Kelly Murtagh is an award-winning and professionally-trained actress, singer, writer and producer who works in film, television, commercials and theatre. Kelly plays Alaska’s mother in the new hit Hulu series “Looking for Alaska” based on the John Green book of the same name. Her other recent credits include a pivotal role on Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, a role on Netflix’s hit movie Tall Girl, AMC’s, Preacher, opposite Academy Award Nominee, Ruth Negga, a role in Paramount’s, The Lovebirds, opposite Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, and a recurring role on USA Network’s, The Purge. Kelly also wrote and starred in the short film, Seagulls, for which she won the Best Actress Award at Festival South and Best Performance at the Pottstown Film Festival. She also won the award for the Best Actress for her work in the short film, Just My Type, at the 48 Independent Short Film Festival. Kelly is in post-production for her feature film “Shapeless” which she wrote, executive-produced and was lead actress.
In Los Angeles, Kelly began training with Emmy Award winner Hank Azaria and studied improvisation at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and The Groundlings. She booked a commercial/print campaign for Call of Duty: Black Ops, which earned Kelly her membership in SAG-AFTRA as well as a billboard in Times Square, NYC. She began training with Emmy Award winner and Academy member Chick Vennera at the Renegade Theatre Group.
Kelly relocated to New Orleans where formed Water Meter Productions, LLC with her husband, Robert John Gilchrist. Kelly and Robert have one daughter.
Follow Kelly at @kellymurtagh
Hi Kelly, please tell us a little about you?
I like to think of myself as a “mom-prenuer”, actively working on balancing my work as an actor/writer/ producer with being a mom to my incomparable almost three-year-old daughter Fallon and wife to my best friend, husband, and fellow actor/producer, Robert J. Gilchrist. I am a bookworm (fantasy genre is my favorite), nature-lover, stargazer, football fan, sensitive soul, daily meditator and vinyl record collector.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, Empathic, Passionate
Who is your role model?
I find so many people admirable and inspiring but if I had to choose one, I’d say Brené Brown. She is a qualitative researcher who studies humanity and our how we handle shame and vulnerability. I’ve always been a sensitive soul and leading with my heart feels most natural to me. Through her research and work she teaches that vulnerability is the bravest emotion and the path to true creativity, empathy, innovation and joy. And I believe it, I think she’s right. I wish I could make everyone in the world read one of her books or watch her Netflix special The Call to Courage. She is incredible.
How did you get started into acting?
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana where as a young child with an active imagination, my favorite thing to do was to play pretend. From as long as I can remember, performing, pretending and telling stories was my way of life, and what I loved to do. Acting and singing became my greatest passions and sense of belonging as a young child. I grew up performing in choirs and plays but chose a different path for college.
I attended Elon University in North Carolina, and majored in Broadcast Journalism and Business Administration. I had convinced myself that a career in the arts wasn’t a viable endeavor as I tried my hand at other things. But I ultimately found my way to Los Angeles the summer before my senior year where I took part in a program with my university called “Elon in L.A.” where I had two internships- one with an entertainment news program and the other, a talent agency. And I was hooked. I saw the industry from the ground up and loved working with actors. But I quickly realized, I wanted to be the actor, not the agent.
After graduating in 2009, I moved back to the west coast against the urgings of most of my friends, family and professors, to pursue a career in the performing arts. I quickly jumped into acting classes while working a slew of side jobs in retail and the service industry. I found my way to the Renegade Theatre Group led by Academy member and Emmy-award winner, Chick Vennera. That is really were I dug deep and trained and began to pursue my acting career.
How has this changed your life?
Acting class is like group therapy. The same blocks and struggles you have on the outside are the same when you are acting. You have to become incredibly vulnerable, get present and get real with yourself in order to express yourself in an authentic way. I’d hidden myself behind a dazzling façade of perfectionism to hide a severe eating disorder I’d struggled with since I was fourteen years old. I’d built this façade to survive and protect myself from true vulnerability, but in acting class, it no longer worked. It was in this acting class I met my future husband, Robert J. Gilchrist and I finally faced my eating disorder head-on. And, (this is a much longer story for another day), I thankfully made my way to the Eating Disorder Center of California. Thank God. So I believe that acting saved my life.
What is the best and worst part of being an actress?
The best part is getting to do what I love and be creative. The worst part is the rejection and uncertainty.
Tell us about your work in Netflix romantic comedy “THE LOVEBIRDS?”
