Dan Levy Cried Over the End of Schitt’s Creek (and You Will Too)
With the last season of Schitt’s Creek upon us, we talked to creator and star Dan Levy about saying goodbye, that “Simply the Best” scene, and taking off David Rose’s shoes one last time.
Dan Levy can’t recall exactly how long it took, but it was months, not days. He’d been patiently scouring eBay, biding his time, before he finally found the exact Helmut Lang hoodie, in his size, that had lived in his brain like a virus since before Schitt’s Creek even premiered.
I’m sitting on a pleasantly plush sofa, overlooking the quiet neighborhood in which Levy has made his Los Angeles home, as he tries to explain to me why this extremely specific sartorial choice was so important to him. “I felt like it was so something that David Rose would need,” he says. As the person who both created and played David for five seasons on Schitt’s Creek, with the sixth and final season on the horizon, Levy should know. And so he looked and looked until he finally found it—and then one day there it was on the screen, all black and with plumage, saying a whole lot about David Rose’s personality without saying a word.
We’ve known each other for all of 15 minutes, but it is already very clear to me that Dan Levy is not the kind of person who does anything accidentally. He has similarly high and exacting standards for the products he uses in his own life, which hinges on the self-sufficiency that has made him one of TV’s most self-possessed rising stars. Even this interview—originally scheduled for dinner at a nearby restaurant—was moved to Levy’s home so he could be around to sign for a package.
When we meet, Levy is at the end of a long day spent in the editing bay, working on the final cuts of the final episodes of Schitt’s Creek. Tomorrow, he’ll hop on a plane to begin the next leg of the Schitt’s Creek tour: a live, extended celebration of the series, performed in sold-out theaters full of adoring fans. “It’s like campaigning,” he says, smiling and raising his thick eyebrows over his glasses, “with a lot less at stake.”
But now—for a couple of hours, at least—Dan Levy is looking backward, not forward. Over a glass of Chardonnay in his stylish-but-cozy living room, Levy went deep on a few of his favorite things, and reflected on the remarkable rise of Schitt’s Creek and the characters and choices that have turned it into the feel-good TV show of these feel-bad times.
GQ: Schitt’s Creek premiered in 2015. That’s a fairly long time ago—but even after five seasons, it feels like the show is still picking up steam. Season five earned Schitt’s Creek’s best-ever reviews and its first Emmy nominations. As someone on the inside, do you have a sense of why and how the show keeps growing every year?
Dan Levy: I don’t know how it happened. I think inherently, the structure of the show always lent itself to: the more you watch, the more you’ll care. It was always our intention that you grow along with the family. That the first season presents people in a very superficial light—and season after season, if we were given the opportunity, we would peel back the layers on these people.
By the end of season two, we had the first time [the Rose family says] “I love you” to each other in the barn—which was really the potential end of the series. And also the beginning. You can’t just turn people on a dime. The show itself was a slow burn, and fortunately we had the sort of runway to let it breathe and let the audience grow. It took 26 episodes to earn that.
As a creator, writer, director, and star on Schitt’s Creek, what has it been like living through a year that’s essentially a series of professional goodbyes?
We had to say so many goodbyes. We said goodbye to our sets. We said goodbye to certain characters that didn’t come with us on location. It was just a lot of goodbyes. It did get to a point where I had to tell the team, “We can’t be acknowledging all the lasts, because it’s going to ruin me.” We can’t say, “Well, this is the last time Dan picks up a pen,” because I’ll cry, and I don’t want to cry over having picked up a pen. It’s not worth the tears.
I obviously don’t want you to spoil anything—but on a personal level, how was the last day of shooting?
It was really, really hard. The last day of shooting was the most emotional day I think I’ve ever had in my life. I cried for, I want to say, five straight hours, to the point where I had a splitting headache and didn’t know what to do with my life. I wept when I took David’s shoes off. I will never wear those shoes again—nor do I want to—but I was very sad to take them off.
As you’ve gone through the process of writing and shooting and editing the final season over the past year, have you ever thought, Shit, I wish we had a season seven after all?
No. I wasn’t ready to go, but the story was set up to be finished. I wish there was more story to tell, because I would love to do this forever—but respecting the characters and respecting the quality of the storytelling, it just felt like, “This is it.” I had intended to end it in season five, and then we got picked up for two seasons. And I thought, Okay, well…now I can spend 28 episodes instead of 14 building the last couple chapters of this series. The minute I knew that was the minute I started writing to the end.
Let’s go way back. You originally pitched Schitt’s Creek to premium channels like HBO and Showtime. How much has the show changed from your initial concept to what it is now?
Completely different. I don’t think we knew what it was back then. It was a 14-minute pilot that we shot for no money. The characters were kind of different. It really wasn’t until we got the first season pick-up, and we sat in that writers’ room and figured out what is this show about. That’s when the show came to life.
A clear turning point, for both the show and for your character specifically, was when Patrick came into the series. When he was introduced, you didn’t know for sure that he would ultimately turn out to be David’s lifelong partner, right?
I went into it with the hope that he would become a romantic love interest for David. I knew [actor Noah Reid, who plays Patrick] socially—but I had never acted with him, so I didn’t know what our chemistry would be like. I didn’t have time to go to his audition and run the scenes with him. That’s why the end of season three ends the way it does, with the kiss in the car. A kiss could lead to more, or it could lead to nothing.
In the context of TV history, one thing that’s particularly striking about David and Patrick’s relationship is that the highs and lows aren’t really any different than those that might be faced by a heterosexual couple. Schitt’s Creek is very consciously—and, at this point, very famously—a town in which homophobia and other kinds of bigotry just…don’t exist.
In a way, I wrote it as a response to my own growing up: trying to see myself on television, and really not seeing gay characters represented casually. Every time there was a gay character, it was the butt of a joke, or they were a caricature, or they were in trouble, or they were killed. All of that is representing different elements of the culture—but I never saw a gay character just fall in love, and have it be okay, and become a better person for it.
So it was a very simple choice that I made. But one that I had no idea would affect a kind of ripple. That people would respond in the way that they have. I’ve had letters from people who found the show while they were contemplating suicide. I’ve had people who were kicked out of their homes because they were queer, and the show was a family for them when they didn’t have one. There were people whose parents watched the show and changed their understanding or perception of who their children were because they saw parents on the show accepting their kids—and as a result, they accepted their children. You really don’t expect that when you go set out to write a comedy.
