Dan Levy (‘Schitt’s Creek’) on not ‘overstaying our welcome’ after 6 seasons [Complete Interview Transcript]

Dan Levy‘s “Schitt’s Creek” came to an end earlier this year after four seasons. The multihyphenate plays David Rose on the series and was nominated last year as a producer when the Pop series was up for Best Comedy Series at the Emmys.

Levy recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann about why he chose to end “Schitt’s Creek,” working with the great Catherine O’Hara and the show’s surge of support over the last few years. Watch the exclusive web chat above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: You wear so many hats on this show, all the hats. You wore one today, thank you!

Dan Levy: If you saw the hair that was going on under this. I need a haircut badly and I do not trust myself enough to cut it with the razor I have upstairs. So we will do with what we have.

GD: I have the same quarantine hair problem. I’m gonna be Jimmy Neutron soon. But, you’re the creator, you’re the producer, star, writer, director. When you entered this season, why the decision to end it with Season 6 and what was the most important thing for you to accomplish in the final season?

DL: As strange as this is to say, our show has never really been about business. I feel like the question of why don’t you continue on and on and on and on I think really is about, at its core, the business of television. For us, the show was really about making sure that season after season we were telling stories that meant something, that continually changed our characters, that grew in some way. For me, this was never going to be one of the 10 to 12-season shows. This was always going to be small. The minute that I felt like we even had the potential of overstaying our welcome was the time that we should go. I was ready to end after Season 5 and then we were very fortunate enough to be offered [Seasons] 5 and 6 together and I felt like, “Well, that gives us 28 episodes to wrap this up carefully and thoughtfully,” and it just felt right.

I always aware of how far we could take the characters without overextending ourselves and six seasons is a great number. I felt like we would be able to end our season just as strong if not stronger than when we started. That was really at the root of all the decision-making. The opportunity to make more seasons was obviously there and it was a tough decision because I love our cast and I loved the time that we got to spend together. That was the hardest part of it all was saying no to more seasons specifically because the experience of making the show was so great. I respect the viewers and the time that they put into watching the show too much to ever take advantage of their loyalty. To me, it felt like anything beyond Season 6 we would be risking potentially stretching it too thin. I think when you commit to a show as a viewer, I know it firsthand, you wanna feel like the show is respecting your time. It just felt like get out while you’re ahead and leave people wanting more, hopefully.

GD: You co-directed a few episodes. You co-directed the finale but the Season 6 premiere was the first time that you directed on your own. What was it about that that felt right to tackle that on your own?

DL: I think with everything that I do I’m always aware of how much time and energy I’d need to actually do it properly. I don’t wanna rely on people to do my job for me. The finales of Seasons 5 and 6 felt really important to be a part of as a director and I felt like I had enough bandwidth to co-direct along with my friend Andrew Cividino who I actually met in film school. That was a full-circle moment to bring him onto the show and be able to work with him so closely. But the season premiere of Season 6, the preproduction all happened before we started shooting. I didn’t have any responsibilities as an actor at that point because we were just starting the season, so I knew that I had the time to put into preparing to direct that by myself. It was a fun episode and I knew it inside out. I wrote it. It was an absolute joy.

We, fortunately, have a crew that is so supportive and encouraging and I had camera guys in Season 3 tell me that I should start directing and it just never felt right because I wasn’t there yet. I didn’t have the experience from a production standpoint to really feel like I could do a better job than someone we would hire. I think that’s an important thing to know, especially when you have the freedom and the opportunity to do those things. For me, quality over quantity and quality over opportunity or the potential of opportunity. By Season 6, it felt like I was ready to do this on my own. I enjoy both processes equally. I loved doing that episode by myself but I also loved the collaboration between Andrew and I and I think the season finales of [Seasons] 5 and 6 are two of my all-time favorite episodes. We had a really good time making it and fortunately, we have a cast and crew that are so close and so excited to be working on the show. It really feels like summer camp and it’s kind of corny to discuss because there’s no real headlines in saying everybody loved each other and we all got along, but that’s really how it was. It was a truly special time that we all got to have with each other three months out of the year every year for the past six years.

