The morning after the 2020 Emmy Awards, Annie Murphy woke up with a nasty hangover. She had just won Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Alexis Rose on Schitt’s Creek, but she didn’t have time to let it soak in. “I dragged my corpse onto an airplane,” she remembers. “It was pretty nuts.”
The Emmys marked a final celebration of Schitt’s Creek’s unlikely rise from an obscure Canadian sitcom to one of the most beloved shows of the last decade; its sixth and final season took home nine awards, sweeping the comedy category. But Murphy, 34, was already working on her next project. She flew to Boston that morning, where she started production on Kevin Can F**k Himself, a new series out June 13th on AMC. Murphy stars as Allison McRoberts, a disenchanted housewife in working-class Worcester, Massachusetts, who spends most of her time catering to her lazy, obnoxious husband, Kevin.
The series alternates between a King of Queens-esque comedy — a traditional sitcom where the wife has no agency and merely acts as a sounding board to her other half’s lame jokes — and a drama reminiscent of Breaking Bad, where the couple’s cheery neighborhood grows dim and dangerous. During the sitcom scenes, Allison serves Kevin and his friends meals, does laundry, and desperately tries to keep coasters on her Pottery Barn coffee table (which Kevin constantly reminds her was actually purchased at Goodwill). During the drama portion, she binges powdered donuts as she scans real estate listings of beautiful McMansions, and eventually starts plotting to do what any sitcom wife would do in real life: kill her husband.
The part is a stark departure from Alexis, a bubbly Kardashian type whose excessive hand movements and vocal fry became the subject of a million memes. It was an intentional shift for Murphy, who says she was “bummed out” to get “a lot of, shall I say, blonde offers” following her breakout.
Not that she’s complaining. Prior to landing Schitt’s, the Ottawa native, who’d been doing a lot of auditioning but not a lot of working, was down to $3 in her bank account. Days before she was offered the role of Alexis, she almost quit acting. “I had a big cry in the Pacific Ocean before that email dropped into my [inbox] and changed my life,” she recalls. “It was very formative that things didn’t come easily and I had to develop a thick skin.”
For inspiration during those lean times, Murphy leaned on her idol, Jimmy Stewart — more specifically, Elwood P. Dowd, the sweet and slightly odd barfly Stewart plays in the 1950 movie Harvey. The character is so important to Murphy, she has a silhouette of him tattooed on her wrist. “[It’s] one of my favorite characters ever because of his inherent kindness and sense of wonder,” she explains. “I’m going to sound very corny, but [he’s about] trying to find the magic in the world even when it doesn’t seem to exist. That’s why I decided to permanently add Jim upon my body. It’s a good reminder.”
Murphy was first drawn to Kevin when she found out the show was created by a woman, Valerie Armstrong (who also worked on the quirky AMC dramedy Lodge 49). After a meeting with Armstrong and showrunner Craig DiGregorio, she was sold. “What solidified everything for me is that they very proudly announced that they had a strict, ‘No Assholes’ policy when it came to hiring,” she says. “I was like, ‘Yep, that sounds really good to me. This is a great script, and there’s a ‘No Assholes’ policy. Where do I sign?’”
She began her preparation for the subversive role by watching early-2000s sitcoms to steep herself in the world the creators were skewering. “It was jaw-dropping to see what was being gotten away with and what was being covered up with laugh tracks,” Murphy says of those seemingly benign family series. “It really challenges people to take a step back and do analysis as to what they’re laughing at, because there is so much racism, homophobia, sexism, and bigotry that we’re just being told to chuckle about.”
Murphy also trained with a dialect coach to learn how to speak in a Boston accent — which proved to be a challenge when working with her co-star Mary Hollis Inboden, who plays Patty, Allison’s brusque, tough-talking next-door neighbor. “Mary is from Arkansas, and I was horrified to realize that I am one of those really annoying people that adopts an accent,” Murphy says with a laugh. “So there were times on set where we’d be giggling and shooting the shit and they’d call action, [and] I would start talking with this honky-tonk droll. I had to really check myself.”
In one sequence, Allison and Patty form an unlikely bond and take a Dead to Me-esque adventure, buying drugs and having an awkward run-in with the cops. For Murphy and Hollis, interludes like this balanced out the sitcom portion of the show, where they had few lines and no room to flaunt their own comedic chops.
“We would find ourselves getting really jealous of the guys,” Murphy admits. “I remember one day, I was there just to have steak regurgitated on me. I spent a whole afternoon having this chewed up ball of steak spat from Eric Peterson’s mouth onto my body. He was doing such incredible physical comedy. At the end of the day, everyone applauded him, and I was sitting there being like, ‘Fuck this guy! I can do that too! Just let me at it!’ It was a real education on how many women who played the sitcom wife must have felt.”
Kevin does offer Murphy some chances to let it all hang out. In fits of domestic fury (sometimes played for laughs, sometimes not), Allison smashes beer bottles, kicks garbage cans, and punches mailboxes — a first for the actress, who describes herself as a “hopeful” and “optimistic” person. “It felt so good and therapeutic,” she says. “I’m a human woman in this day and age, and I think we all have a certain amount of rage in us.” She doesn’t see that as a bad thing, either: “If everyone had access to a smash room, the world would be a much happier place.”