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Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy talks show’s final season and lasting LGBTQ legacy

"It felt irresponsible not to... tell stories that meant something."

By Markus Bidaux

In Schitt’s Creek, Dan Levy created one of the sweetest and funniest TV sitcoms in recent memory. Co-created with his father (and co-star) Eugene Levy, in five short years the series has gone from a quaint Canadian comedy to mass global popularity after finding its home on Netflix.

It is a show that his launched hundreds of memes, especially for the matriarchically mother Moira, played by the legendary Catherine O’Hara, and ditzy yet worldly daughter Alexis, played by Annie Murphy.

We all need ‘A Little Bit Alexis’ in our lives – and if you don’t get that reference you need to get binge-watching this show now.

Johnny, Moira, David and Alexis Rose

At the heart of the show is David, the fashion-forward snarky son played by Dan Levy, who wears his queerness on his cashmere-sweater sleeves.

Even though the family are stuck in the tiny backwater Canadian town of Schitt’s Creek, never once during the series is his queerness an issue for his family or the cast of characters that populate the town.

It is refreshing to find a series in which being gay is never a struggle for the character.   

David with his boyfriend, Patrick

As the final season of marches towards David’s wedding to his boyfriend Patrick, airing on Netflix from 14 May, Dan Levy talks to Attitude from his home in LA about the show.

When did you know you had a hit on your hands?

Oh, goodness. I don’t know. I feel like as a Brit, you could at least understand the general Commonwealth belief that I don’t think we ever believe we have hits on our hands. I feel like it’s entirely anti-Canadian to believe something like that. But I would say probably around season five was when we started to really see people coming up to us on the street and there was some people talking about it on the internet. It was a very slow burn and I think when you start out with a show that nobody is really watching, that’s kind of how you generally perceive yourself and your program. We’ve always considered the show to be quite small. Its success and the viewership growing has really taken us by surprise. It’s been a pleasant surprise with that.

How important was it for you to represent the LGBTQ community in such a big way on the show?

I mean it was important in the sense that I had a platform to tell stories that would reflect my experiences and real experiences of my friends. It felt in a way kind of irresponsible not to seize that opportunity and tell stories that meant something, and stories that I haven’t really seen that much on television. So, in that capacity it was really important. I was really proud of the work that we did, and I really loved the stories that we’re able to tell.

Had you worked with your father, who plays your on-screen father David Rose, before this?

I hadn’t. I feel like when it comes to entertainment and being the child of an actor, it’s a very precarious place to find yourself because I feel people are very quick to slap a nepotism label on you. So working at MTV for eight years, independent of him in all capacities, I came out of that experience… and particularly when it came to figuring out this show, I felt like I had an idea that was strong enough that I could really bring my own ideas to the table, and not feel like I was relying on him in any capacity and that we were going to have an equal partnership here.

That was the kind of confidence that I needed in order to bring an idea to him and say, ‘Hey, do you want to work on something?’ But to be honest, it really started out as just a brainstorm, we didn’t have big intentions to have a show come from it. It was just sort of an exercise and one thing led to another and things kind of quickly fell into place. Suddenly we had a 13-episode pickup for our first season. So, it happened quite quickly and quite magically.

A lot of Brits won’t know that your father and Catherine O’Hara, who plays Moira, have been working together since the 1970s on the Canadian sketch show SCTV. Did you grow up knowing Catherine as well?

Yeah, I mean the cast of that show was always around. Even before SCTV the TV show, my dad was working at Second City with Catherine and Andrea Martin, John Candy, and Gilda Radner. Even before that, he was working with Martin Short and Victor Garber. These people have been in his life for so long and have played such formative roles in his growth as an actor, and as a sort of figure in the entertainment community. Marty is like family, and Catherine has always been a name in my house. I didn’t know her obviously quite as well when I was younger. To be given this opportunity to work with her now has brought us much closer. It’s been a nice full-circle moment to be able to work with her and my dad all these years later.

The Second City cast Catherine O’Hare bottom left and Eugene Levy top right, alongside comedy legends Joe Flaherty, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, John Candy and Andrea Martin

You brought your sister, Sarah, into the show as well. Did you push her into that, or was she keen to jump into that role of Twyla?

Yeah, she went to theatre school and then came out and was acting in Los Angeles before the show happened. Then we developed the series and there was a part that was right for her and she came on and really ran with it. It’s been nice to work with your family.

Another perk must have been getting to cast your on-screen boyfriend, Patrick?

