As Me with Sinéad — 9: Dan Levy
As Me with Dan Levy transcript
[00:36] Sinéad Burke: Welcome to As Me with Sinéad. I have an absolute treat for you today. One of my favorite things to do, particularly when I travel, as a way in which to take my mind off whatever it is I’m doing, is to watch some smart, well-written, funny, punchy, fast, protagonist-driven television with a hint of activism and advocacy within it. And at the top of my list is Schitt’s Creek. I have talked about this to anybody who will listen, and this person, for this week’s episode on As Me with Sinéad has created that space. And created the first pansexual character on mainstream television. They’re committed to making us and me and all of us laugh and think. And within this show, they’ve designed a world in which so much of the bigotry that exists within our experience, is just not part of it. This week’s episode does with the extraordinary Dan Levy. He talked about the evolution of David and Dan simultaneously, and what it’s like to work with his family.
[01:36] Dan Levy: My dad had it set in his mind that I should be wearing glasses for this character. And I felt very certain that he should not be wearing glasses. And that was a thing. We got into it in the early days of our show because he was like, I don’t know, I think you should wear glasses. I’m like, well, I’ve been doing MTV for 10 years. I wear glasses on MTV. I really want to separate myself from who I am as a television host, and who I want to be as a character. And I won out in the end, and as a result, I wore contact lenses for seven years, which I hated every single day.
[02:13] Sinéad Burke: On my mind this week, after having a couple of days with a bit of a nasal cold and not feeling so great — and perhaps it’s just coming to the end of a very busy year. I’ve been really thinking about how do I not just take some time off, but figure out the boundaries that are needed just for me. In a world in which we’re always built for optimization, which I really learned from reading Trick Mirror, how do we learn to optimize ourselves to just be ourselves? Are you ready? Let’s go!
[02:46] Sinéad Burke: This week on As Me with Sinéad, I have somebody who I would genuinely describe as one of my heroes. And they say don’t meet your heroes, which is probably the reason why we’re doing this through studios in New York and Los Angeles. But I kid. This person has, I think, shaped a generation of people to view their own narratives within popular culture in a way that’s not tainted by the biases that exist within the real world. But give us the freedom to dream who we wish to be in any and all spaces. It is, of course, Dan Levy, the actor, creator, knower of all things The Hills on MTV. But most importantly, the person who has given us Schitt’s Creek. Dan, welcome to the show.
[03:33] Dan Levy: Are you wanting me to cry before this interview even start?
[03:37] Sinéad Burke: Um yes, please. That’s really good for ratings.
[03:38] Dan Levy: What a lovely introduction. Oh, my goodness me. Thank you for having me.
[03:42] Sinéad Burke: This is such a treat. I mean, I have been very fortunate to irritate you mercilessly through the medium of Instagram DM for quite some time now between discussing —
[03:51] Dan Levy: It is a — we are in this together. I feel.
[03:55] Sinéad Burke: Yes. Well, between suggesting what you should wear to red carpets, which is not my lane.
[04:00] Dan Levy: Yes it is.
[04:01] Sinéad Burke: And yet, I participate. The first question I wanted to ask is how do you describe yourself personally and professionally?
[04:13] Dan Levy: I think in both cases, I would probably describe myself as someone who is trying to do their best, and be as well-intentioned and helpful as I possibly can. And I’m also, you know, from a very young age, I’ve always been a people pleaser and an overachiever. So I have a very high standard for myself and others. Which can be problematic at times, I’m not gonna lie.
[04:40] Sinéad Burke: What’s your star sign?
[04:42] Dan Levy: I’m a Leo.
[04:43] Sinéad Burke: Ohh.
[04:44] Dan Levy: Yeah, that’s the reaction I get a lot.
[04:45] Sinéad Burke: That’s a good thing, though. I’m surrounded by Leos.
[04:48] Dan Levy: We know what we want. And oftentimes we’re ambitious enough to get it.
[04:53] Sinéad Burke: I enjoy that. I am a Virgo, which means that notion of being critical of one’s self whilst also being deeply ambitious is something that’s ingrained in my personality and will probably never go away.
[05:05] Dan Levy: Have you ever read, um, It’s called something like the Great Book of Birthdays or the Truth of Your Birthday, or something? OK.
[05:12] Sinéad Burke: No! Tell me more.
[05:13] Dan Levy: There is a big coffee table book that I will send you when this is done, and maybe you can read it and if you like it, then share it. But it is a book that has every single day of the year in it. And you find your birthday. And it will give you an analysis of who you are. And at first I sort of thought to myself, well, there’s been a lot of apps and websites and things that you can sort of plug in your astral information and you get some sort of version of what everyone has sort of described your star sign as. This book has the most scarily intensely accurate — at least in my case description of who I am. August 9th, 1983.
[05:57] Sinéad Burke: And what does it say?