The Lovebirds was a dream come true. I had admired Issa Rae & Kumail Nanjiani for a while and they are two of the most talented, down-to-earth, intelligent, creative and kind people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I had also admired Michael Showalter’s work and was so thrilled to get to meet him and work with him as well. He is a very talented director and was not only focused and hard-working, but also allowed us to improvise (which is my dream come true). It was magical to be able to watch Issa & Kumail work off one another and then to be able to jump in and do it alongside them. It was magic. I studied with Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Los Angeles so I’ve always loved any opportunity to improv. I play Evonne in the film and Michael allowed me to play and expand to find Evonne’s essence which basically is Issa Rae’s annoying drunk friend. Issa & Kumail are both super cool, the kind of people you just want to keep hanging out with and hope their coolness rubs off on you. I was sad when my role wrapped!
What is the movie about?
It’s a rom-com with a side of murder J. A couple (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) experience a significant moment when they become unintentionally enmeshed in a murder mystery. It is delightfully funny as Issa & Kumail are magnetic together as a couple and it is a hilarious romp of a film.
If you can choose what do you prefer in order of being a Producer or an Actress?
Actress, for sure. I enjoy the creative facets of being a producer and the big picture aspects of it, but enjoy the experience of acting better.
And tell us about your own home video-style TV series “Super Fallon?”
The idea was inspired by our dear friend’s own super hero show starring their two daughters. We loved it so much and it became our daughter Fallon’s favorite to watch, and inspired us to make one of our own. This expanded into us making “Super Fallon & Maple the Magic Maltipoo”, starring our daughter and dog. The title card was written on our daughter’s magna-doodle and we shot it to look like it was filmed on an old camcorder to capture that “home movie” style. It became a fun creative thing to do as a family while in quarantine. We are currently quarantining in Florida at my in-laws beautiful farm so we had the luxury of involving some super cool animals- Lucy, the African gray parrot was our villain who was stealing bacon from the “unicorns” which were played by the mini-horses: Princess Buttercup, Pistol Pete and Bogo. It was so fun to create the animal’s voices / characters. I love that we now have a little home video for us to watch and remember this time together.
What other projects you have been part of?
A recent project I loved being a part of was Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska” based on the John Green Book of the same name. I played Alaska’s mom and we had a super sweet scene that we shot at the Zoo before it was open and feed giraffes. It was like an ultimate VIP zoo experience that was SO cool. I also love the book and was so thankful to be a part of such a poignant and important project. If you want to look at my whole filmography you can go to my IMDb here!
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
I find so much of it rewarding. Getting to do what I love, being creative, collaborating with others, being a part of a cast and crew that is all working so hard, together to make it work.
What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why?
I love them, all. I love playing a variety of characters. It excites me to bring myself to different types of characters and feel close to the full spectrum of emotions and different points of view. I believe empathy is a huge part of what I do. Finding my way into a role that I don’t agree with or understand takes that empathy and creativity.
What is your favorite healthy food?
I’m going to have to disagree with both of these questions. I am in remission for an eating disorder and believe taking the charge out of food by not specifying them as “healthy” or “cheat.” I try to intuitively eat and I’m adventurous: I’ll try anything! Some of my favorite foods are, truffle on (anything), Louisiana cooking, seafood, dark chocolate, arugula, pizza, Cane’s Chicken Tenders & sauce, cucumbers, and I love a chewy cookie.
How would you explain your fashion style?
I would say I have a laidback California style with a vintage flare. But I love having different looks for different reasons. I guess that’s the actor in me coming out in my wardrobe.
How would your best friend describe you?
I just asked my husband how he would describe me and this is what he said: Kelly is “a Unicorn sent from heaven to make our time on earth bearable.” Haha. He’s so sweet and funny.
What’s next for Kelly Murtagh in 2020?
My feature film Shapeless that I wrote, executive produced, and starred in is in post-production and we are all working hard to finish that up for 2021. Shapeless is the most important, uncomfortable and poignant work of my career because it is based on me and my addiction: bulimia. Ivy, the main character, is a singer and also bulimic. We unapologetically explore the inside of this devastating addiction. This is not the treatment story. This is one we haven’t seen before: the reality of living with an eating disorder. We’re overdue for an authentic conversation regarding mental health and in particular, eating disorders. Shapeless is an invitation to the mental health conversation. We hope to inspire others to have their own uncomfortable, life-saving conversations. Because now is the time to talk about mental health and I am passionate about ending the stigma around mental health matters.
Other than that, and It’s a little hard to say right now because we are in the midst of quarantine, but I am trying to take my life moment to moment, one day at a time. I had an intricate plan and dream about how my 2020 would go and I think we can all agree none of us ever expected a pandemic to happen. I am constantly learning how to let go of what I think I can control.
