Dan Levy is making it look easy. The 31-year-old actor has come out of nowhere (OK, MTV Canada) to co-create and star in one of the funniest sitcoms of the year. Schitt’s Creek is the story of the wealthy Rose family, whose entire estate is seized in a tax lien, forcing them to live in a small town they bought as a joke.
Levy cooked up the series with his dad Eugene—of SCTV, Waiting for Guffman, and American Pie fame—who co-stars as pere Rose. Catherine O’Hara brings her usual loopy brilliance as matriarch Moira, a former soap star. Levy plays David, their fashion-obsessed, ne’er-do-anything son whose tolerance for their new surroundings is as low as the crotch of his Rick Owens pants.
For eight years, Levy was a host on MTV Canada and helmed a popular The Hills aftershow; his acting experience was limited to an arc on Degrassi and a small part in the Tina Fey comedy Admission. But he’s more than holding his own on both sides of the camera. Six episodes in, Schitt’s has really clicked into gear: Watching these big personalities scrape against each other and their new neighbors (Chris Elliott is the town’s yokel mayor) is like 30 Rock in the sticks, and characters who started as cartoons start to creep into your affections.
Canada’s CBC has already renewed the show for a second season; the first is showing on the Pop TV network here in the States. In the last month, Levy has inspired a GQ piece on his eyebrows and other anatomical observations in a BuzzFeed listicle. We talked about this, his character’s sexuality, and figure-skating faces.
Out: So how did the show come about? How do you say: "Why yes, I think I'll co-create a sitcom and star in it opposite two comedy legends"?
Dan Levy: [Laughs] It really just started with me being in Los Angeles, knowing that I wanted to write. I had been watching some reality TV at the time and was concentrating on what would happen if one of these wealthy families would lose everything. Would the Kardashians still be the Kardashians without their money?
What a thought.
I turned to my dad, because I felt like he had such a lovely comedic sensibility that's so unique—you can feel it in all the Christopher Guest movies that he wrote with him. I didn't want it to be a sitcom in a broad sense, in a 2 Broke Girls sort of way. I feel like that base was covered. Then we started talking and it just grew legs.
It’s hard to believe you’ve only acted sporadically—you have great comic timing. To what do you attribute your skills in that area?
Most of it’s just growing up around funny people. Both my parents are incredibly funny in very different ways. I would argue that my mom is even funnier than my dad. We laughed a lot in our house. My sister and I learned what comedy was through my dad, and through friends of the family that we've had. I did theater and a lot of improv all through school, and when I got my job at MTV, my career path sort of took me away from what I was really interested in. Then when you go back out into the acting world, having been away from it for eight years, auditioning is a difficult task. The nerves—ultimately I was terrible at it. But I knew that I was capable. I just needed the right outlet for it. David is just such a bizarre character, and the more we started writing, the more I knew I could really bite into it. It was a really nice pairing, he and I.
What traits do you share?
[Laughs] He has a complete disregard for just any type of social code. I think we both are very impatient people when it comes to things that we know are right and wrong. I would express myself in a slightly more gentlemanly fashion than David would. I think ultimately what separates us is just that he seems to be this ball of insecurity. I'm a slightly more secure person.
He has a very specific style.
It's very influenced by Rick Owens and Ann Demeulemeester and high-fashion, avant-garde designers. He's not a very free-spirited person, so the clothes needed to be very specific and curated: Dropped-crotch pants and all of these things that would mark him in the town as being someone who is very different.
Lots of dropped-crotch pants.
I wish I could pull it off someday in my real life. I tried. I tried taking a pair of those pants home with me, and I wore them out to the store and I felt like an absolute fool. I don't know what David has that I don't in that area, but I can't pull off that look.
It’s a lot of look.
GQ just put something out with my dad and I yesterday: Who wore it better? But it was from an eyebrow perspective. Which eyebrows wore it better? Really hard, pressing news coming out of the Levy family.
It’s good you've embraced your eyebrows. There's too much eyebrow shame.
Listen, if you have them, let them grow. That's not to say I don't get them trimmed. But a trim is a very different thing from a pluck. And a pluck is a very different thing from a full, sort of landscaping. So I am very proud of the eyebrows I've inherited. I don't think I'll let them get as wild as my dad has done.
The pluck is always bad news.
I go to the barber, I get them to trim it up a bit—you can't get them too out of control. But they're there, and I think it would be very strange if one day I should up with a waxed, high brow, like a very arched manicured eyebrow. I don't have the delicate features for that.
Who came up with the show’s title: You or your dad?
My dad. It was actually just out of coincidence really. He was having a dinner conversation a few weeks prior, about this theoretical town of Schitt's Creek: You would have Schitt Hardware and Schitt Grocers. Then in researching ways in that people had lost their fortune, we stumbled across a few stories of people who had bought towns. It was Kim Basinger who bought a town in Georgia, I believe, as like a location for film and television. It didn't pan out, and there were a few other instances of people who had purchased towns for fun, because why not, if you have a couple million to throw around? Then it ended up bankrupting them. We thought, well, what if this family, as a joke for the son's 16th birthday, found this town called Schitt's Creek, bought it as a joke because of the name and then ended up having to live there?
The promotional restrictions have been amusing to watch.
We’ve done the talk-show rounds, and certain networks can say the title and certain can't, and certain people have to spell it out. I think NPR had to spell it out before they could say it. But the funny thing is, the family within the show would totally agree with everything people are saying. They would also agree that the name is suspect.
