Interview: Annie Murphy on her villainous voice role in Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken; “I now have a thirst for evil.”

*This interview took place prior to the current SAG-AFTRA strike*

Every hero needs a villain.  And when you’re Ruby Gillman, a sweet, awkward 16-year-old whose just found out she’s a direct descendant of the warrior Kraken queen of the seas, there’s nothing scarier than Chelsea: Beautiful. Popular. Mermaid!

From DreamWorks Animation, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken dives into the turbulent waters of high school with a hilarious, heartfelt action comedy about a shy teenager who discovers that she’s part of a legendary royal lineage of mythical sea krakens and that her destiny, in the depths of the oceans, is bigger than she ever dreamed.

Ahead of the film’s original US release in June – scheduled for release from this week in Australian cinemas – Peter Gray spoke with Schitt’s Creek actress Annie Murphy about unlocking her inner evil to voice the film’s vapid villainess and the comfort she found in working in animation.

As someone who has cried at something that every Rose family member said or did in Schitt’s Creek it’s a pleasure to talk to you.  And that’s meant in the best possible way!

(Laughs) Thank you. That’s so sweet. It’s really nice to chat with you too.

I know that Schitt’s Creek is a comfort show to so many people, and I remember you saying that The Office is your comfort show.  Going off of Ruby Gillman, is there an animated comfort movie you had growing up?

Oh, gosh.  I mean, all of the Disney films of my day.  The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and MulanShrek was also a huge one for me.  I loved Shrek so much.  Could actually do a good re-watch of that, it’s been a long time.  What about you?

I’m a 90s kid, so The Lion King and Aladdin are at the top of the list.  Obviously, Shrek too.  I think that changed a lot of things for animation.

Yeah, agreed.

And when it came to voicing Chelsea, the thing I have noticed with actors is the nicer they are, the more they really embrace villainy.  So, you must be the nicest person there is given the fun you’re having tapping into that.

100% You hit the nail on the head.  I now have a thirst for evil.  It was so much fun to be manipulative and shitty and cruel.  And then to be a true super villain of the seas? It felt so good.  Even before (Ruby Gillman) came along I wanted to try my hand at playing someone bad, or dark, or evil, or whatever.  And then this came along.  This is a great litmus test because I’m contained in a box alone.  I’m on the hunt for more, man.

Talking about that recording process, it’s just you and your voice.  There’s nothing else to hide behind.  How does it feel to not have the security blanket of your physical self when performing?

I loved it.  I loved that you could roll up looking like a total grub in sweatpants, and go over-the-top right out of the gates. Instead of having directors be like, “No, no, no, what are you doing? We need to dial this down”, it’s more about cranking it up and going even more over-the-top and more outrageous.  Being able to play around and try things out, I loved that.

The thing that was most off-putting was having no one to play off of.  I did miss that.  So much of acting is connecting to another person, and just kind of repeating your own lines over and over was a tricky thing.  We had the director and producer there to collaborate with, and they had great direction and provided great feedback, but I did miss having scene partners.

Yeah, when I spoke to Lana (Condor) she was saying how she didn’t even see what the character looked like and there were no other lines of dialogue to go off.  Was it the same for you? You’re literally just reading your lines in as many different ways as possible because they can put it all together and know it’ll marry up with what someone else is doing?

Yeah, that was exactly it.  It was kind of just trusting…I mean, it’s DreamWorks, so of course they know what they’re doing.  But I went in blind, and did about four four-hour sessions over two-and-a-half years.  Sometimes the script would entirely change from session to session.  They were really working through it as we went.  I don’t think I saw what my character looked like until maybe the second session.  The script is so wonderful, as it’s so creative and sweet and funny, but when I saw the finished product, (just) seeing the brains and imagination of these animators who knocked it into another dimension.  There’s always something going on in every corner of the screen at all times.  It’s so fascinating to watch.  I loved doing my little part, and then seeing the finished version that so many people put their time and effort into.

And have you met any of your co-stars?

No.  And I think everyone’s going to be at the premiere, (so) I’m already just trying to talk myself through it, because when I get starstruck I get quite…I go inwards.  And then I don’t know what to do with my body.  Especially my hands.  So I’ll need a glass of wine, or something to hold on to.  Maybe like a potted plant or something, just so I can be routed somewhere.  But, I mean, this cast is so star-studded and so talented.  I’m really excited to say hi.

If I see photos of you on the red carpet holding a potted plant, I’ll understand why.

(Laughs) You’ll just see this orchid trembling (laughs).

And with the recording, did you find you were able to untap something different in your voice? Were you surprised with any vocal direction or breathing technique you found worked for you?

You’re so sweet to think that’s how I work (laughs). No, I just went into that first session and blew the shit out of my voice.  By the end of the session I was hoarse and couldn’t speak.  I did actually sign up for voice lessons recently.  Not because I think I’m ever going to be able to sing in this life, but it was so clear that I didn’t have the control I needed over my own voice.  When Chelsea turns into Nerissa, and gets super evil, that was really fun, but it was a real challenge.  I did a few takes where I went really spooky and dark, and I completely understand why they didn’t use those tapes.  But it was just fun to have the liberty in the booth and look ridiculous, and sound ridiculous, and experiment.

Well, I think that because you technically got a Top 30 single out of “A Little Bit Alexis” your voice isn’t the worst thing…

(Laughs) I can put those dreams to rest now (laughs).

Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is screening in Australian theatres from September 14th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.