Annie Murphy has a hole in her sock. She shows it to me proudly halfway through our conversation about her role as Alexis Rose on Schitt’s Creek. The fifth season of the show, about the once-rich Rose family who loses their fortune and is forced to survive in — gasp — a small town, premieres tonight on CBC.
Last season, Schitt’s Creek went from a critical darling to the show the Internet wouldn’t let you ignore. It garnered the first-ever Canadian nomination for Best Comedy Series at the 2019 Critic’s Choice Awards and has picked up celebrity fans, including Jennifer Lawrence and Elton John. The show has been hailed for its optimistic portrayal of a community without homophobia (a clip of Noah Reid’s Patrick singing “Simply The Best” to his boyfriend, Dan Levy’s David, went viral), its knack for light, escapism comedy with a side of familial dysfunction, and the depth of its quirky characters like Murphy’s Alexis.
On the surface, Alexis is a spoiled rich kid whose high-maintenance tastes are as much a tenet of her personality as her vocal fry. Alexis talks like a teenager would in a 2019 reboot of Clueless. It’s pitch-perfect for the character. It’s so perfect, I almost expect Murphy to slip out a few of her signature “ew, Davids” — Alexis’s typical exasperated reaction to her brother — with a wave of a limp wrist. Instead, Murphy is sitting across from me in a greenroom at the CBC in Toronto with her legs crossed in faded high-waisted jeans, a black turtleneck, vocals free of fry, and her bare toe sticking out of her sock. She’s smiling wryly as she tells me that this is “actually a dressy day” because her socks match.
Murphy is hilarious. In a cast stacked with father/son powerhouse duo (and Schitt’s Creek co-creators), Eugene and Dan Levy, and comedic icon Catherine O’Hara, Murphy’s talent may be the most underrated. She took Alexis from a shallow socialite stereotype to a complicated, career-focused woman who is, dare I say it, likeable. Here, I talk to Murphy about Alexis’s transformation, perfecting a catchphrase, and what to expect from the heartfelt comedy in season 5.
I have a burning question I need to get out of the way: How long did it take to perfect “Ew, David?”
[Laughs.] I started saying “David” in a very peculiar way, without really realizing it. It didn’t quite feel right, but you slap an “ew” in front of that and something just clicks. Something just makes sense. Now, it’s everywhere. It’s on welcome mats, t-shirts, and Christmas tree ornaments. Someone just posted on Twitter the other day an “Ew, David” license plate. It’s out of control!
Schitt’s Creek went from a show that felt like a Canadian secret to a global sensation. The Twitter obsession surrounding this show only seems to be getting more intense, especially after last season. What’s your reaction to the popularity surge?
It has been so nuts. Eugene [Levy] and Catherine [O’Hara] were attached to it, so obviously [the show was] going to be something really special, but it was this little Canadian show. And now, like you said, it’s gotten crazy. I think this is a show that’s impacted people in a way that’s bigger than just having a quick and easy laugh. In this garbage-fire-y world that we’re living in right now, it provides an escape to a place that is very ready to accept and love and support.
How does shooting in Ontario with an all-Canadian cast and crew influence the dynamic on set.
I do think that working with Canadians, there is quite a sense of humility. I came into this being like Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, oh boy, are they only going to eat only red smarties and you’re not going to be able to make eye contact with them? But there’s not a drop of ego between the two of them. They’re kind and warm and down to earth, and that’s been the case all through the cast and all through the crew. There isn’t a hierarchy. Maybe that is a Canadian thing.
So, the only big ego you have to deal with is Dan Levy’s.
Dan’s, yep. And goddammit is that hard to wrestle to the ground. I don’t know how he fits through doorways, to be honest.
You two don’t seem like you’re having any fun at all.
[Laughs.] Not at all.
Let’s talk about Alexis. She’s become this layered complex character, and I don’t know if anyone expected that in season 1. She’s likeable, sometimes she’s unlikeable. She’s a real human being! How did you get her there?
Like you said, when we started out, we were just presented with this f-cking selfish, flighty, non-dependable, self-absorbed creature who jumped from place to place, boy to boy, jail to jail.
Castle to castle.
Yacht to yacht. [Laughs.] But I am so grateful to the writers for allowing this really awesome beautiful growth in this character because we get to see over the course of five seasons that she’s not a bad person, she’s a good person capable of so much love and so much generosity in her own special way. Even though she came from a place of great dependence on men and money in particular, there’s this incredible drive we get to see, this incredible independence. She’s still Alexis, though.
Alexis and Ted got back together at the end of last season. It looks like they are headed towards a mature and healthy relationship — finally. Is Ted endgame for Alexis?
I hope so. They’ve been through so much. They’ve changed for each other and not in an Olivia Newton John at the end of Greasekind of way like, “What have you done!? There’s not shred of your old self here!” They’ve both grown into their new selves after having been influenced by each other. And Texas, their celebrity couple name, is just too good! If that goes to waste, I’m going to be so pissed.
I don’t understand how you keep a straight face around Catherine O’Hara as Moira… with that accent. How do you do it?
That’s why editors exist. [Laughs.] I’m such shit at keeping a straight face. Dan and I have a really hard time. Because Catherine is so full of surprises. Something dawns on her and she throws it out there and you know it’s gold so you need to get in there. It is an absolute f-cking struggle to hold it together around that woman.
And Catherine never breaks?
No, she’s Moira. She’s taking herself so goddamn seriously.
Please tell me about Moira’s wigs. Do you get to play with them? How much interaction have you had with the wigs?
The only time we were time we were able to play around is actually in the first episode of season 5. Moira is away in Bosnia and the kids have at her wig wall basically. In the show that was the premise and it was also just Dan, Emily [Hampshire], and me being like “WIG WALL!” and just going to town. “No, I want to try that on!” “No that looks better on me!” It was a blast.
Watching Catherine try on wigs is incredible. She’s worn a bunch of wigs sideways. If you look closely, there are a lot of wigs that don’t quite make sense but make perfect sense. Catherine just wears her wigs askew sometimes. She truly does take on the energy of the wig she’s wearing. She’s such a chameleon. She looks f-cking exquisite in every wig too, I don’t know how that’s allowed.
You’re from Ottawa — do you consider yourself a city girl?
I am a city girl. My folks have a cottage north of Kingston, which is literally in the middle of nowhere, and I can be there very happily for like a week.
So, if you were put in a town like Schitt’s Creek, how long would you last?
Is there a bar and a book store?
Schitt’s Creek has a bar and a book store, right?
Yeah! Yeah, so I could do this! For about a month, or two.
What would it take for the Rose family to leave Schitt’s Creek?
That’s it, eh?
Yes. I don’t know how Moira hasn’t already booked it the hell out there on a Greyhound in the middle of the night.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Season 5 of Schitt’s Creek premieres on January 8, with new episodes airing Tuesdays at 9 PM ET on CBC and streaming on CBC online.