Over the six seasons of “Schitt’s Creek,” one character has arguably changed more than any other: Annie Murphy’s Alexis Rose.
When the Rose family landed in the small town they once purchased as a joke, Alexis had already dated a Saudi prince, a Sultan’s nephew, Leonardo DiCaprio, Prince Harry and all three Hanson brothers; she had been held hostage, arrested, and had learned to play pool in order to free a kidnapped friend from a “Ugandan diamond smuggler’s villa.”
By the series’ end, Alexis has evolved into an ambitious career woman, a loyal sister and daughter, someone who has experienced love and its loss. For fans, Alexis’s arc — played hilariously and soulfully by Murphy — has been one of the show’s greatest pleasures.
Murphy — who grew up in Ottawa and moved to Toronto after university — had lived through a number of career frustrations when she was cast as Alexis. During Murphy’s first pilot season in Los Angeles at age 22, she rented a room off Craigslist from a stranger, who upon Murphy’s arrival told her she was prepping for a role as a soldier in Afghanistan by sleeping on a cot in her closet.
“I would be eating soup on the couch thinking I was alone, and then she’d burst out of the closet all wild-eyed,” Murphy said. “It was one of the saddest, loneliest times of my life.”
The “Schitt’s Creek” series finale airs on Pop TV on April 7, but Murphy has already lined up her next job, as the lead on AMC’s meta new drama series, “Kevin Can Go F— Himself,” which examines the hidden agonies of a sitcom wife.
During an interview in early January for Variety’s “Schitt’s Creek” cover story, Murphy talked about working with co-creator and co-star Daniel Levy and the rest of the cast, how she created Alexis’s voice and expressions, and why filming the show’s final episode led to a “snotty, snotty therapy cry” for her and Levy.
How did you get the part of Alexis?
Dan sent my audition to Eugene [Levy], and was like, “We found Alexis.” Eugene, who’s the sweetest man in the whole goddamn world, had a really hard time wrapping his head around the fact that I was a brunette. In his mind, Alexis was blonde. Dan was like, “We can dye her hair.” But Eugene said, “I don’t know.’ So Dan called me and was like, “I just need to see you again. We need to see your Stevie” — conveniently a brunette. I flew back to Toronto, and I tested for both Stevie and Alexis. I was in L.A. for pilot season, for my third or fourth at this point, in 2013. Then waited by the phone for almost three weeks.
I had come close to a lot of parts. My trend was it coming down to me and another girl, and then never getting the part. Usually, if you don’t hear after two weeks, it’s not happening. During those weeks, I did the stupidest shit — I watched all of the Christopher Guest movies again — just torturing myself. Finally, almost three weeks later, I got a call and it said “Eugene Levy” on my call display, and I was so panicked that I didn’t answer. I finally got the courage to call back. I was like, I can talk to Eugene Levy on the phone, even if it’s bad news.
Dan picked up the phone and proceeded to say, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know that we loved having them come in, and we really loved what you did.” And then just left me hanging — like 45 years of my life went by. It was the worst. I was trying to put on a brave face, and be like, “Honestly, I grew so much as an actor,” putting the tears back into the duct. Right before he hung up, he was like, “Just one quick question. How would you like to play my sister on the show?”
It was a life-changing moment. My apartment had burned down; it was a bleak time. It really just 180-ed my life, to go work with two people I had admired so much growing up.
What did Dan say to you about Alexis? Were you someone who had watched, like, Paris Hilton on “The Simple Life”?
In the breakdown for the audition, it did say “a blonde socialite.” But it referenced a young Goldie Hawn, which I found to be really interesting because it would have been such an easy thing to be an Olsen twin or a Kardashian. I really latched onto that because a young Goldie Hawn was bubbly and bright and maybe a bit frivolous, but she was also a really cool, interesting, smart woman. She had layers to her.
