Kevin Can F**k Himself star Mary Hollis Inboden on falling in love with Annie Murphy onscreen and off
Warning: This interview contains light spoilers for season 1 of Kevin Can F**k Himself.
While viewers may have been initially intrigued by the show's tongue-in-cheek title, or the promise of seeing a post-Schitt's Creek Annie Murphy break bad, actress Mary Hollis Inboden was a surprise hit as Murphy's partner-in-crime in the first season of Kevin Can F**k Himself.
As the initially unsociable Patty, she forgoes palling around with her absent-minded brother Neil (Alex Bonifer) and high-handed neighbor Kevin (Eric Petersen) and befriends Allison (Murphy). The two women get so close that Patty even ends up helping Allison secure some drugs in a plot to get revenge on Kevin.
In the wake of a cliffhanger finale that saw Patty ultimately saving Allison's life, Inboden talked to EW about how she "fell madly in love" with her Emmy-winning costar, what the future holds for their characters' relationship should the AMC series get renewed for season 2, and how they ultimately "made a two-hander female show we're very proud of."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How was Patty described to you when you were first entering the role? Because I think being unreadable is kind of her thing.
MARY HOLLIS INBODEN: Yeah, I honestly didn't think that I would be the right fit for that role. It was kind of a mind trick because I built a career on playing best friends and sidekicks, so when I read it, that felt natural to me. What didn't feel natural were Patty's hard edges. We don't have that in common. She's somebody who sits on her side of the couch in judgment of everything that's happening around her, and she's mostly harshest to Allison. As the two women who float in Kevin's universe, they've decided long ago that they wouldn't have anything in common, and so now Patty is constantly badgering her like the boys are. What was so exciting to me about the pilot was when Patty tells Allison that Kevin spent all their money, that was so completely humane to me. Now, Patty does it because she thinks she's tired of Allison looking pitiful, not knowing what's going on in her own life, but whether it was out of pity, it still was information that Allison needed to better her own life.
A lot of times we [women] can help each other out, and I started to think that Patty and Allison have more in common than they ever thought. Because they're both women who have had to put up with being dismissed, overlooked, and decisions are made about them all the time, and they rarely get a voice in that. And Patty is the same in that she seems to be okay with it, and it's not until we find out that she has a whole side hustle that fulfills her that [we] bust away from the [best friend] trope. Both of our female characters do that, and I'm so excited that [creator] Valerie Armstrong tells that story, because I could just be playing a best friend/sidekick/neighbor, and in fact, I'm playing a best friend who actually becomes best friends with our female lead, and it's a female two-hander in the end.
You have more traditional sitcom acting experience, so even though this show is critical of some of those shows and their comedic dynamics, did you still find yourself falling right into the sitcom bullying it satirizes?
It was hard the first few days filming because once you know we are making a specifically bad and damaging male-led sitcom, I'm watching my friend and castmate, the beauty that is Annie Murphy, in that room, not being able to defend her. I did go more extreme in the first few days where my boundary was to bully her hard. It was a defense mechanism because I know it's so wrong and bad, but constantly, it never escaped me how terrible we were being to her. And as another woman in that room, I think Valerie Armstrong and Annie and myself would have downloading sessions after the first couple of days in multi-camera where we're like, "That is hard. I'm wearing that. That is a rough environment that I really don't want to go back to." And then, of course, like all things, once you really learn and trust that the message is getting through, and trust that you're part of that messaging, even if you have to play the villain for the first bit, it's empowering.
Annie and I tell this story that in the multi-cam days, the writers would come over with alt lines and we would sit in the corner and just wait, fingers crossed, for something funny to do. And most often they passed right by us and gave all the alt lines to the boys, which is exactly on purpose, and right for Kevin's universe. But we just were always praying for something funny to say, and our lines, we're set up machines. So it's like, "Oh, Kevin," and "Why would you do that?" and "Can I get you anything else?" That was the extent of it, so I fed into it as a defense mechanism, but it was a hard environment to be in for a long time.
Did the process of meeting and working with Annie feel any similar to the arc that your characters have?
Oh, yes. We have kind of an interesting story because we were cast in March of 2020, and so we were supposed to leave and move to Boston. And Annie and I became very, very fast friends when she texted me the night that I got cast. I'd met her once in our audition, and she was in Canada, so she didn't call, but she texted, "I knew it was you, you bitch!" [Laughs] And I was out to dinner celebrating my new job and I didn't see it. And the next 10 messages were just her apologizing for having called me the B-word. And I was like, "This woman is mine. This is my friend." You could just see her anxiety for stepping out there a little too far. Of course, I didn't mind at all. I thought it was completely endearing. If any woman's going to call you a bitch, you want it to be Annie Murphy. But I'm telling you, the next 10 messages were like, "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that." And she tells it now like she knew she was going to be fired for having such a crass message.