Category: Photo Sessions
Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been a bit busy. I’ve added all the missing photos of Dan from recent public appearances and photo sessions. Enjoy!
September 21 – Showtime Emmy Eve Nominees Celebrations
September 22 – Backstage Creations Giving Suite At The Emmy Awards
September 22 – Emmy Awards
September 28 – GLAAD Gala San Francisco
September 28 – GLAAD Gala San Francisco: Inside
Photo Session #011
Photo Session #009
Photo Session #005 – recent additions
2019 – TV Guide: Behind the Scenes
Ew, David! Dan Levy Is Our Fashion Issue Cover Star
For his first Out cover, Levy talks the end of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ — and what’s next.
Dan Levy knows, perhaps a little too well, that all good things must come to an end. Barely one year after Schitt’s Creek — the show he created, produced, wrote, and starred in — became an international phenomenon, Levy resolved to bring the series to its finale. “We’ve decided season six will be our last,” he wrote in a letter addressed to “Our Dear Fans,” which was published via social media. “It’s not lost on us what a rare privilege it is in this industry to get to decide when your show should take its final bow. We could never have dreamed that our fans would grow to love and care about these characters in the ways that you have.”
Although it was a brave and lauded creative decision — ending a series at its height versus waiting for it to fade, episode after episode — the gravity of it didn’t really sink in until one evening on set, when the last “Cut!” was announced. While everyone began to pack up and head out, Levy, who had been running on 11 total hours of sleep over the past six days of filming, finally allowed himself to realize what was happening. “I was just reveling in every single moment,” he says. “When I went to bed every night, I did so knowing that I was savoring every last drop of this experience.”
After the sets had mostly emptied, Levy began to wander through the universe he built — with the help of his father — some seven years ago. Starting with the motel rooms where the Rose family landed, indignant, after their unceremonious fall from wealth, he took in everything from the rickety beds to Moira Rose’s famous wall of wigs. He revisited the check-in desk of the Rosebud Motel, where his character, David, once flirted mischievously with Stevie (played by Emily Hampshire), and the Café Tropical diner, where Twyla (played by his sister, Sarah Levy) served as an open ear for the endearingly self-absorbed Alexis (Annie Murphy).
After concluding his lap around the set, Levy re-entered the Rose’s motel room for the last time. There, he found his onscreen sister, Murphy, having her own final moment with the place their characters would learn to lovingly (if begrudgingly) call home. They locked eyes, and wordlessly, hugged each other tightly as the tears came. There was no “Ew, David” to be heard.
For now, though, the sadness around the show’s ending has mostly subsided, thanks to some welcome distractions. The final season of Schitt’s will air in 2020, and Levy is still very much immersed in the Rose family’s antics. “I’m currently editing the third episode,” he says over the phone. “But by the time I get to 11, 12, or 13, I think I’ll be feeling it again in a big way.”
This month, for the first time, Levy and the Schitt’s team will head to the Emmys, where they’re nominated in four categories — including Best Comedy Series, Lead Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series (for Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, respectively), and Outstanding Contemporary Costumes. “It’s surreal,” Levy says of the honor. “A show this small — if we were to just lay out the ingredients — should never have ended up at the Emmys. It’s an impossibility! The fact that we somehow got there and were the dark horse on all these lists and surpassed all these different shows? It doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s hard to say whether or not Levy, who exudes a distinctly Canadian niceness, is simply being humble here or totally sincere. Either way, what’s easier to say is that, on this topic, he’s completely wrong. Schitt’s Creek always had the ingredients of a truly fantastic, award-winning show. It just took the rest of us to catch up to its genius.
Eugene Levy insists he never knew his children wanted to follow in his career footsteps. “It’s not something I would’ve encouraged,” he says, admitting, “It’s not the easiest way to make a living.”
A younger Daniel Levy didn’t always make his ambitions known — in fact, he may have conveyed the opposite intentions during his teenage years. “As a kid, he never liked the idea that I would be recognized or that people would come up to me on the street,” his father says. “So if we were walking together, he’d always walk up ahead of the family.”
As Levy grew older and more interested in things like school plays or productions, his father would ask if he needed assistance, like running lines or words of wisdom. “It was always, ‘I got it. No, that’s fine, thanks. But I got it.’” While there’s a common belief that proximity to the spotlight comes with its perks and privileges, Levy never really wanted anything to do with it. “Growing up, once I started to realize that I enjoyed acting, I knew that when people heard I was my dad’s son, there was an impulse to compare us or even write me off,” he says.
“I always told myself that if I were ever to work with my dad or approach him about help, I’d want to be completely confident and very sure that the idea I would bring to him — considering I respect him so much — was one of quality. It came down to just being confident in what I could bring to the table.”
About a year before he was due to graduate college, Levy was approached by MTV for a spot on its new daily show, MTV Live. “It was one of those opportunities where I could always go back to school, but I didn’t know if I’d always have the opportunity to be a host on MTV at the age of 20,” he says. So, he dropped out and dove headfirst into the entertainment business. All the while, he made sure the name he was making for himself was distinctly his own: It would be five years before Levy would feel comfortable enough in his abilities to publicly acknowledge his father.
But even with the MTV job — and the TV and film gigs that would eventually accompany it — Levy still felt like he hadn’t reached his true potential. “A lot of it, for me, goes back to Oprah,” he says. “Watching what she was able to do with her platform, and how she was able to turn daytime TV into focusing on the good, inspirational stories that changed conversations and inspired us made me ask myself, ‘How do you do something like that? You’ll never be Oprah. But what can you possibly do in your life that can service the greater good?’”
The answer, of course, came to him while watching reality television, where a novel thought popped into his head: “What would happen if one of these wealthy families would lose everything? Would the Kardashians still be the Kardashians?”
Finally, for what Eugene Levy says was the first time in his life, his son Daniel asked him for help.
