Mr Dan Levy On Why Schitt’s Creek Is The Show We Really, Really Needed

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Mr Dan Levy On Why Schitt’s Creek Is The Show We Really, Really Needed

Words by Mr Dan Davies

15 December 2020

Mr Levy’s latest project is Happiest Season, a festive rom-com in which he stars alongside Ms Kristen Stewart and Ms Mackenzie Davis, but it’s Schitt’s Creek we’re here to celebrate. “No one is ever who you quite think they are,” he reasons when asked about the show’s remarkable appeal. “People are a lot more complicated and ultimately more interesting the more you get to know them, especially when you give them a chance.” Half an hour on Zoom with the charming Mr Levy confirms that the same can be said for him.

MR PORTER: Why is it, do you think, that so many people like me feel that Schitt’s Creek is something we have really, really needed this year?

Mr Dan Levy: I think people are really trying to find ways of making themselves feel better. I think our show provides, intentionally or unintentionally, a safe, warm, loving, understanding place for people to go, whether you’re bingeing it or watching it weekly. It was a safe haven, I think. To have made a choice to depict a town that’s free of intolerance and homophobia, and to tell stories of what really happens when that freedom exists in a place, and watching people grow and fall deeper in love with each other, is not a bad thing, especially in these trying times. Sprinkle some humour on that and hopefully it’s a nice little antidote.

Television is an incredibly transformative medium, way more than I ever thought. The fact that people are often sitting in their living rooms, guards down, watching something that they want to watch or stumbling upon something they might not have ever seen before allows for the kind of connection and the kind of conversation that I had previously not known was quite as transformative. I never wanted to teach anybody any lessons through this show. I really just wanted to treat every storyline, every character, every romance with the same level of care and the same level of casual nonchalance as I possibly could.

MR PORTER: One of the striking things about the show is the level of acceptance among the population of Schitt’s Creek. For example, in the story of the romance between your character, David, and his partner Patrick, there is no pain, no trauma, which is unusual in itself…

DL: I wanted the David and Patrick story to be treated with the same kind of ease as straight romances had been treated with on television for decades. It was really a kind of rebellion for me against the fact I have rarely seen gay love stories that didn’t end in death, sadness, trauma or abuse of some kind. It was pushing back. What I wanted to see was two men reflecting experiences that I have gone through and falling in love without fear of consequences. As simple as that is as an idea, you realise just how deprived members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been when it comes to seeing themselves represented through that lens. We’ve become so accustomed to equating queer love to trauma.

To propose the complete opposite, to eliminate homophobia from the show and never give power to that, but do it in a way that’s not preachy, that’s not heavy-handed has allowed people to hold up a mirror to their own belief system. It’s allowed them to ask: “Why am I holding this kind of hatred or judgement in my heart when I’m watching these people on my television screen become better people?”

We’ve received a ton of letters, including from people who have religious beliefs or more right-leaning conservative beliefs who have been given a window into a life that they don’t get to see all the time. There have been conversations had in family homes and between friends and relatives that have really changed for the better. I really think that has come down to the fact that we have allowed people to learn for themselves. We haven’t gone after them with a message. When people feel free to question their own beliefs and don’t feel pinned to a wall by an agenda you can really change people’s minds and change the conversation. It’s been incredible.

Mr Daniel Levy, Mr Eugene Levy, Ms Catherine O’Hara and Ms Annie Murphy in Schitt’s Creek Series 2 Episode 1 (2016). Photograph courtesy of ITV Studios

MR PORTER: In your opinion, how much is the incredible groundswell of recognition and love for the show a reaction to what has been happening in the US over these past few years?

DL: One hundred per cent. You can track it; you can track the change. You could really tell the difference between 7 November and 8 November 2016 – the day after he [President Donald Trump] was brought into power. It really went from “this show is very funny” to “I need this show”.

You could almost see the shift in terms of people’s emotional attachment to it. It was really just happenstance that we were on this path of writing a show about a community that is supporting and encouraging of one another while he was really trying to tear the concept of community apart and pit people against each other and incubate and foster this horrible hatred and vitriol within communities. You could see the shift. It was very interesting to be able to witness that reaction from the fans while they were watching the show.

MR PORTER: How did you feel on election night this time round, and how did you feel the morning after?

DL: Until the administration is successfully handed over, I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic. The fact that we have gone through these four years is just crazy. A lot of people were saying it feels like a Black Mirror episode, but it was not a Black Mirror episode; we all lived through it. As two white people talking to each other we have no idea how devastating these past four years have been for so many people out there are who have been actively targeted, actively oppressed, murdered – it’s really unfathomable to think how dark these past four years have been.  

Ms Annie Murphy, Mr Noah Reid, Mr Daniel Levy and Ms Emily Hampshire in Schitt’s Creek Series 6 Episode 1 (2020). Photograph courtesy of POP tv

MR PORTER: How close are you to David Rose and how autobiographical is the character in terms of your love of contemporary fashion?

DL: I would say that our levels of anxiety are probably the same. He doesn’t care as much as I do about what his face says to people when he is judging them. I try to be a little bit more respectful when it comes to my personal thoughts on a situation. I will say that having played David for six years, it’s becoming harder for me to hide what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling on my face. He has opened me up to a world of facial gymnastics that I don’t know I will ever be able to shake.

As to your question about style, a lot of David’s clothes were my clothes. I brought them in, especially in the first season, because we didn’t have that kind of money. The Rick Owens leather jacket that I wear on the first episode was my own from home. A lot of the lace-ups were my own. I would work these pieces from my own closet into the show. A lot of them were from earlier days when I was a little bit more adventurous with my style.

People would come in and laugh at one of David’s sweaters and I would have to say, “Well, this one happens to be my own, but I’m glad you found the whole look so entertaining.” I used to wear those Rick lace-ups generally and now I can’t walk down the street without somebody stopping me and saying, “Are you David or are you just dressing like him?” I don’t want people to think I’m Single White Female-ing my own character.

Illustrations by Ms Oriana Fenwick

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