Annie Murphy is sitting in her temporary apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts, leaning in toward her computer screen for a Zoom interview.
The space behind her is spare — just a tan sofa, a TV and a small piece of abstract art on the wall.
It's seven on a Monday evening. Tomorrow she returns to set for the final two weeks of filming season one of her upcoming AMC series, Kevin Can F**K Himself. Her hair is in a knotted bun, her face is seemingly free of makeup and she looks relaxed in a sage green sweatshirt. "It's such a wild time to be shooting," she says, "so we've been lucky."
Murphy has had a lot of good luck lately — something she notes multiple times in her interview. After wrapping her six-season run on Pop TV's Schitt's Creek — about a wealthy family who suddenly find themselves broke — the Canadian-born actress attended a whirlwind awards circuit — virtually.
Her performance as ditzy daughter Alexis Rose won her the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series and garnered nominations for several other top awards.
"Even with the success of the show, I was still waiting by my phone and it wasn't ringing," Murphy says of her prospects as Schitt's Creek was winding down. "That was fine in seasons four and five, but when season six came around and it was just crickets, I was like, 'Well, this might've been it.' And if it had been, what a time!
"But it really was scary for a little while not knowing what was coming, and also knowing that another pilot season was waiting with spooky open arms."
When she did face pilot season again, all the parts were "the dumb blonde with nothing else to offer," Murphy says. But luck struck again when the script for Kevin came her way. "It was not only unique and exciting — it was about something. It was such a weight off and such a sigh of relief when I read this script."
After meeting with the show's creator, Valerie Armstrong (Lodge 49), and its showrunner, Craig DiGregorio (Shrill), she taped an audition and landed the role of Allison McRoberts, the put-upon wife of the show's boorish title character.
Allison is a dual role of sorts. The eight-episode series, which dropped June 13 on AMC+ and is due June 20 on AMC, switches back and forth between a laugh-tracked, multicamera sitcom — in which her character is little more than the butt of her husband's jokes — and a realistic dark comedy in which Allison is slowly recapturing her autonomy... and plotting her husband's death.
The role has given Murphy the chance to stretch as an actress and get back to basics. "It's a much more grounded world than Schitt's Creek," she says of Kevin, which is set in Worcester, Massachusetts. "I had to act frying an egg, act walking down the street and kicking over a garbage can. I've never had to do that, and so for a little while I was like, 'How do you just drink naturally?' "
Schitt's Creek was so structured. We were always in the motel room or we were in the café, and I would do this with my hands," she says, demonstrating Alexis's limp-wristed "T-Rex arms," as she calls them. "It kind of became a routine that I followed. Then trying on this whole different way of acting — without bringing Alexis into the mix — was a bit of an adjustment. But I'm having so much fun living in the real world."
Four years ago, in summer 2017, the real world inspired Valerie Armstrong. She was listening to a podcast in which two female comedians were discussing pilot season and expressing their frustration at having to audition for the stereotypical "sitcom wife" role. Not only were the characters they went out for given little to do, they were told that the parts called for really funny women.
"How is that possible?" Armstrong asks. "Where is her show? And then it came to me: [this character] walking out of a living room to a laugh track and a 'funny' husband who looks like he won some sort of weird marriage lottery. You follow her into the kitchen, and it just switches. You're close on her face, and you can see all the cracks in the house, and in her makeup and in her. And I just saw her saying, straight into the camera, 'I fucking hate my husband.'"
The "feminist fit of rage" that formed the DNA of the show has remained from day one, Armstrong says, though that isn't the only strand running through the series. It's not even the main theme.
"At first blush it seems like a show about a toxic marriage," she says, "but to me it's about how women can save each other from toxic situations. Because you realize that Patty" — Mary Hollis Inboden, who plays neighbor and eventual confidante Patty O'Connor — "is not happy, either. Both of these women have been sharing the same space for10 years, but it's a space dominated by men, so they missed each other.
"Once I figured that out, the series cracked open." In stepped Murphy. "We spent months looking at and auditioning and meeting actresses around the country — the world, if you will," says Dan McDermott, president of original programming for AMC Networks and copresident of AMC Studios. "And when Annie showed up everybody just looked at each other, and it was like: She's the one — this is her.
"Annie's qualities as a person and an actress are so beautifully human and universal. It doesn't feel like she's acting. It feels like she's inhabiting the part."
Ask anyone involved with Kevin and the response is unanimous: Murphy's kindness sets her apart — and sets the tone. This is her first time at the top of the call sheet, and she takes that seriously. On the first day of shooting, before the first take, Murphy had everyone in the cast and crew go around and introduce themselves.
"She's so smart and has great comedic instincts," says Eric Petersen, who plays title character Kevin McRoberts. "And she's sweet and super Canadian — she brings such a great energy to the set as a leader of our show."
Inboden agrees. "We're all making something together, and that's never lost on her," she says. "I've had the great fortune in my career thus far to play sidekick to a lot of fantastic female number ones, and I've got to say, Annie takes the cake.
"I would put my life savings on the fact that she is the kindest person in Hollywood," Inboden continues. "And that's sometimes underrated in our business. So to have somebody so talented and funny also show up to work every day and be a great leader, have a great work ethic, be kind to everyone who crosses her path and do some of the most challenging work that she's done... it's been the honor of my life to get to watch that." ...
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Kevin Can F**K Himself is a production of AMC Studios and Le Train Train Productions. The executive producers are Valerie Armstrong, Craig DiGregorio, Rashida Jones and Will McCormack. The series will remain available for viewing on AMC+ following its debut and full run on AMC.
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This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2021