A spin-off of the hit CW series Riverdale, the new drama Katy Keene follows Katy (Lucy Hale), a 20-something aspiring fashion designer who makes clothes for anyone she can, including her friend and new roommate, singer/songwriter Josie McCoy (Ashleigh Murray). Along with fellow roommate Jorge Lopez, aka Ginger (Jonny Beauchamp), who’s performing at a local drag bar while waiting for his shot on Broadway, and “It Girl” Pepper Smith (Julia Chan), the foursome is attempting to take New York City by storm, as they reach for their dreams in a city where everyone is striving for success and dreaming of greatness.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actress Ashleigh Murray talked about being a part of such a bright and colorful show, how she found out that Katy Keene was going to happen, getting to see her Riverdale character at a different time in her life, why this is the right next step for Josie, establishing new bonds with her co-stars, the Katy-Josie dynamic, getting to sing on the show, what she’s grown to appreciate about her character, and what living in New York taught her about herself.
Collider: This is such a fun, bright and colorful TV show, which is so different from Riverdale. Was that part of the appeal, for you?
ASHLEIGH MURRAY: Yeah, I definitely was incredibly excited about the color scheme that we have for the show and how bright everything seemed to look, not just lighting wise, but just in general. Everything just seemed a lot brighter and a lot more hopeful. That was a very nice surprise.
When and how did you find out that Katy Keene would be happening, and that Josie would be a character?
MURRAY: The summer before everything was announced, (Riverdale showrunner) Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa] called me randomly and asked me, “What do you think of the prospect of Josie maybe coming to New York?” I told him, “I love that idea. It’s great! I’ve been talking about it for so long. I think it’d be really cool, if we could do it.” I had no idea, really, in what capacity he meant. We just talked about different ideas of what that would mean, and if it would just be Josie. And then, I didn’t hear anything for months and I forgot about it. And then, (The CW President) Mark Pedowitz had mentioned that they were doing a spin-off and talked a little bit about who the characters were gonna be, and it was described that someone exactly like my character was possibly gonna to be in it. I didn’t know [before then]. Not too long after that, more stuff started to come out, and then my team contacted me, and it just went from there.
What was your reaction to not only learning about the show, but then learning that Josie would be at a different point in her life and that we’d get to see her in a little bit different way?
MURRAY: I was excited because she gets to be an age that I remember clearly. She’s also moved to this city that I moved to. I was 19 when I moved to New York to pursue my dreams. I’d gone to college, and I grew up in New York City in my 20s, trying to pursue my career, so I could identify, very much, with this new step that she’s taking. I was incredibly excited that she was gonna do that.
Did you feel like it was the right next step for her?
MURRAY: Yes. I definitely pictured her making it to New York. What’s great is that I still don’t know what next step she’s gonna take. I don’t know how her life is gonna unfold, now that she’s in this city, but the fact that she’s made it there, is 100% where I wanted her to go.
I love that we get to hear about the connection with Veronica Lodge, which also means that there could be a crossover, at some point.
MURRAY: Yeah, it would make sense for Veronica to pop up, with her relation to Katy Keene and to Josie, and her relationship with New York, having lived there and moved from there to a small town. That would make a lot of sense.
Having come from the family that you established with the ensemble over at Riverdale, what was it like to jump into things with this new cast?
MURRAY: It wasn’t difficult. I was acting before I got on Riverdale, so I’m used to approaching new situations with new people, and I’m a very open person, as it is. I don’t have difficulty making friends or letting people in, so meeting this new group was easy. I was excited for them, and I was excited for me. Even just being in New York and being home was like a big plus, so it made it that much more fun to meet everyone. I wanted to see who was familiar with New York and what we could bond on, or what I could surprise people with. I wanted to welcome them into this space that I love so much.
Katy has a really interesting and diverse group of friends, from various different backgrounds. What do you enjoy about that dynamic?
MURRAY: There’s definitely a dynamic to our friendship, and I love that. I’m excited to see how we continue to explore that dynamic, and in what ways we become closer, as a unit. Being in this group of friends, that are not from a place where everybody’s gotta watch their backs ‘cause they might get killed, is really nice.
What can we expect from this new friendship between Josie and Katy?
MURRAY: So far, it seems really great. In any friendship, you can expect people to bump heads ‘cause not everybody is always gonna have the same opinion, but I have no idea what’s gonna happen. The fact that Katy was so open and welcoming to Josie is a good sign, as to where their friendship is gonna go. Also, I feel like Josie, in her time from Riverdale to when she shows up in New York, I’d like to think that she’s grown a bit and has learned to let people in, a little more. It’s a big city, and it’s not easy moving there by yourself and not knowing anyone. Josie is very lucky that she has this one point of connection in Katy and, as an extension from her, she also has her own group of friends that she is more than happy to welcome Josie into, to create that net of safety for her.
I love that we get to hear Josie singing, quite a bit.
MURRAY: Yes, there’s a lot of singing. I’m happy that we’re able to do more of that, and I’m hoping that we’ll do a lot more original music. I’m definitely gonna have to pick up some voice lessons, just to be able to keep my voice healthy while doing this ‘cause I’m not used to singing that much.
What are the challenge in singing for a show?
MURRAY: It’s different, only in the sense that I have to record the song beforehand. But whenever we’re shooting anything that where I’m singing, I’m still singing along with the playback, so that you still get that feeling that it’s actually me, ‘cause it is. The biggest difficulty is being in the recording studio. I’d never done that before. I only started to learn how to do it through Riverdale, and I didn’t find out until three years later that it’s not normal to go in and record an entire song, in an hour and a half. Beyoncé doesn’t do that. She will go in and lay down a verse and maybe a chorus, and then come back and put those harmonies. It’s a whole process, and the fact that we are pushing it down into such a small single session is a lot of pressure. I’ve managed to do it okay, but that part is still hard.
What have you grown to appreciate about Josie, in the time that you’ve played her and gotten to know her better?
MURRAY: It’s interesting because I felt a stronger connection to Josie, at the end of Riverdale, then I did in the beginning of Katy Keene, only because I had been on Riverdale for so long and, when we finally got the opportunity to explore her more through the relationship she built with Archie, I was much more settled in who she is, as a high schooler. I learned that it was okay to let go and relax a little, and be yourself, in a way, and to allow Josie to be Josie. Now that she’s in New York, I’m definitely reworking that idea of who she is ‘cause I have to fill in a handful of years. I liked that I found a comfort in her skin in a town that was dangerous.
Did they tell you anything about what might have happened to Josie, in those years, or have you been thinking about that?
MURRAY: I’ve definitely been thinking about it. It’s a discussion that I want to have, but it hasn’t been anything thoroughly discussed. At the end of the day, post conversation, I think the onus is gonna ultimately be on me. It’s my job, as the actor, to create a background, sometimes when there isn’t one, so that I can inform where she’s going better. I definitely think, if we have the space and time to do it and the show is going really well, which I hope and think that it will, we’ll have room to explore that and maybe even see where my mom is, in all of this. I’d like to know if she’s still an attorney, or whatever she’s doing. It’d be nice to see if Josie and Kevin are still step-siblings, or real siblings, or whatever you wanna call it.
Will we start to see more characters from outside of this inner circle, coming in and out of Josie’s life?
MURRAY: I’d imagine so. Knowing (executive producer) Michael [Grassi] and Roberto, somebody else is gonna pop up. The world is not just gonna stay in that apartment or in the record label. Everyone in the show is gonna have an impact. The Cabots and their family is gonna expand. I imagine there’s gonna be more done with Katherine [LaNasa]’s character, Gloria. She’s so phenomenal. Everybody’s gonna have their moment, where they fit in the show. New York is its own little beast. It’s like an amoeba, always moving and changing its shape, but there’s so much in it that makes it what it is. Being able to see those different parts is what our show is really good at.
How does Josie view Alexander Cabot (Lucien Laviscount)?
MURRAY: Because she’s coming from a small town and the only real problem she had to deal with was staying alive, meeting somebody that not only is really handsome, but seems very serious and direct and no nonsense, and he has her in the studio and seems really great, she’s an adult, so she’s gonna make her own choices and do what she likes and what she feels is right for her. It’s a moment, when other aspects come in, and other people who are involved with what he does, that it changes the dynamic. That’s when I feel like she realizes how naive she was, that she didn’t look past the surface.
Is Josie very focused on her goals?
MURRAY: Yes. That’s one of the really great things about somebody who moves to New York and is meant to be there. Some days are really, really hard, and New York has every ability to beat you down and make you think that you don’t belong. But it’s the ones who are really strong in themselves and what they want that make it through and pull through. Anytime something like that comes back around, they’re stronger and wiser. That saying, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, is very, very true. You are surrounded by people who just want to do whatever it is that they wanna do. I find that in L.A., it’s more of one industry. Everybody’s in the industry. But in New York, you know there are gonna be actors, with Broadway and television, but there are also financiers, teachers, business and restaurant and bar owners, and people from everywhere, of all walks of life. They mostly all have that grind mentality. You’re around people who are go-getters and fighters, and may not necessarily be in the same thing that you’re doing, but they all want the same thing. They all want that success.
What did living in New York teach you about yourself?
MURRAY: That I have a thick skin. Living in New York has really affirmed all of the things that I always thought about myself, growing up. I’m a lot stronger than people think. I’m a lot wiser. I am kind. Sometimes I can be too trusting, but I know when to give and take. It taught me that I’m good at making the right choices. I’m also good at learning from my mistakes. It doesn’t take more than one to learn from it. New York is very good at teaching those lessons. But I’m very strong and determined, and I know that because we’re going on year 11, and I have not fallen out of love with that city, at all. I don’t know where I’m gonna live. I don’t know where I’m gonna move to. I don’t know that I can stay in New York forever, but I’ve been to a lot of other places and I haven’t found anywhere that feels like home, the way that New York does. London is close. London is very close, but it’s also very expensive.
Katy Keene airs on Thursday nights on The CW.