Eugene Levy earned another two Emmy nominations this year for producing and starring in “Schitt’s Creek.” He is a past Emmy winner as part of the writing team of “SCTV.”
Levy recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann about “Schitt’s Creek” getting recognition for its last few seasons, working with Catherine O’Hara and how he considers the series to be the best thing he’s done in his career. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: It’s great to have you back at the Emmys here. You’ve gotten another nomination as Johnny and you submitted the episode “The Pitch” as your Emmy episode where a pitch doesn’t go quite as well as Johnny hoped, it has unexpected circumstances. But the thing that really struck me about that episode is it’s so interesting to see him as well as the other couple characters that travel with him outside of the rural setting of the Schitt’s Creek town and Johnny is suddenly back in his old stomping grounds. So what was it like to plop Johnny back into this urban setting, back into a boardroom for the first time in years?
Eugene Levy: Well, it was important and it was the only time in all the time since they got to Schitt’s Creek that you got to see him in business mode. Johnny, in terms of how he behaved, how he reacted to the family’s situation in getting to Schitt’s Creek, he was in, I would say, CEO mode in terms of keeping the family together and keeping a ray of optimism alive for them while they were going through this. That was, I think, as close to what you would have seen Johnny do in the real business world as we could get. “The Pitch” episode really got him to New York to pitch a very big deal and you got a really good glimpse as to what he was like when he was running Rose Video.
GD: It’s a great framing of his former life and then his two new proteges, really, as he’s being in business mode standing there beside him, because his proteges are now these small-town new business people. I’m curious because this is the sixth and final season and as you just watch the episode and see that kind of framing there of where he has been and where he is now, what, for you, has changed the most about Johnny from his time in Schitt’s Creek?
EL: Well, I would venture to say that it’s probably his role as a dad. He and Moira never really understood what it was like to be a parent when they had money. Money solves everything. If there was any kind of conflict in the family with the kids, lay some money on them and things will magically disappear. They did take trips together. That’s true. But they never really did spend a lot of time with them when they were small, sending them away to school, having nannies and then when they were young adults, they were off doing their own thing. Alexis partying around the world and half the stuff we just really didn’t care to know about or didn’t want to know about and David was running his galleries, which we were completely funding for him. It was learning to be parents that were the big changes for Moira and Johnny, what it was like to feel love in the sense of giving more than receiving. That was a big one.
GD: And in real life, in terms of being a parent and giving pitches, your son Dan [Levy] actually pitched the show to you, the idea behind it and you co-created this together. Back in those original days when he first brought up this idea, did you see any of what the show would become back then?
EL: Oh, no, no. I mean, my thing was when he came to me and said, “I’ve got an idea for a show, do you want to work on it with me?” I mean, number one, I was delighted and thrilled that he came to me for the first time because everything else in his life he was doing on his own just to show people what he was doing, he was doing on his own, nothing to do with me. But when he came to me with this idea, the whole thing was, “I will do everything I can to try and get this thing to fruition, to get it on the air.” And when we finally got our show on the air up in Canada at the CBC, that was it. I could not have been happier. We had done it, and we were now doing a half-hour show on television every week. It’s kind of what we set out to do, and lo and behold, we never saw any of this coming. to be honest. We didn’t even know we were gonna get a second season. We just put it out there and did the work. So all this is just icing on the cake. A lot of icing, I got to be honest. There’s a lot of icing on this baby, but I think it’s just all the hard work paid off from everybody.
GD: In the final episode, you get to watch David and Patrick get married. What was it like, because you have to play opposite your son all the time and I just kind of imagine that you’re as proud of him as Johnny is of David. So what was that experience like filming the final episode and the wedding ceremony?
EL: Well, it was a storyline that Daniel carefully crafted and opened up a whole window to our show, which was an extremely important window. Love and inclusivity, a really, really important part of the personality of our show. So this was built so carefully, this relationship. Noah Reid, who played Patrick, was quite amazing. As an actor, I loved his work and he was such a great balance to the character of David and it was just so natural and so real and so loving and by the time we got to the wedding. I mean, to be honest, everybody in rehearsing that scene, there was not enough Kleenex in the studio to do that scene. The Jazzagals singing “Simply the Best” and, oh, God. What was the other song?
GD: “Precious Love,” I think?
EL: “Precious Love.” Thank you. Drew a blank on that. That was it. Got everybody going. So it was an emotional day and just such a great culmination for David’s character, considering where he started and how much trouble and how conflicted a character he actually was, was nice to see such a sweet ending.
GD: Yeah, I think the sweetness and the love that’s underneath everything that you’ve described is kind of a reason why the show has done so well and people connected with it and one of those aspects, I think it’s you and Catherine O’Hara are so wonderful to watch together. I think probably because there’s just so much history between you two from “SCTV,” from your Christopher Guest films. You have a great resume together. What is the biggest benefit for you of acting opposite someone who has all that shared history?
