One of the greatest joys of Schitt’s Creek, the Canadian sleeper sitcom that snowballed into a cult phenomenon thanks to word of mouth and a substantial Netflix bump, is watching its shallow protagonists evolve into real human beings. In an era when toxic capitalism feels inescapable, it’s soothing to see the Roses learn how to be a real family as a direct result of losing their obscene wealth. Annie Murphy’s Alexis Rose has arguably had the most dramatic transformation of all: She arrived on our screens in 2015 as a self-centered socialite who couldn’t wait to get away from her newly-poor family. She leaves us in 2020 as a confident and whip-smart business owner who’s built genuine bonds with her parents and brother.
“The very first shot of Alexis in the show is her on the phone with Stavros, depending on him to help her out of a shitty situation,” Murphy notes. “When we first meet her, she’s so dependent on men and money and these really fickle relationships.” Last week’s episode, in which Alexis’s long-distance relationship with her fiancé Ted (Dustin Milligan) came to an end, was no less heartbreaking for being inevitable. “She ends the show on her own, and as sad as it makes me that the Ted thing had to end, it really is right.”
Murphy sat down with ELLE.com to talk Alexis’s evolution, her theory about the Somali pirates, and her next job: the lead role in AMC’s buzzy Kevin Can F*** Himself, a meta satire that will turn the “sitcom wife” trope on its head.
Was the breakup with Ted as upsetting to shoot as it was to watch?
It was really, really sad. Both Dustin and I figured it will be a “will they, won’t they,” and then it will be a “They will!” But it ends in a way that’s correct, because they both helped each other grow so much, and I think it’s the mature, responsible, loving thing to do, to break up. But it was so sad to say goodbye, especially because the breakup scene we shot was Dustin’s last day of shooting. So it was us as characters, then also us as dear friends and colleagues who were saying goodbye as well. It was a snotty day on set, that’s for sure.
The breakup scene in the diner is such an understated, quiet heartbreaker.
I remember doing a take of that scene, and everyone was kind of quiet. It wasn’t the energy you would expect. I got up from the table and Eugene [Levy, co-creator and -star] walked in from where he’d been watching behind the monitors, and there were tears streaming down his face. He opened his arms to me and gave me a hug and couldn’t say anything, and then just walked away. And I was like, “Well, this is the last thing I need, Eugene!” It was a really special day.
How do you feel about the way Alexis’s arc evolved?
When I read the breakdown for the show, she was described as this selfish, ditzy socialite. But at the very end of that little paragraph, it said a young Goldie Hawn. And so I was like, a young Goldie Hawn might be ditzy and airy, but she’s also this kind, fascinating light of a human being. So I really wanted to play Alexis as a human being with layers and different sides of her personality. The writers were so good at layering her over time, too, and I think she develops enough confidence in herself to make the move to become independent and pursue things she wants to pursue, like going back to frigging high school at the age of 30 and getting her pubic relations diploma. She starts to show aspects of her personality that were always there, but were suppressed by the lack of need to show them.
Alexis has a lengthy, checkered past of celebrity boyfriends and casual run-ins with the law. How did you keep track of her backstory for your own purposes?
I didn’t, really! I just pictured a fever dream for the first 25 years of her life. It really does paint a picture of the excessive wealth that they were in possession of, and also the complete disconnect between family members. Like, when were they ever together? They really weren’t. It’s so hard to remember my favorites, but being held hostage by Somali pirates on David Geffen’s yacht, that one really stuck with me, because the way I pictured it was everybody involved ended up having a really fucking great time. Initially the scenario’s very terrifying, but then Alexis starts shooting the shit and they all become friends that perhaps still keep in touch with each other to this day.
I’ve heard that Alexis’s physicality, specifically her hand gestures, were inspired by the Kardashians?
Yes. Going into it as a very, very inexperienced actor, I was like, “Actors do research. I got the part, I will now do research,” and so my version of that was going on YouTube and watching Kardashian videos. I took away a particular way of speaking, which is so much fun to do, and also the way I ended up with this monstrous situation [imitates Alexis’s wrist-out hand gestures] is the Kardashians holding their handbags over their wrists when they’re going shopping. One night I think I had smoked weed, and I was like, What if there was no handbag? and flipped the wrist over and tossed in another wrist. It ended up being great because sometimes you don’t know what to do with your hands, as a human and as an actor, and this really built in a level of comfort.
You also really took ownership of the words “Ew” and “Yum” in a way I find inspiring.
Well, I think when you have an idol and then a colleague like Catherine O’Hara—not to compare myself to her by any fucking means—but it’s hard not to try it out for yourself. Like how she takes the word “how” and makes it into three syllables. And so I’m like, I want to try to do that too! Schitt’s Creek was a set where if something wasn’t working, it would be like, “That’s not working,” but if something was working, you’d be encouraged to run with it, and I did.
Let’s talk about Kevin Can F*** Himself! I was so excited by the idea of that project when it was announced, the idea of digging into “the sitcom wife.”
Thank you! I think the show’s going to be weird, but an accessible weird, because it’s going to flip between the multi-cam and the single-cam formats. When it’s in the husband’s world, it’s a classic sitcom, and when she’s by herself, it’s gritty and dark. I’ve never seen this format before.
And the synopsis mentions that the character starts out as a classic sitcom wife, and then she “escapes her confines and discovers her rage.”
Yeah, I think the commentary is so important. Like, why are we laughing at these things? The laugh track tells us to laugh and we laugh, but why? And that leads to a much deeper societal issue that needs to be addressed and is going to be addressed in the show. I love shows that can start a conversation and it’s not preaching—it’s a two-way conversation that is so important to have in this day and age. I think the writer, Valerie Armstrong, is super smart. I met with her and she’s this quirky, weird, smart woman and I’m excited to see what comes out of her brain.
What can you say about the character?
She’s the polar opposite of Alexis Rose, so that’s going to be a real challenge. The show is set in Worcester, Massachusetts. She works at a liquor store. I will have an accent, which I’m so scared about doing! I hope I do it justice.
It’s so galling that there are still so many shows where the wife’s only role is to laugh and indulge her husband.
Indulge his whims, yeah, and there can be frustration, but it always sort of turns back into fondness. Laughing fondly. “Oh, him. Classic him.” It’s like, enough!