Across the table sits a woman in an oversized white T-shirt, grown-out blonde waves piled on top of her head. Minimal makeup. No uptalk or vocal fry. She’s a woman who is unaffected. Inquisitive. But this woman is also thoroughly, completely Alexis Rose. The second she tucks her elbows in and lets her wrists go limp, a little shimmy of her shoulders as she sits up straighter, chin down, lips pursed, I feel transported, no longer sitting in the restaurant of the Nomad Hotel in midtown Manhattan, but in a booth at Café Tropical in the fictional town of Schitt’s Creek, somewhere—we don’t know exactly where—very far from New York City.
It is both impressive and, for her, perhaps a little unnerving.
“I’m wondering now if I’ll ever be able to do anything other than Alexis or if she’s just totally ingrained in my bones,” says Annie Murphy, the actress who has played the youngest Rose child on the Canadian comedy, now in its sixth and final season, since its 2015 debut.
Murphy is standing on something of a precipice. The show—a critical and cultural darling—has wrapped. She, personally, has received much praise for her rich, nuanced portrayal of Alexis’ transformation from spoiled, self-absorbed socialite into spoiled, self-absorbed but also sweet and selfless business owner. The 33-year-old is a remarkable physical comedian, her subtle affectations (the awkward high-five; the broken-doll half-lean) speaking volumes about the character and eliciting howls of laughter (at least from me and my viewing partners; the show does not shoot in front of a live audience). But Murphy, talented as she is, has yet to book another job.
She’s been in this position before, trying to avoid being pigeon-holed. Murphy was a struggling actress through her early-mid 20s and the bit parts she had booked—a bride with a secret on the third season of Rookie Blue, “friend in art gallery” in the 2010 film A Windigo Tale—were all dramatic roles. “I was begging, begging, begging, to go in for comedies, but because I didn’t have any comedy on my resume, people were like, ‘Mhm. But you’re a drama girl,’” explains Murphy. “They had their blinders on.”
Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek’s co-creator and her on-screen dad, was even blinded by her hair color. Two days after testing for her first pilot in L.A. during which she “utterly shat the bed” and proceeded to “very aggressively cry in the Pacific Ocean,” Murphy got a call to audition for Schitt’s Creek. As the story goes, Dan Levy (Eugene’s son in real life and TV life and the show’s other creator) called his dad to say Murphy had to be Alexis. But in the presentation pilot, Alexis was played by Abby Elliott, a blonde. Eugene couldn’t get past Murphy’s brunette locks. Murphy even went in to read for Stevie, the motel’s sarcastic clerk-cum-proprietor. When a timing conflict arose for Elliott, Dan convinced his father that a little hair dye could solve the problem. “Thank God she was a successful actress who had other things to do,” says Murphy of Elliott. “I owe my career to Abby’s career.”
As Schitt’s star has risen, so has Murphy’s. The show flew largely under the radar for its first two years, airing on CBC in Canada and PopTV here in the States. But then Netflix picked it up in 2017 and the atmosphere changed. “It was within a few days of being on Netflix that it was just,” Murphy whistles and mimes a rocket taking off. “I really realized what was happening when I got a direct message on Twitter from Tony Hale saying he loved the show. I did that”—she points to my mouth, agape—“but my face was frozen like that for 24 hours. People were very scared for me.”
She’s been getting recognized more frequently (a fan comes over during our breakfast to gush about the show), but Murphy says that when people approach her it’s typically to say she resembles the woman from Schitt’s Creek. (“I don’t usually commit to my aesthetic as much as Alexis does.”) Perhaps the biggest sign of impending superstardom: Murphy has her own catch phrase. “Ew, David!” can be found on hats, baby onesies, even license plates. It’s become such a calling card of Alexis-Annie that even Murphy was “blown away” to learn from a fan that she says that exact phrase just twice throughout the series.
Anyone suspecting that the 180 from struggling actress to star of a beloved sitcom has gone to Murphy’s head, creating an arrogant Frankendiva, would be mistaken. Murphy has no pretensions. “I don’t expect this to happen again, you know? I think it’s such an incredibly special show and they don’t come along that often,” she tells me. “I am just trying to suck up through osmosis all these crazy [experiences].” Like attending the Screen Actors Guild awards, as Murphy did three days after our interview, nominated with her castmates for best ensemble in a comedy series. Last fall she walked the red carpet of the Primetime Emmy Awards, celebrating the show’s nomination for best comedy.
She says being at the Emmys was “bonkers,” adding that she thinks she “bring[s] deep shame to Dan. There are these fancy famous celebrities all over the place and I’m rubbernecking. I’m trying to be calm, but I’m just jabbing Dan, and he’s like, ‘Please stop and do something about your face.’” She was most excited to see Fleabag star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, though Murphy self-deprecatingly jokes that she “wouldn’t say I met [her]; more like yelling non-English sounds at her and then waving like this” (Murphy flaps her hand back and forth like Forrest Gump saying hello to Lieutenant Dan). When I suggest that she, Murphy, is famous enough now to just DM Waller-Bridge, Murphy tells me about two adverse attempts to message other celebrities—neither of which replied. “I feel like even though you’re being very supportive about the Phoebe Waller-Bridge thing, I’ve learned my lesson.”