Yes. I had known Noah socially before and really liked his work. He was brought in to read and it was no question, really. He came in, he was the part and I had not actually acted with him before, and I was not there during the audition. So, the only question mark that we had after hiring him was will there be any chemistry? Fortunately, he’s become a very close friend and we just had a really great time with it. So it makes it very comfortable when you actually like the person you’re supposed to be falling in love with.

Was there any pushback with any of the gay storylines from the networks?

No. We had no “no’s”, and absolutely no pushback on anything. To the point where our last season for our ad campaign, one of the billboards that we had out with was just a three story image of the two of us kissing. For me that was really important, because I think it spoke volumes about the show, but also I don’t get to see that very often on billboards – two men kissing. Knowing that I had the support of the network, and knowing that I had the ability to potentially push that forward it felt like something I had to do. What I didn’t expect was that members of the community, couples would find their way to that billboard and take photos of each other, kissing in front of it. It became this really beautiful place where people would go and celebrate queer love. It was a lovely way to celebrate our last season.

One of the things we don’t see on TV very often is open relationships shown in a positive light, and that’s something that was shown a couple of times in the final season. What was your decision to explore that with your characters?

Well, I think the character of David has always been a very sexually-open and liberated person, even though he’s kind of a ball of anxiety and self-doubt. It was reflecting relationships of friends of mine who have gone down those paths, or had those kinds of conversations. It felt really contemporary. It also felt very in line with these characters. I think for David, knowing that Patrick was very new to this world, it was important for him to create a space where Patrick felt okay to explore his impulses, and his curiosities, and not stifle that. I think when you’re dealing with a character that’s fresh out of the closet and finding love and another character who’s far more experienced, in this particular case in gay love and intimacy, it was important for me that David never stand in the way of Patrick’s growth in that sense. So, all of those conversations about exploring people and finding your way through the world of romance and intimacy, I think it’s so personal and so personalised to each couple that making sure that Patrick had those options available to him was really important. Because I never wanted the relationship to be seen like he just landed with David and that’s sort of it. He needed to open that space up to allow him to at least have the option.

Is there any possibility of a spinoff or a Christmas special in the future?

Well, I love a Christmas special, which is why we did one after season four. You never know, I’ve always felt the door is not necessarily closed. It is for now because I think our audience needs to just take a breath. If an idea crosses my path that feels worthy of our cast coming together again, and take up their time, and obviously to honour our audience. I think at this point we’ve taken such great care in the stories that we’ve told that if we’re going to do something again, it has to be of the same quality or better. I really hope that someday soon in the next couple of years one of those ideas flows into my head, but for the time being, we’re just going to let that sixth season play for a moment. We were really proud of it. I really love how it turned out. I felt like it really honoured the spirit of the show.

Dustin Milligan, who plays Alexis’s boyfriend Ted, recently appeared on RuPaul’s Celebrity Drag Race. Have you had an opportunity to watch it yet?

I did. Yeah. I thought it was incredible. He was so articulate.

Did you know he was going to do it beforehand?

No, he kept it a secret for a solid year.

Dustin Milligan on Rupaul’s Secret Celebrity Dragrace

What are you doing during quarantine? What’s the situation in LA?

Well, I’m trying to raise the money whenever I can. The show raised over $200,000 for Feeding America and Food Banks Canada just before our last episode. So that was really nice. I think it’s important when you have the ability to raise awareness and raise funds, that you do so if and when you can. Then on a more personal level, I’ve been honing my cooking skills because previous to this, I did not cook at all. So I’ve gone from a terrible cook to a bad cook. That’s been part of my journey and I picked up the piano again. So, I’ve been trying to reteach myself the piano and we’re going one bar at a time.

What’s next for you?

I signed a development deal with ABC Studios here in America. I’m developing television for them for the next three years, which is very exciting. I wish I had more to tell you in that department, but I am working on very special projects that. hopefully, I’ll be able to discuss in more detail soon. But it’s been fun. I had a little journal of ideas that I would write down and brainstorm in the off time when I wasn’t working on the show. Now that the show is done I sort of opened up that journal and really looked at some of those ideas more thoughtfully, and started to move on them.

It’s exciting to keep brainstorming new stories to tell on television, and hopefully stories that pick up where Schitt’s Creek left off. Just in terms of having a social heartbeat, and continuing to tell stories about our community in ways that feel meaningful, and special, and funny. Yeah, it’s going to be an exciting few years.

The sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek is available to stream on Netflix now.