“I am dressed as an elf, that was my choice.”
Actor, activist, and Canadian treasure, Dan Levy, graced Humber’s North campus with his presence for IGNITE’s first Real Talks event of the year. If you missed his chat with Queer Eye sensation, Antoni Porowski, I weep for you. Next time, you should reserve your Real Talks ticket faster.
But for now, you can read our interview with Dan Levy. His insight on the Canadian film and television industry was informative and eye-opening. Levy talks about all things Schitt’s Creek, family, and future projects. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did.
Schitt’s Creek is the first-ever Canadian co-production nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys. What was it like to be part of that achievement?
DL: I was just really proud of our whole team–proud of the accomplishment. We set out to make a TV show. We didn’t set out to make it with the intent of getting awards for it. It was because we loved the idea. We were having fun. To see our Canadian team represented on an international level was great. It was so much fun. We were there feeling like a deer in the headlights, wandering around like ‘Should we be here? I guess that makes sense.’ It was weird.
Canada has a reputation for relinquishing talent to America, and because of our proximity to the US, we have struggled to maintain our own identity through film and television. No doubt, there are some great shows produced alongside you at the CBC. What do you think about the current state of the Canadian film and television industry?
DL: I think it’s amazing. The amazing part about the Canadian identity is that it’s so rich and so diverse. You are getting stories that are representing so many different types of people, and so many ways of life. And there is a real celebration to it. There’s not a lot of reluctance or resistance to the freedom of telling stories that mean something. I think we had a really amazing time working with the CBC on the show. I think for me the only hindrance is just space. There’s no studio space in Canada. A lot of the studio space gets bought up by American production. I would like to see a more concerted effort being made by the studios to include Canadian production.
The problem is American television shows come in and buy up all the studio spaces. Canadian shows can’t find any studios. So now you’re in this mad rush to find space to shoot, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Well, this doesn’t seem right from a business standpoint.’ I mean it probably does for them, because the American shows pay more. But that would be my only hope down the line. If we can fight for the rights of Canadian productions in the actual studios.
In our office, we have a whiteboard for staff to answer weekly questions. You were the answer to the question: “Who’s your favourite Canadian?” We are curious to know, who is your favourite Canadian and why?
DL: There are a lot. Shania Twain. Today I’m saying Shaina Twain, tomorrow it will be someone new.
You have previously discussed your father being a comedic inspiration and influence for you. Who are some of your other comedic or creative influences?
DL: I don’t watch a lot of comedy. I feel like when I go home at night, I don’t watch other funny things. I like to watch things that are totally opposite of what I’m immersed in. Iannucci, who is making Veep, is doing some wonderful things. I just watched the Jenny Slate comedy special on Netflix. I think she has such a special voice, and she lives in a very similar world where I love exploring, which is a genuineness with the comedy. Not being scared of also being real and sentimental and earnest and still keeping a high level of funny. I loved the Jenny Slate special on Netflix–highly recommend.
You are in an interesting position where you are creating a television show family. Creative collaboration is not always easy; there can be many compromises. Would you work with your family again?
DL: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like, at this point, we have sort of ironed it all out. There were definitely some growing pains in terms of how you respond to a situation when you’re used to responding to a family member. And now it’s a professional situation. For us, it was about navigating where is the line that you draw between family and business and often time you have to put business first and realize that we are in charge of 147 people. And not just be like, ‘Dad, I don’t want to do that.’ It has to be more of an excuse as to why I don’t want to–I have to approach it more as a business. Not just a father and son situation.
How has your life changed throughout the show seasons, and has it at all reflected in your character, David?
DL: Well, I think my character has changed a lot more than I have–but no, I think just the level of opportunity that has opened up for me has been quite extraordinary. I think realizing very early on that we were saying something with our show that was beyond the comedy. Something that had, in a way, political implications in terms of what we were promoting on the show – the level of acceptance and equality we are trying to fight for. So getting to see the effect of feel-good TV and putting the message out into the world that means something to people has been quite amazing and inspires me to keep going in that direction.
It’s a powerful thing that I’ve seen first hand just with the storytelling that we’ve done in our show. So it’s definitely inspired me to keep telling those kinds of stories. And to make sure that everything I do from here on out, comes along with a level of importance in whatever it is that I want to say. It has to mean something at the end of the day.
What will you miss most about making Schitt’s Creek?
DL: All the people. We had a very amazing time in the sense that our cast and our crew were like family. Usually, on TV there is a high turnover rate in terms of people getting other jobs, but 80 per cent of our crew stayed with us from the beginning right to the end. And that’s because they loved the experience and it felt like summer camp. It was three and a half months a year where we just got to hang out and have fun, and I’m definitely going to miss that–it was a really incredible group of people.
It was a tough decision to end the show because I wanted to end the show on a high note. I wanted quality over quantity, but at the same time, I loved these people so much. It was a tough call to make because we could have gone on forever but had to make a decision at some point to respect the audience as well. And I’m so sensitive to TV shows that have sort of overstayed their welcome that I never wanted our show to get to that place where people were like, ‘it was good until season 5 and then it all sort of fell apart.’
Can you tell us about any new projects in the works?
DL: I have signed a deal with ABC Studios. So I’m developing with the next three years with them and hoping to make more shows that I can just hire my old cast on. In a perfect world, I would like to pull a Ryan Murphy and hire the same cast over and over again in a variety of different ways. So yeah, I’m currently employed which is great, and we’re just figuring out what’s next. I have a few ideas, I like them all and now it’s just about narrowing them down to one or two and figuring out how we get them made.
You have talked a lot about your experience coming out and what life was like before you came out. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
DL: I think in my particular situation, that it’ll be fine. All the worries and the fears and the anxieties will not be for not. That I will get through it and be okay. And actually use the pain and all the negativity that was around for a chapter in my life to actually effect change in other people and try to make their experience a little lighter. That’s not the case for everybody, but it would be for me. Just the general ‘it gets better’ campaign is a really important one because when you’re going through it, you’re so caught up in your own experience that you don’t necessarily give yourself the space or the freedom to think more objectively about where you are and the fact that things can improve because it can be suffocating at times.
It will get better, friends.
The elves are saying you will be involved in Kacey Musgraves’ Christmas Special. Can you give us some details on what you will be doing?
DL: I am narrating the Kacey Musgraves Christmas Special. I am dressed as an elf, that was my choice. So clearly nothing has gone to my head, because I’m continuing to put myself in really stupid situations. But Kacey’s a pal and reached out and asked if I could do it and I said yes. And I think it’s going to be great. And she got some amazing musicians to come and play with her. And yeah, I’m dressed head to toe in an elf costume for the entire special while everyone else is decked out in Gucci. I probably should have rethought that whole thing. I think it’s going to work. I’ve listened to some of the music and numbers, and they’ve taken a classic and traditional approach to the old school holiday special. It’s very much in her world of classic and contemporary.
Is “A Little Bit Alexis” on your go-to playlist?
DL: Of course it is. Anytime I go for a run, it will pop up. Annie wrote that song herself, so kudos. A real banger.
Stay tuned for our next Real Talks event featuring The Office star, Rainn Wilson.
Need more celebrity content? Read Antoni Porowski’s interview on fame, food, and feeling good.