Rising and Shining
What next, a 12 step program for batter abuse? Success is an even more habit-forming pleasure for Murphy. Already a veteran actress at 20 (she turns 21 next week), she is best known for her 1995 role as Alicia Silverstone's makeover experiment in Clueless. And TV viewers can catch her in not one but two roles on FOX's prime-time King of the Hill. Since it's a toon, however, Murphy is rarely recognized as the voice of Luanne Platter, the Texas beauty-school vixen, nor of the 12-year-old neighborhood kid Joseph. Thanks to animation technology, Murphy even has the luxury of phoning in her lines to Hill's L.A. production offices. "You can do it anywhere," she enthuses. "You can even do it in your pajamas!"
But one performance the actress definitely did not phone in was her role opposite Lukas Haas (Mars Attacks!) in ABC's David and Lisa, airing Nov. 1. The two-hour movie, an "Oprah Winfrey Presents" remake of the 1962 film (which Murphy delayed seeing in its entirety to form her own take on the character), should fuel a major career boost for its young female lead. Murphy was tapped after the film's director, Lloyd Kramer, caught her in the Tony-winning revival of A View from the Bridge on Broadway last spring. "This is a very challenging role to pull off," executive producer Kate Forte says of Murphy's portrayal of an emotionally troubled teen who falls in love with a fellow student at a school for disturbed youths run by Sidney Poitier. "And Brittany does it in the most complex, compelling, disturbing, sexy way."
While she may be what her peers call a "hottie"—imbuing her King of the Hill character with such comic sensuality that Luanne was named one of the sexiest women on TV by Details magazine—offscreen, Murphy is "not a real heavy-duty dater," she says, adding that she has never had a serious romantic relationship and only recently began dating an actor she declines to name "because it's so new."
Murphy lives with her mother, Sharon, 46, even today, in homes in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and New York City. "It's always been just my mom and me," says Brittany, an only child who was born in Atlanta but moved to New Jersey at age 3 with Sharon after her parents split. "My father wasn't in my life growing up, but gradually, through the years, we touched base," says Murphy, who refuses to name him for personal reasons. "He's a really funny, adorable character." But life without him was hardly traumatic. "My mom provided me an amazing childhood," she adds. Indeed, Sharon says, "Brittany's had a very well-rounded life. She is the center of my world."
Ever encouraging her precocious daughter's theatrical ambitions, Sharon says Brittany was putting on one-kid shows at home by age 2 and appeared in her first regional theater production at 9. As a preteen, Brittany hired a manager and began making Pizza Hut and Skittles candy commercials before heading to Hollywood with a chaperone in 1991. After many fruitless auditions, Brittany did the inevitable. "I called my mom," she says, "and asked her to move out there." Sharon, who had worked in advertising, quit her job, sold her furniture and flew to the rescue. "It didn't make sense to hire a chaperone to be with her when I'm her mom," says Sharon. "A week later," recalls Brittany, "I got my first series" (Dabney Coleman's 1991-92 sitcom Drexell's Class). Of her mom, she adds, "She's my angel."
Having worked steadily since her high school days (she graduated in 1995), Murphy is thankful. "I can't type," she says, "I have a bad memory, and I can't believe I can get paid for doing this. It's such an unbelievable blessing—it's too much."