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For five years, Annie Murphy played Alexis Rose, Schitt’s Creek’s comically clueless ex-socialite with a heart of gold. But the part almost didn’t happen. When she was cast in the beloved Canadian-produced series, which initially aired on cable’s Pop network, she was about to quit acting: Her house had burned down, her bank account was empty, and she hadn’t landed an acting gig in nearly two years. While the series took a season or two to find its footing, it gained a devoted fan base in its final seasons with the help of Netflix. By the time of its season finale in April of 2020, the series had been nominated for four Emmys.
Murphy, 34, is now in a very different place than she was when she was initially cast as Alexis. There was her Emmy win last year, but also new opportunities to move beyond Alexis. “I really, really wanted a departure,” she said recently over the phone from her Toronto home. “And I also really wanted to do a show like Schitt’s Creek that was very entertaining but it was also about something.”
In Kevin Can F**K Himself, a new show premiering June 20 on AMC, Murphy plays a dowdy sitcom wife in Worcester, Massachusetts, who has had enough of the humiliations her husband has inflicted on her and decides to exact revenge. Allison is looking for a way out of her airless, claustrophobic marriage, and the show manifests her drive through a unique, genre-bending form in which Murphy’s character lives in two worlds: a multicam sitcom where she grins and bears the indignities of her situation and a dark, single-cam prestige drama that underlines her suffocating rage and anguish. Murphy walks through doors or other passageways and the format changes—a jarring and effective shift that, in its contrasts, highlights the artifice and contrivances of the sitcom world.
“When I got this script, it was so appealing because it was about a woman who’s really tired of the bullshit,” Murphy says. “With so many of the sitcoms that we love and laugh along with, there’s so much misogyny, homophobia, racism, and sexism that’s covered up by a laugh track. To dive in a little bit and really get people to ask themselves what they’re laughing at and why they’re laughing at it was a really exciting approach.”
Ahead of the premiere of Kevin Can F**K Himself, Murphy spoke to Vogue about channeling her rage as Allison, joining the season-two cast of Russian Doll, and the possibility of Schitt’s Creek’s future.
Vogue: One of the things that struck me about Kevin Can F**K Himself is that you had to put on another voice, so to speak. What was it like going from Alexis Rose’s Valley Girl–esque voice to a Worcester accent?
Annie Murphy: First of all, I was scared shitless because it was really important to me that I do something very different right out of the gate. Just to prove—not even to anyone, but just to myself—that I could do something else. So when the character of Allison came along, it could not be further from Alexis: a working-class, downtrodden, not fashionable, angry woman with a hard Worcester accent. I was like, Yes, yes, yes. We were very lucky to have a wonderful dialect coach, who was very patient and very kind, working with us. It’s a really tricky one, and I’m worried that we’re gonna be laughed out of Massachusetts.
For the role of Allison, were there any characters on TV or in films that you tried to emulate?
I watched all the ones that you watch, like The Departed and Good Will Hunting. In The Departed, Jack Nicholson is so much Jack Nicholson that he didn’t even try. He was like, You know what? I’m just gonna do Jack Nicholson, and that’ll be that. But I was actually lucky enough to have a good friend who grew up in Worcester and now lives in New York. She’s really trained Worcester out of her, but when she has a couple of drinks, she can slip into it real, real well. Let’s say I may have liquored her up a couple of times and sat back and observed.
You filmed Kevin Can F**K Himself during the pandemic. What was that experience like for you?
In the grand scheme of things, it was wonderful because we were lucky enough to be working at a time that many, many people weren’t. But it was certainly a very different on-set experience than what I was used to. And to this day, there are good friends of mine on the crew whose faces I haven’t seen fully, which is a very weird thing. My brain has computed what I think their faces will be underneath their masks, but I don’t actually know if I’m right. The other hardest thing was not being able to hang out with the cast and the crew, go out for a drink after work, or whatever. It was very isolated. It was basically [going] from work and the studio to my apartment and back and forth. So if we get a second season, [hopefully] we’ll be able to properly hang out and explore Boston.
This show has a very unique format. There really hasn’t been a show like this ever.
No, I think I can confidently say that.
Obviously, we see Allison straddling these two worlds: the sitcom world with a laugh track and the outside world, which is a lot grittier. Is Allison imagining the sitcom world to cope with her own pain?