I also went to YouTube, and I was like, “Kardashians,” “Paris Hilton,” “Olsen twins,” “Lindsay Lohan,” all that stuff. I stole a bunch of stuff from them, which I am so grateful for — the vocal fry and the [holds out her hand]. I noticed they all carried their handbag like this. One late night I was like, “What if there was no handbag?”
I haven’t watched full episodes of any of those shows. I think my brain would implode.
I watch all of those shows.
Do you? I’m into “The Bachelor” now, and I just started “Love Island” — goddammit, that was a mistake. I actually think I would be upgrading to go to the Kardashian world — so I’m not ruling it out. I remember Dan giving me such shit for never watching “The Hills,” and therefore never watching “The Hills” after show.
Did you know who he was, though?
No, I did not. Lots of people did know who he was because he worked at MTV. He had more on camera experience, but I had been acting longer.
I was riding such a high from booking a job. I was so excited about that, I forgot that I would have to actually act with these people who I’d idolized for so long. The night before, I was like, “Holy f—. What have I done?” On the first day of work, I realized Dan was just as much a jittery bag of bones as I was. We were both super green still and didn’t really know what the f— we were doing, and were missing our marks. We were learning together. Eugene and Catherine [O’Hara] were so incredibly nice. They made me feel accepted and protected and safe. It was family right out of the gate.
Did you have the voice right away?
No, and I’ve watched a couple of older episodes recently, and as with a lot of comedies, we all settled into our character over the first few seasons. I get a little high-pitched and more whiny as the seasons go on. Dan and I both — our faces are out of control by the sixth season, and we’re just flailing all over the place.
In my mind, siblings share gestures and facial expressions and intonation. I really did start watching him and taking little bits and pieces from him. I think he did the same with me.
When did you start saying “David” the way you do?
I don’t really have like an exact moment when I was like, “I’m just gonna milk this for all it’s worth!” But it clearly happened, and I had such a fun time saying it. The writers and Dan didn’t stop me when I would just start littering them in every now and again.
Someone just recently said that I’ve only ever said, “Ew, David!” twice or three times. So it’s interesting that people have run with it.
I have an “Ew, David” beanie. But you’re right, it’s not that often. You definitely do say “ew” and “ucch” a lot.
It’s like, “Ouch, David!” Or “Ucch, David.’ Or “Don’t be a dick, David.”
Do you pay attention to all the things Alexis is supposed to have done? Is that a backstory you have in your head?
I don’t remember them all because there are too many to keep track of. Alexis is literally up for anything at any time, and has lived such an insanely colorful, cultured life. She’s a little encyclopedia of adventures. Keeping that in the back of my mind all the time has been really helpful.
How did you find out about “A Little Bit Alexis”?
At the table read, much like Noah found out about “Simply the Best,” it was like: “and Alexis sings her title track off her album.” I got caught up, like, “Well, Noah was able to do a thing, so let me do a thing!” without really realizing that I am not a musician at all, nor do I have any experience writing songs. Luckily, my two best buds in Toronto knew what they were doing. I went to my friend Nick’s studio, and the three of us wrote the song, and I wrote the lyrics.
It was up to you to write?
I begged Dan. Even though we knew that it had to be a spoof and not very good, we secretly all wanted to write a banger of a song. I wrote the lyrics, and then the other two did the bleeps and bloops and put the melody together. I sent it to Dan and just waited and waited and waited, and he wrote back, “I am obsessed.” We ended up recording the full song. It gets played at clubs now. It’s crazy.
I felt really lucky to be trusted enough to be allowed to write it myself, come up with my choreography and do my own thing for that episode.
You came up with your choreography?
I mean, come on, let’s be real: it’s not that impressive. It’s deeply embarrassing, is what it is. But it was nice because there was no pressure to actually be good.
How much of the show is improvised?
Very little. Which is weird, because we’re working with two of the best improvisers in the world.
