Annie Murphy is not accustomed to being recognized in airports, but after attending a hectic week of press events in Los Angeles, the “Schitt’s Creek” actress passed through security at LAX en route to New York and was confronted by her newfound fame.
“This little girl — she was maybe about 9 — kept staring at me, wide-eyed, and I didn’t know if it was because I hadn’t put any makeup on or if it was because she recognized me,” Murphy said, laughing. “It could have been a little bit of both.”
Self-deprecating humor and daring to be seen in public without makeup are two major differences between Murphy and Alexis Rose, the character she plays on “Schitt’s Creek.” The Emmy-nominated Canadian television show began its sixth and final season this month, airing on the CBC in Canada and Pop TV in the United States. (New episodes are available to stream each Wednesday.)
As Alexis, Murphy plays a 30-ish former socialite whose 1-percenter parents go bankrupt in an embezzlement scandal. Through a quirky court ruling that’s never explained, the Rose family is allowed to keep just one real estate asset: The town of Schitt’s Creek, purchased years ago as a joke.
From the start of filming in 2014, show creators Eugene and Dan Levy — a father and son who also play father and son in the series — hoped “Schitt’s Creek” would catch on in other Anglophone countries, as it finally did when Netflix picked up the show in 2017. Even though the comedy is filmed in Ontario and nearly the entire cast is Canadian, there are few telltale social or cultural references, other than the occasional flash of a license plate. Yet the ambiguity also plays up the conceit that Schitt’s Creek could be any North American small town with a kitschy cafe, an overly ambitious community theater and a mechanic named Bob.
Geographically speaking, all viewers really know about Schitt’s Creek is that it’s near Elmdale. That’s the slightly larger neighboring town where Alexis proudly enrolls in community college to study public relations during Season 4. She shows up to orientation wearing a silver sequined mini dress and high heels.
Alexis’s fabulous, over-the-top fashion sense hasn’t changed, but the globe-trotting socialite of Season 1 would never stroll the halls of a community college with the rural proletariat. As Season 6 kicks off, The Lily spoke with Murphy about her character’s evolution, why she nearly abandoned acting and how being a brunette nearly cost her the blonde role of a lifetime.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Lily: Before “Schitt’s Creek,” you were a Canadian theater actress who had booked a few small roles on TV. How are you adjusting to your newfound fame, and people recognizing you in public?
Annie Murphy: I’m never going to get used to that. It’s becoming more and more frequent, and when it does happen, it’s people coming up and saying, “I love you. I think you’re great.” It’s never aggressive. Fans of the show are so kind and loving and respectful. And often, it’s not like people walk up to me and say, “You are Alexis from Schitt’s Creek” … [because] I’m never usually dolled up to the Alexis standard.
TL: That’s right. You told Fashion magazine that the only piece of clothing you and your character have in common is a pair of cashmere sweatpants.
AM: Yes, and I don’t even own those, I just longed for them once in a store.
TL: “Schitt’s Creek” has become really popular at a time when there’s also a push for more empowered, developed female characters on TV. Concurrently, you’ve become famous for playing a ditsy blonde. Do you think about that contradiction?
AM: When we first meet Alexis, she is, on paper, quite an unlikable character: A blonde, ditsy, selfish socialite who is incredibly dependent on money and incredibly dependent on men. It was really important to me to play Alexis as a real person, not a one-note ditsy blonde. Real people have many layers, and many versions of themselves. It’s not like I had to fight anyone to make that happen; Dan [Levy] and the writers have been so wonderful. To play Alexis as she’s come into her own over the past six seasons has been so, so fulfilling.
TL: But when you first started filming back in 2014, you didn’t know that Alexis was going to have six seasons to grow.
AM: I talked to Catherine [O’Hara, who plays former soap opera star Moira Rose] and Eugene, and Dan. They knew from the get-go that the story was going to be about this family growing and changing together. I knew there was going to be a really awesome arc. I didn’t know where it was going to end, but I knew it was going to happen, and that’s so rare, to have a job like that for years.
TL: That must have been such a relief, especially since you got the role when you hadn’t really acted for two years. You had gone to Los Angeles for pilot season, not gotten a gig, and while you were there, your apartment burned down, right?
