Eugene Levy: ‘The​ eyebrows d​idn’t hinder or help my career, I don’t think’

<span>Photograph: Willy Sanjuan/Invision</span>
Photograph: Willy Sanjuan/Invision

The much-loved Canadian comic actor Eugene Levy is best known for co-creating and co-starring in Schitt’s Creek with his son Dan. The sitcom, which also starred his daughter Sarah, became a cult hit during the pandemic and won multiple awards for its sixth and final season, including a best actor Emmy for Eugene. His film roles include four collaborations with Spinal Tap creator Christopher Guest (such as Best in Show) and the flustered father Noah Levenstein in the American Pie teen comedies. Now Levy brings his deadpan wit and distinctive brows to an eight-part TV travelogue, The Reluctant Traveler.

How reluctant were you making this series?
Pretty reluctant. I couldn’t have said “no” more times. It was pitched to me as a travel show about exotic hotels, I think called A Room With a View. I told my agent: “For anybody else, this would be an extremely exciting proposal but I don’t enjoy travel and I’m not sure how I’m going to hide that. So no, thank them very much but honestly, someone else would do a much better job.” My agent called back and said Apple wanted to have a conversation. So we had a phone call and as I was listing all my reasons, I was getting laughs. They immediately said: “That’s the show! A travel show hosted by somebody who doesn’t like travel.”

During the series, you go to Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Italy, the Maldives, Portugal and South Africa. Would you return to any of those destinations someday?
I adored Italy for the food. I kind of had fun in Finland but would I go back there? I don’t know. If the Maldives were easier to get to, I’d consider that.

What was the worst place you visited?
Well, I would never have thought of going to a rainforest. But in Costa Rica, I went on a night hike through the jungle with only a flashlight. I’ve never been into the creepy crawly thing. Makes me nervous. I’m not into ants that can put you in a hospital. I was truly dreading that hike but I did it. And came out thinking: I never want to do this again.

I’m not a big talker and lean on the shy side but I learned how to chit-chat to strangers

You end up with your arm up an elephant’s backside. How was that?
That was sprung on me. First they asked if I’d assist a vet taking blood from an elephant. Then they asked if I’d like to take a stool sample. I said: “No thank you. I honestly don’t think I can.” At which point I hear my co-producer David Brindley shouting from off-camera: “Oh, I think you can!” So I did it for the show. I felt sorry for the animal. It was a horrible feeling.

Has making the show changed you?
It has. The idea that you can’t really form an opinion about something unless you try it, that’s been an eye-opener. I never wanted to go on safari. I know what all these animals look like. Do I need to get up at 5am and go on a long trip to see them running around a field? Actually, it turns out I do. After only a few days in South Africa, I grew an affinity for these wild animals and the landscape they inhabit. The danger posed by poachers and hunters hit me in a very real way. I’m not a big talker and lean on the shy side but I learned how to chit-chat to strangers. Travel makes you a better person, or at least a slightly more interesting one.

Your son Dan co-created and co-starred in Schitt’s Creek. Your daughter Sarah played Twyla Sands and your brother Fred produced the show. How was it, working so closely with your family?
It’s one of the true joys of my life that I got the chance to work on a day-to-day basis with my children. I always used to envy friends in different professions – a lawyer whose son went to law school or a doctor whose children became doctors – with family businesses. It was a thrilling experience for me.

It must have been a proud moment when you and Dan both won Emmys in 2020?
Oh, absolutely. We’re record-breakers – the first ever father and son to win an Emmy in the same year and the first to win for the same show. I’m glad we didn’t get all those awards in our first or second season. That’s a dangerous way to go. Much more satisfying to do it all in our final year, when people had seen all the seasons and got what we were trying to do.

You’re known for co-writing and appearing in Christopher Guest’s films
Funnily enough, a lot of the cast just got together in San Francisco for a reunion event, marking the 20th anniversary of A Mighty Wind. There was music, laughter, a lot of fun.

Are there any more collaborations in the pipeline?
No, I don’t think it will happen. Our last one was For Your Consideration back in 2006. Our fake documentaries – Chris always hated the term “mockumentary” because we’re not mocking, it’s more affectionate than that – but they were getting a little cookie-cutter in terms of story. Everything was kind of the same, except we just changed the subject. At a certain point, that becomes predictable. In the interim, so many television shows have picked up that form and just destroyed it.

What do you get recognised most for nowadays? Is it still American Pie?
Now it’s Schitt’s Creek. All over the world. People came up and talked about the show in pretty much any location we visited. The American Pie thing got a bit tedious. People would bring me apple pie every time I went into a restaurant or to a wedding. Which is kind of funny, but it did happen a lot.

What part have your trademark eyebrows played in your career?
Well, listen, here they are [removes his baseball cap and waggles eyebrows]. I try to keep them as trim as I can. They didn’t hinder or help my career, I don’t think. Nobody has ever asked me to hire a landscaper and take them down for any job.

You had a hit TV show in your 70s. You must be pleased that your friend Jennifer Coolidge is becoming an icon in her 60s?
Totally, yes! It’s so well deserved. She truly is a very funny, quirky, beautiful person. In The White Lotus, Jennifer finally got a role that reflected who she is. I love that she’s getting all these plaudits, partly because it gives her the opportunity to make thank you speeches that turn out to be the highlight of the entire awards show.

You have Scottish roots, right? Perhaps you could explore those if there’s a second series…
Yeah, my mum was born in Glasgow in the early 20th century and came over to Canada aged 12. She’s no longer with us, of course, but I still have relatives in Glasgow. I could go over there. Scotland was on the initial list of possible locations but I tend to think of Scotland as cold, cloudy and windy. I didn’t know if I wanted to spend a week in a place with no sun. But hey, that was the old me. I’m getting it now, so who knows?

  • The Reluctant Traveler is available now on Apple TV+