Annie Murphy (‘Schitt’s Creek’) on the origin of Alexis’ mannerisms [Complete Interview Transcript]

Annie Murphy finally earned Emmy recognition this year for her performance as Alexis Rose in “Schitt’s Creek.” She is nominated in Best Comedy Supporting Actress for the final season of the Pop comedy series.

Murphy spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann before the nominations about how she developed the mannerisms for Alexis, the growth she experienced over the course of the series and how “Schitt’s Creek” has impacted the audience. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: This is the final season of “Schitt’s Creek,” but I wanted to bring it back and talk about the creation of this character because you just have what have become these iconic mannerisms with the floppy hands and the hair tosses and the vocal fry. So what was the inspiration? I just want you to walk us through what was the inspiration for all that and how did you come up with that character? 

Annie Murphy: To be very, very honest, I buckled down and decided to do research and that meant me taking to YouTube for many hours on end and watching things like the Kardashians and Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and all of those babes and I kind of Frankensteined little bits and pieces of them into Alexis, particularly this way of speaking, which is so deeply lazy. You don’t have to exert any energy whatsoever and I understand why people do it. And then the other thing was I noticed that, it was late one night, and I noticed that every time they went shopping, they would sassily strap a handbag over their wrist like this and then go promenade down Rodeo Drive or whatever. So I was like, “OK, this is how they carry it. What if there was no handbag and I flip my wrist over and then add another wrist,” and then I ended up with this monstrosity that has just run rampant (laughs). So those are a couple little things that I stole.

GD: What I really love as the season goes on is the four of you were a family unit. There really is a true family dynamic that’s there and it’s almost like you can sort of see where Alexis gets certain things from her parents or Alexis and David have similar-ish mannerisms, but they’re their own. Did you specifically work that way with them to create that kind of dynamic or did that just evolve naturally? 

AM: I think it was a bit of both. I think after spending so much time together, the four of us as a family, we started borrowing little bits and pieces. And I think particularly Dan and I… I don’t want to go so far as to say Dan stole my thing, but I think that we gently stole, borrowed, whatever you want to call it, little affects. I think I took a lot of his facial expressions and I think he took a lot of my limp-wristed flailing. Because siblings have similar tendencies and inflections and all that stuff. So I think a part of it was me being jealous of his face range and part of it being like, “Well, as an actor, we should really make these characters a little more similar.”

GD: And when you did start in the role, going back to Season 1, back when you got the part, there’s costars there that have decades of experience working together. Obviously, Dan and Eugene are father and son and with Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, they’ve improved together and worked together for a very long time. Was it intimidating to come into a set like that where people already have a report? 

AM: Yes, I was scared shitless (laughs). So, so terrifying because I was right in the eye of getting the job. So it didn’t really occur to me that I would actually have to be acting with comedy legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara until, like, the night before we started shooting. I did not sleep one minute that night because I was racking my brains to come up with an excuse as to why I could not go into work the next day and my poor, poor brain could only come up with dentist appointment or doctor’s appointment, and I figured that either of those things would not be powerful enough to constitute not showing up for my first day of work. So I dragged my trembling corpse into the studio and I was lucky because even though Dan is the showrunner, I think I had more experience acting than him at that point, so we were both very green and very nervous. So it was nice to have that kind of solidarity with him going into it. But lucky for us, Eugene and Catherine are the kindest, most welcoming, respectful, joyful human beings. So after that first take of the first scene, which I would love to watch, because it’s probably just a trainwreck, it just kind of clicked, and we kind of took off as a family. 

GD: Yeah, and Eugene and Catherine, they have a huge improv background. So I’m always wondering are they sticking to the script? Is that kind of the Bible on set or is it everyone playing around all the time? 

AM: We always, always shot to script. But of course, with Catherine in particular, is on such a creative level all the time. And so she would throw in a line. If a line came into our heads, we could throw it out there. Usually with me, it would not make the cut at all. But at least I tried. But then Catherine would always take us by surprise, particularly with her pronunciation of words, would really, really throw you for a loop. Like the time she made the word “how” into three syllables, it was, “haaooww” so she would just keep throwing that kind of thing at you. Very hard to keep a straight face. 

GD: And with this final season, each of the family members and everyone on the show has had such a great sense of growth from where they started and I think Alexis’s in many ways is the most surprising because so much of the comedy of your character comes from the sort of shallow, selfish character. So are you happy where she kind of ends up? Are you happy with where her journey played out? 

AM: So much. So much. I was really grateful. The way that the character was described as a breakdown for the audition was, fun, rich, socialite, selfish, all those things. But then at the bottom of the breakdown, it said, “A young Goldie Hawn.” And that, to me, was super, super indicative because, yes, young Goldie Hawn was this bright, bubbly, ditzy person, but she was also this effervescent, charming, kind, sweet, likable light. So it was really important for me to play Alexis with depth, like every human has many, many layers and many sides to them. I was really lucky that the writers were so good at turning this very unlikable character into someone who was very, very likable and selfish and selfless at the same time, and rude and sweet and a whole hodgepodge of different things. So I think where we saw Alexis at the beginning, which was super, super dependent on men and money, and then seeing her at the end, this truly, truly independent… I’m saying independent woman. Which she is! (Laughs.) Yeah, I just really love how much growth was given to this character and I had so much fun playing the whole range of it all. 