The most crucial part of Schitt’s Creek’s genius came in the form of “character work,” an exhaustive process inspired by Eugene Levy’s collaborations with the director Christopher Guest, who inspired vibrant (and hilarious) performances in his mockumentaries Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman. “We spent probably two weeks writing out the biographies of each and every one of the characters,” says the younger Levy. “That was one of the greatest gifts my dad gave me, because I really wanted to just write it, and he was the one who said that we needed to take the time to figure out who the people are first, and that the writing was last, the icing on the cake.”
The duo created timelines dating all the way back to their characters’ elementary and middle school years, detailing everything from where they worked to what perfume they wore at which point in their lives. “Once we understood who they were, that’s when we had the freedom to push them to their limits, and knew how to bring out their best and worst,” Levy says.
Levy’s favorite part of character work, though, was inspired by one of his very favorite television shows: Sex and the City. “I looked at how Patricia Field played with clothes in that show,” he explains. “For us, I don’t want the characters to constantly have to tell the audience, ‘We used to be rich.’ So the most effective device we had sometimes was their wardrobe — it’s a constant reminder they came from money.”
The best illustration of this is probably the outlandish wardrobe of Moira Rose, whose fascinators, shoes, and purses often look hilariously (if fabulously) out of place. Levy has personally taken it upon himself to track down numerous standout pieces for his characters, including a pair of penguin-like boots by Balenciaga, a “spine heel” by DSquared2, and a pink strapless dress from Raf Simons’ final collection for Jil Sander, which Alexis wore in the series premiere.
After the character work was mostly settled, Levy put the icing on the cake — as in, he wrote the script — and the show’s first season premiered on the CBC in Canada on January 13, 2015 (and later, on Pop TV in America). Once the reviews hit, Levy’s worst fear (being compared unfavorably to his father) seemed to come true: Variety called the show a “slapdash exercise that can give nepotism a bad name,” while The New York Times went further, saying he didn’t “appear to have inherited any of his father’s comic acting abilities.”
Unfazed, Schitt’s Creek garnered an impressive audience, exhibiting growth season after season — and, according to Vulture, the show saw “its linear ratings more than double and its overall audience soar past 3 million viewers.” But there are two things that put the small town of Schitt’s Creek on the map in a big way for American audiences.
First is purely a data game: Schitt’s debuted on Netflix in 2017 and, while the streaming service famously doesn’t give out audience numbers, anyone who logged onto social media in its aftermath could’ve sensed its impact. What Netflix lacks in transparent data can be seen in casual conversation: Schitt’s Creek became the little-known sitcom that everyone was talking about.
“Whenever the season drops [on Netflix], it feels like we’ve just relaunched. We see a lot of social media activity,” Levy told Vulture.
Second, though, is something that’s a lot nearer and dearer to audiences’ hearts: the romantic storyline shared between David and Patrick (Noah Reid). Instead of the comedy using these two gay characters as their punchline (which is all too common), Levy intentionally made Schitt’s Creek a town without homophobia, thus turning the trope of the “small-minded small-town folks” on its head.
“From day one, the town was going to be an oasis in terms of acceptance and love,” Levy says. “What we didn’t want was for the small town to be the butt of the joke — we wanted the joke to be on the Rose family, and how they learn by watching this town that’s high-functioning, loving, confident, secure, and accepting.”
So when Patrick arrives as a sort of small-town Prince Charming, an extra layer of sentimentality was added to Schitt’s Creek. There was one storyline in season four that tugged at the heartstrings of audiences everywhere, prompting headlines, analyses, and rave reviews the very morning after it aired. (TV Guide would call it “the most romantic scene on television.”) The scene itself was relatively simple — in fact, we’ve watched versions of it dozens of times, only portrayed by heterosexual characters. During an open mic night, Patrick takes the stage and, in front of the entire town, begins to serenade David with an acoustic version of Tina Turner’s “The Best.” The camera alternates between the two of them, locking eyes adoringly, as their loved ones look on.
“There’s a moment in that scene where Catherine, as Moira, caught up in the moment, reaches out and grabs my arm,” Levy recalls. “That was a choice she made that I wish I’d scripted, because it could bring me to tears thinking about it right now. Just the physical touch and support of a parent to their queer child in a moment of such vulnerability — it spoke volumes to me in terms of what this show is about and what we wanted it to stand for.”
Later on in the series, Patrick’s parents come to town, and the Roses quickly realize that they are unaware of his being gay (or his relationship with David). The characters’ subsequent tiptoeing around Patrick’s sexual orientation delivers quite the comedy Schitt’s is known for, but the episode ultimately ends in a touching coming-out scene. “You are the only thing in the world that matters to us,” his mother says, grabbing Patrick’s hands in hers. “And if David makes you happy, then that’s all we care about.”
Levy’s own coming out was, he admits, slightly less climactic than the one he wrote for television. One day when they were out to lunch together, his mom casually popped the question: Are you gay? Relieved, he answered in the affirmative, his family was then told, and that was that. “In retrospect, I was just waiting for her to ask, because I really don’t know whether or not I would’ve had the strength to do it on my own. I’m grateful to her for that.”
Still, Patrick’s coming out was, he says, “the most difficult episode” he’s ever written. “My hope was that if other parents saw how love-filled that moment could be, that might inspire them to do the same thing.”
Dan was in attendance yesterday at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival (TIFF). I’ve added photos to the gallery. He looked so dapper as usual. Enjoy!
Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve taken time and updated the gallery with hundreds of missing photos from recent public appearances, magazine scans, and photo sessions. Enjoy all the pretties and be sure to visit Annie Murphy Fan for new photos of Annie.