[05:58] Dan Levy: I think the biggest revelation for me in reading it, it was like, you know, you’re headstrong and often know what you want. You’re very clear in your vision. And then it’ll talk about some of the shortcomings of people born on the day. And mine was ‘you are often looking out for people even when they don’t need it or want it.’ And by it, I mean like your advice on how they should live their lives, or how to go about protecting themselves. And I thought to myself, that has been the key to so many disagreements that I’ve gotten in with friends where I care about them so much that I feel like I have to express how I feel. And oftentimes people might not want your opinion on their situation. Maybe they’re not ready for it. Maybe they want to figure it out for themselves. It was a huge revelation to me. And I’ve had that same situation with friends — they’ll come over to my house, will open up the book and find their birthday. And half of them halfway through the analysis will want to stop because it’s too truthful. And I did it on a date once. And I can tell you, don’t ever do that on a date. That is way too real, way too soon. But this book is magic. It’s like the secret book of birthdays or something.
[07:14] Sinéad Burke: That sounds incredible. That idea of caring for your friends, perhaps too much — where do you think that came from?
[07:21] Dan Levy: I don’t know. I think I’ve been a very loyal person for my whole life. And I guess if I were to, like, think about it, I think when you’re single, too, and you don’t necessarily have someone in your life every day to sort of take up your time and distract you from focusing on other things. You know, as a single guy, I’ve been single for a long time — you have a lot more bandwidth to spend thinking about your friends and caring about your friends and your family. And, you know, I think as a result, it’s you know — it’s also coupled with clearly some sort of astrological issue that I can’t really control.
[07:56] Clearly. I mean, it’s not your fault. It’s the universe. Don’t take any of this responsibility on yourself, Dan.
[08:04] Dan Levy: I’m gonna blame it on the stars. Yeah. So, I don’t know. I think it’s just in my nature, I’m very stubborn. And if I feel something, I’ve always felt the desire or the impulse to like get it out into the world. And a lot of times people don’t want to hear it, which is fun.
[08:22] Sinéad Burke: Was that nurtured within you?
[08:24] Dan Levy: I don’t know where it came from. I think my mom is very similar to me in the sense that she’s very clear about how she feels and is incredibly sort of straightforward. So I’m sure it came from her.
[08:36] Sinéad Burke: And how do you deliver that particularly advice that, you know, somebody is going to be uncomfortable hearing. How do you decorate that advice?
[08:42] Dan Levy: I think, because I, as a person, am so comfortable in honesty — like I really thrive when everything is on the table. I get very unsettled when I feel like people I’m communicating with, or holding information back, or tiptoeing around something. So I think my world that I live in, I’m very comfortable with extreme honesty. And I think sometimes when you get comfortable in your own way of doing things, you sometimes forget, or overlook the fact that everybody is different and everybody processes information differently. And you can’t sort of impose your own way of life onto other people. So now having really sort of come to terms with that, I do find that I will ask people if they want my opinion. And by people I mean, my dear, dear friends. So the stakes aren’t very high.
[09:36] Sinéad Burke: They love you anyway.
[09:38] Dan Levy: Exactly. But I will sort of shoot a flare and say, OK, do you want my opinion on this? Or should we just let it play out and maybe we’ll circle back a little bit later. And I feel like that’s really helped.
[09:50] Sinéad Burke: And are you good with feedback both personally and professionally?
[09:55] Dan Levy: I want to say yes? I really do. But yeah, I think it really depends on what you’re doing. I think as long as it’s articulated properly?
[10:06] Sinéad Burke: What does properly mean?
[10:07] Dan Levy: I respond to clear feedback. So if you were to read something that I wrote, and you were to send notes back that we’re thorough, and offered solutions, and really sort of painted a very clear picture as to what was troubling you with what I’ve written, or what was confusing you, I would be totally fine with that. In fact, I would embrace it. I think in terms of the kind of feedback that doesn’t sit very well is when someone just says, ‘hmm. I don’t know. I just don’t like it.’ That’s not helping me. That’s not making me feel anxious. And if you can’t offer any kind of explanation as to why you don’t like it, or why you’re confused by it, or any solution to the problem, then let’s maybe hold on that opinion until we work through it a little bit further.
[10:56] Sinéad Burke: And how many of those, ‘hmm. It’s interesting’ did you get when you first presented people with the idea of Schitt’s Creek?
[11:09] Dan Levy: People really responded to the show — I mean, we took it out in Los Angeles originally and nobody wanted it. But then our lovely network up in Canada, and Pop in the states who came on later, and then eventually Netflix — once the show started getting made, people really saw clearly what we were trying to do. And the real feedback was about the name.
[11:31] Sinéad Burke: It’s so surprising to me because I’m Irish and profanity is kind of our first language. So I’m always beguiled by the fact that people have to enunciate and articulate the spelling of Schitt’s Creek on national television here.
