ups and downs of her career. “Nothing in her life is really lined up, but she’s determined to stay positive,” Yorke says. “It’s like my story with my accident. Things will happen to you that you don’t expect. It’s how you choose to incorporate them into your life and how to get after it.”
Brooke’s positivity isn’t the only lesson Yorke learned on the set of The Other Two. From her costar, Case Walker, a Musical.ly star who plays her younger brother, Yorke was taught a crash course on internet stars. “It’s funny because we’ll ask Case if he knows who certain people are. Like he doesn’t know who Helen Mirren is. But I didn’t know who the Paul brothers were. It’s been a big awakening,” Yorke says. As for the chance that Brooke will sing with Chase in a future episode, Yorke suggests that it won’t happen this season, but the door is open. “Oh my God. I would love to. Good idea. Let’s pitch that!” she says.
I don’t want to do an impression of something else because it’s not going to be the real thing. So I’ll give you me.
As our interview ends, I tell Yorke about how my boyfriend was a huge fan of hers on The Good Fight, in which she played Rose Leslie’s girlfriend. She tells me about how she would wear pajamas on set and how she would ask Leslie questions about Game of Thrones, like where they went to the restroom and if their costumes were made of real fur. She tells me about how Leslie would FaceTime Kit Harington from Nova Scotia, and to tell my boyfriend thank you. An hour later, Yorke would learn that The Other Two was picked up for a second season. But in that moment, as she drinks from a tall glass beer and waits for her next interview, Yorke is OK with the unknown.
“I remember thinking Kristin Chenoweth could’ve been someone I measured myself against. But who’s going to be like that? Then you’re just a poor man’s Kristin Chenoweth,” she says. “I just want to be Heléne Yorke. I don’t want to do an impression of something else because it’s not going to be the real thing. So I’ll give you me.”