2019 – Entertainment Weekly
Photo Session #003 – recent additions
Photo Session #005
Photo Session #006
Photo Session #007
2019: Vanity Fair: Behind the Scenes
June 15 – MTV Awards
June 15 – MTV Awards: Ceremony
June 10 – NBA Finals
May 30 – For Your Consideration “Schitt’s Creek” Event
May 25 – Up Close and Personal with “Schitt’s Creek”
May 25 – Up Close and Personal with “Schitt’s Creek”: Panel
May 19 – EEEEEatscon
May 19 – EEEEEatscon: Panel
March 30 – Canadian Screen Awards – recent additions
March 27 – Canadian Screen Awards Gala – recent additions
For Dan Levy, the End Is Just the Beginning
Dan Levy is morbidly afraid of bees. Hates them. He had a terrible run in with one when it went down his sweater during a day of shooting on his breakout Canadian sitcom, Schitt’s Creek. And yet, as he prepares to moderate the first of two sold-out nights of Schitt’s Creek’s Up Close and Personal Tour in February at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, he kind of looks like a bee. Fast and buzzing and sporting thick, dark-rimmed glasses that magnify the size of his eyes. On the chance you catch him standing still, you’d notice a fist-sized bee on his blue cardigan sweater, embroidered across his heart. The sweater choice could be a coincidence, but after spending two hours at lunch with Levy a few days before, it’s hard not to believe it’s on purpose. He likes to face the things that scare him. He has a strategy for overcoming them.
I’m standing in the corner of a tiny green room with the entire cast of Schitt’s Creek. It’s so small that it looks like a miniature motel room—a perfect setting to observe the actors who play a once-wealthy family, now living out of a motel. But while Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy’s wife exchange stories, I can’t stop watching the younger Levy. The lifespan of most primetime sitcoms is a lot like a bee’s lifespan—short, frenzied, and fleeting. And whether anyone else in the room knows it yet, this sitcom is nearing its final act; a month later, on March 21, Levy will announce the next season, its sixth, would be its last. Thinking back on our lunch, I almost feel like Levy was hinting at it. “I’m excited for what’s to come, but I also care so deeply about this show, and I think so many times showrunners will set up a show and jump ship to work on something else,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine doing that with this show.”
But the reality is that Levy’s greatest creation yet is ending on his own terms. And while 3,000 people are downstairs waiting in feathered hats, screaming “Simply the best!” at nothing in particular, this tour is a way of him introducing himself to the world. They already know David Rose. They love David and Alexis and Johnny and Moira. (God, do they love Moira.) But they don’t know Dan. Not yet. And he’s the one worth knowing. After all, he’s the one who invented this world, and he’ll be the one still around after it’s over.
Of course, the world in question is that of the small town of Schitt’s Creek. The Rose family, fresh from financial ruin, has relocated to the town the family’s patriarch, Johnny, once bought for his son as a joke. Over the course of five seasons, the Rose family has not only adapted to the town and the two room motel-suite they call home, but in a way they’ve thrived. It’s in Schitt’s Creek that they’ve learned to love each other and the people around them—people they never would have interacted with otherwise. And now at the end of Season Five, two of the Roses seem to be settling down in the town, despite the desperate urge to escape a few dozen episodes ago.
The decision to say goodbye to the series is bittersweet. While other shows begin to wane around Season Five, Schitt’s Creek is an anomaly. The series garnered its first Critics Choice nomination in 2018, and its arrival on Netflix has bolstered its fanbase to cult-like status. But like in the opening scene, when the government repossessed most of the Rose family’s possessions, nothing lasts forever—neither wealth nor sitcoms. You pack up what you’ve learned (along with your best wigs), embrace your fear, and move on.
A couple of days before the Beacon Theatre show, Levy meets me for lunch in something a bit more casual: a gray sweatshirt, and the same signature dark-rimmed glasses. He’d been writing something, but he can’t say what. Actually, there’s a few things he can’t talk about when we first sit down. He hints at “A Little Bit Alexis” and big plot points to come as Season Five comes to an end, but the big thing he can’t discuss is the series finale of Schitt’s Creek ahead of its sixth and final season. “I think, in a way, I know how it ends,” Levy says. “I’ve known for a long time.” But for now, that’s all he’s ready to reveal.
In an era when there’s more television available than one person could ever digest, Levy’s perfectly podunk town managed to break out of the pack. On an emotional level, it’s likely because Schitt’s Creek feeds a craving that’s poorly served on television right now. “There needs to be some kind of correspondence between the clouds that are hanging over us over these past few years and people’s desires to find and surround themselves with joy,” Levy says. “I think what sitcoms have provided for people is consistency and a place where they can spend half an hour and just turn off.”
But Levy’s first self-made television project isn’t just a sitcom. It’s also a bit of a perfect storm. In the United States, Schitt’s Creek airs on Pop, a small but stable home for the series. Pop (and its Canadian home on CBC) allows Levy the freedom to create a microcosm in which pansexual David Rose can date and exchange affection with another man and no one bats an eye. It’s idyllic, and it features the kind of gestures that typically aren’t on display on networks like NBC or CBS. Prejudice seemingly doesn’t exist in Schitt’s Creek. “To be able to present a love story that’s without fear of consequence was something that I wanted from the very beginning,” Levy says before pausing to collect this thoughts. “Something that I never wanted to compromise on.”
Levy sees Schitt’s Creek as an opportunity to show something on television he didn’t see growing up. “Some of the time, I think bigotry comes from fear of things that people don’t see,” he says. “I think as human beings… people don’t process fear well.” Levy incorporated people of all types into the landscape of Schitt’s Creek, but instead of approaching it like shows that throw in a token black character or give another character The Gay Storyline, he folded it into the show’s core. He normalized the elephant in the room, and from his vantage point, it’s only been for the best. “Conversations are being created in the home,” Levy says with a smile, “because parents and their [children] are watching this show and loving these characters together.”
The opportunity to do something bigger has always been on Levy’s mind. He’s a theater kid at his core and has no problem working hard, but writing a television show wasn’t particularly how he thought he’d do it. As he grew up, his mother had her cards read three times and told Levy that he was going to find success in writing one day. He wasn’t convinced. “Even when I was at MTV hosting—which I hated, it never felt comfortable,” Levy admits of his time at MTV Canada, first appearing on MTV Live and then on after-shows for series like The Hills and The City. “But it was a job, and I was going to do my best. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, Writing is still not a thing that I would ever do for a living.”
Zoom forward a few years; Levy had left his job at MTV and wasn’t landing any of his auditions. At that point, he was convinced that if hosting wasn’t the right thing (even though it did lead to meeting and interviewing Kelly Clarkson), something else had to be. “I think I’ve always been someone who has worked really hard at manifesting ideas,” Levy says between bites. “Good and bad. Successful and, you know, not so.” Instead of sticking with the hustle, he changed the rules. “If I’m terrible at auditioning, at least I can write something to my own strengths and try my best at whatever that is.” Turned out he was pretty damn good at that.
That hustling comes in part from having parents who were determined not to let a privileged life go to Levy’s head. His father Eugene is the prolific comedian known for his work on SCTV and a number of Christopher Guest films along with co-star Catherine O’Hara, who plays the Rose family matriarch. But that wasn’t a world in which Levy was ingrained too deeply. While he has anecdotes about growing up with family friends Martin Short and O’Hara nearby, he also recalls his parents dropping him off in front of a GAP Kids at 15-years-old, saying, “Don’t come home until you have a job application in your hand.”
Levy took that message to heart. He credits his mom with keeping him and his sister, Sarah, grounded through the years. “I think what my mom’s big message through all of that was was, ‘I don’t want to take away the joy of earning something yourself.’” That’s why Schitt’s Creek has been so personal to Levy. Sure, he could have ridden his father’s coattails, but the CBC show is ultimately one founded in equal parts determination, love, and necessity. The connection to Eugene and his close friendship to O’Hara is a bonus, but Schitt’s Creek is fully a Levy manifestation.
Eugene says that early on he’d give feedback and even tried his hand at directing. Ultimately, he admits that his son is the lynchpin of the series. “You don’t always get to spend this much time with your adult kids in any other profession,” Eugene says, before pausing in the same fashion his son is prone to. “You see them maybe once a month? Every few weeks? So this is kind of neat. Cherish every moment because one day, it won’t be happening.”
That ending is sooner than fans hoped it would be. As we finish lunch, I suggest that perhaps Schitt’s Creek didn’t have to end, but Dan promptly noted that there is a definitive ending, arguing, “Moira will never fully feel like this is her home.” But that doesn’t mean that everyone is jetting out of Schitt’s Creek in the next season. Though the series finale announcement seems sudden, Dan isn’t the kind of showrunner who is going to make a knee-jerk decision about a series he’s invested so much in: “I stand behind the idea of never taking advantage of the audience you’ve built and putting 110 percent into the show until you’re finished.”
But Levy’s role as showrunner is a taxing one. He touches everything: the scripts, the wardrobe (Jocelyn’s iconic Season Five cat sweaters are made in-house, if you were curious), the final takes. Each season takes about thirteen months to create. “We’re editing the show longer than we’re shooting the show,” Levy explains. “And it’s because every look, every cut, every glance when you’re weeding through takes and takes and takes to get the right moment is important.”
And all of those moments are being seen by a lot of people now—a lot more than Levy anticipated when the show started. In 2017, three seasons into the show’s run, Schitt’s Creek landed on Netflix. That helped the reach of the show expand, and an unofficial word-of-mouth campaign commenced. Schitt’s Creek was suddenly the show that you didn’t know you needed to watch. And it feels perfectly timed. As the sociopolitical climate feels more splintered than ever, television viewers are gravitating toward shows that shine a more optimistic light on the world.
“I felt like there was this wave of comedy that was really mean-spirited for a while,” says Levy. “I never responded to that. It’s a lot more challenging to make well-intentioned comedy.” Over the course of five seasons, Levy has created a world where a wealthy family of four faced their lowest bottom, only to rise and thrive in the small town they once bought as a joke. At the end of this season, Alexis is in a loving relationship and David is engaged to his business partner, and there really is something that feels like the show is coming to a natural conclusion after all. When Levy started this show, the Rose family was barely human. They didn’t understand how the rest of the world worked or what it was like to fear or perhaps even love, but they’ve evolved into something greater over 62 episodes. Something that gives you hope for people around the world who don’t look or think like you.
“The audience has been with these characters now through the ups and down,” Levy explains. “We’re now able to let them in and show them the cracks in the veneer. Because we’ve all pulled through this together.” And that’s a bit what this tour was about. The cast of Schitt’s Creek hit the road to meet fans in person and give them a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
Back upstairs in that tiny green room, Dan appears one more time. This time he notices me in the corner and talks to me a bit about how he hosted a talk a few days before with Amy Sedaris, a hero of his. The way he gets excited while recapping their time together is the core of who he is. It’s contagious. That energy is similar to how each of the cast members speak with one another. It’s the same energy that erupts from the room of 3,000 people when each actor walks out on the stage. The reaction isn’t quite fanaticism or excitement—I would say it’s more complex than that. As cliche as it sounds, I think the best word for it is love. Dan Levy has created a show about love, and it permeates in every facet.
That humanity is what drives the narrative of Schitt’s Creek and the way Levy conducts business on set. Everyone matters, and as long as you’re leading with a bit of humanity, everything will be okay. Fear and sadness and triumphs come and go. And everything that begins eventually has to end. Wearing a bee on your sweater doesn’t mean you’re magically not afraid of bees. It just means that something you love had outweighed the thing you fear. And if you have that, then the fear—the bees and the unknown and the loss of your family fortune—is just a moment in time.
The cast of Schitt’s Creek was in attendance at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards. Check out photos and video of the cast at the event. Congrats to the series and cast for their nominations and winnings.
Schitt’s Creek emerged as a quiet juggernaut, one of those rare, ultra-bingeable shows that also packs a ton of heart. How exactly did creator and star Dan Levy do it? Well, we’ll let him explain.
To say that Dan Levy sweats the small stuff is like saying the Kardashians dabble in money-making. On the set of Schitt’s Creek, he over-considers everything, from the magnets on the refrigerator to the way the motel beds are made to the degree the fibers on the carpets appear over-vacuumed.
“In my head it’s like, ‘We should all know that they don’t vacuum their carpets all the time,’ ” Levy tells me. “These are lived-in carpets. We’re in a motel. If we’re going to vacuum the carpets, which I know has to be done, we also need to scuff them up a bit after.”
And you do the scuffing yourself?
“Oh, absolutely,” he says. “That’s the prison cell that is my brain.”
