Interview: Annie Murphy finds gold in Schitt’s Creek

It’s hard to believe, but Annie Murphy once auditioned for the role of Stevie on Schitt’s Creek. After a full season of CBC’s newest sitcom—heading into its season finale tonight—it’s hard to picture the Toronto actress as anything but Alexis Rose, sister to David (Dan Levy) and daughter to Moira (Catherine O’Hara) and Johnny (Eugene Levy).

That’s because viewers have connected with these characters in speedy fashion. As Diane Wild pointed out in her piece, Eugene and Dan Levy have created a series that successfully balances laughs with heart. In a short period of time, they’ve crafted relationships between Stevie (Emily Hampshire) and David, and Alexis, Ted (Dustin Milligan) and Mutt (Tim Rozon) that are silly and believable. That’s not easy for a sitcom, let alone one in its first season.

Those relationships are tested in Tuesday’s finale, as Johnny arrives at the motel to tell his family there’s a buyer for Schitt’s Creek and they’re getting out. While Moira and Johnny are thrilled, David and Alexis are less enthusiastic. After all, they’ve fostered friendships (some with benefits), and are loathe to leave them.

We spoke to Annie Murphy about the season on the whole.

Tell me how you got on Schitt’s Creek in the first place. Was it a casting call?
Annie Murphy: I was in L.A. for pilot season and having a really miserable time there. This audition came down the line and it was the first audition in a long time that I got super excited about it and obviously the names attached to it were pretty intriguing. So, I went in in L.A. and Dan was in the room. It was the first audition ever where I walked in confident and walked out confident. I doubt it will ever happen again. [Laughs.] That was it. I got a call from Dan a few days later saying that he wanted me to read for the role of Stevie. I flew back to Toronto and auditioned for Stevie and then screen tested for both roles in front of a room of people who I now know are lovely people but in the moment it was very daunting.

Then there was a very, very long two weeks of my life where I heard nothing. After a week and a half I had prepared myself for the absolute worst. I got a phone call and on the display it said ‘Eugene Levy,’ and all the blood drained from my body. It was Dan on the other end and he goes, ‘Hey Annie, it’s Dan Levy calling. I just wanted to thank you for all of your hard work and tell you how much we appreciated and enjoyed your auditions.’ He said it in this sad, sombre tone. And then he just didn’t say anything. So, I was scrambling and thanking him for letting me get that far.

And then he said, ‘OK, before I let you go, I have a quick question: how would you like to play my sister?’ As corny as it was, it was one of the best moments of my life.

I had a bit of a hard time finding my place at the beginning of the show, just because all of these other people had been doing it for so long.

How different would the show have been if you had played Stevie?
I honestly don’t think anyone could have done it but Emily. She is just so perfect for the role. The dynamic between Emily and Dan is so fantastic in their snarky, sarcastic tone. But he and I have that dynamic too. I feel like I’ve known him for a long time, we’ve been bickering for decades. The casting was just spot-on.

David and Alexis have a fascinating relationship. It would be easy to have them be combative all the time, but they’re not like that. And by the end of this season they’re really there for each other.
I’m an only child, so it’s been very interesting to play a sibling dynamic. I feel like David and Alexis had to cling to each other when they were children. It’s been a really, really neat opportunity to play the borderline hatred sometimes, but knowing at the end of the day they can always rely on each other. Literally right next to each other at night. [Laughs.]

It’s hard to develop characters in a sitcom, especially in a first season.
What I love about this show is that these characters are very honest and the comedy comes from the terrible situations they find themselves in. It’s not a set-up and then a punchline. It has been really cool to find those moments of genuine sadness in a show that’s so funny. Genuine concern. Genuine anger. Every character has been written so well that there is a beautiful range to every one.

What have you learned about yourself, comedically, from working on Schitt’s Creek?
I had a bit of a hard time finding my place at the beginning of the show, just because all of these other people had been doing it for so long. I wasn’t challenging myself to take risks or go out on a limb and try something as everyone else did. But as the season went on, and because of how encouraging everyone on the show was, I did learn that I can go for it. Sometimes that’s a good idea, and sometimes that’s a horrible idea, but I learned to be impulsive and trust in myself.

Is there anything you’d like to see Alexis do in Season 2?
I’d like her to show more independence at some point, but I won’t complain.

Maybe she’ll gain independence by moving into her own motel room.
That would be a start. That would be a nice start.

The season finale of Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBC.