Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: By Jose Mandojana/Pop
"People aren’t writing those types of characters so, inherently, finding work outside of the work I’m writing for myself has been sort of a... sobering experience."
If you thought multi-Emmy-winners like Dan Levy don't have work woes - and worse, don't encounter heterosexism in the world - think again. Even off the back of the staggeringly successful Schitt's Creek, which Dan wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, prejudice remains visible.
"As an actor, I was fortunate enough to write a very fulfilling role for myself that felt compelling, real," the 38-year-old tells Attitude of Schitt's Creek's David: the spoiled little rich boy with a heart of gold and a surplus of statement jumpers.
"It wasn’t until I left the show I realised, oh, there aren’t many parts like that out there. [...] A lot of what’s come across my desk the past little while - some interesting, but some reductive, to be honest. I'd rather not take the work - and I’m in a fortunate enough position to not have to take it - than contribute to a culture where people feel they can write LGBTQIA+ characters in a caricatured or reductive way."
Nevertheless, after spearheading a show that's won 65 industry awards, Dan is Hollywood's hottest property - and busy. He stole the show in last year's Kristen Stewart-starring gay Christmas romcom Happiest Season, and at the time of writing, has just been announced as host of HBO cooking competition The Big Brunch, and has landed a huge deal with Netflix for original TV and film content.
But, for our interview, we're focusing on the star's new book Best Wishes, Warmest Regards; a 368-page Schitt's Creek bible co-written by Dan's father Eugene Levy, who played David's dad Johnny on the show. (And famously, Jim's dad in 90s film American Pie.)
"I reached out to the cast and crew and said: ‘Do you have photos I haven’t seen? Stories, visuals you’ve documented or kept that we can have access to?'" Dan explains. "I wanted this to be a comprehensive story of our show. Part of that is giving the fans something they don’t already have. We’re fortunate to have… rabid sounds derogatory, but the fans have an encyclopedic knowledge. I knew, putting a book out of this scale, it had to honour that meticulous understanding."
Here we chat to Dan, who came out publicly as gay in 2020, about his days as an intern in London, his and Catherine O'Hara's creative process for the iconic Moira, and whether he's heard from Tina Turner about his 'Simply The Best' lip-sync...
Hi Dan! You’re coming to London to promote the book. Do you have any favourite spots or haunts you like to revisit?
When I was living there, I was on an intern’s salary, so my favourite spot was the Tesco on the corner where I'd buy my magazines once a week. Simple pleasures!
I also wanted to ask, as you’ve done interviewing prior to Schitt’s Creek – do you have any tips for me?
You’re much more confident than I ever was. You’re doing great!
A page from Best Wishes, Warmest Regards
The show finished last year but the book’s just coming out now, and everyone’s involved. I assume that indicates the cast remains one big family…
Yeah. It’s a show none of us wanted to end, but creatively speaking, it was the right time. I don’t think we could have walked away at a better point. It’s always important to leave people wanting more. If it was up to us personally, we’d have kept doing it until everyone was bored!
It’s a rare scenario, I’m realising now, having spoke to others in TV, how close we become. It wasn’t just the cast – it was the crew, everybody, a group effort. For a show like ours, that had a budget so small, our trajectory should never have been what it was. The sole reason we succeeded the way we did was because the team felt ownership of what we were making. When people take that kind of pride in the work, it transcends the odds. It’s a family we’ll always have, regardless of where we end up.
Do you have WhatsApp groups to keep up with people?
WhatsApp is not as prevalent in America as it is in the UK. There are text chains. My sister [Sarah Levy, who played Twyla] just got married last month. Emily [Hampshire, who plays Stevie] and Noah [Reid, who plays Dan’s on-screen partner Patrick] was there. Noah and his wife stayed at my house for the weekend. We’re as close as ever and had a nice night on the dancefloor.
I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall - I bet it was like an episode of Schitt’s Creek!
There was a lot of screaming to various pop songs - I DJ’d!
The cover of Best Wishes, Warmest Regards
What’s in the book that a Schitt’s Creek fan would get excited about?
There’s a photo of Annie [Murphy, who plays Dan’s on-screen sister Alexis] and I having completely fallen apart emotionally on our last day on set that my sister took that’s in the book. A prised moment that we wanted to share. And it’s documenting props from the show: the whole Café Tropical menu was photographed as if we were archiving it. There’s the same documentation of the framed receipt Patrick gives David at the end of season three; outtakes from their engagement shoot are a personal favourite. Alexis’ public relations certificate…
I’ve been watching the show in recent weeks in anticipation of this interview and wanted to thank you for making me feel represented. My interpretation of David is – and maybe this is not what was intended – he’s a queer man with a sense of femininity that he’s confident in, when such characters elsewhere can be desexualised. Did you intentionally want to buck that trend?
I did. You know, I’d never seen… well, I’d never seen a pansexual character on TV before. But more than that, I’d never seen a femme pansexual character on TV before. They exist. That first season, when we were playing with was the misconceptions and preconceptions of who David was it was important to me to show, just because someone presents with an element of femininity, it doesn’t mean we should necessarily assume who they are and who they’re attracted to. Playing around that was a fun, foundational layer for the show and character, who continuously, over six seasons, reveled in people’s confusion around who he is. There was a joy in David never wavering or succumbing to people’s expectations, but challenging people in a way that’s equal parts confident and insecure.
I have an elevator pitch for what you could write next…
Take Moria and revisit her days as a soap actress and focus solely on that…
To be honest with you, it’s not like that idea has not crossed my mind. The idea of exploring Sunrise Bay in a more substantial way is something that’s always been a fun world.
I’m on the money!
You’re on the money. You went there and we’re on the same page. I’d love to write a soap opera. But a self-aware one. Because writing those old Sunrise Bay scenes for Catherine was so fun!
A page of Moira's wigs in Best Wishes, Warmest Regards
When writing her character, did you have to consult dictionaries for synonyms? She’s so verbose!
There were books Catherine actually gave [me], filled with curious words. That element of her character is definitely something she brought a lot to. As much as I could source words in dense synonym books I found, she somehow would still come up with things I couldn’t even script if I’d wanted to. Again, allowing our actors space to personalise their own work was such a key part of why they endeared themselves to people in a specific way. They are extensions of the actors. A lot of the time, actors walk in and say the lines which, depending on the person, is totally fine. But it did feel in this case, the more actors invested in their personalisation of the character, the better off we’d be.
The show and the book have such a powerful message about family, and your relationship with your dad is central to that. Would you like a family of your own one day?
That’s a great question. The answer is: I don’t know! I’m not great with kids. Let me [rephrase] that – I am great with kids because the kids know I’m kind of indifferent. I’m not an inherently warm and fuzzy person around children. But I think that my lack of interest endears them more to me, so they tend to get magnetised towards me in a way I always question! But I think it’s the lack of interest. But never say never. At the end of the day, I think a lot of it has to do with the person you fall in love with, and I haven’t met that person yet. If that was a dealbreaker for them, I think I’d entertain it. Let’s go one step at a time and find that person first.
Have you ever heard from Tina Turner over your use of ‘Simply the Best'?
I have not! I don’t want to say it’s something I’ve always been curious about... her approval or what she thinks! I’d like to think we – I mean, Noah did it [below], I did a lip-sync to it! – I hope she’d be amused, and appreciate how special that song was to our show and how meaningful it was to the couple, David and Patrick, but it's become something more. It’s taken on a life of its own. It’s amazing to be sent, almost every week, something over the internet of various couples, whether straight, queer, gay, trans getting married to that song. It’s something we never thought at the time. It just happens s to be a song I love.
Tina’s having yet another comeback!
Exactly! I hope someone’s shown it to her and she chuckled and smiled.
Last question: where do you keep your Emmys?
At the moment, on a shelf in my house.
Is the shelf about to break?
It’s spread out on two shelves, to be honest! They’re quite big, so it’s the only space big enough for them. I don’t love the idea of displaying awards, so you have to really be in my house to see them; they’re tucked up high on a shelf somewhere. I just make sure to dust them once in a while!
Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: The Story of Schitt's Creek is out now.
The Attitude Awards issue is out now.