We’re in the middle of lunch in Tribeca on a cloudy January day at the end of a week-long press trip for Schitt’s Creek, which airs on cable network Pop in the U.S. and is currently in its fifth season. (His reward upon completion? A visit to Las Vegas to see Lady Gaga’s Enigma residency.) Levy, 35, is the co-creator and star of the show, which follows a delusionally wealthy family that loses everything, relocates to its last remaining asset—a backwoods town it bought as a gag gift years ago—and starts life anew in a run-down motel. Levy, who plays the sarcastic, fashion-minded man-child David, created it with his father, Eugene Levy, who also plays his dad on the show. But the younger Levy wears many other hats, including showrunner, writer, occasional director, and master question-answerer. And truthfully, it can be a little overwhelming sometimes.
“It’s in the details for me, and when the details aren’t executed perfectly, I get a bit…ornery,” Levy says, which is one of the handful of things he has in common with David. (Along with a love of Mariah Carey and a fondness for karaoke. “I do a pretty mean Lorde impression,” he says.) And though David’s fashion sense is more extreme than Levy’s—most notably he sports an infinite rotation of drop-crotch sweats to create a vampire–Rick Owens hybrid—he’d probably approve of what Levy’s wearing today: a leather jacket over a cream-colored sweater with black pants that seem to have a completely different silhouette depending on what angle you look at them. His bangs are pushed up straight, like his hair just woke up from a nap with a yawn and a stretch. And then there’s those famous Levy eyebrows, which are half-obscured by thick black frames, not unlike the kind his father wears sometimes.
Yet when you ask his coworkers about whether they’ve ever seen him stressed, their answers paint a picture of…startlingly effortless competence from someone who, prior to Schitt’s Creek, had barely any acting credits to his name and was best known for recapping The Hills on air as an MTV Canada VJ. “It’s almost like he’s been doing this for years and years before we started the show, but that’s not true—this is the first time he’s ever had this kind of responsibility,” says Eugene Levy. Catherine O’Hara, who plays Rose family matriarch Moira, a former soap actress with a zany wardrobe and even zanier wig collection, says, “It’s crazy how comfortable he is doing this, how calm and confident he is running the show.”
It’s not that he doesn’t ever have his moments, Levy explains. It’s just that he tries to hide them from his coworkers to avoid being a bother. “Actors are really susceptible people—they’re spongey,” he says. “So I try my best not to bring any of my fears or anxieties onto set. I’ll leave that for behind a closed door.” His colleagues are none the wiser: “I’ve always seen him take everything in stride with a classic Dan Levy smirk,” says Noah Reid, who plays David’s teddy bear of a boyfriend, Patrick. (Fans of the show will know the one: the brow-raising, eye-squinting, teeth-baring one immortalized in many GIFS.)
Levy’s prescription of loving care and general punctiliousness has earned Schitt’s Creek immense critical acclaim and a loyal fan base, who have watched the show grow from its Grinch-comes-to-Whoville premise to something sweeter and bigger-hearted as the Roses have put down roots. But it’s also contributed to this sense among people who talk about the show that it all came out of nowhere: that Schitt’s Creek was just this little Canadian sitcom that could until it arrived on Netflix in 2017 and suddenly everyone was talking about it. That Levy just naturally followed in his father’s footsteps, the way families with parents who are doctors and lawyers beget more doctors and lawyers, without so much as a hitch. But according to Levy, that version of events skips over a lot of failure, self-doubt, and periods of total bewilderment about what he was supposed to do with his life that make him and the show what they are today. To really understand why you love Schitt’s Creek, you have to take a tour inside the prison cell that is his brain.
Of all the things Schitt’s Creek has been praised for, its portrayal of queer relationships has garnered some of its most enthusiastic, passionate feedback. This has been true from the jump: Early on, viewers assume David is gay, until he hooks up with surly motel clerk Stevie (Emily Hampshire)—to the shock of many characters, not least of all Stevie—and tells her he’s pansexual via a surprisingly helpful wine analogy: “I do drink red wine, but I also drink white wine, and I’ve been known to sample the occasional rosé, and a couple summers back I tried a Merlot that used to be a Chardonnay,” he explains. “I like the wine and not the label.”
But the letters really started coming in the third and fourth season, when David meets the teddy-bearish Patrick, whose sexuality is ambiguous in his first few episodes. They start falling for each other with the help of some swoon-worthy Tina Turner sing-alongs. Fans DM Levy on Instagram, send messages to the show’s Facebook page, and sometimes even stop him in public to tell him about how much these characters mean to them, how these characters have explained their lives to their unsupportive parents better than they could. Levy, who is gay, hears from conservative Christians who tell him they disapproved of queer people until Schitt’s Creek showed them that following their faith and having empathy for the LGBTQ community weren’t mutually exclusive. Recently, a mother wrote Levy to say that she worried coming out would make her son’s life harder, until David and Patrick showed her that it could actually make it more fulfilling. When Levy first got the message, he says he broke down. “She’s been able to feel like he’s going to be okay,” he says, his voice wobbling slightly, “because these characters are okay.”
It’s a little ironic that Schitt’s Creek is teaching so many people, because one of Levy’s mandates when it came to developing the show’s queer storylines was to avoid teachable moments rooted in struggle. “ ‘We’ll let every straight character live their lives,’ ” he says, summarizing the thinking of many TV executives, “ ‘but the gay characters are here to teach us a lesson.’ The characters were being painted with a different brush ultimately, and that to me was really boring.” From the beginning, Levy decided that homophobia would be a non-issue in the universe of Schitt’s Creek. And though he teases a coming-out storyline happening in the fifth season, it’s no accident that the show’s queer characters more often just get to be queer rather than proclaim it. (“It’s not a cross that straight people have to bear,” he says.) Levy’s trying to capture the world accurately, but he’s also trying to will a kinder, gentler one into existence.
Still, he gives these characters the same obsessive care he gives everything else. Take, for instance, the season-three finale, when Patrick and David kiss for the first time. Patrick reveals that he’s never been with a man before, and in the lead-up to filming, something about the scene kept Levy up at night. So the evening before, Levy called up a friend to talk it out. They spoke for hours about their own first gay relationships—how they unfolded, what made them special—and Levy realized the problem: In the original version of the scene, Patrick kisses David.
That just seemed too easy for someone who was new to all of it. Levy thought about how his first sorta-boyfriend made the first move in their relationship, and how liberated and grateful he felt afterward, to have someone else lift that burden. So he wrote and rewrote the scene into the wee hours, deciding that in the end, David would be the one to kiss Patrick.