EL: Well, it’s so comfortable and I think the history comes through in the relationship of Moira and Johnny, because we don’t have to do that much acting to give people the sense that these people have been married for 40 years. Working with Catherine has just been great. I mean, it’s 40+ years we’ve been working together on and off and we have the same style of working. I mean, we’ve spent our lives in comedy and yet innately, we’re not funny people. We love to get our comedy off the ground through the characters that we play, and we take that seriously. So working together, we work well together because we don’t mind going over things and going over things and making sure we’re exactly in sync. It’s just a very comfortable way of working. If you work one way and the person you’re playing opposite is working in a completely different plane, it’s really hard to get that end result that you want. So it’s been a joyous experience to work with Catherine on this for six years. No question about it. As joyous as it was to work with my own kids, Daniel and Sarah [Levy], on this thing, which made this experience of “Schitt’s Creek” just all the sweeter.
GD: I can imagine, and it’s interesting because it’s a very heightened show because it’s a comedy. But when you have characters like Moira and even your children, Alexis and David on the show, Johnny is in a way a bit more straitlaced compared to these wild people. He’s, as you say, sort of in CEO mode a lot of the time. Is it difficult to stay in that demeanor when you have all of these very flamboyant characters around you?
EL: It’s hard to not laugh a lot of times. That’s true. I would credit Chris Elliott with doing his best to kick me off that high wire of straightness. But I have to say, it was an exciting choice for me to do that, to play straight, because it’s not what I’ve been doing in my career. I always found the closer I get to playing a character that looks like me, the less confidence I had going on camera for all those years. So that’s why I just played characters that just had a particular look to them because it was more comfortable for me and I felt more confident playing characters that looked completely different. But this was something that was exciting from the get-go to play the character that keeps the storyline going, that keeps everything grounded. I was very excited to do that. And I mean, ain’t that the irony that for the first time in my life, I have two acting nominations, Emmy-wise, for this character. So something kind of clicked there. I got comfortable playing somebody who looks like me (laughs).
GD: Well, I’m glad you brought up those Emmy nominations, because when I think of you and your career, it’s someone who you kind of couldn’t believe last year, it’s like, “Wow. That’s Eugene Levy’s first acting nomination.” You do have two wins for writing from “SCTV.” But you had never been singled out as an actor before at the Emmys. So what did that feel like to finally be recognized for that side of your skills?
EL: It felt pretty damn good. I have to say, for acting, I mean, the stuff that I’ve been doing is I spent a career playing the comic relief. I come into projects. I come in for a few scenes. I get my laughs. I don’t have to carry any story, no exposition, and that’s what I’m paid to do, and that was kind of a fun thing for me. I wasn’t really expecting any trophies for that work. Just doing that work was rewarding enough to be able to come in and do that. So listen, I don’t know, this is all a shock to me, to be honest, at this stage in my career, to have this kind of work, what you’re doing on camera, recognized by the other people who are doing the same kind of work is pretty amazing. I have to say, if it’s going to happen, I’d rather have it happen now at this stage in my life than if I had been 20 and had it happen.
GD: Well, I was thinking, one of my favorite Christopher Guest films of yours is “For Your Consideration,” which lampoons the whole awards season culture and I think your agent character there would be very pleased.
EL: (Laughs.) Yes, he would’ve got excited.
GD: Before I let you go, I just wanted to talk about this show has had such an interesting trajectory because so many series really start out with their maximum amount of viewers, maximum amount of attention, and then as the series goes on, numbers dwindle or awards dwindle. You guys have had the opposite effect where suddenly people discovered you late in the game. So what has it been like seeing all that come right at the end of this experience? And what are you going to miss about “Schitt’s Creek” the most?
EL: Well, first of all, the fact that the recognition seemed to happen later in the run, I think was a good thing. It’s always scary when you come out with a show and it’s a huge hit right out of the gate and then you’re just thinking, “How do I maintain this? Where do we go from here?” We had no expectations. We were just trying to do the kind of show we wanted to do on a budget that was considerably lower than most shows. So the recognition that the show got in the last, I would say, two years in particular was just unbelievably gratifying, and the idea that we ended the show when we did was the right decision because everything just naturally came to a wonderful conclusion, story-wise. We didn’t want to take a chance on extending that. So that, plus the recognition we got as we wound it down, was about as good as it gets. What am I going to miss about the show? I’ll miss everybody that I worked with. I’ll miss the cast and our crew. A lot of our crew was there from the very first season and it was such a joy to go to work every day with these people. It was such an exceptionally brilliant cast, if I may say, such great young actors to work with, and Catherine. But I actually did learn a lot working with these people and that, plus the work that Daniel did and our great writers over the years, I don’t know if something like this will come up again. But at least I can say it did come up and I did it and it turned out to be the best thing that I’ve been involved with in my entire career.