[11:43] Dan Levy: On late night television. I’ve done late night television that exists after 11 p.m. and we still have to spell it or show the spelling of it. And I’m so glad that I’m speaking to an Irish person because ‘shit’ is from what I have researched, an Irish last name.
[12:02] Sinéad Burke: Tell me more!
[12:03] Dan Levy: Correct me if I’m wrong!
[12:06] Sinéad Burke: This is not what I have researched.
[12:08] Dan Levy: You’ve never heard anyone with shit as a last name?
[12:11] Sinéad Burke: I’ve heard of people with a lot of dodgy names, but not shit. I mean, Sinéad is interesting here. I get called Si-knee-ad Burk-ay, or Sha-nay, which —
[12:21] Dan Levy: Si-knee-ad Burk-ay.
[12:22] Sinéad Burke: It’s quite the look.
[12:23] Dan Levy: It is quite the look. It’s very edgy.
[12:27] Sinéad Burke: Can you imagine what Si-knee-ad Burk-ay’s wardrobe is like?
[12:28] Dan Levy: High conceptual clothing. She’s an artist. So wait a minute. You’re telling me ‘shit’ is not a last name and that there is not a Shit’s Creek in Ireland?
[12:38] Sinéad Burke: I don’t want to dispel any of your dreams, but I would like to offer you an invitation to Ireland to inquire the reality of this.
[12:45] Dan Levy: I would love nothing more.
[12:46] Sinéad Burke: Because I think if we do nothing for the Irish people except bring you to see, and to meet the members of the Shit family in Shit’s Creek —
[12:55] Dan Levy: Can we do a docu-series where you and I are questing for Shit’s Creek?
[13:00] Sinéad Burke: I think we should. I think Netflix would be interested in this show. What would we call it? Shit or get off the pot?
[13:05] Dan Levy: Looking for shit.
[13:07] Sinéad Burke: Looking for shit. Can you remember the moment when the idea first came to you?
[13:11] Dan Levy: Yeah. I mean, you can sort of connect the dots of your life a little bit. And I feel like when I was working for MTV and working for The Hills, I knew the entire time that I was — this was not what I was supposed to do. It was something that I stumbled into. It was an incredible life lesson. It brought me out of my shell. It opened me up. It made me a more confident person. But in terms of what I was sort of intended to do on this earth, I don’t think hosting television was it. And I thought to myself as I was doing that there has to be a reason for this. And I really feel now looking back, working with reality television, for one might argue too many years, I was saturated in the way that wealthy people lived their lives. And around the time of The Hills, it was also around the time of the birth of reality television, like the Housewives and the Kardashians, where we had the most intimate look at how wealthy people live, how they solve problems, what brings them joy. And a lot of it is money being spent on things, gifts and trips. And that’s not to say that there’s no love in those families, because I think the Kardashians in particular, I think are an incredibly supportive group of people. But what I really took from that experience was what would that look like if the money was taken away? What would a very wealthy family — now that we as a culture have such an intense understanding of how they live, what would it look like behind the curtain if the money was stripped away? Where would their values lie? What would they mean to each other? What would they prioritize? And what would they learn? And I thought it was a really interesting area to explore that played on something that was really growing in culture, which was this preoccupation with wealth. While at the same time, you know, hoping to put out a message that at the end of the day, money is not the be all and end all. And that if you — I mean, it’s not a new concept at all, but that if you don’t have love in your life, you will literally not be able to purchase that. That is the only thing you cannot purchase. So that was a big lesson for this family and a concept that was really compelling to me.
[15:25] Sinéad Burke: And did you ever feel like it was impossible to write that script? I can just imagine my career is very different to that. But if I had to step outside of it and sit down and write a script for what I had hoped would be a TV show with that much potential, I’m not sure if I’d ever actually be able to physically put myself in a space to go and write it. Where did you find the confidence?
[15:49] Dan Levy: Well see, because I look at you and I ask the same question. I know I’m not presupposing anything about how you got to do what you did, but I would imagine that it’s a similar trajectory in the sense that you felt a desire to do something and you did it. And it wasn’t really a choice. It was just something that you did. And I’m also a believer in just getting things done. I feel like so many people have ideas that they either are too scared to follow through on or just don’t have the passion enough to execute. So I’ve always sort of lived with this belief that if you have an idea, take it as far as you possibly can, because at the end you’ll come out with something. You’ll come out with a script. Or you’ll come out with an experience. Or you’ll come out with a skill set that a lot of people won’t have because a lot of people don’t have the follow-through. So by just getting something done, you are inherently going to be miles ahead of a lot of other people. So that’s always been sort of my philosophy. But, you know, I think the idea for the show came quite quickly once our our network came on board. They picked up a full season, which was 13 episodes at the time. And I didn’t have the time to think about it or worry about it. We were thrown in the deep end and I didn’t have any previous writing experience other than, you know, scripting some sketches for my co-host and I on MTV, which is an incredibly different thing.
