Over twenty-five years since he first appeared on the Canadian comedy show SCTV, Eugene Levy’s career is still going strong, having appeared in three hit ” American Pie” movies, Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, and the popular comedy Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. His latest, the family comedy New York Minute, has him chasing after Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, and it could very well get him some even younger fans. Levy returned to New York recently, and he kindly sat down to answer some of our questions about the movie and the upcoming DVD release of the first season of SCTV.
CS!: What was it like working with the Olsens?
Levy: It’s exactly the way you would think it would be. (Comedic pause) It was great! I was shocked at how normal they are, considering their whole life has been show business and acting. They had a whole chunk of life after the television show that I was not necessarily aware of before we started doing the movie. I didn’t know that they had done forty of these straight-to-video movies, something I found out from my nieces and nephews, who ran off this list of movies and videos that they have. But they’re very down to earth.
CS!: Had you ever seen them on “Full House”?
Levy: I watched it when I was flipping around the stations. I didn’t circle it in the TV Guide every week or anything, but I knew it was there. I liked Bob Sagat on the show. He had a great vibe on that and on “America’s Funiest Home Videos”. I remember the girls being very, very small. They were just babies and weren’t even talking. They’d just show their reaction shots.
CS!: You’ve gotten a younger audience with the American Pie movies, and you should get even younger kids with New York Minute. What do you think of that?
Levy: I talked to a friend, who said that his 4-and-a-half year old son was singing the “Bad Girl, Bad Girl” thing I do in the trailer. I know I got a thing with the kids now, but if I’m going younger than four and a half, it’s like being on a parabola where you go around, and you’re back where you started. Doing the ‘American Pie’ series was a huge kick, though. I love it when kids get excited about seeing it, and for a guy my age, having teenagers know who you are is fabulous! And they’re fun to do, too. I like doing these pictures that cater to a young crowd, and I like being able to make these kids laugh.
CS!: What was your influence for the truant officer Max Lomax, and how did you develop him?
Levy: I tried to inject a bit of Barney Fife into him. I thought ‘The Andie Griffith Show’ was the greatest half hour comedy show ever on television. It’s hard to believe that a show existed like that, where it was all character-driven, and there were no jokes on that show; not one! That is the best kind of comedy. Don Knotts and everyone on that show were great.
As he was scripted, Max was written a little on the broader side, with him going undercover and constantly showing up in different outfits. I suggested making him plain clothes and giving him an office in his basement. He doesn’t make much money, he always wanted to be a cop and never made it. That grounds the character, and that’s what I like in whatever I’m involved with. There has to be some sort of emotional grounding in the character. If I can see great comic potential in something, even it’s not on the page and I think it can be if they’re willing to make some changes, that is how these things work for me.
CS!: You seem to be getting a bit more active and doing more physical comedy in New York Minute, too. Is that something you want to pursue more?
Levy: No. I don’t feel that I do physical comedy very well. When it gets too physical, I’m not in my element. Diving off the stage in New York Minute is the only physical thing I think I’ve done in any movie.
CS!: For your next movie, you’re starring with Samuel L. Jackson in the action-comedy, The Man. How’s that going?
Levy: We’re two weeks into filming in Toronto. There is action in there, but he does most of it. I tumble out of cars and I get shot in the ass, so sure, there’s some more physical stuff there.
CS!: The first season of SCTV is coming out in a DVD box set on June 8th. Any chance of a reunion?
Levy: I honestly don’t think that’s going to happen. I just think that reunions are something kind of exciting, but when you think about it, they’re also kind of sad. There’s something not that great about them. We had a thing in Aspen a few years ago where they gave us an award, and that was the first time we had been together as a group. That was kind of fun.
I also did some interviews with Joe Flaherty for the DVD’s. They’re coming out over the next two years, starting with the ninety minute shows, which are the best ones to start with. At any rate, it will be good. It’s taken a long time to get this stuff out. It’s almost like why bother now? It’s twenty years later most of the people who watched the show are dead now! For the people who really loved the show, they finally have an opportunity to see a great version of the show with some interviews and behind the scenes stuff.”
CS!: Andrea Martin from SCTV also appears in New York Minute. What was it like working with her again?
Levy: That was great. When I heard that Andrea was doing the movie, I tried to remember when the last time I had worked with her, and it had been a long time. It was great seeing her cute little face on the set.
New York Minute opens May 7th.