GD: That’s one of the reasons it’s so fun to watch is because it has so much heart to it. A big part of that this season is the story of David and Patrick’s marriage. I always appreciated how carefully crafted that relationship was from a writing standpoint. Did you always know the endpoint of where you wanted those two to end up?

DL: I knew pretty early on. Probably by Season 4 I knew that it was going to lead to this. I think when you’re given the opportunity to write about your own community, it’s important to be really thorough and really careful about how you depict the relationship and the truths and the foundation of nonchalance. I’ve grown up and have been so used to seeing members of the LGBTQ community presented in film and television as life lessons or as butts of jokes or reduced to caricature and I felt like we have the opportunity in this show to tell a love story that’s really meaningful but also speaks to an experience myself and my friends have gone through. It was particularly important for me to make sure that those stories were told with the kind of accuracy and care that I would wanna see had I not been in charge of it. It was quite remarkable to see the effect that that had on the viewers and in a way, the shift that a lot of our viewers were writing into us about, about the relationships that they have had with their parents that improved or friends and family members that understood them a little more clearly because of the show. Those are unexpected highlights for me in terms of what I’ve taken from this whole experience.

GD: As emotional as his finale is with Noah Reid and Patrick, the reason he stays is Stevie helps him discover the reason he stays and that’s almost emotional as the wedding scene. You and Emily [Hampshire] have such great chemistry. Why do you think that friendship is so successful and so fun to watch on the show?

DL: When you have a cast that just clicks in, and they all like each other and they’re all about coming to work for all the right reasons and there’s no egos that you have to navigate on your way to work, it makes for a very open and honest and free environment. I think that goes for our whole cast. That is obviously set by the standards that my dad and Catherine brought to work. Every day they would show up just wanting to make the best possible television. I think when you have the top of a call sheet setting such a professional and respectful and graceful standard for everybody else, nobody can really step out of line. I think what that’s done for all of our characters is allowed for a level of freedom to experiment and an ease with performance that you might not get had the set been a little more tense.

I know that Emily and I are very good friends personally and have become even closer now that the show is six seasons strong. I think that scene represented so much for both of our characters and I think it was also the second-to-last day for shooting our series so it was a lot of emotion inherently in the air. That scene was one of the hardest scenes that I’ve ever had to write mainly because it’s probably the most dramatic the show has ever gotten and yet at the same time it felt necessary to give those characters that kind of moment. Particularly for David, who I feel like has this archness to him, we’ve seen him vulnerable but we’ve never really gotten to the core of it. It felt like the whole show for him was leading up to this moment where he finally admits that his whole life has just been about trying to prove that he’s not a joke to people. I think when you’re working with talented actors in my case — Emily did such a beautiful job as a scene partner — it just made for a kind of magic in that scene that was really fun to shoot and fun to edit.

GD: Would you say that that’s the way David’s grown the most? All the characters have fantastic arcs and growth over the whole thing when you look back at how shallow and dependent on money they were in the beginning. How do you think that he has grown the most in the series when you look back?

DL: I think inherently the whole show was built on this idea that love is not something you can buy. It’s something you will eventually learn is intangible. Obviously, the first season of our show was constructed so that you could get a sense of how vapid and reliant on materialism our characters were. The structure was always built in there that if we were given multiple seasons, we would slowly but surely unravel and peel back the layers on who these people are but also what they really mean to each other. I think that through-line for the show led to moments of poignancy between tase characters and understanding what they really meant to each other. I think for David, his whole life was about trying to get people to like him and unfortunately, that didn’t work out, particularly in love. To meet someone in this small town who really sees him for the peculiar little strange being that he is, it let his guard down for the first time and I think he was able to take a breath and realize that life is better when you don’t have to try so hard. I think that really led to some pretty emotional revelations for him, poor thing.

As an actor, it was just so much fun to act because I think the show was so fun in the sense that we got to do really great comedy, and not just great comedy bu we got to perform that great comedy with Catherine O’Hara. It was a masterclass just in that regard, but then also to get moments of emotionality was a fun thing to play as well and also incredibly challenging. I think the biggest challenge for me as a writer and also as an actor on the show was just constantly being aware of the fine line between sentimentality, humor and heavy-handedness, and never falling into that corny, waterlogged sentimentality. We always tried to keep it sharp and keep the poignancy in the show as electric as the comedy. That is really a testament to our writers’ room and to our cast.