[17:12] Dan Levy: So I was thrown in the deep end. I was fortunately surrounded by really talented people who also, you know, were able to put their egos aside to help me learn. Because there’s a lot of potential in this industry for people to look at someone like myself who has created this idea, but doesn’t necessarily have the background and say, well, he doesn’t deserve it.
[17:35] Sinéad Burke: How did you maintain your agency in those rooms? And how did you maintain your own kind of maturity, surely going into those spaces, particularly as the show evolved — people can belittle or assume power to someone else.
[17:49] Dan Levy: Well, we hired a great team. And our mandate from the very beginning was that if you come and work for us on this show, or work with us rather, there will be no ego. So you have to be open to collaboration. You have to be open to the idea that this is a group effort. And you have to be open to the idea that I will have very specific thoughts on how things should be, because this is an idea that came from my mind. I, at the end of the day, have the clearest vision of how it should be executed. And as a result, finding those people that were really excited by that prospect made for such an enriching experience of just sheer collaboration. Where you didn’t have to worry about hurting people’s feelings because there was no feelings to hurt, because no one was being cruel, or no one was being — there was no power struggles. It was really just about the show. And getting it made and bringing it to life in a way that felt specific and interesting and special.
[18:51] Dan Levy: So I’ve had a very rare experience, you know, a very rare first step into this industry, because I’ve been surrounded by people who are just about making good stuff. I haven’t had to deal with personalities and egos and fights and all of that. And sure, I mean, under the pressure of getting a television show made, there is inevitably going to be disagreements. But they were always solved quite respectfully in the end because the show came first. It was always about the show.
[19:25] Sinéad Burke: When did you realize the show was good?
[19:28] Dan Levy: By I guess the first season. I guess, thinking back, I knew we had something when we filled out our cast. Because every actor was so perfectly suited for the role that they played. They were bringing things to the characters that were far beyond anything I could write. There was a magic to the inhabitants of actor in character. And I knew we had something special when I was at the first table read and just watched the story come to life. I didn’t know what the show was going to be necessarily, but I knew that we had the right people in place to tell that story. And I guess that would have been the first indication that something was in the water. Something special was in the room.
[20:12] Sinéad Burke: Was there ever a moment when you weren’t going to play, David?
[20:14] Dan Levy: No, but there was a moment when my dad had it set in his mind that I should be wearing glasses for this character. And I felt very certain that he should not be wearing glasses. And that was a thing. We got into it in the early days of our show. Because he was like, I don’t know, I think you should wear glasses. I’m like, well, I’ve been doing MTV for 10 years. I wear glasses on MTV. I really want to separate myself from who I am as a television host, and who I want to be as this character. And I won out in the end and and as a result, I wore contact lenses for seven years, which I hated every single day.
[20:54] Sinéad Burke: This conversation has evolved around eyes more than I expected, both the way in which we view the world symbolically and physically.
[21:03] Dan Levy: Yeah. Perspective is key.
[21:07] Sinéad Burke: We’ll be back just after this break.
[23:20] Sinéad Burke: Tell me about what it’s like to live in your body as Dan, and what it’s like to live in David’s body.
[23:30] Dan Levy: Ooh, goodness. This is its own podcast. It’s interesting that you’re asking me this question now because I feel like ten years ago I would have had a very different answer. I feel like I have — I would say in the last four or five years — really started to feel comfortable in my skin. I don’t think I ever did in the past. And I think when you are someone that has lived a large part of your life in the closet and has, you know, carried on day after day with a huge secret that you’ve been withholding from people, that really affects who you are, and how you carry yourself, in your general sort of belief in yourself. Because I think for me, I always thought of myself as not being as strong as the people that were around me. Like I was weak in some way because I didn’t have the strength to be truthful about who I was. And that’s its own sort of complicated set of circumstantial and psychological issues. But, you know, I think that really took its toll on me in terms of my general confidence. And then coming out of the closet and finding my footing and slowly but surely building myself back up again, and forgiving myself for a life that I really sort of was sad about, and telling myself in the end that it’s not your fault, and you did the best you could. That really has helped. And in a way, I feel like getting to tell the story of David and Patrick on my show has been a kind of catharsis that has healed me. I feel like this show has changed me for the better.
[25:11] Sinéad Burke: What do you think it’s like to live in David’s body?
[25:13] Dan Levy: I think he sort of went through a similar trajectory. And I think that’s why — I think he definitely spent a lot of his life trying to prove to people that he was deserving of love and attention. I think he spent a lot of money creating a lifestyle for himself and an aesthetic and a point of view that was very manufactured, but one that he thought was interesting and people would find interesting. And I think that’s why his past is sort of riddled with sadness and disappointment, because he really was chasing the wrong thing. He was chasing the wrong crowd. He was expecting attention for a version of himself that wasn’t real. So I think until you actually own yourself authentically, and present yourself authentically to people, you can’t expect genuine love or kindness or friendship or attention because you’re sort of playing a part that doesn’t necessarily rope in good people, or people who are lusting for meaningful relationships.