GD: I think one of the biggest elements of growth for her in this final season is where things end with Ted. There’s a very bittersweet ending where they have just let each other go, which I don’t think she would have been able to do before. That cafe scene where you have that moment of letting each other go is really, really beautiful. Can you walk us through what was it like playing that with Dustin [Milligan]? 

AM: It was a really special scene in a few ways, because, first of all, I think when Dustin and I found out that Alexis and Ted would be breaking up, we were like, “No! We’ve come so far! What are you doing?” But then after thinking about it, it really is, I think, the right place for both of those characters to end up. It’s such a beautiful example of the end of a relationship not being a failure, but being an incredible moment of love and respect and gratitude. So it was a really tough scene to play because Dustin and I have become so, so close over the six years. I don’t think it was his last day of shooting, but it was his second last day. So it was basically one of the last things that we shot together. It kind of was us saying goodbye and then Alexis and Ted saying goodbye. We did the rehearsal and it was just kind of weird quiet on the set and Dustin and I were like, “Oh god, are we really butchering this?” And then Eugene came onto the set and he had tears running down his face and he just opened his arms to me and said, “Annie.” So I had been fine up until that point but, of course, Eugene Levy crying, you’re screwed. So yeah, it was a pretty emotional day for sure. 

GD: Well, a much more comedic place where Alexis grew was her crazy stories of abduction and travels and stuff like finally, to have this practical payoff where she solves the escape room. She’s secretly the smartest one there. You have so many of those stories. Did you ever get to come up with any of those bits on your own? Did you ever pitch random stuff to writers? 

AM: That was all the writers. That was their weird, tortured souls writing that stuff. My small, small contributions were asking the writers to write in specific past boyfriends of mine, like Brian Littrell from the Backstreet Boys, for example, was my husband growing up. And so to have Alexis actually gone on some kind of romantic tryst with him was a highlight for me. 

GD: And I love throughout the season, or the whole series, I’ve loved watching your chemistry with Dan and how that has evolved, the brother and sister thing, and especially in the final episode in the marriage, you get to walk down the aisle. But there’s also comedic stuff because you’re wearing a wedding dress. 

AM: It was a wedding silk gown, sir, thank you so much (laughs). 

GD: What was it like on set that day? Because I assume that was where you really had to say goodbye. Was it difficult to get through that episode? 

AM: That was a very special episode, too. We have so many wonderful heart-stabbing moments this year. The wedding was the day before we broke for hiatus, so it was our last day in the studio ever. And the wedding itself, it felt like we were actually at the wedding because we did the rehearsals and the Jazzagals were singing and I remember when the Jazzagals were practicing, I got to sit in the pews and just listen to them on either side just with their beautiful voices, and then Sarah Levy‘s big, golden smile. It was a really emotional day for everybody, but particularly Dan, so it felt strangely like we were actually at this wedding. As you saw in the episode, the town hall was so beautifully decorated and it was so sweet to see it in a different state. Yeah, it was yet another nice thing.

GD: And one of the things with Dan that has become so iconic since the show has premiered was your pronunciation of David and there is a compilation video online, I think, of every single time you’ve said it on the series. Did you realize, or when did you realize that “Ew, David” was going to become part of our collective vocabulary? 

AM: I’m still flabbergasted by this whole thing. It’s nuts to me. And what makes it even crazier is that we were doing our live shows and someone in the audience piped up one night and informed us that Alexis only says “Ew, David” twice in the entire series.  There’s a lot of “Ugh, David” or “Ew, David” or “Mm, David,” but the specific “Ew” is very rare. So I don’t know what it was that people were just moths to a flame about it. There are license plates now. There are multiple license plates all over North America. There are shirts and doormats and baby rompers. It’s blowing my mind and I love it so much. I also love it because Dan, he’s out on a job or whatever, and then people yell “Ew” at him out the window. And I keep reminding him that he doesn’t know for sure if they’ve actually seen the show or not or if they’re just kind of reacting to what they’re seeing. It’s fun for me.

GD: The show really, I mean, it was watched beforehand, but it really blew up in a big way when it landed on Netflix and I think that’s when all this stuff became part of our vocabulary and people took notice and the Emmy voters finally took notice and you guys got into Best Comedy Series. So what was it like from your end watching this sudden surge of new viewers catch on?

AM: Amazing. It was so incredible because it felt like a little Canadian special TV show and we shot it in Toronto. So we were kind of isolated in that sense and we were having so much fun with it ourselves but it didn’t really feel like the rest of the world knew about it. So when it kind of exploded on Netflix, it was a real eye-opener and so exciting. It was really wonderful when you, first of all, have a job, second of all, to have a job that I was really, really proud of. But then, to realize the scope of the show and how it was affecting people in a way that was much more than just pure entertainment was really incredible. There were people writing in saying that the show gave them the courage to come out to their family or got them through chemotherapy or these really significant life moments that the show has helped with. I feel really, really lucky to be a part of the wave of that.

More News from GoldDerby