No, I think what is happening in the sitcom world is actually happening. Because it is a world that revolves so much around Kevin, that aesthetic in the sitcom really makes sense. When she’s with her husband, Allison doesn’t really matter. It’s not about her, and it’s very much all about him, and she’s there to wave her finger at him for being bad, bring him sandwiches, and be the butt of jokes. And that’s what the sitcom wife has historically been doing.
On the show, is the relationship between Allison and Kevin supposed to be abusive?
We don’t ever express or show that it’s an abusive relationship, but even from the sitcom behavior, there are certainly examples of emotional abuse, and I’m sure if you pull back the layers there is a very dark, not necessarily physically abusive, underbelly to this. He’s a drinker, deeply irresponsible, gets very angry and upset, and bullies. I don’t know if it’s actually that she wants him dead—it’s that she wants her life back.
I’ve only seen four episodes of the show so far, but will the outside world take over the screen time of the sitcom world eventually?
Yeah, I think the front half is as multicam heavy as it’s going to be, but the multicam never goes away because that’s where Kevin exists and he needs to continue to be in the story. So, we don’t ever say goodbye entirely to the multicam world, but we do dive a little deeper into Allison’s horrific adventures.
It feels like you got to push the limits in terms of acting on Kevin Can F**K Himself. What was your favorite part of the series to film?
Basically, every scene that I had with Mary Hollis Inboden who plays Patty [Allison and Kevin’s neighbor]. She’s going to be America’s sweetheart, mark my words. We got to be best, best buds. Working with her was such an absolute joy, so anything with her. It was also fun to be on the sitcom set and watch the guys work and be so good at what they do. They got us cackling many, many times.
What’s the significance of Patty being the one person who exists in both the sitcom and the outside worlds?
Her character identifies as one of the guys and kind of laughs and drinks along with them. Both of these women have existed in the same space, across a living room from each other, for upwards of 10 years; they don’t like each other and have nothing in common but slowly grow to love each other.
What is your character’s breaking point?
I think it’s just before we find her railing lines of cocaine in an alley with a stranger, when she finds out that Kevin has gambled away all of the money she’s been stowing away in their bank account in order for them to have a slightly nicer life. That’s been the light at the end of the tunnel—not some mansion but a home that’s a little bit cleaner and in a little bit of a better neighborhood. She’s been clinging to that.
Allison also has a lot of rage from putting up with Kevin. How did you channel that onscreen?
It was hard, being a human on the planet at this particular point in time after the year that we’ve all had. I’m an optimistic person, but when given the task of acting angry, frustrated, I didn’t have to dig too deep. I guess I have the state of the world to thank for that.
How do you want to see Allison evolve throughout the show?
I want her to let the anger out in whatever ways that she sees fit and then start living life for herself for the first time.
In addition to the show. Are you working on any other acting projects at the moment?
Schitt’s Creek has had a profound emotional effect on fans of the show, and I think even more so during the pandemic. In the past year, how have you seen the fandom for the show evolve?
It’s been so wild. I haven’t really been out of the house much over the last year, but when I was in New York and I was out walking around, it was crazy to notice people recognizing me. I hate to say this, but I do think we owe the success of the show to that f***er Trump and the pandemic. Because leading up to the pandemic, the last four years have been so horrific that people needed a place to go that was kind and inclusive. I would have never, ever expected that show to become what it’s become.
Do you have any funny stories about being asked to sing “A Little Bit Alexis”?
I have one pre-pandemic story. I was in New York, and I was meeting a friend for a drink at a drag bar. I was having a drink, and one of the queens came up to me, and she was like, “Hi. Just wanted you to know ‘A Little Bit Alexis’ is in my set.” I thought she was gonna be like, “So, if you’re uncomfortable with that, I don’t have to do that.” But she was like, “So, I’m gonna do it, I just wanted to let you know that’s happening.” And I was like, “Cool, cool.” When she started her set, she did a medley of “Work Bitch” and “A Little Bit Alexis,” and the whole bar was singing along just as my friend walked into the bar to meet me, and I was like, “I didn’t plan this. I swear to God I didn’t give anyone 50 bucks. This is just a very weird moment that you walked in on.” That one took the cake for me.
Have you guys talked about doing a Schitt’s Creek movie or a reunion?
I mean, I send Dan [Levy] bribes in the mail every day, every waking moment of my life to get him to do it. So far he hasn’t returned my calls or acknowledged my bribes. But I would do it in a heartbeat. I miss everyone so much. God, I would love to be with Moira again.
Originally Appeared on Vogue