[26:14] Sinéad Burke: But it’s hard, as you said. I mean, even that notion of forgiving yourself and the trauma that you inculcate within yourself in relation to not having the confidence to come out. But the world isn’t built as a safe space for everybody. And my experience as a straight cisgendered woman is not the same as yours in any way. But I’m physically disabled based on the design of the environment, because people didn’t think of me. And they just exist within a space in which they function well. And we haven’t designed the world to be safe for the queer community, whether it is gay, straight, cisgendered, those who are trans. We haven’t been allies within that design and partnership and collaboration, and yet we then burden those same minorities with the responsibility to be confident and be themselves in spaces that are not welcoming for them.
[27:06] Dan Levy: I feel like there’s a common thread through all of this and that’s, I think, culturally people don’t know what to do or how to act around people that they don’t see every day. And somehow, somewhere down the line, if we were to sort of go back in history, someone or some group of people equated fear with being different. And I think when people are fearful, they’re retaliative. They get angry. They get mean. And I always feel like all of the sort of terrible things that happen are based out of a fear ultimately of being different.
[27:48] Sinéad Burke: And we’re now seeing this movement towards minority voices, in particular, finding spaces for themselves or creating those spaces. And we’re seeing this fear come about again because those who had power and have power are reluctant to power share. And I think it’s interesting that often we place the responsibility on those who are already marginalized or vulnerable in some way to explicate their greatest vulnerabilities in public in order for them to actually exist and be valid. And yet it just shouldn’t be their jobs. It’s everybody else’s responsibility to educate themselves. But how do we change things in the interim?
[28:27] Dan Levy: It’s such a tough conundrum. And I think if I’ve learned anything from the response that I got to my show, which I originally expected to receive a lot more polarized feedback just because of the subject matter, because of my character and the choices that we’ve made to just celebrate his queerness and not ever show the negative elements of homophobia and bigotry and intolerance in this little town. I was really expecting — and especially making the choice to have them kiss as many times as I want them to kiss. I mean, you know, those little things that —
[29:04] Sinéad Burke: I mean you can’t say ‘shit.’
[29:05] Dan Levy: I can’t say ‘shit.’ But you know, the little things like how many times two men can kiss on TV should never be a discussion. It’s not a discussion that’s had about straight couples on television. And yet we’re in this place where you’re fighting for it. Not that I fought for it. I think we found homes, we found networks that really support the show. But the common thread in the feedback that I’ve received, a lot of times from right-wing religious-based people who have watched the show and have changed their tune, is that the show doesn’t combat their beliefs. That somehow we have created a space where they can feel comfortable and not that, you know, making people feel comfortable is what’s necessary. I’m not really too concerned about making people who don’t think that I should marry my boyfriend feel comfortable. But I guess what I’m trying to say is we can change minds if we create a space where everyone feels safe to have an opinion. I think when you feel like your beliefs will be instantly combated, you’re obviously going to push even harder. So I just found it to be quite interesting reading this feedback from people who have been quite homophobic towards their own children because that’s what their Bible told them they should be, watching the show. Learning to grow with these characters and eventually root for in the case of my show, my character. It’s been amazing to watch the growth in these homes. And, you know, I think a lot of the times these people who might have quite bigoted beliefs have never had a way in. And somehow by watching our show, they’ve been given that way into understanding a group of people that they have never understood before.
[30:55] Sinéad Burke: I think what Schitt’s Creek does is it honors the human experience and the human story in a way that’s rooted in empathy. So people don’t feel targeted, but can see themselves and can see others within that narrative. And I think that changes hearts and minds.
[31:11] Dan Levy: You know, I would love to say that we set out to make sort of this quiet political statement. It really was as small as ‘let’s just not make the small town the butt of the joke that we’ve seen so many times’ where, you know, the small town is intolerant of people. And, you know, we’ve just seen it exploited so many times. And the interesting part for us was, let’s tell a story about a town that is entirely accepting. What does that do? What would that do? Originally, it was also a device comedically to make our characters look even more inept. You know, we come to this town thinking we’re better than the town and it’s the town that is so much better than us.
[31:52] Sinéad Burke: Roland ends up being the kind one.
[31:55] Dan Levy: Exactly. How did this happen? But what it ended up doing reached so far beyond our original intention. It ended up being this space where viewers would tune in and feel safe. And I think a lot of that had to do with politics and the shift in the political system in America. And we were around before and after that person was, you know, brought into power. And I could see, I mean, the fascinating part about social media now is you can almost track the feedback. Not just in sheer numbers, but in the sentiment of the response.