AM: I seriously had like $160 to my name, and it was like the universe was screaming pretty loudly in my ear, “This is not the path for you!” I had come to the very snotty-crying decision that I wasn’t going to act any more. And two days later I got the audition for “Schitt’s Creek.”
TL: What other jobs had you worked at that point?
AM: I had worked as an usher at a theater in Montreal, and I worked as a nanny for a really long time. I took really [expletive] bit parts to pay the bills. It was hand-to-mouth. Whatever jobs came up, I would jump at the chance to take them.
TL: That’s something that you don’t have in common with Alexis.
AM: That’s an understatement.
TL: You’re also not a natural blonde.
AM: Being a brunette almost cost me this job. Eugene Levy had a really hard time wrapping his head around it. Dan had to have an intervention and say, “We can dye her hair. Everything is going to be fine.”
TL: You’re an only child, and you’d never met the Levys before you auditioned. How did you and Dan develop such great sibling chemistry? Your catch phrase, “Ew, David!” is so popular now that there are T-shirts all over Etsy.
AM: I actually first read for Stevie [a 30-ish young woman who runs the town motel, where the family takes up residence]. In the pilot, Alexis was played by Abby Elliott [a former Saturday Night Live cast member, whose father, Chris Elliott, plays town mayor Roland Schitt]. And luckily — so luckily for me — Abby was a serious actress who had other commitments, so they had to audition other people. Thank God she was successful and busy.
TL: Was there ever any talk about having Sarah Levy — Eugene’s daughter and Dan’s sister, who currently plays Twyla, the cafe waitress — play Alexis?
AM: No. Even in the pilot, Sarah was always some version of Twyla. But as you said, I am an only child. It was weird. Right from the start, we had this eerie chemistry, like we’d known each other in a past life. We could push each other’s buttons. I’d never had that dynamic with anyone before.
TL: There’s a great CBC promo clip where Dan finds out you didn’t watch his previous show, when he was a host on MTV Canada.
AM: I’ve never watched. I never will watch. I don’t care about it at all. That really grinds Dan’s gears.
TL: Alexis previously had her own short-lived reality show. You performed the theme song, “A Little Bit Alexis,” as her audition for the musical “Cabaret” last season, and the song landed on iTunes. Will we see any more “A Little Bit Alexis” moments in Season 6?
AM: I think I need to bow out while I’m ahead. That’s it for me in the performance world, but oh my God, did I ever have fun.
TL: We hear a lot about Alexis’s past romantic adventures before the Roses lost all their money, like Stavros, the son of the Greek shipping magnate who owned several yachts. Do you keep a list of her ex-boyfriends?
AM: As I was reminded from the news lately, there was that time she “casually dated” Prince Harry. And of course, her first kiss was from Jared Leto.
TL: Jared Leto does come up often. And in Season 6, we find out she once dated Sean Penn.
AM: I was just talking to one of the writers about that yesterday. I don’t think they did the math, because Alexis would have been, like, 15, when they broke up. That’s a cringey one.
TL: I love how, Ted, the town vet she dates, breaks up with, and then dates again, is a very attractive guy, but he’s also so nerdy, and spouts terrible puns.
AM: That is all Dustin Milligan, who plays Ted. He’s such a good guy. Really funny and really down to earth. And what I love about Alexis and Ted is that even though she’s had all these wild A-list experiences with all these people in her past, Ted is the first person she’s ever really loved. Ted and Alexis have changed so much. But they haven’t changed “for” each other; they’ve changed “with” each other. I love that so much.
TL: I also love how the show manages to depict so many semi-serious relationship issues, like in Season 4 when Alexis finds out all of Ted’s friends hate her for dumping him, and she’ll have to meet them at a Christmas party. That’s something people have to navigate whenever you’re romantically involved with someone who your friends think is bad news.
AM: [Laughing] That was all so dramatic.
TL: But it was also so real.
AM: Oh yeah. Big time. Dan likes to say that we are playing the show real, but for the drama. These are just normal people going through extraordinary circumstances. That’s where the humor lies, people reacting to their environment. So much of the show is people trying to fit in and people trying to find love and be loved. Characters who are trying to navigate awkward situations while they grow and change. These are things real people deal with every day. “Schitt’s Creek” may be a comedy, but it’s full of very, very human moments.