Levy’s own coming out wasn’t a horror story by any means, but he wouldn’t call it easy: When he was 18-ish, his mother politely asked him about it at lunch one day, but he wonders about how long it would have taken him if she hadn’t asked. It wasn’t easy after he came out, either—he tells me about how he almost felt more insecure, second-guessing how he was supposed to look and act and find dates, how he’d look around in gay bars and wonder if he’d ever feel at home there. And it wasn’t easy during his first few years at MTV, when he avoided being out publicly because it was the time of blogs and salacious celebrity outings, and he was afraid of what might happen if someone wrote about him that way.
Over the years, though, it’s often been the little stuff that’s bothered him most: In 2017, a critic for the Canadian newspaper The Globe & Mail wrote in a review of The Great Canadian Baking Show, which Levy co-hosts, that perhaps the show’s judges were stiff because “at any moment, they know they might be swarmed by the feyness of Levy.” Levy called out the veiled homophobia in no uncertain terms on social media: “To all the ‘fey’ kids/people out there who read that and were made to question whether their ‘feyness’ is deserving of criticism, it’s not. You are loved for who you are.”
The post sparked blog posts and think pieces and garnered support from journalists and celebrities alike, but that, too, wasn’t easy. “What people didn’t see,” he explains, sitting up straighter, the volume of his voice rising, “is it took me half a day of worrying about whether that tweet was the wrong thing to do. I was still struggling with ‘Do I have any right to say this?’ And that’s fucked up, but we’re programmed that way.” They didn’t see him reading the review over and over, wondering if he was being too sensitive. They didn’t see him sending the article to friends and family asking if he was misreading it.
Being comfortable in his own skin, he says, is “a process that I think I’m still learning, and I think actually playing David has given me a sense of confidence that I never had before.”
Looking back on it now, Eugene Levy can see the signs his kids would go into showbiz: Dan and his sister, Sarah Levy, who also has a role on Schitt’s Creek as the overly friendly waitress Twyla, were always putting on shows as little kids when the Levys vacationed with Martin Short and his family. They acted in and wrote for high school productions. Dan went to film school, Sarah studied theater. It was all right there in front of him, despite what some might consider Eugene’s best efforts to prevent this: When he and his wife, Deborah Divine, decided to start a family, they moved from Los Angeles to Toronto to give their children normal childhoods—which included making them get regular jobs.
First came Gap Kids, which the then 15-year-old Levy chose so he wouldn’t have to run into anyone his own age. (“Not going to brag,” he says, “was the top sales associate of the summer.”) Then came the jobs at a bakery and a video store, which he says he draws on almost daily in the writer’s room when breaking storylines. In college, after leaving that first on-and-off relationship, which he describes as “tumultuous” and “not good for me,” he decided to take more drastic measures to get out of his shell and got an internship at a talent agency in London answering phones all day. “As someone who could barely talk to my friends, let alone a perfect stranger,” he says, “it was hell.”
But the thing about doing something that forces you out of your comfort zone is that, eventually, it stops being uncomfortable. So when he got back to Toronto and learned that MTV Canada was casting new on-air talent, he put himself up for that job, too, in the name of self-improvement. At the time, the network was considering a Wanna Be a VJ–style reality show, so they gave Levy and the other applicants $100 dollars each to spend as a test. Some people bought CDs to showcase their music taste, others bought yoga mats and prayer beads to demonstrate their spiritual side. Levy just paid his cable bill and came back with the receipt. He was eventually the first one hired.
He settled in as the co-host of an aftershow for The Hills, which he credits with helping inspire the idea of Schitt’s Creek, and enjoyed the perks—the free clothes, getting into any club or restaurant he wanted. (At least in Canada.) Still, he realized something was missing. He’d interview celebrities who’d talk about how singing or acting was what they were meant to do, how everything snapped into place when they discovered it. “I remember thinking, Well, that must be nice!” Levy says, laughing. He also knew that the longer he stayed at MTV, the more his next act would be governed by ego: What happens when the glamour disappears? What if nothing I do ever tops this?
So after almost eight years at the network, he quit and got to work on finding his next thing. At the time, creating something from scratch seemed like the only option: He tried out for acting gigs but kept bombing auditions because he was so anxious about the process, and he struggled to get representation as a writer because of his MTV background. “I was turned down by, like, every agency in the States,” he says. “They wouldn’t even take a meeting.”
He downloaded the screenwriting software Final Draft and just started typing. Mostly he just wrote dialogue, because he didn’t really know how to write scenes yet—this was before podcasts and MasterClass lessons proliferated, before he realized you could study scripts of famous TV shows online—and tried to find his voice.
“A lot of people have tremendous fear about What if it’s not good? or What if I realize I’m not talented? But knowing what you don’t want to do—what you’re bad at—is just as important. That’s a door you can close in the journey of your life. And I think closing doors is just as important as opening them.”
Six months into the process, he had the idea for Schitt’s Creek.
During his tenure at MTV, Levy avoided making references to his father out of concern that he’d be criticized for nepotism. “There was a time when you could’ve asked me if he was my dad, and I’d have been like, ‘Next question, please,’ ” he says. But after coming up with the premise for Schitt’s Creek, he realized two things: (1) He needed some help executing the idea. (2) He also wanted to avoid a broad, slapstick-y sitcom sensibility that would turn the town or its inhabitants into cartoon characters. So he turned to his dad, who just so happens to be really good at executing ideas with that quirky, observational-comedy sensibility after starring in and co-writing the outlines for Christopher Guest mockumentaries like Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman.
Eugene’s first reaction was elation: “I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and it really wouldn’t have mattered what the idea was.” Then fear: “The very first couple of days of of brainstorming, I would wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking, What if he doesn’t have it?” Then, at last, relief: “In the beginning I just felt that I had to mentor him,” he says, “but over the first season, I found myself going ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to be here, he’s got a pretty strong handle on what he’s doing.’”
O’Hara, who’s worked alongside the elder Levy since their SCTV days in the ‘70s, says the family’s relationship during working hours is deceptively formal: “Except for looking at them,” she says, “I don’t know if a stranger [who] visited the set would know they were related.”
