One might think that co-creating, writing, and starring in a much-beloved television series might be pretty challenging. And you’re probably right! But Dan Levy, the co-creator and star of the now-ended Schitt’s Creek says that his latest project, an HBO special titled Coastal Elites was the “greatest challenge of my professional life.
“I’m not going to say I wasn’t terrified,” Levy tells Out. “That’s a big, long monologue.”
When Coast Elites initially came to the star, it was a theater production set to be put on at the Public Theater. At the time he had to turn it down because of scheduling, something he begrudgingly did. But in the wake of the ongoing global pandemic it turned into a television project with Jay Roach and Paul Rudnick, and the team rounded back to Levy.
“I had heard whispers of the cast and , you know, it’s like Bette Midler and Issa Rae and Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever,” Levy says. “You’re thinking like okay, are they sure they’ve gotten the right person for this, because one of these things is not like the other. But I said yes and accepted the challenge and tried my best.”
The show itself was a series of monologues from the titular coastal elites. Midler plays Miriam Nessler, a retired, flustered teacher recounting her side of the story in an interrogation room. Paulson plays Clarissa Montgomery, a frustrated YouTube meditation guru, and Dever plays Sharynn Tarrows, a nurse working during the ongoing global pandemic. Levy plays Mark Hesterman, a gay Hollywood actor, on the line with his therapist about a possible new job.
The monologue itself was “five plus pages” according to Levy who finds it difficult to “retain anything. But after a month of work, he had the lines down enough to begin the actual process of acting.
“There’s so much acting you have to mine out of those moments because if you're going to hold someone's attention for 15 minutes or however long I speak, that is valuable time in someone's life,” Levy explains. “So, I have to work to make sure that the time that someone spends with me in this monologue is respectful of that.”
The resulting character is good for those quirky, laughable one liners that are present in the trailer but also has the ability to turn introspective, poignant, and even political even at times. Levy says he was cast in the role because of his ability to do all of that on Schitt’s, and coming into this production he had “five or six different conversations” with Roach about the character, sharing his own idea.
“I think I just wanted to make sure that this person never felt frivolous and that when people are watching — even though off the top, you know, might make a judgment pass on like, is he really taking up this much of his therapists time talking about an audition — that in the end you realize why he was so fixated on this audition,” Levy explains. “That it actually meant something far beyond just getting a job, that this was an opportunity that he saw that never came around to him that often. Plus I think, as a gay actor in Hollywood I have been to those auditions where you are asked to be a version of yourself that is not authentic, that is not real but it's something that you that clearly someone feels is palatable for a mainstream audience. It's kind of a soul-crushing experience because on the one hand, you know, when you're a working actor you need the work. But at the same time, you're also struggling with your own sense of right and wrong and what's gonna make you feel good when you go to sleep at night. The fact that we were able to show that in this piece, I thought was really fresh, because there were definitely some moments of overlap between my experiences and the experiences of the character.”
Coastal Elites will air on HBO September 12.