Annie Murphy Is Kicking Mental Health and Birth Control Stigma to the Curb
"The more we talk, the more we realize that we have so many shared experiences," the 'Schitt's Creek' star tells HelloGiggles.
Annie Murphy doesn’t beat around the bush. Like Alexis Rose, the Schitt’s Creek character who brought her fame (and earned her an Emmy in 2020, NBD), Murphy gives it to you straight—which is exactly what she did when I sat down with her a few weeks ago. The 34-year-old actress was an open book, candidly discussing her experiences with birth control, therapy, and antidepressants like I was an old friend. Constant casual conversations, she says, are what’s needed to kick stale stigma to the curb.
“The female reproductive system is one of the most basic things ever,” Murphy points out. “It’s been around forever, and the fact that people are still trepidatious to say ‘vagina’ out loud is like, ‘Okay, we have some work to do.’ But I think the more we talk, the more we realize that we have so many shared experiences and that we’re not alone in it—and that builds strength.”
Also like firecracker Alexis, Murphy doesn’t do anything half-ass, so if she thinks people need an extra push saying “vagina”, she’ll go the extra mile and invite you “inside” of her own. In a bold new campaign for Phexxi, a hormone-free prescription vaginal gel used to prevent pregnancy, Murphy welcomes viewers “inside of her vagina” (which she calls “beautiful” and full of “really good vibes”), where she breaks down why she ditched the pill in exchange for the use-it-when-you-need-it birth control method.
“I started the birth control pill when I was 16,” Murphy reveals. “I didn’t question it, I didn’t talk about it, I just took it, because that’s what the doctor gave me and everyone else was doing it. Eventually, I started having these really intense mood swings and just feeling very much not myself. It took me a while to realize that it was probably because of the hormonal birth control I was on.”
When switching to a lower dose didn’t help with her mood swings, Murphy tried a vaginal ring instead. But, after a few years, she still felt apprehensive about taking hormones daily, and decided to nix all birth control methods entirely. “I just crossed my fingers, which is not a great form of birth control,” she admits, laughing.
So, when Murphy heard about Phexxi, the first hormone-free birth control gel that’s used only before sex, she was fully on board—and eagerly spread the word. “Every girlfriend of mine was like ‘This exists?’ and also, ‘Why is this the first time this has existed?'” she recalls. “Birth control has been around for 60 years, so it was truly jaw-dropping that it’s been around so long and this is the first of its kind. I’m so excited to continue the conversation about this.”
Like contraception, mental health has been a longtime taboo topic of conversation until recent years. Thankfully, we’re currently witnessing a wave of transparency about mental health, with celebrities like Murphy sincerely opening up about their own struggles. Case in point: Just after booking her first post-Schitt’s Creek leading role as Allison in AMC’s Kevin Can F**k Himself, the actress says she felt it was “a terrible mistake” due to her well-being at the time.
“When I got the part, I was not doing super well in the mental health department,” Murphy reveals. “I booked the part and they said, ‘You’re gonna be in Boston next week, number one on the call sheet.’ And I genuinely was like, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not in a place where I can show up to work with a smile on my face every day’—and then the pandemic hit like four days later.”
Murphy says that in “a very selfish way,” she was grateful to have the time in lockdown to do some mental “spring cleaning”—aka, getting on antidepressants and going to therapy. “I didn’t want to need antidepressants,” she admits. “But I could not recommend them more. It doesn’t mean you have to be on them forever, but they truly helped me get through a very difficult chunk of my life.”
“I think that if you’re a feeling human, of course you’re anxious and of course you’re sad, [because] it’s a really scary and really wonderful world that we live in—and it’s hard to process that a lot of the time,” she continues. “It has been really encouraging for friends to casually say to me, ‘Time to take my anti-anxiety meds,’ because you take pills for everything else.”
While she still calls leading a series after six years in an ensemble cast “fucking terrifying,” Murphy says that eventually filming the dark comedy Kevin Can F**k Himself (which was renewed for a second season in August) “turned out to be a really wonderful experience”—in part because she had time to take care of herself first. The actress also recently wrapped Season 2 of Netflix’s Russian Doll, which she remains tight-lipped about, teasing, “It’s a departure from Alexis and Allison. I got to shoot in New York; I felt like a real actress driving down the cobblestone streets of SoHo and shooting in the subway.”
Rising to fame as such a beloved character on a show with a massive fanbase could easily have pigeonholed Murphy, but with her recent ventures, she’s proving that she’s capable of playing vastly different roles from Alexis Rose—even to herself. “It was a really big challenge moving on to something else and testing myself to see if I could do anything other than that,” she admits. “It’s been a really up and down and wild couple of years.”
As Murphy makes clear, life is a rollercoaster for everyone—but it’s all about staying on the ride, bumps and all.