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.”
Dan was out last week at a 92Y event. I’ve added photos to the gallery as well as stills from his appearance last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Check out his interview below. Enjoy!
Quebec films, led by Daniel Roby’s ‘Just a Breath Away’ and Maxime Giroux’s ‘The Great Darkened Day,’ nabbed the most nominations in film categories.
Netflix’s Anne With an E, the adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, and the CBC comedy Schitt’s Creek grabbed a field-leading 15 nominations each for the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards on Thursday.
The Billy Campbell and Karine Vanasse-starring Cardinal, a Hulu murder mystery drama that also airs on CTV, grabbed 14 nominations in the TV competition, followed by perennial nominee CBC News: The National scooping 13 in all.
Anne With an E, which is produced out of Canada as a co-production with the CBC, will compete for best TV drama against History’s Vikings from showrunner and creator Michael Hirst; the Kim Coates’ starrer Bad Blood; CBC’s Frankie Drake Mysteries; and OMNI’s Blood and Water.
Anne With an E hails from Emmy-winning writer Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad) and is based on the famed book by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara comedy Schitt’s Creek, about a wealthy family that suddenly goes broke, also streams on Netflix.
Other multiple nominees in the TV categories are Lifetime’s Mary Kills People; the CBC comedy Workin’ Moms; CBC’s Equus: Story of the Horse; Wynonna Earp, which airs on Syfy and Space in Canada; and the CraveTV streaming comedy Letterkenny.
On the film side, Canada’s national media awards are dominated by Quebec films, as Daniel Roby’s apocalyptic Paris-set thriller Just a Breath Away (Dans la brume), which stars Romain Duris and Olga Kurylenko, and Maxime Giroux’s The Great Darkened Days (La Grande Noirceur) each nabbed eight nominations.
Close behind with seven nods is the coming-of-age drama A Colony (Une Colonie) from director Genevieve Dulude-De Celles. Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgard, Salma Hayek, and Robert Budreau’s Stockholm, a heist thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace, each scooped up six nominations.
The Canadian Screen Awards, produced by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, will hand out its high-profile trophies on March 31 in Toronto during a gala to air on the CBC network.
I’ve added HD screencaps of Dan from the two most recent episodes of Schitt’s Creek. I’ve also added high quality stills from the last three episodes. This season is soooooo good! Enjoy.
I’ve added HD screencaps of Dan from episode 3 of season 5 of Schitt’s Creek to the gallery. Enjoy!
I’ve added a bunch of photos from Dan’s recent events and HD screencaptures from the most recent episode of Schitt’s Creek. I have many more photos of Dan to add to the site and will sort through them and add them when I can. Big thanks to my friends Kayla and Claudia for all of their contributions. Enjoy!
Dan, Annie, Emily, Catherine, Euegene, and Sarah were all in attendance tonight at the 2019 Critics Choice Awards where Schitt’s Creek is nominated for best comedy series. I’ve added photos to the gallery and will add more tomorrow so keep checking back. Enjoy!
ET Canada is on the set of “Schitt’s Creek” to get the scoop on season 5 from the comedy’s stars Eugene Levy, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy, who also share why they believe their show has found such a massive audience.
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.
Oh, sure, Dan Levy gets excited. Really, he does! The sparkle may not be written on his face – cherubic, distinguished, writerly; one with features much like his actor-dad, Eugene Levy – but inside you can bet he’s screaming. It’s a Canadian thing.
Our conversation takes place on a day in mid December, the day after Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” his farcical and heartfelt sitcom about a family stripped of their riches that is lovingly created as a gift to this godforsaken world with his father, has picked up a Critics’ Choice nod for Best Comedy Series and Levy is screaming. Really!
“We have a limit to how excited we can be about ourselves,” he says, snickering. He continues, Canadian-modesty fully intact: “But it’s a thrill.”
The thrill humbly extended to a tweet written by the out 35-year-old conveying gratitude for the show’s recent wins when GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics awarded “Schitt’s Creek” with two honors, TV Comedy of the Year and Unsung TV Show of the Year, during their annual Dorian Awards. (Full, proud disclosure: I’m a member, and I voted for “Schitt’s Creek” in both categories.)
Get Levy talking about Mariah Carey – the diva inspiration for one of season 4’s sweetest and gayest lines, pertaining to his onscreen boyfriend, Patrick (Noah Reid) – and he won’t stop screaming. We spoke about the Elusive Chanteuse’s prominent place on “Schitt’s Creek” and about what’s in store for his lovably dramatic character, David Rose, mom Moira (Catherine O’Hara), dad Johnny (Eugene Levy) and sister Alexis (Annie Murphy) in season 5. Plus, this season’s coming out story that Levy says was an emotional shoot and “my proudest episode.”
I was feeling such disappointment when the Golden Globes and the Emmys didn’t acknowledge “Schitt’s Creek” yet again this year. So, this Critics’ Choice nod must feel like, “Finally, awards committees are catching up to the rest of the world.”