[32:38] Dan Levy: And originally people were responding slowly but surely to the show saying, you know, it’s very funny and we like it. Keep going. And then after he became president, the response shifted to ‘thank you for your show. It’s a safe space for me.’ And you realize that there’s now so many shows out that are celebrating kindness, and you can do that and be funny. I think we need kindness more than ever. I think we need positive light being shone out into the darkness because it’s just too scary to not use your platform for good. And in doing so, it’s really shaped the way that I want to continue to tell stories. I just think television is such an intimate medium. You’re sitting in front of your television screen. You are at home. You are safe. You are sitting with your family, or by yourself. You’re not outside where we have to sort of armor up to like, you know, walk and get some groceries. You’re home. You are your most vulnerable and your most sort of susceptible to change.
[33:43] Sinéad Burke: Or it’s on your phone and you have this physical immediacy to it. You’re on a plane or you’re on public transport and you literally can do nothing else but absorb this content. It’s almost an act of mindfulness for yourself. And I think we need to be more selective about what we choose to watch. I’m conscious that in terms of Schitt’s Creek — and perhaps this an external perspective — that there was a real upsurge, I think exactly as you said in terms of the presidential election, there was an upsurge in attention on the show. But within that, you know, was that season three? How did you as the writer and the creator of the show, keep going? Were you always hopeful that this would be the attention that it would gather, or were you satisfied with smaller audience numbers?
[34:29] Dan Levy: Well, it is an incredibly small show. We never had expectations to be this show that a bunch of people watched.
[34:38] Sinéad Burke: Yeah, it was nominated for an Emmy. Let’s not downplay it here.
[34:29] Dan Levy: That whole experience was very glamorous and very fun.
[34:47] Sinéad Burke: Did you meet Phoebe?
[34:50] Dan Levy: I didn’t. I met Andrew Scott, though.
[34:53] Sinéad Burke: Oh, Irish.
[34:54] Dan Levy: Yeah, I did watch her. I watched her from afar. And I’ve never been more thrilled to lose to anyone or anything than her and that show. But no, we never set out to make a big show. I did say to our entire team on the first day of production, I want this show to sit on a shelf with Veep. That was my dream.
[35:15] Sinéad Burke: That’s interesting. Why Veep?
[35:17] Dan Levy: I thought it was so smart and funny and it had something to say. And the performances were great and lived in. And I just thought it was such a sharp show.
[35:27] Sinéad Burke: There were so many disability jokes in Veep. I watch it and I couldn’t believe how many disability jokes that there were.
[35:36] Dan Levy: You know what? I just had this conversation with somebody about gay jokes that have been in a bunch of films that a lot of people love. And I had that conversation very recently and said, go back and watch it. And they did. And they were like, wow.
[35:53] Sinéad Burke: I wanted to talk to you about just the character of David for a second, and the physicality of David, but also the way in which your vocals lean for David. But also your physical presence and stance. Was that a natural progression in terms of your evolvement into David?
[36:11] Dan Levy: The intention of the show was always to peel back the layers on who these people were. And in doing so, they become more themselves. So, I wanted to be aware with the character of David that in that first season, he is laying towels down on the bedspread of the motel bed because he doesn’t want the germs of just sitting on a bedspread. He’s really protected, really tightly wound. And season five, he’s hiking, so —
[36:48] Sinéad Burke: What an arc!
[36:49] Dan Levy: You know, it was about really slowly but surely easing him into himself. And in doing so, I feel like the physicality just kept building and building and building, the more at ease he became. And then by the end of it, it’s just I mean, he’s lovely, peculiar human being that I love dearly.
[37:10] Sinéad Burke: And intriguing physicality.
[37:14] Dan Levy: Annie describes it best. She just says it’s like embracing laziness to a degree that is absurd.
[37:24] Sinéad Burke: But considered
[37:35] Dan Levy: But considered. I want to say it’s more considered than it actually is. I think a lot of it is just random impulse, particularly Annie’s sort of limp-wristed-ness.
[37:35] Sinéad Burke: I’m intrigued in terms of how we started this conversation and you took talking about being headstrong and being ambitious, but also being very decided in terms of if you have an idea, see it through. What’s the monologue that exists in your mind?
[37:51] Dan Levy: I think it’s just get it done. If you have an idea, get it done. If there’s something that has been on your mind — for me a lot of the time, it’s when I go to sleep at night, if I’m thinking about it or I’m thinking about it consistently, I keep a notebook by my bed and I’ll write it down. And it’s the advice that I tell younger writers that I come in contact with who a lot of the common questions are just how do I get it done? How do I go about selling a show, or how do I go about getting staffed in a room? And it’s right. Write. Write, write, write. Write a script. Write a script with the intention of it getting made. And if for some reason it doesn’t get made, then at least you have a great calling card to either go into an agency or pitch yourself to a writer’s room with a script that you feel proud of. You have a piece of material. You have something you can hold on to. Nothing bad will come out of trying to just get something done. Because at the very least you have the experience of having tried something.
[38:49] Sinéad Burke: So what you’re saying is I need to write a one woman show and sell it to Netflix.
