What It’s Really Like to be a TV Actress

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, actress and Canadian Screen Award nominee Annie Murphy, also known as Alexis from CBC’s Schitt’s Creek, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

Ishani Nath
annie murphy schitt's creek

(Photo: Caitlin Cronenberg)

Age: 29

Length of time at current gig: I really started working as an actor when I graduated from university and got my first agent, about nine years ago.

Education: Graduated from the Canadian Film Centre Actors’ Conservatory and the Theatre Performance Program at Concordia University.

Breaking into acting the industry isn’t easy, how was your experience? There were many tough years. I worked a ton of part-time jobs: I waitressed, I nannied and I worked as an usher in a theatre in Montreal. It was a struggle.

What made you persevere? I couldn’t really see myself doing anything else. This is something I’m good at, and that I love doing. There was one point, not long ago, that I found myself crying in my underwear in the Pacific Ocean wondering if I should start thinking about taking another career path. I’m glad I didn’t because a couple days later, I got the audition for Schitt’s Creek.

How did you prepare to play Alexis? I basically locked myself in my room and went over the script until I squeezed everything I possibly could out of it. On paper, Alexis seemed like a real selfish brat, but everyone has multiple sides. I really wanted to play her to show more than just that spoiled rich girl. It was a lot of fun trying to bring more layers to the character and give her more likeability.

 

Murphy with her legendary co-stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara

Murphy with her legendary co-stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara

 

What’s it like to work with Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy? I’m still pinching myself. Catherine is someone I’ve looked up to since I was a teenager. She can bring an entire room to the ground with laughter. It’s incredible to watch. She made me laugh so hard during a table read I had to run out and pee.

What is your typical workday like? I wake up around 5:30 or 6. We usually shoot 14-hours days, which isn’t crazy for the film industry. Eugene loves the Toronto Blue Jays, so we try to wrap in time for him to make it to the game.

How do you get into character and become Alexis? A lot of it is wardrobe. My clothes and Alexis’ are worlds apart. When it’s just me, I wear jeans and Chucks and something baggy­, like a less stylish Olsen twin. That’s how I arrive to set. As soon as I slump down into the makeup chair and have my hair and makeup done, strap on a pair of Jimmy Choos and whatever other ridiculous outfit I’m wearing that day, then the character starts going for me.

What’s the best part of your day? When we’re shooting on location in Goodwood, Ontario, out in some field, and an insect flies by Dan Levy’s head, and we have to stop shooting for ten minutes because he has run away, yelling and swearing at the top of his lungs. It’s so mean to laugh, but I will never not laugh at it, and it will never get old.

But, there are so many scenes where Dan Levy is outside, how did those go? It was his hell on earth. And we shoot in June so there’s literally every flying insect buzzing around. It’s an absolute delight.

Murphy and Levy on the set of Schitt’s Creek

Levy and Murphy on the set of Schitt’s Creek

What’s the worst part of your day? I haven’t nailed the whole stiletto thing, and it’s especially painful walking down a dirt road in them. But really, I have no complaints when it comes to this job.

What is your dream role? I would steal Emma Stone’s or Carey Mulligan’s career if I could. I’m open to whatever comes my way. Acting gives you a unique opportunity to slip into someone else’s life for a while, so the more roles I get, and the more diverse they are, the happier I am.

Which actress do you most admire and why? Kristen Wiig. I think she’s one of the funniest women alive. I’ve never met her, but she seems like a down-to-earth person, even though she’s a massive celebrity. I also really admire the fact that she creates her own stuff—a funny, capable woman who is able to create her own work is someone to seriously look up to.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Stand up for yourself, which is something I have a hard time doing, but I’m trying to get better. There are going to be plenty of people who have been in this industry longer than you, or have a higher rank than you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re always right.

If someone wanted to get into acting, what qualities do they need? It takes a curious brain. I think a lot of people who were told they had a staring problem as a kid—and remain to have a staring problem like I do—would be good actors. The kind of people who want to take in as much as they can from whatever’s surrounding them.

When did you feel that you had “made it”? I don’t think I’ve “made it.” With the success of Schitt’s Creek, acting has finally started to feel like a real job; it’s the first time I’ve had steady employment. In that sense I do feel like I’ve started to accomplish what I’ve always wanted.

After a long day on set, how do you unwind? I come home and, no matter what time of day it is, I immediately get into my pyjamas. I get food and I sit on my couch, pour a glass of wine and I watch Netflix—more specifically The Office, one of my favourite shows of all time.

More Women on Their 9–5 Grinds:
What It’s Really Like to Report from a War Zone
What It’s Really Like to Work in Counter-Terrorism
What It’s Really Like to Be a Classical Musician
What It’s Really Like to Be a Professional Matchmaker
What It’s Really Like to Be an Artist
What It’s Really Like to Launch a Tech Start-Up

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