Levy splits his time between Toronto and Los Angeles, but he works and travels so much that turning either abode into his dream home is just a fantasy. At one point during our lunch, he pulls up his phone to show me Chairish, one of the handful of decor apps he’s gotten into recently, and scrolls through a list of his “aspirational stuff.” There’s some Rothko-esque wall art, a chair that costs about $5,000 and looks more like a sculpture than a comfortable place to sit, and what appears to be a life-size replica of a sheep that is either a bench or an ottoman. He’s not really sure. “Until I find a place to settle down,” he says, “it’s all living through the app.”
It was always the plan that, after learning the ropes, Levy would take over as sole showrunner for the second season. I ask him if this was another case of putting himself in an uncomfortable situation to better himself. Quite the opposite, really.
“At MTV, I was scared,” says Levy. “I was uncomfortable in a bad way. [But] as soon as I started this job, all my fears were based in excitement—in showing up at work the next day… I have an answer to everything on set. Whether it’s the right answer or not, I have the confidence to answer the question. That just comes when you’ve found your groove.”
Before Schitt’s Creek officially began production, Levy thought a lot about his own job history and the kind of culture he wanted to foster. “The common thread was that every time I felt seen and respected in the workplace, I felt the desire to impress,” he says. “Anytime I felt like what I was doing wasn’t a necessary part of the process, I thought, ‘Well, if you don’t care, then I don’t care.’” Of course, a lot can go wrong when you’re a first-time showrunner. Having some TV experience doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be in charge of hundreds of people; it’s why you hear about troubling working environments on other TV shows. But it’s also why hearing Levy describe a leadership philosophy based in love and care sounds so refreshing. Maybe even a little radical.
The thinking goes: If costume designers and production designers don’t feel inspired, you’ll see it on screen. If staffers in the writer’s room don’t feel comfortable sharing their experiences, you’re not going to get the best stories about the tumultuous no-good relationships and random jobs they’ve had. If actors don’t feel safe and supported, how can they possibly make themselves vulnerable enough to do their best work? (“Initially I had a lot of nerves,” Reid says of joining the show, “But Dan, after every day that we would shoot, would text me like, ‘Great stuff today, really excited about where this is going.’”) And while Levy credits Eugene and O’Hara with leading by example, O’Hara says the warm gooey center of Schitt’s Creek is Levy’s doing: “The tone on any set, or any workplace,” she says, “comes from the top.”
Levy acknowledges this process in his own way. “Whether it’s subliminal or not, you feel people’s passion, I have to believe that,” he says. “What has drawn people to this show is this intangible spirit that is loving, and I have to say it comes from more than just people’s work, it has to come from good vibes. You have to send them through the TV.”
Accepting what comes back the other way—the letters, the attention, the acclaim—is harder from him to accept sometimes. Some of the reviews of season five have brought him to tears, but part of him also worries about things going too well, of hitting some kind of Schitt’s Creek saturation point that will cause the the scales to tip out of his favor. It was so much easier to do his job, to labor over scripts and answer questions about magnets and rugs, when it felt like he was toiling in obscurity, and he jokes that perfect world is one in which everyone watches Schitt’s Creek but nobody talks about it.
He’s working on fighting that instinct, though, because to shrug off the good vibes coming back his way would downplay the work he put in to get here, the way he would hit dead ends and keep going, the way he took every bad idea and bad job and bad relationship and used it as a stepping stone toward the next thing, until he was finally where he thought he was supposed to be. He’s earned the right to post that tweet, to have that opinion, to have that confidence to answer whatever question comes up on set. “I do feel like the last thing I would want coming out of this experience is to turn around and say I never allowed to be proud of myself,” he says.
But if he doesn’t, at least there is Eugene Levy, who at the end of interview can’t help but slip out of his facade of collegial professionalism and slide right into dad mode, someone who is just “extremely proud” of how far his son has come.
“I’m really glad this article’s being done,” says Eugene with a slight stammer. “He deserves it.”
Daniel Levy, the co-creator of the hit comedy Schitt’s Creek — in which he currently stars alongside his dad, legendary comedic actor Eugene Levy —says people always ask him what it was like growing up the son of a famously funny guy.
Turns out, it wasn’t all Schitt’s and giggles.
“I’d love to regale you with stories of hilarious antics, but yeah, I got into trouble a lot,” Levy, 35, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue of his incredibly “normal” upbringing in Toronto. “He made me do my homework. He grounded me.”
Eugene, 72, agrees. “It was a standard relationship,” he says. “Yes, I would ground him. The thing was for us, if you crossed the line, there was going to be some sort of punishment. It’s the way I was brought up, and it’s the way I brought up my kids.”
“I don’t think I even did anything that bad!” says former MTV Canada VJ Daniel. “I just remember as a teenager I’d be like, ‘But some of these kids are going to rehab! I just didn’t do my homework!’”
But Eugene credits his strictness with helping him raise a couple of pretty great kids. (Daniel’s sister Sarah Levy, 32, also stars alongside her dad and brother in Schitt’s Creek.) “It worked! Because honestly we’ve never had a problem with our kids. It was fun as they got older, because then they’d start making us laugh. There were more times that Daniel had us laughing that I ever had anybody laughing.”
Eugene also thinks he and his wife Deborah Divine’s decision to raise their family in Canada was the right call.
“There’s something about raising kids in a show-bizzy kind of environment that’s a little scary,” says the American Pie and Best in Show star. “Toronto is just a very normal town. They could grow up with all options open to them of what they wanted to do. We didn’t want them to be locked into show business. Of course the irony is they both went into acting — and now we’re all on a show together.”
Their comedy Schitt’s Creek — about a mega-wealthy family that loses all their money and has to move to small-town U.S.A. — will return for its 5th season on Jan. 16. Daniel says working almost every day together for the past seven years with his dad and sister has brought the entire family close than ever.
Eugene adds, “I never get over the fact that I’m actually on set with my kids.”
Schitt’s Creek airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Pop.
Dan and the cast of Schitt’s Creek attended Vulture Festival this weekend. I’ve added a bunch of photos from the event as well as new promotional images of the cast promoting the Schitt’s Creek Christmas Special. Enjoy all the pretties. I can’t wait for the Christmas special and season five.