Eugene Levy: 'We've never stopped thinking about returning to Schitt's Creek'
The Canadian actor and comedian spoke to Lauren Morris for The Big RT Interview about his new show The Reluctant Traveler, why he's not a fan of reindeer meat and how he's "never stopped thinking" about returning to Schitt's Creek.
As famous eyebrows go, actor and comedian Eugene Levy's have to be up there with the likes of Frida Kahlo and Groucho Marx. Whether furrowed in frustration as Schitt's Creek's Johnny Rose or sky-high in shock after catching his son getting a bit too personal with pastry in American Pie, the Canadian star has spent 50 years breaking comedy boundaries with those brows, and now they're back to their dismayed default in The Reluctant Traveler – although this time, he's not acting.
The upcoming Apple TV+ travel series takes Levy to some of the world's most intriguing locations, from the jungles of Costa Rica and the sumo-wrestling hotspots of Tokyo to the ice-fishing, dog-sledding settings in Norway, however 'reluctant' doesn't seem to be a strong enough word to describe the actor's attitude to travelling.
"Would I ever have gone to Finland on my own for vacation? I don't think so. Too much about it I didn't really care to see in my own world," he says over Zoom, sat in an Apple TV+ press room in London. "What's the food like? Because that's always a big thing for me. I don't have a very exotic palate. I'm kind of a meat and potatoes kind of guy basically for good. I like good food. What are we going to be eating there? Well, reindeer I heard was a big part of it. I'm not into gamey kind of meat."
Levy initially turned down Apple's initial pitch for the show, which was originally set to follow him as he stayed in the world's most exciting hotels. "After initially getting excited about travelling around the world, going to hotels – wow, that's really something – and then literally in the space of the next five seconds, I'm not the person for it.
"To be honest with myself, you know, I'm not. I'm just not somebody who truly enjoys it. I'm not the person to be hosting a show like this because there's certain aspects in a personality. You've got to be able to engage people and chit chat and whatever it is, and that by nature has never been me."
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After Levy listed "all the reasons why [he wasn't] the person" for the show, it wasn't long before the Apple TV+ executive and the show's producer came back with a different angle. "I was getting laughs on the other end of the phone, right? After that phone call, they apparently connected with each other and said, 'Yes that's the show. The fact he doesn't like to travel should be part of the show.'
"I felt more comfortable when that was pitched to me. I said, 'Okay, well if I can be myself and all this kind of naturally comes out in the show, I get why that could be kind of humorous and I totally understand it. Let's give it a go.'"
Being used to seeing Levy play the confident, charismatic businessman Johnny Rose, it comes as a shock to learn that he doesn't consider himself to be a chatty person – and that being himself on screen for once was actually a "frightening" prospect.
"It's an odd thing in this business. I don't want to be the guy in the front of the room that's entertaining the crowd. I'd rather be in the back of the crowd, watching somebody great entertaining the room," he said, occasionally fiddling with his glasses. "I've never really been the type of person in real life who opens up conversations with people I really don't know, I'm not that kind of chit-chatty guy."
"I truly have enjoyed my encounters with the people that I'm meeting on the show. That's been probably the most memorable aspect of the show for me. I'm doing things and Im trying things. I'm not the person I was before this show started," he adds. "I was almost proud of the fact that I didn't want to go places – 'Just leave me alone, that's fine, send me a postcard, let me know how it is hiking in the Himalayas.' But I'm finding now after having done this show and experimented with doing things I would never have done, that you come out looking like a better person."
While the 76-year-old opened himself up to some experiences – ("I tasted reindeer. I didn't care for it. It melted a little too readily in your mouth") – Levy says that Apple were "very patient" about his various vetoes.
"I would rule out locations just because, 'Would I really want to go there in life? No, no I wouldn't. Okay, well let's not do that.' It wasn't hitting me way back in the beginning but now at least we've got one season under our belt, I kind of get what the show is and if they want me to go to a place I would never have gone to, I have to open myself up."
He had "no desire" to go to Costa Rica however, which is the setting for episode 2, and turned down the chance to float down the Amazon in a hotel boat. "I was thinking, 'Well this is a horrible river to be on because what if you have a problem with the boat? What happens if there's a leak in the boat and the boat is going down? We're now scrambling in crocodile-infested, python-infested waters? I don't want to be put in that situation."
On the topic of being up the proverbial stretch of water without a paddle, it's hard to believe that it's nearly been three years since Schitt's Creek – Levy's sleeper-hit sitcom co-created with his real-life son Daniel – came to an end and despite taking on a number of iconic roles throughout his career, it's the role that he's now recognised the most for.
"It seems to be what most people talk about when they see me on the street or in different counties," he says. "Then after that, it's kind of neck and neck with American Pie, which is still up there."
He adds that next is Best in Show, Christopher Guest's 2000 mockumentary featuring a star-studded cast of comedy greats, from Jane Lynch and Fred Willard to Levy's Schitt's Creek co-star Catherine O'Hara and White Lotus comeback queen Jennifer Coolidge ("She's just delightful, I love Jennifer.") In the film, which follows dog trainers as they compete in a prestigious Crufts-style show, Levy plays the owner of a Norwich Terrier who was born with two left feet. "People still like to say, you know, 'I see your feet are normal!' That still goes on 20 years after the fact. So I'd say pretty much those are my one, two and three."
However, Levy won over a new generation of fans with Schitt's Creek, which picked up nine Emmys towards the end of its six-year run, and they're not the only ones missing the show. "I miss the cast. Fortunately, I see my kids, that's good," he says, referring to Dan Levy, who plays David Rose, and his daughter Sarah Levy, who plays ditzy waitress Twyla Sands.
"It was a great production, mostly everybody was on the show for all six years. It was really just such a delightful show to do. The fact that I'm working with my son and daughter, it was kind of a gift to fatherhood I guess. I thought it was hitting on all cylinders pretty much from the first season right through to our last."
As for whether he'd ever return to the show, Levy says that while it's a "never say never" situation, he has discussed its future with Dan. "I know my son Daniel has said this, we'd love to get together with these people again and take the show and the characters to yet another level.
"There's nothing in the works right now to be honest, but you know, we've never stopped thinking about what might happen down the line. We're certainly open to anything, I think when the idea that is the right idea presents itself we'll probably act on, I guess."
It may be a while until we see the father-son duo work together again, with 39-year-old Dan currently busy with the new season of Sex Education, HBO's The Idol and an upcoming film. "Daniel is doing quite well on his own right now. He doesn't need the old man on his back you know, that kind of baggage he doesn't need. Sarah's got her show, Surreal Estate, that she's just finished the second season on so it's good to see them out of the nest and soaring, doing what they're doing so well. They don't need dad."
Returning to The Reluctant Traveler once again, Levy says that he would "love to do" another season. "I love hanging out with everybody, the crew and the production team are insanely great, gifted people and it makes it fun to work on the show."
When I ask whether he has any destinations in mind, the Canadian actor's iconically furry eyebrows once again rise. "No. There's not one location where I'd say, 'I'm dying to go there.' I can't honestly say that." I guess Levy is still just as reluctant as before.
The Reluctant Traveler arrives on Apple TV+ on Friday 24th February. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide or visit our hub for more Entertainment news.
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