[38:54] Dan Levy: Is that what you’ve been — I would watch. Is that what you’ve been thinking about when you put your head on your pillow?
[39:01] Sinéad Burke: So I’ve definitely played with the idea of like using not necessarily comedy, because I think for me, comedy, I sit within this awkward position of making sure that it’s not giving people permission to make physical jokes, but also using comedy as a way to embrace people, for them to feel like this conversation is not alien or othering or intrusive. But it’s definitely an idea I had. I would love to propel a different kind of narrative for somebody who looks like me. But I’m also very conscious that I am white, straight, cisgendered, working-class and disabled. And perhaps it’s not necessary for me to write that show. Perhaps it needs a different type of voice who I can help create space for or assistance some way.
[39:53] Dan Levy: Well, I would watch your show. I would watch a show that you stand behind. I think what you have been doing is so invaluable in terms of sort of shifting the dialog and in the process changing the way that things are done. And it’s powerful. I think you need to do this. If I’m going to just be honest with you right now, I think you need to do this. I think you can do both. I think you can do something for yourself and make space for someone else. I think there’s so much there is so much space. But if you have an impulse to do something, I would say run with it.
[40:31] Sinéad Burke: I think for me, my monologue that’s in my head is why? Not necessarily for me and my ambitions, but for like the way the world works, the way things are, the way systems exist. And it’s really intriguing to me how few people ask why, and even more so, how few people have answers to that why? So I just go into rooms and they’re like, that can’t be done, and I’m like why? And for me, that works. More after the break.
[43:12] Sinéad Burke: What have been the moments that have changed you?
[43:16] Dan Levy: All the sort of formative moments of my life have come from pushing the boundaries of what I have been told I can do or can’t do. And being embraced for taking the risk. So, you know, I think for me, my first impulse to write came in high school when I ended up interpreting an essay that I had to write. And instead of writing the essay, I wrote a long-form poem. And it was a risk. And it was an opportunity for a teacher to shut me down instantly or push me forward. And I was very fortunate enough to have a teacher that not just congratulated me on the way that I had interpreted the essay, but used it as an example of how the class should be thinking differently. And it was that moment that stuck with me and changed everything because I felt like there is a level of vulnerability when you’re doing something that’s a little different. And this, of course, is high school. There’s I mean, people making huge strides in much bigger arenas. But for me, it was a really vulnerable time. I was not sure of my skills. I was not sure of myself. And I took a risk. And she recognized that and encouraged it and told me that I had something in the writing and that I should continue to pursue it. And that could have been the moment when my potential career as a writer was stopped dead in its tracks.
[44:47] Sinéad Burke: But it can be that one person, can’t it?
[44:49] Dan Levy: Yeah.
[44:50] Sinéad Burke: I told my parents on the day of my fourth birthday that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. And immediately they both said, wow, brilliant. Great. And I look back on that moment now as an adult — and I do not have children — but, I imagine they were terrified. Not that I wouldn’t have the ability to be a teacher, but the world may not let me. And instead of ever transferring that fear and that nervousness onto me, they just gave me the confidence that I could do it. And that was transformative because I didn’t believe that it was impossible ever, at least until I started college and university and realized that I might have to find a different way of doing things.
[45:30] Dan Levy: It’s just those moments when you need it the most, someone saying yes.
[45:34] Sinéad Burke: What gives you hope, Dan?
[45:36] Dan Levy: People trying to do good in the world gives me hope. And people who have platforms, using those platforms for good. And anyone that sort of combats the bad because there’s a lot of bad out there. I see it every day. I think kindness, people who are kind, I don’t know whether it’s just that I took it for granted before all of this, or I just didn’t value it as much. But yeah, kindness in people gives me hope.
[46:03] Sinéad Burke: How do you practice kindness?
[46:06] Dan Levy: My mom’s first impulse, anytime I had a conflict growing up, was what was your part in it? And that was a really interesting exercise in examining how and why conflict exists. And sometimes you do play a part in it. Sometimes you don’t. But it does allow you the time and the space to analyze instead of reacting on a sharp impulse. And kindness to me is sort of taking the time to see things for what they are. And I tend to be a pretty reactive person, so I think it’s in me to be fearful and intense, which can scare people.
[46:52] Sinéad Burke: We’re so shy and retiring, the pair of us. I mean, we only use fashion to tell the world about ourselves. We’re so quiet.
[47:02] Dan Levy: But I you know, I think taking the time, trying to be thoughtful about, you know, really seeing my part or other people’s parts, trying to side with them and empathize with every situation before making a judgment or choosing to respond to something. I think that’s practicing kindness And you know, I think judgment exists so much in culture. Everything is based on judgment and shame. And, you know, who wore it best? I mean, it’s all sort of — everything is competitive. You’re almost swimming upstream to try and get that out of the way so that you can live your life without comparison.