You could say the title on Late Night With Seth Meyers, but you couldn't on Kathie Lee and Hoda, which comes on at 10 a.m.
But you can crack a bottle of wine open at 10 in the morning and promote drinking!
And talk about Hoda’s pubic grooming and how Kathie Lee is menopausal and horny.
[Laughs] At the end of the day, Schitt is a legitimate last name found all across the world. It's an unfortunate name, but there are a lot of Irish people who might not think of it as unfortunate.
David is sort of a cross between a man-child and a bitter senior citizen. It’s hard to imagine him dating anyone. Is that going to happen? Is he going to come out? What's his deal?
I can't tell you, because that would be spoiling something. But I can tell you that there is something to potentially spoil. David is a very shut-down person, and it takes a long time for him to get to a place that is comfortable enough to get to where we're discussing right now. But by the end of the season we have a much clearer idea of what David's all about in terms of his sexuality. People say he’s asexual. But we wanted to show these people as shells of themselves, to show them on a completely superficial level and work inward.
The MTV hosting: What were the high and low points for you?
I had the time of my life on MTV. I was working at a video store before I got my job there. It brought me out of my shell. Being forced to talk to strangers every day will make anyone who is afraid of strangers kick that bad habit real fast. It was my first chance to show people that I was capable of not being just someone's kid. And more importantly, for me to figure out, am I good at this?
I had a lot of really amazing conversations with people. But then you have the people that are not so nice. I don't understand why people aren't anything but gracious. Because you never know who's going to go from being a PA on a show to an executive on the network. It was always strange when people came in and there was a bad energy around them. Where they treated people badly. It was a very interesting look into the back world of junkets and the whole celebrity press-tour thing.
You hosted the Winter Olympics for CTV. Are you a sportsman?
[Laughs] No. We were brought on to provide some, I guess, comic relief from the morning news broadcast. But obviously when you're dealing with a news team, comic relief is the last thing they want to incorporate into their newscast. We did manage to get a wonderful segment we called “Figure-Skating Faces” on air. Which was essentially the screengrabs of men and women mid-axle with their face all contorted. And we just showed that for about five minutes over a news broadcast. I still think it's one of my crowning achievements.
In Admission, you faced off with Tina Fey. How was that?
It was one of the most traumatic professional experiences in my entire life. It was the first film that I'd ever done, and I had to jump headfirst into three very heavy dialogue scenes with Tina Fey. I have anxiety at the best of times, so to be preparing this very wordy monologue—I got so nervous that I couldn't get through it. I was stuttering and stammering and I remember thinking, if things ever go well in my career and I run into Tina Fey again, I owe her a really big apology. She was probably looking at me, with panic in my eyes, wondering, Who is this sad, quivering mess of a human being I'm acting with right now?
Right after Schitt's Creek started airing in the US, BuzzFeed ran a piece about your appearance. Have you seen it?
It was a very strange... yeah …
It's titled "Eugene Levy Has A Really Hot Son." And it’s like 15 pictures of you with captions such as, "seriously hot," "ridiculously hot," etc. How does it feel to be a sex object?
Somewhere deep down inside, a 16-year-old version of myself is very confused. My first reaction was, "How did they get into my Instagram account?" Forgetting, obviously, that it was completely public and anyone can do what they want. I spend most of my year in sweatpants in front of the computer writing a television show, so that kind of association is very far from my—what I would ever think about day to day. It's a wonderful compliment. I was very surprised by it.
Now you've got to exploit it.
My life is so glamorous. I’m sitting here talking to you in sweatpants by the computer and my dog’s asleep next to me. I have three episodes to write in the next two weeks, which unfortunately has not allowed me to exploit my BuzzFeed popularity. When everything's a little bit more smooth, I can take a vacation and just print out a copy of that BuzzFeed thing and post it to my backpack.
A commenter on the article wrote, "He is every thinking gay man's fantasy."
Oh god! Well that’s nothing but complimentary. I guess it's nice that people think I'm smart. I seem to be pulling the wool over people's eyes quite nicely, so that makes me feel nice. I hope that people still find hard-working, ambitious people attractive, as opposed to just an aesthetic.
You don't want to be a piece of meat.
I am not a piece of meat! I’m a proud ball of anxiety in front of a computer, that is the reality.
Are you single?
I'm single right now. I've been single for a bit. It's a strange thing. I don't know whether it's an excuse that I'm telling myself or whether it's just what it is, but I feel like this job has consumed my life. I feel like I only get one shot at this. I hope that I can find someone when it's all done, or when things are a little bit more smooth. But the eye has really been on making sure that the show is as good as it can be, so that I can be employed for another year. Is that a terrible answer?
Not at all.
You gamble on professional happiness versus personal, but fortunately I have a great group of friends. Especially out here in California. I'm Canadian, most of my friends are Canadian, and we're all just trying to get by. When the time comes and all the stars are aligned, someone else will come in and hopefully we'll call it a day in the love life department.
Who’s your celebrity crush?
Can I say the entire cast of Veep? Every single person on Veep. I would date every single person on that show.
Where do you hope Schitt’s Creek will take you professionally?
This is the first time I've ever felt like I was 100% confident in what I'm doing: producing a show, seeing it from start to finish. I think it's always going to be a focus on TV. I think what's so special about the show is that every character on this show tells a very distinct story, and at its core, it's a show about family and love and finding yourself. And I know that for your magazine, there's a lot of focus on that as well. I think we need to tell more stories like that—more stories about getting to the core of who people are and what makes them tick.
Schitt’s Creek airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT on Pop TV. Watch a clip below: