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The Canadian Trifecta: Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy, Catherine O'Hara

The Canadian Trifecta: Eugene Levy, Daniel Levy, Catherine O'Hara

The beloved Canadian comics (and Schitt’s Creek costars) on playing straight, playing not straight, and why their homeland never takes itself too seriously.

Photography by Caitlin Cronenberg. Styling by Chad Burton for Plutino Group. Prop styling by Nina Bozalo. Hair by Ana Sorys. Makeup by Lucky Bromhead. Photographed at the Crystal Ballroom at the King Edward Hotel, Toronto.

It started with a silly little pun, but the Pop network comedy Schitt’s Creek has quickly become one of the biggest, oddest pleasures on television. Co-created by father-and-son team Eugene (of American Pie fame) and Daniel Levy, the series concerns a formerly rich family cleaned out by tax authorities and forced to live in their only remaining asset: the small town of the show’s title, which they’d bought as a joke years ago.

Catherine O’Hara co-stars as the haughty matriarch Moira, an ex–soap opera queen who maintains her commitment to loud haute couture outfits and even louder disdain. Annie Murphy plays her daughter, Alexis, a deliciously spoiled brat whose sordid backstory keeps unfolding via throwaway lines (she once woke up on a sheik’s yacht; she forgot to graduate from high school). Then, in a quietly revolutionary twist, there’s the family’s supremely swishy son, David (Daniel Levy), who divulged that he was pansexual in the first season. After becoming involved with a female motel clerk named Stevie, he ended season two by hooking up with a male townie woodworker. And Daniel promises more to come. “This season we dabble in throuple territory!” he says. “We’re really pushing the sexuality forward. It’s going to be juicy and dramatic.” 

This is the sort of storytelling Daniel set out to explore from the beginning. “I think pansexuality is something that is underrepresented in a cultural way, specifically on television,” he says. “I want to tell a very honest story about the character, and hopefully shed light on some aspects of who he is in a funny and special way.”

Eugene Levy 750

Jacket and pants by Dolce & Gabbana. Shirt by Filippa K. Bow tie by Armani. Shoes by Christopher Bates.

For all its broadness and loony, puerile humor — Chris Elliott plays the town mayor, Roland Schitt, who hosts a Web series called Wake Up With the Schitt’s — the series has become less a fish-out-of-water tale and more a portrait of a family coming together amid crisis. “It’s always great to be involved in a comedy like this,” says Eugene. “It’s what I call a grounded comedy — grounded in reality and truth.” He describes his father character Johnny as one of the straightest figures he’s portrayed. “I’ve been a character actor my whole life: You put on a funny wig, glasses, and a hat, and off you go,” he says. “I always shied away from playing characters a little too close to me, because I didn’t have enough confidence in myself to pull that off. So being a straight man is exciting.”

“I love playing Moira for the opposite reason,” O’Hara replies. “With her, I feel like I’m not anywhere close to myself. Except maybe me on a bad day.”

Season three, premiering early next year, offers its own set of gonzo surprises. David flirts with commitment, but viewers can still expect a fresh batch of sexual escapades. “We’re shaking up the town on all fronts,” says Daniel. Meanwhile, Canadian guest stars abound, such as Blindspot’s François Arnaud (season two featured Canadian actor and Saturday Night Live vet Robin Duke as the owner of the Blouse Barn, where David finds an outlet for his fashion frustrations). 

Or, as Eugene puts it, the new season is just “more of the same” — which should be perfectly fine, given Levy Sr. and O’Hara’s incomparable chemistry. The two have been working together for four decades, first teaming up on the classic Canadian sketch comedy show Second City Television and later achieving icon status with standout performances in the Christopher Guest movies Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), and A Mighty Wind (2003). 

In conversation and onscreen, they appear more coupley than most couples. When they joined forces for the first season of SCTV in 1976, did they think they’d be working together 40 years on?

“I didn’t assume I’d still be alive!” says O’Hara.

“I wouldn’t have guessed it,” adds Eugene. “The fact that I’m still working, let alone working with Catherine, is pretty great. A lot of us who started out in Toronto have stayed friends through the years, but my friendship with her is pretty thick and pretty special. We look back at where we started, and we share the same memories. It’s funny how things work out.”

Although the actual location of Schitt’s Creek has never been revealed, the series is decidedly Canadian. For one, it seems like a bridge between American sitcoms, whose chief players must almost always be likable, and British comedies, which have for years gazed upon their characters with a rabidly unsympathetic eye.

“I think Canadians are very humble,” says Daniel. “We’re raised to always be apologizing for things. I think with humility comes a lot of self-awareness, and self-deprecation is where a lot of comedy lives.”

The country would be forgiven for growing some ego. It has shaped so much of America’s comedic landscape, giving us SCTV breakouts like John Candy and Andrea Martin as well as SNL producer Lorne Michaels, Martin Short, The Kids in the Hall, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, and, most recently, Samantha Bee. So why is Canada so damn funny? 

“It could be the fact that the country is in winter for six months out of the year,” jokes Daniel. “I think that builds a harder edge into you. We’re also part of the Commonwealth, so we share some of that dark, twisted comedic sensibility with England.” He pauses. “Or maybe it’s the lake water we’re all drinking.”

Catherine Ohara 750x

Dress by Saint Laurent. Cuffs by Dean Davidson. Jewelry by Carrara y Carrera. Boots by Mimosa.

"I always say that Canada is a good straight man,” says O’Hara. “It used to be kind of provincial and conservative. That makes you want to be funny and gives you something to make fun of. We’re closer to England than we are to America, and great comedy comes out of England. The more conservative authority you can lash out against, the more wealth of material there is.”

Unlike the exiled clowns they portray, the three actors marvel at all things north of the border. In Toronto, where they’re all based, Daniel recommends the Ossington strip, Queen Street East, and Parkdale, all New York–ish neighborhoods packed with cool restaurants and bars. O’Hara raves about what she calls “the most beautiful place in the world”: Muskoka. “There are clean, clear lakes. Except for the cottages and people, it’s just like it was hundreds of years ago.” 

Menawhile, Eugene insists, “We have hot weather! And Toronto has more trees than just about any city in North America!”

On the eve of their show’s third season, the longtime collaborators ponder a hypothetical: a Schitt’s Creek reunion special, which they anticipate taking place some 20 years from now. Would the family still be stuck in their postmodern Gilligan’s Island scenario?

“Moira would not still be in town,” says O’Hara. “God, no. But for the success of the show, sure!”

“After what they’ve done to it, Schitt’s Creek would be a destination to tell your readers about,” says Eugene. “It has so much to offer.” Indeed.

Schitt's Creek Season 3 debuts in Winter 2017.

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