[47:40] Sinéad Burke: Season six will soon air and Schitt’s Creek will be in its denouement. That notebook that’s beside your bed. What’s in it?
[47:51] Dan Levy: Ideas for new shows. I’m working with ABC studios now for the next three years to develop some new shows. When I’m on someone’s payroll, I am working hard to earn my keep. And so, yeah, it’s filled with ideas. It’s filled with the next ideas. It’s also filled with notes from a show that I love very dearly that I’m about to push out into the ocean and watch sail away. It’s been an incredibly strange and emotional few months. Very strange.
[48:25] Sinéad Burke: How do you feel about it ending?
[48:27] Dan Levy: I feel good. I think for right now, I’ve been editing the show with a pressure that I’ve never had before.
[48:34] Sinéad Burke: Do you feel the expectation of people on you in a way that wasn’t there in previous seasons?
[48:39] Dan Levy: Yep. We’ve never had it before. We’ve never had any expectation because people — you know, we were sort of an underground thing. People who knew the show loved the show, but a lot of people didn’t watch the show. And in the past six to eight months, I feel like somehow it has made its way to popular culture. And that’s a that’s a great thing. But for me, being a perfectionist, someone that is wanting to continue to improve upon what we’ve been doing, and I think we have — I think season after season has just been getting better and better and better. How do you tell a final season of a TV show? It’s such a daunting task, just from a writing standpoint. Fortunately, a lot of our writing was done before the show broke. So that was good. But now it’s just editing. It’s looking at episodes and being hyper-critical about is this the best it can possibly be? Are we doing the best job we possibly can? And are we honoring the performances? Are we honoring the story? Are we honoring ourselves and our fans? Are we giving them what they want? But, you know, the experience was amazing. And it was a very sad day when we had to to wrap it up. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. That’s what’s so special about it all, is the people who are coming up or are coming up because they just love what we are doing. What a rare and wonderful thing that is, to have people, you know, speak so fondly of something you’ve spent so much time on. It’s quite incredible.
[50:10] Sinéad Burke: Your mentions must’ve been wild on Halloween.
[50:1013 Dan Levy: The Halloween costumes were absolutely wild! The attention to detail. People dressing their babies up with like thick, bushy eyebrows and sunglasses. It was truly a sight to — the Moiras!
[50:30] Sinéad Burke: We need a collective noun for Moiras. A murder of Moiras.
[50:36] Dan Levy: A murder and Moiras. And after season six comes out, I feel like those Halloween costumes will be getting even bigger because we will not be letting Moira experience a final season without really pushing the fashion boundaries.
[50:53] Sinéad Burke: Dan, this has been such a treat and an honor. I cannot thank you enough. And please go to Ireland, do a Schitt’s Creek live.
[51:05] Dan Levy: We are trying so hard.
[51:09] Sinéad Burke: I can help with Ireland.
[51:10] Dan Levy: I am going to come to Ireland and I hope you don’t mind if I pitch our docu-series. I’m not saying anyone will necessarily jump at that.
[51:16] Sinéad Burke: Listen, all we need is six seasons. It will be a big deal by season six.
[51:22] Dan Levy: It’s taken them six seasons to find the creek. How and why? We don’t know. But we really cross our fingers that in season six they find it.
[51:30] Sinéad Burke: Well, I think it’s it’s shit. But with the pronunciation of Sinéad, we may find a similar difficulty. But I live in hope.
[51:37] Dan Levy: Me too.
[51:41] Sinéad Burke: What a treat. If Schitt’s Creek ever comes back after this season, and they need a young Irish character, I am available for hire. And I cannot wait to watch the final season of Schitt’s Creek on CBC and Pop TV. And if you haven’t discovered it yet, really, it is my gift to you before the end of the year. Not just Dan, but his incredible father, Eugene Levy. And the extraordinary Catherine O’Hara, who is really just unbelievable in the show in the best possible ways. If you haven’t already watched Dan’s 73 questions with Vogue, it’s on their YouTube channel now. And whilst he is full of wit, charm, charisma and intelligence, it’s worth watching for his job alone. This week’s person you should know is Melina Matsoukas. Melina has just directed a film that is causing such conversation and perhaps even debate called Queen and Slim, but has created something not just beautiful and poignant, but the directorship that she has taken for this film, it’s changed how I want to see the world. You can find Melina on Instagram @MissMelina.
[52:41] Sinéad Burke: As Me with Sinéad is a Lemonada Media original and is executive produced by Jessica Cordova Kramer. Assistant produced by Claire Jones and edited by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Jerome Rankin. Our sales and distribution partner is Westwood One. If you’ve liked what you’ve heard, don’t be shy. Tell your friends or listen and subscribe on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you like to listen. And rate and review as well. To continue the conversation, find me on Instagram and Twitter @thesineadburke. And find Lemonada Media on Instagram. Twitter and Facebook @LemonadeMedia.