GD: I think a moment that really exemplifies that is the wedding scene when Catherine O’Hara is trying her best to make it through.

DL: Can I just for a moment, though, talk about her performance in that scene?

GD: Oh yeah.

DL: There are millions of moments over the course of shooting this show where I levitated out of my body and just watched her work but that scene in particular… there’s a small handful that I cherish because I was able to be in that scene with her and really experience it firsthand. The work that she did was so extraordinary and the fact that her character, even though she is dressed to the nines, never took away from David’s moment even though that’s in her DNA to do, it took such skill and such finesse on Catherine’s part to ride that line and cry for an entire day (laughs). And she did. She literally cried through every take because she wanted everybody in that room to get the same kind of performance so that they could do the best work. I think that speaks volumes to her work ethic and unbelievable skill.

GD: Absolutely. I was gonna ask about crying because I heard a few seasons ago when Noah sings “The Best” to you, that she had trouble keeping it together during that take and I wondered if she had similar trouble. It’s such heightened comedy as well. As you said, it balances the emotion. Was that a hard day to get through?

DL: Yeah, it was the last day that we shot on our sets, so, looming in the air over that scene was the understanding that we would wake up tomorrow and the Rosebud Motel and Cafe Tropical and the town hall and the motel lobby are all not going to be standing, and that was so strange and disorienting and emotional for all of us. And then to see us all dressed up, have the whole cast together in one room, there was a magic in the air and it was something that as a showrunner, gave me such a sense of joy because you just knew it was gonna work. I think when you’re putting together a last episode of television, you’re constantly crossing your fingers and holding your breath that it’s going to work and something about that scene, something about the energy of the scene and the performances and how it all clicked together, that was the first indication that I got that, “I think this is going to work. I think we’ve created something really special in this last episode.” Certainly, the tears gave the kind of emotion that lives in that scene. It was a beautiful combination of us saying goodbye to these sets that we’ve come to know and love over the years and also as characters celebrating something that means so much to the show.

GD: An interesting thing really happened to your show midway through its run because you wind up on Netflix and all of the sudden there’s this huge surge of people who discover it that haven’t before. “Ew, David” becomes part of our cultural lexicon now. You finally broke through at the Emmys last year when they caught on as well and you were nominated for Comedy Series and your dad, who has won an Emmy for writing before, got his first nomination as an actor, which was exciting. What was that whole experience like?

DL: It was so surreal because I think when you start out as small as we did, it’s never in your mind. Awards and the level of recognition that we’ve received over the past two years, that just doesn’t exist because you’re so aware of the limitations of your show. And for us, it was about making great television that we could, at the end of the day, lay our heads on our pillow and say to ourselves, “We made some really funny comedy today.” That’s the kind of closure that we were looking at. My dad and I after the first season really said to ourselves, “Even if people don’t watch it, even if it gets taken off the air, we made something that we loved, and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day.” Fortunately, the cherry on top was the fact that people starting watching it slowly but surely. Our trajectory seemed to be the polar opposite of what I think a lot of television experiences, which is a really strong start and then you’re just constantly hoping to keep that viewership. For us, it was the total opposite. We had years where I don’t think anybody was really watching it.

In Canada, it was a success because my dad and Catherine have a history of just being beloved up there, with “SCTV” playing such a huge part of the Canadian cultural entertainment landscape. But to slowly have growth in America and then ultimately the Emmys, it was really something that caught us all off-guard. For me as the creator of the show, knowing how small our budget is, knowing how limited our resources were, knowing how hard our team worked, it was emotional because the Emmy for Comedy Series, in particular, was really a representation of the work of our crew and our cast. To be able to see this Canadian crew that worked so hard with such little money be recognized at the height of American television was truly a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. It continues to be this strangely surreal world that we tend to find ourselves living in now. The fact that people stop me on the street and just scream, “Ew, David” from their cars is both very disorienting and a huge compliment. I don’t think it’ll ever really settle in with us and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I also think when you don’t have any expectations on your show, you’re able to really focus on the work and to have these nominations in our fifth season, our first Emmy nomination in our fifth season, is quite insane to think about, but a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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