(Phoebe, if you’re reading this, Annie Murphy is available.)
I expect we’ll see Murphy again next awards season, lauded for her work as the show comes to an end. She wouldn’t share any season six spoilers (“oh god, my hands always start to sweat when I get asked this”), but did describe Alexis’s storyline this way: “Alexis came into the show very, very dependent on money and men and she leaves the show a very, very different person. And a much more independent person.” Of the four Roses, Alexis has experienced the most dramatic metamorphosis, and Murphy has played it with aplomb, keeping some of the early-season Alexisisms, which she finds “quite endearing from time to time,” while also bringing Alexis into her more mature, kind self. “It was important to me to show off more layers of her character,” says Murphy. “I’m super grateful to the writers for allowing me to play such a transformation.” I push for more details, but Murphy holds her ground: “I know this is being very vague, annoyingly vague, but, um, yeah, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say.”
As for those spin-off rumors? (Dan Levy does have a multi-year deal with ABC Studios, after all.) Murphy is equally evasive. “I think we all want there to be something more. None of us were ready to say a full goodbye. And Dan isn’t ruling out something, but…it has to be for a reason. …He’s not just gonna do a spinoff to make more money.”
“But it could happen?” I plead.
“It could happen. But as of now, it seems like if it does, it’ll be in our distant future.”
It’s the near future Murphy isn’t so sure about. She’s from Ottawa, Ontario, and has spent the last eight years living in Toronto. “But now I’m kind of a drifter. I’m not quite sure what’s coming next,” she says. Although she loves New York City and wants to live here—“If I did The Secret, that would be the top of my The Secret list”—she’s planning to spend the month of February in Los Angeles, a place she describes as spooky.
“I would be a real idiot if I didn’t ride the coattails of the show while I can,” says Murphy. “So I’m going to peddle my wares in L.A. See what happens. Go on some hikes. Try intermittent fasting.” She plans to read 40 books this year. (She’s finished two-and-a-half so far.) Reading a lot as a child—and the existential crisis that resulted from it—led to Murphy’s decision to become an actress. Reading was a way to avoid the fact of having only one life, one chance to experience all the world has to offer. “You could picture other people, travel different places, feel different things. Acting is an even better version of that because you can actually take on a character,” she says.
She’s going to write more herself this year too. Create. “You know when you lie awake at night and go through the list of all the things you did wrong that day? Mine’s like Ugh, why didn’t you do this? Ugh, another day gone by that you didn’t sit down and [write]. I hope 2020 is going to be a year of creativity.” She punctuates each word with a hand clap. Year. Of. Creativity.
She also feels strongly about using her newfound fame for more than simply continuing to be famous. “If you have a pedestal—small or big—or just a soapbox—you should use it,” she says. One of the things Murphy says has been most fulfilling for her about working on Schitt’s Creek is that it was not just a job on a successful show, but one that is “way more than entertainment. It has impacted people on a much, much bigger level.” People have written to the cast and crew to say that the show has gotten them through cancer treatment, or helped them come out to their families, or enabled them to have a more open mind about their family member’s identity. “The show is a place of great love and acceptance and kindness, and in this absolute garbage fire of a world that we’re living in right now, I think people are desperate to escape to a place that offers those things,” she says.
A happy place. Towards the end of our interview, Murphy says that word a lot. Happy. She wants to be living somewhere that makes her happy. Creating things that make her happy and make other people happy. To be happy. She corrects herself: To continue being happy. But she also wants to do more than that.
I point out a ring that she is wearing. Thick (like a ring Dan Levy’s David Rose would wear) and inscribed with Cyrillic. It’s Russian for “strength” or “courage” she tells me. It belonged to a friend of hers who committed suicide last year and his widow, also a friend, visited recently and gave it to Murphy. She wears it all the time. “It’s been a rough bit,” she admits. “Whether it’s climate or whether it’s mental health issues, I want to bring awareness to an important cause or two.”
“I want to play a part as a human being on the planet, and I don’t know what that looks like,” she says, “but I feel like we’re in a time when we’ve got to all join Greta Thunberg in the march and fucking do something big and important because it’s getting scary.” I mention celebrities who use their influence to champion causes by testifying before government bodies, United Nations ambassadorships, that sort of thing. “I feel like Justin Trudeau would send you,” I offer. He seems like he would be a fan of the show.
“JT!” exclaims Murphy, jokingly. “I’ll DM him, too.”
Lead image: Louis Vuitton dress and brooch, Jimmy Choo Shoes, Zani ring / Special thanks to the Russian Tea Room / Photography by Tyler Joe / Styling by Ryan Young / Hair by Sabrina Rowe for Oribe / Makeup by Delina Medhin using Tom Ford