What is your own definition of happiness?
Loving myself for who I am, letting go of things I can’t control, trusting myself, forgiving myself, staying present, and loving others well.
How is a normal day in your life?
It is hard to say what “normal” is especially these days! But, I think it is waking up to my daughter singing or “reading” her book in her bed. I then usually teach or take a barre3 class (which is a fusion of yoga, barre, pilates, cardio and breathwork) Fallon usually does some of it with me, which is the cutest. I meditate daily, read a lot and go outside as much as possible to cloud gaze and lay in the grass with Fallon, or star-gaze alone at night. My husband and I love music so we have been watching and listening to a lot of intimate and beautiful concerts bands are putting on virtually during quarantine. We also film auditions and work on Shapeless throughout our days as we need to. We take our careers very seriously and work hard, but me & my family’s mental & physical health always comes first.
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Reading a delicious novel in a comfortable place by a window or outside. And snuggles, of course some snuggles.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Portia de Rossi, Ellen DeGeneres’s wife, is someone I’ve long admired and hope to meet one day. She wrote a very authentic memoir called Unbearable Lightness about her struggles with hiding her eating disorder and sexuality while rising to fame as an actress. It is beautifully written, searing in vulnerability, and the book that inspired me to write Shapeless. She tells it like it is and is the first time I encountered someone being so honest about what it was like on the inside of an eating disorder. I felt seen and understood when I read her story – she helped me to feel safe enough to talk about my story. I’m also very inspired by Ellen and her honesty and bravery for owning her truth in such an unforgiving climate at the time. She finds joy so effortlessly and I can’t wait to hang with her and watch a Saints game and talk about New Orleans together.
Best advice ever given?
“LTFU.” (meaning Lighten the F**k up) said very respectfully by my acting teacher & Mentor Chick Vennera. That’s one of the lessons I remember the most. To keep on punching my perfectionism in the face. Nothing needs to be “perfect” – it needs to be real. And I already am enough.
Do you support any charity?
I donate to a plethora of charities when I can but hope to work more closely with charities supporting mental health help for those who need it.
Name 3 things you can’t live without?
Meditation, Nature, and Tony’s Chachere’s (which is a Creole seasoning I can’t live without.)
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
Living in California with my husband and daughter away from the city, somewhere we can hike easily and be outside. Acting in projects I choose or write, writing children’s books and scripts and building our production company. I also would love to have an enchanted tree house in the woods as my office / mediation space.
Favorite song? Why?
How to pick ONE favorite! I’ll do top 3 in no particular order: “Into the Mystic” – Van Morrison, “She Talks to Angels” Black Crowes, “I’ll Be Seeing You” – Billie Holiday’s version.
What music do you like?
I love a lot of different genres, but I find it hard to connect to today’s pop music if it is all computer sounds and beats. I love Classic rock, rock, classic Jazz singers and Jazz, Hip-hop like Run the Jewels, singer-songwriters like Robert Francis, and I love what Nick Waterhouse is doing which is rooted in old rhythm and blues, jazz & soul, 90s alternative of course. The list goes on & on. My husband and I have a gigantic alphabetized vinyl record collection with a wide variety. Nothing better than listening to a vinyl album start to finish the way it was intended.
What do you think of Social Media?
I think there are some good qualities as well as some difficult qualities about it. I love an authentic connection with others, but the second it feels insincere or “sales-y” I’m out. I try not to be on social media a lot and I find I’m happier. I like keeping up with my Instagram when the mood strikes. I appreciate that I’ve found a lot of free support on Instagram for eating disorder recovery and holistic healing as well as connecting to organic audiences.
Where we can follow you?
Instagram: @kellymurtagh & @shapelessthefilm
Quote: “Be Excellent to each other.” – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Favorite Singer/Artist: This is too hard to pick one so I’ll name a few. Billie Holiday, Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, Nick Waterhouse, Robert Francis, Jenny Lewis.
Movie: That Thing You Do!
Travel Destination: Italy as far as where I’ve been. I want to go so many places: I love adventure & travel. I would love to go to Scotland or Greece next.
Sports Team: SAINTS! WHO DAT! & LSU TIGERS
Tv Show: The Office.
Book: Definitely can’t pick one, so I’ll do 3! : Harry Potter as a series, “The Alchemist” – Paulo Coelo, “Untamed” – Glennon Doyle.
Cover Photo: Lilly Anne
Blue Top Photo: Nick Shamblott