Slowly but surely we’re cracking into that illustrious group of shows that get nominated for things and it’s a wonderful feeling. We’re a very small show and I think for very small shows that don’t necessarily have huge resources to promote themselves for award consideration a nomination from the critics at this point is fantastic. It means, it’s been word-of-mouth, and I think the fact that we are also streaming on Netflix has cracked us open to an entirely new and different audience as well.
And listen, our team, first and foremost, just wants to tell really interesting stories and wants to have fun when we go to work every day, and that has always been the goal for me as someone who’s running the show. The minute you start to look outside and think, “Oh, we’re being recognized for this; people are putting us on lists,” it’s wonderful but it can really change the experience of making your show. Suddenly you’re more concerned about, “Are things living up to the standards that the media have kindly set for us?” And that can be really intimidating.
So I try not to pay attention as much as I possibly can; especially when we’re making our show, I try to disengage from all of that so we can really focus on what’s ultimately going to serve our characters. But I’m not gonna lie: It’s been a joy over the past couple of years to see our show up there in the ranks of other shows that I have long admired myself. So I’m just ultimately bursting with pride for our team.
How are the Roses coping with each other during season 5?
Season 4 was a really emotional chapter in this family’s trajectory and we were able to really peel back some layers and show a lot of growth. Season 5 is really about having fun. The guards are down a little bit, which means we can have more fun with our characters, we can put them in stranger situations.
We tried our best to pair characters this season with characters that have never been paired before and really take stories outside of the box and expand our world a little bit, so this season was always intended to be the shiniest and brightest and boldest we’ve ever done. But I’m just really excited because there’s so much in store in season 5. It’s bursting with life and joy and I can’t wait for, particularly, a few episodes.
David does a lot of things this season that, for me, as a gay kid growing up, were horrifying: tree-climbing, baseball. What was your favorite David adventure to shoot this season?
The fun thing about David is he’s someone who has put on such a front for so long that he has really, over the course of his two years in this town, allowed himself to just get in better touch with himself and expose himself to vulnerability in ways that he never would have. So something like the first episode of season 5 (laughs) – constantly feeling the need to prove his relationship and how far he’s willing to go for it – was really fun. I mean, the day was grueling and I was stuck up there (in the trees) for, I think, seven hours…
So by the end of the shoot, your face was David’s. You weren’t even acting anymore.
(Laughs) The character and me as a person really came together in those moments. But yeah, I would say the excitement of our first episode back is really an indicator of what’s to come.
I can’t believe these characters are just now trying on Moira’s wigs. How did that not already happen?
The idea was, for us, that she needed to be on a totally different continent in order for David and Alexis to even dare touch that wall because of all the things, all the buttons you can press with Moira, those wigs are everything (laughs). So we thought it could be a really fun, considering no one’s ever tried them on. And we never ever really touched it, but that was really out of respect for Moira, who was holding court in her home. Now that she’s away we can all sort of have some fun with it, and getting to select which wig we got was a really fun process too. I tried on that little blunt, blonde wig that I wear in the episode and thought, “Well, this could be good for my real life!”
I am loving the looks this season, and also, I am a full supporter of that whole nightgown hoodie you wear in the first episode. What’s the story behind that giant thing?
Oh, yeah. That I believe is (designer) Rick Owens and it is a contraption. It’s a full… almost like a cult robe. Or something (laughs). It’s very cult-y, yeah. And it wasn’t very breathable, if I’m being honest. I loved the clothes, but we shoot in the summertime and that was an intense garment to wear in the dead of summer.
The Christmas episode, which aired in December, was actually shot in the summer, and then a special effects team gave the episode its wintery effects. Have you considered setting more of “Schitt’s Creek” in the winter? I bet the season alone would give you a lot of comedy to mine.
Yeah – no. I’m from the East Coast, a Torontonian through and through. I don’t ever want to shoot in the wintertime. That’s me being selfish. I don’t ever want to be outside in the wintertime.
No, no. You shoot in the summer and you have that special effects team winterize it.
You might need to take a look at our budget. (Laughs) Those special effects were hard-earned.
I do hope that you’re already thinking about doing another “Schitt’s Creek” Christmas special.
(Laughs) That’s a time and resource question, but you know, I think when it comes to a holiday episode, we were so careful about when we did it. I always knew that if I was given the opportunity I would love to do one, but I also felt, for the sake of our show, for people to really care, you need a couple seasons for your audience to understand the characters and what they want and what they need before you put a holiday spin on the show. So after four seasons, we felt like it was time. We earned it in a way.
Sandra Bullock’s “Speed 2: Cruise Control” is a movie I haven’t heard referenced in a while – until this season. Did you write that line for Moira? It’s so perfect for her.
I can’t remember who wrote that. I don’t want to take credit in case it was someone in our room. The whole scene was a joint effort between myself and our amazing writers, and some of the rarest, most absurd references come out of this wonderful group of people who are total freaks and I love them all very much. So, it was a joint effort. Some of them are actually Catherine’s; that one, I think, was one of our writers.
If ever there’s a “Glitter” reference, I’ll know that’s you.