We became best friends very quickly over Zoom and over FaceTime. And we talked a lot about the show, but also we just connected really quickly personally. We're about the same age and our experiences, though she's Canadian and I'm from Arkansas, are similar somehow. And so when we got to set, one of the hardest things to do was to act like we weren't friends. I remember us eating lunch together, and Valerie and our director of the third episode [Anna Dokoza] would catch us and want to separate us because inevitably the first take back would be Patty and Allison thick as thieves, best friends forever. That's not the story we're telling. So pumping the brakes on that was a challenge for both of us, even though we would consider ourselves to be fine actors.
Do you feel Patty gravitates toward anyone who shows interest in her? While that indifference breaks up her and Kurt (Sean Clements), it works out in her favor dating Detective Tammy Ridgeway (Candice Coke).
Yeah, Patty from the start of the show really on through the end, is trying to figure out how to be a leader. And not everybody is. Patty's very much a follower from the start. And then Detective Ridgeway comes along, and Patty thinks like she can help her and Allison's case by involving herself with Detective Ridgeway, which I've always thought is a full front. Patty lets people in who like her because Patty is so completely insecure at the beginning. But there's always more than meets the eye to Patty on that sofa in Kevin's universe. She's walking towards being a more confident person, and until she can fully be that, she will be led by people who come onto her first.
When Kurt and she had that conversation, I think it's very brave of her when he says, "If we're not going to get married," and she just looks at him. And I know it's so hard because all she wants is for this to just be fine, [to] not have any deep emotional conversations. Because if Kurt rocks the boat there, Patty knows that she's going to have to answer a lot of questions for herself. And that is not something she ever wants to really face. But I think that there's also some confusion there for Patty and Allison, not from Allison's standpoint, but as she's exploring her sexuality, [Patty] is also like, "Uh-oh, I really want to be with Allison."
By being with Det. Ridgeway, is there a part of Patty that wants to tell on herself?
Oh gosh, I think that if it was just Patty's ordeal and she got herself involved with Tammy Ridgeway, and she knew Tammy Ridgeway was onto the drugs thing, Patty would come clean — but I think her feelings for Allison prevent her. She wouldn't betray Allison in that way. She wouldn't get Alison in trouble. And now they're so intertwined that it would be hard to not shine a light on both of them.
Is Neil to Patty what Kevin is to Allison? And when filtered back through the multi-cam lens, do you think anyone would believe Neil about what he overheard Allison saying before he attacked her?
We don't know about a second season yet; we're all hopeful. But in my brain, when Neil does reach back into multi-cam, if he ever tries to talk about the experience of the assault on Allison, and then the assault on himself at the hand of his sister, I don't know if he would come off like a Kramer, just sort of talking nonsense. But I'm so glad that Neil breaks through [into single-cam] because I think that's going to be very satisfying for the audience as one of those men does come over here. And what we get to play with is seeing them function as the irresponsible, not very nice men that they are, out in the real world. I think that's what we're headed to see in a potential season 2.
Patty has had to put up with Neil's antics for years — since they were children — and Patty's younger than Neil. But Patty's job has been to keep Neil alive. Neil is constantly threatening to burn down the house while he's making chili, [or] hurting himself because of these harebrained, zany, "hilarious'' plans and plots that he and Kevin come up with. Can you imagine the tension that [Patty] feels in her body just going, "Do we have a family home? Has Neil burned it down? Has he hurt himself today?" And so I think that, in the end, Patty's not going to let Neil put his hands on any woman's neck, but certainly not Allison's. And she'll knock him down when he does. There's a lot of anger in Patty for having to put up with Neil for this long.
Finally, with this first season having aired in full, how was the experience?
I was scared every day for the first four episodes. The experience was incredible because of Valerie Armstrong and Annie Murphy. Our whole cast was amazing, but when Annie Murphy won an Emmy on Sunday night and then flew to Boston to start filming with us on Monday, I was so full of fear that I wouldn't be a good scene partner to her. I mean, she's Annie Murphy, and she's become a bonafide megastar in front of our eyes over the past year with the success of Schitt's Creek. Separating her stardom from her person, I was very afraid that in her sophomore album I wouldn't be able to rise to the occasion because I am such a huge fan of hers. And I also was playing a character that's so different from anything that I've played, with a big accent that's so different from mine. Just a view of glass half empty instead of glass half full.
And so I was full of fear for the first four episodes, and then day-in and day out with Annie Murphy, watching her work and be the professional that she is, having such a good time with her, all of that doubt fell away. And I realized that I was most Patty when she was Allison, and that's a tremendous gift. So she would put on Allison, and I would respond as Patty. And it just started to stick. And one of the things I'm most proud of is not just my friendship off-screen with Valerie and Annie, but the chemistry and the bonds that we took in front of the camera too. That's what makes Patty and Allison so compelling. Talk about being a follower, I was being led by the ultimate leader, the ultimate number one, and that was Annie Murphy. And gosh, if anybody gets an opportunity to work with Annie Murphy, or go on a fake road trip with her, just do it. Don't ask any questions; get in the car and go. She did make fun of my driving, though.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.