There are times when Catherine just goes on a tear. Still, six seasons in, Dan and I are complete shit at keeping it together because when she goes, it’s amazing. We, for the most part, have to be annoyed at whatever Moira’s doing, you know? And all I want to do is get a box of popcorn and just sit and watch her do her thing. It’s not even improv, but the way she chooses to pronounce a word can shock you to hell — making the word “how” into seven syllables. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s a witch.
Are there a million takes in which you just laugh?
We’ve gotten better at disguising it. With Dan, if you look closely enough, you’ll see a lot of hands in front of the mouth. It’s such a wonderful feeling — maybe not for the crew — to not be able to keep a laugh in because you’re watching something so incredible happen in front of you.
When did you know that the show was catching on?
The show was doing well in Canada, so I’d get recognized every now and again. The day it was added to Netflix, it skyrocketed.
Alexis grows so much. When did you feel like that started happening?
Everything was building to Season 4. It was a turning point for the character, when she rid herself of dependencies on money and men. Alexis is so much a product of her environment. Growing up with all of the insincerity and falseness around her, she became one person. But then plunked into another environment where she had the opportunity to show kindness and sensitivity and independence and intelligence — being in the town gave her the opportunity to figure out who she actually was.
Who are you friends with from the cast?
Dustin [Milligan] and I are very close. Sarah [Levy] and I are very, very close. Of course, Dan will be forever a brunch host, which I greatly appreciate. I’m friends with Dave West Reed and Rupinder Gill, who are the writers. [A few months ago], we were at Catherine’s house. She ordered a bunch of pizzas and had wine, and we all watched the premiere together.
So happy for Dustin Milligan. Redemption after “90210”!
Oh my god, he’s still triggered by that. He’s such an awesome dude, too. Super smart, super funny. He’s writing his own stuff now, and it’s really good for him. He gets cast because he’s very beautiful, but he’s also a real weirdo and a real character. He’s decided to write himself some weird character stuff to show he can do that.
What would you like your career to look like?
Like Tom Hanks’s career! I’d love to do a period piece, or a scrappy indie. I would love to write, I’d love to do voice work. I really would like to experience as many different genres I can, and I’d love to do theater again — Broadway or Off Broadway.
I really have been spoiled, in the sense that “Schitt’s Creek” is really good quality. I want to keep doing really good quality things. It’s been tricky because there are a lot of shitty things out there. Five years ago, I would have been jumping at the chance to do auditions that have been coming my way. I have to be — not snotty about what I do next — but a little bit choosy because I wanted to be the right thing. I have to be thoughtful about what comes next.
Do you think there will be more “Schitt’s Creek”?
I’ve offered Dan $50,000, and he’s told me to go f— myself. I don’t know! I don’t think there will be more seasons. But a movie would be so nice.
What was filming the final season like?
It was full of last moments. Literally every day someone decided to be a total dick, and was like, “This will be the last time you hold a menu at the cafe!” It started to sink in not too far into shooting that this was going to be it. You could see everyone really appreciating the time that we had together.
At table reads, Dan — he’ll hate me for saying this — but Dan had a very hard time. He was quite annoyed that, to a point, I was very stoic and holding my shit together. Especially closer to the end, I would sit across from Dan and all of a sudden I’d hear, [makes a sobbing noise] and look up. Dan would not want to cry, but then he would — Noah put it like, “Dan was swallowing his face.” Dan just couldn’t handle it. I would obviously make fun of him for that, which came back to bite me in the ass in a huge way on the last day of shooting. I would secretly cry at home when Dan wasn’t around, but on the last day was one of our very last scenes that we shot in the entire show. It was at the motel, and I worry that what the audience is gonna see is Annie Murphy and Dan Levy just having a snotty, snotty therapy cry. Not in character. Just us, as us, crying publicly on national television. It got to me by the end, of course. It has since, it leaves a big hole.
I feel like it’s ending too soon! That’s my personal opinion!
Write a strongly worded letter to Dan, please.
This interview has been edited and condensed.