All the Mariah stuff is me.
Will there be more Mariah stuff? And also, how much Mariah is played on set?
A lot of Mariah is played just in my life, which seeps into my professional life. She tweeted about the show last year after the Mariah Carey reference in our season 4 finale.
You recently celebrated that tweet’s anniversary on your IG.
I’ll be celebrating that anniversary for years to come. I lost it. There’s been some amazing people who’ve said some wonderful things about the show, but the Mariah Carey tweet, to me, was like, I don’t even know how to process that. I think back to being a teenager, putting up Mariah Carey posters on my bedroom walls. It was a full-circle moment.
The last time we chatted you told me that one episode in particular this season made you cry. Why is it so meaningful to you?
It’s a layered thing. I find it sometimes quite emotional to be in the position that I am in, to be able to tell queer stories and show them on a mass scale, to write moments and stories, and in this particular case a love story, that seems to really affect people. It’s hard not to think back to a time in your life where you didn’t have that kind of freedom. For me, I think back to high school when I was still in the closet and wondering if I would ever be able to live out in the open. To now be in the position that I am at, getting to write what I find to be a really lovely queer romance that millions of people get to watch, it’s quite profound.
And how about the episode’s impact on you?
It’s a particular moment that I had to write that is something that most queer people go through and articulating that, dramatizing that, is just a very meaningful episode for me and for a character in our show. It’s a coming out episode. So getting to write that and trying to find a way around that kind of story that’s been told several times in film and television and literature, finding a dynamic way into that story and out of that story, was probably the greatest joy and challenge I’ve had as a writer for TV. And now that we’ve cut and polished the episode it’s my proudest episode we’ve done as a show.
Given that you understand the weight of this show on your audience, I’m guessing David and Patrick will never break up.
(Laughs) Um, I don’t ever want them to, but you never know what happens. All I know is that we do understand what our fans are enjoying and we certainly wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their loyalty.
It’s the first successful relationship I’ve had in a while and it’s not even mine.
Funnily enough, me too.
For the “Schitt’s Creek: Up Close & Personal” tour, you and some cast members are touring various U.S. cities. How did the idea for the tour start and are there any Tina Turner musical numbers?
(Laughs) The idea for the tour started mainly because I think so much of the success of our show is based on the enthusiasm and the word-of-mouth that has come from our fans. And the feedback that I’ve received from our fans has been so much more than, “We love your show”; it’s long letters about how this show has provided sort of a safe space, a happy space, a joyful space in dark times. We seem to have a relationship with the people who watch our show and love our show that is slightly deeper than I think the relationship that a lot of people have with the shows that they watch on TV.
Shooting the show in Canada, we don’t ever really have access to a lot of our fans. We shoot for three months out of the year and the rest of the time is me editing or writing the show, and a lot of the response and feedback we got from fans was a desire to interact with the cast, and so we started developing this idea. It’s a Q-and-A, it’s very casual. We show some things we’ve never shown before, we show some behind-the-scenes stuff, we show some bloopers, and there may or may not be a musical performance that may or may not involve a Tina Turner song sung by someone who may or may not play my boyfriend on a television show (laughs). But for us, it’s a great way for us to meet our fans and for the fans to come and say hi in person. We did our first in Los Angeles a little while ago and it was incredible. There was so much love in the room.
And there was a marriage.
There was a marriage! So you couldn’t get more joyful than that.
My friend tells me I innately mirror Mariah’s mannerisms in my everyday life. He’s not wrong. Considering your Mariah fandom, have you thought about how much of David might actually be Mariah-influenced?
You know what, I haven’t. But now that you’ve brought that up, there is a lot of gesticulation that happens. You’re drawing connections that, to me, are probably just subliminal at this point.
It’s all innate.
It’s all innate. It all goes back to Mariah.
As it should. Regarding the writing, do you think in terms of meme-able moments in the writers’ room?
No, no! In fact, there was some kind of Instagram sticker – you know the GIF stickers you can use? There’s one of Moira that apparently had like a billion views or something insane, and I’m always sort of amazed how people have taken moments from our show and turned them into these little internet memes, because when we’re writing we never really think about that. But it’s quite an expressive show (laughs), so I understand how it would be very easy to take some reactions from our cast and make some sort of universal reactions of disgust or confusion.
I used your face when I was disappointed by the Golden Globe nominations.
(Laughs) I’m so happy that I could be there for you in that time.
Writing queer characters with your dad: Has working on this show and doing that with him bonded you in ways you didn’t expect it to?
I honestly don’t know, actually. I do know that the show has quite physically forced us together; I don’t think we would be seeing each other every day if I was doing something else. The show has been sort of wonderful in the sense that we have been put in a position where we get to see each other every day. I think just going through the experience of making this show and seeing its success has been a wonderful thing for the two of us.
There are just times in your life when things happen that you’ll never forget and you know that you’re sort of in the middle of doing something quite special and lasting, so I know that whatever I do after this show, we’ll always have this time together, we’ll always have this sort of chapter of our lives that we got to immortalize on screen, which is quite lovely.