For many actors, there will always be that one special role. The role they identified with like no other. The one that launched their career on a different trajectory.
For Logan Square native Desmin Borges, co-star of FX’s new comedy series “You’re the Worst,” that role is Mace, a fast-talking, Bronx-bred Puerto Rican pro wrestler in the critically lauded play “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.”
Borges won a Jeff Award for his performance in Kristoffer Diaz’s creation that went on to be a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist. It started life in Chicago as a co-production of Victory Gardens and Teatro Vista, where Borges, 31, remains an ensemble member.
“Without ‘The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity’ I don’t think I would have moved to New York,” the DePaul Theatre School grad said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, where he was wrapping up filming on the 10-episode season of “You’re the Worst.”
When “Chad Deity” was remounted at Off Broadway’s Second Stage in New York, Borges headed east with it. He lives in Brooklyn, a borough that reminds him of home.
“I went from one Chicago to another,” said Borges, who used to cater and tend bar at the now-defunct Fox & Obel between acting gigs. (One of those gigs included an Illinois Lottery commercial where he “wore tight red pants and talked to myself.”)
His theater work in New York and Los Angeles, where “Chad Deity” also did a run at Geffen Theater, led to other jobs, such as the doorman in the Jim Carrey film “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”
It also put Borges on the radar of “You’re the Worst” creator and showrunner Stephen Falk (“Weeds”). Falk first brought Borges on board the cast of the Dane Cook radio DJ sitcom “Next Caller.” That turned out to be a sinking ship; NBC axed it before it aired.
Borges has reunited with Falk with “You’re the Worst,” a “romantic” comedy that feels right at home with FX’s edgier, bawdy fare.
It stars British actor Chris Geere as a floundering novelist named Jimmy. Aya Cash (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) plays Gretchen, an unscrupulous publicist (redundant?). They’re a couple of self-involved singles who like sex just fine but abhor romantic relationships. You can probably guess what happens next.
The show delights in turning the rom-com on its head. Jimmy and Gretchen’s “meet-cute” is anything but cute: He’s just made an a– of himself at an ex’s wedding and she’s trying to steal a food processor off the gift table. When she finds out it’s merely a blender she chucks it in the bushes.
Borges’ character, Edgar, easily ranks as the most likable of the bunch. Jimmy’s former pot dealer in college, Edgar joined the Army only to come home from Iraq with PTSD. Jimmy found him homeless and let him crash at his place rent-free in exchange for Edgar’s help with the cooking and cleaning.
“I’m kind of Jimmy’s moral compass,” Borges said. That’s no small task.
Borges, like his character, knows his way around a kitchen. He learned a lot about food and flavor at a young age, surrounded by Puerto Rican, Italian and Greek relatives who filled their seven-apartment graystone at Fullerton and Sawyer. He once promised himself that if the acting thing didn’t work out by age 45, he’d go to culinary school.
An only child, he lived with his parents for a little while in Elmwood Park before relocating to Houston when he was 10. That’s where his dad taught him to drive at age 12 — in case of an emergency. That emergency happened a few years later.
“I came home and he was doubled over on his hands and knees in the garage,” Borges recalled. “I put him in the back seat of the ’78 Marquis and drove him to the hospital.”
His father was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died within a year, but not before coming home.
“He wanted to be buried in Chicago, so we flew back with my mom, and he spent his last few weeks there saying goodbye to family and friends,” Borges said.
“It was rough. It shaped the way I am now. It’s definitely given me more of a realistic outlook on life — how to seize it.”
He may be busy seizing those opportunities that make that culinary career look less likely, but he hasn’t forgotten the Chicago stage role that got him here. In fact, he’d like to play Mace again in “Chad Deity.”
“It tells the story of thousands of people who don’t get to see their story told on stage that often,” he said. “And I’d like to put on some spandex and get my butt kicked eight times a week.”