Daniel Levy came into 2020 on a high. He was riding the success of his show Schitt's Creek, which had in the past few years become an international hit, and was cruising into a much-anticipated finale season. And there were all the intentions to go out with a bang! The show's network had purchased a large billboard in Los Angeles and plastered it with a photo of David Rose and his fiance Patrick Brewer kissing that instantly became a tourist attraction. The series even announced a documentary special based on the season and slotted a tour that would begin during the Netflix Is a Joke Festival. And then the pandemic happened, putting a halt to some of the biggest plans (namely the tour.) But there's nothing that can stop Levy.
The multi-hyphenate and former MTV Canada VJ still completed the press tour for the final season of his show virtually, and then went on to have a history-making night at the Emmy Awards. Not only is Schitt's Creek now the first show to ever sweep all of the seven major comedy categories, but Levy is now the first person to win a Primetime Emmy in all four major disciplines in a year (writing, directing, acting, and producing). In addition though, the 2019 Out100 honoree (he was also honored back in 2015) has had other projects in the works.
This month, Happiest Season will debut on Hulu and in it he stars as John, the best friend of Kristen Stewart's Abby, who leads the romantic comedy. The project is historic in that it is the first holiday-themed queer romantic comedy ever made by a major studio, and though fans won't be able to see it in all of its big-screen glory, they will be able to enjoy the Levy they've come to know and love as both insightful and damn-funny. But it's not the only role he's played this year: there was also Mark Hesterman in HBO's Coastal Elites. In what Levy called his "greatest challenge" given that he had to memorize a monologue of about five pages and execute it in one take, he plays a gay actor discussing the internal struggle of taking reductive, sometimes-trite roles because of the opportunity, knowing that they may do actual queer and trans folks a disservice.
"I think I've tried as best I can to try and take whatever opportunities I can to tell stories that mean something to me and feel representative of my life," he tells Out when asked about encountering those types of roles in his career. We spoke in the press run for Coastal Elites earlier this year. "So often, the gay characters that I have been asked to play were the quirky gay best friend or the guy that always had a one-liner and never really had much depth. To be able to have the opportunity on [Schitt's Creek] to tell stories that I feel really go beyond the world of caricature and start to explore, in a more profound way, the lives and the happiness and the hopes and the aspirations of queer people, you know, that was an opportunity that I had to run with. Then when [Coastal Elites] came around, it did feel very much in that same vein of, 'we're pushing the boundaries of showing what gay characters should be in entertainment'. There is so much more to them than I think you know mainstream movies and television have often perpetuated."
But those decisions are made based on power. Earlier in his career, Levy didn't have that power and as a result, he says he had no ability to address the handful of roles that he felt objectionable. But now, he's in a different place. On Schitt's, as co-creator and head writer, he called the shots. As a result of that work, when he went into Coastal Elites he was in a position to have a series of conversations around his role. And Happiest Season was itself a creation of Clea DuVall, who is lesbian.
But moving into 2021, Levy will continue to operate from a seat of control around these sorts of issues — though networks will have the final say. In 2019, he signed an overall deal with ABC Studios off the back of what was said to be an intense bidding war.
"I’ve been very spoiled with how encouraging and loving these past six years have been," Levy told Variety of the deal which is rumored to be eight-figures. "For me, it was all about having the freedom to continue to assemble those kinds of casts and crews, where I can feel a tremendous amount of satisfaction creatively and emotionally when I come to work. ABC felt like they were on board to support that. I really enjoyed the team, and I felt like they were people that I could trust in terms of offering feedback or helping to shape or mold what I would do next. The deal was good, and we said 'yes.'"
And while there have been no confirmed details on the projects, The Hollywood Reporter has described it as an "expansive slate" with at least one written by Levy himself. But more importantly, all have Levy in the driver's seat meaning that we'll no doubt be able to enjoy more characters with depth, insight, and that are frankly, damn-funny.
This story is one in a series looking back at Out100 2019 honorees as we prepare to announce the Out100 2020 list. Stay tuned for covers, names, as well as details about the first-ever Out100 Live virtual event, all coming soon.