'The Lovebirds' Actress Kelly Murtagh Talks Co-Stars Kumail Nanjiani, Issa Rae and Canceled SXSW Premiere Amid Coronavirus Outbreak (Exclusive)

The Lovebirds, an action-packed romantic comedy film about a couple going on the run after they witness a murder, debuts Friday on Netflix after much anticipation among social media. In the movie, starring Issa Rae (Insecure) and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), the pair play a couple who inadvertently wind up as murder suspects on the lamb after their car is hijacked by a gun-wielding psychopath, claiming to be a cop — but actually using it to run a man over. The film has been through the wringer with release dates, originally scheduled to have its world premiere at the South by Southwest festival on March 14, subsequently followed by a theatrical release on April 2. However, like many films this year, it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Actress Kelly Murtagh, who appears in The Lovebirds, spoke exclusively to PopCulture.com about the situation, sharing how this would have been her first time at the iconic festival had it played out without a pandemic overthrowing plans. "I was really looking forward to that and Austin is such a cool town," Murtagh told PopCulture, further adding how she knew things were serious when Rae and Nanjiani dropped out of their appearances.

Kelly Murtagh shot by Nick Shamblott 1
(Photo: Nick Shamblott)

"I was feeling super sad and bummed when they canceled it, and then about an hour later it got totally canceled," she added. "So it's like two truths that are existing on the same plane for me where I feel sad that I can't go and be a part of it and have that opportunity to be in a film festival to promote Lovebirds and that also I feel like it really was the right call and I feel relieved in that sense."

While Murtagh was understandably disappointed at not being able to reunite with her castmates and celebrate the movie's premiere, she gushed over how she "can't say enough good things" about working with the film's lead stars. "I spent a couple of days with them on set and just really spent time with them chatting and sitting with them," Murtagh shared. "They're so down to earth and cool and authentic and kind and gracious. All the great things you would think they are, they are."

The Louisiana native also revealed that her involvement with the film was nearly unintentional as she auditioned for a role, but then was invited to a table read for a different part, which she was later offered not having ever actually auditioned for it. At the table read, she felt compelled to open up to Nanjiani and tell him how much The Big Sick inspired her with her personal film project, Shapeless. "I went up to Kumail and I said, 'Thank you for your story and it really inspired me for my film,'" she recalled.

In addition to her praise for Rae and Nanjiani, Murtagh also heralded the work of Lovebirds director Michael Showalter, who also directed The Big Sick, as well as co-created the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. Having launched his career on improv, Murtagh says the director was extremely supportive and welcoming of improvisation on-set. "I did Upright Citizen's Brigade for years and years, so he allowed me to improv, and he allowed [Rae and Nanjiani] to improv, and it's just magic," she said. "He's super funny, obviously, and super down to earth, but he's also really focused and gets the job done. He has a vision and he's clear."

"I literally was just enraptured by watching them work and being able to be a part of that and work with these people I looked up to for so long has been incredible," Murtagh continued. "For me, being on set is my happy place, so I love watching people work and watching all the things come together from gaffer to PAs, to the director and just seeing how it all works together. It really was this experience where I kept pinching myself and I was like, 'This is so cool.'"


Finally, Murtagh also shared some details about her psychological thriller, Shapeless, a "very personal and vulnerable" passion project inspired by her real-life battle with anorexia and bulimia. Written by Murtagh and directed by Samantha Aldana, the 34-year-old admits she's "grateful" for the award-winning director and writer. "She really helped me and supported me through the process of development and writing and in sort of like giving me the space to talk about it and go there," Murtagh said. "She and I have worked together really well to find this vision and this different artistic language with our cinematographer, Natalie Kingston."

"I don't know where it's going to land or where it's going to be," she continued. "But right now we're just doing the stuff we need to do to get it in place to submit to film festivals by 2021, for its premiere in 2021." While Shapeless does not yet have an official release date, fans can catch Murtagh alongside Rae and Nanjiani inThe Lovebirds on Netflix this Friday, May 22.