Schitt’s Creek mastermind Daniel Levy talks hilariously redefining our cultural perception of pansexuality.
From its first episode — which saw the supremely rich Rose family stripped of their worldly wealth and forced to retreat to its titular backwater, Schitt’s Creek promised to be a classic comedy of riches-to-rags. It delivered on this promise beautifully: the eyebrows of father Johnny (Eugene Levy) registering surprise at local country bumpkin antics, faded soap star Moira (Catherine O’Hara) over enunciating with dismissive dismay, sister Alexis (Annie Murphy) casually longing for bygone days of international debauchery.
And then there was brother David (Daniel Levy). With his oh-so-forward fashions, jaunty manner and penchant for having things just-so, the character read as gay. But he quickly developed a friendly flirtation with female townie Stevie (Emily Hampshire), and this led to a scene in which discussing their respective wine preferences turned into a code allowing them to address his orientation.
“So, just to be clear: I’m a red wine drinker,” Stevie said to David meaningfully. “And up until last night, I was under the impression that you, too, only drank red wine. But I guess I was wrong?”
“I do drink red wine, but I also drink white wine, and I’ve been known to sample the occasional rosé,” answered David, alluding to desires to sleep with men, women and possibly those outside the gender binary. “And a couple of summers back I tried a merlot that used to be a chardonnay, which got a bit complicated.”
“So you’re really just open to all wines?” Stevie asked to clarify.
“I like the wine and not the label. Does that make sense?” David replied, signalling the start of a journey that would see him encounter a tasting menu of sexual idenitities. Now, with the show’s excellent fourth season in full swing on Pop TV in the U.S. (not to mention critically lauded in Canada and gathering new audiences via Netflix), Metrosource speaks with Daniel Levy about creating one of the most complex queer characters on television; his multi-faceted roles as actor, co-creator, producer, writer and showrunner; and the new possibilities offered by David finally having a healthy relationship with a man.
“Who Can I Trust to Pick out a Woman’s Blouse?”
One of the singular joys of Schitt’s Creek is watching Moira and David trot out in costumes both conspicuously extreme yet limited to a fashionista palette of blacks, whites and metallics.
“I am involved in every single fitting … alongside our costume designer Debra Hanson,” explains Daniel. ”Costume to me is one of the most important elements of the show because not only is it fun to watch, but it also allows us to continually remind the audience where these people came from, and it’s a really fun device because you don’t have to then write characters constantly talking about how they miss their old lives.” Daniel takes genuine pleasure in this stage of the process. “It certainly helps me get into character, and I know that Catherine and I have a lot of fun in those fittings because she can literally wear anything.” He admits to considering pieces for Moira and wondering whether they might be too strange. “Then she puts it on and it’s like: no, not strange enough.” He laughs. “This sea foam wig might be pushing it too far — nope, not far enough.”
Another dependably enjoyable aspect of the show is its unabashed display of men-as-eye-candy, with certain characters like Mutt (Tim Ozon) seemingly made to go shirtless. Daniel says the sexy impact doesn’t always hit him until later in the process. “It’s funny, when you enter the production world of TV, it becomes quite clinical,” he notes. “I’m standing there in front of Tim, who’s shirtless,” he recalls. “I’m genuinely just critically looking at his body thinking: Yeah, I don’t think it has enough oil or — you know what? — actually there’s too much oil.” It’s only after he’s done dealing with technicalities, racing the clock and trying to make the actors comfortable that he can see it as the audience does. “Then you get to watch it, and that’s when I get to be like: Yeah, Tim looks great.”
“If You Include the Month He Was Seeing Other People…”
If you’ve seen a headline related to Schitt’s Creek, there’s a good chance it’s related to its pioneering position on pansexuality (attraction to people regardless of their gender identity). But it seems Daniel didn’t necessarily seek out such press. “It was definitely a priority for me to tell a queer story on this show,” Daniel says as an out-and-proud gay man. But his primary goal was to do what was right for the character. “I didn’t really think twice about the fact that there’s not a lot of pansexual representation on TV, and that David might be the first explicit out pansexual.” The process led Daniel to make discoveries about more than his character. “I’m able to sort of reveal him not only to the audience, but in a way to myself, and the amazing thing about David is that inherently I am way more introverted and, I think ultimately, fearful than David is, so in the process David’s audacity to be his genuine self — regardless of who’s standing in front of him — has really in a way been quite an inspiring experience for me and has taught me sort of to be more less fearful of judgment and what people think.”
That’s not to say that what ensued was a romantic free-for-all. After David and Stevie sleep together (ultimately deciding to remain friends), they eventually find themselves each entangled in relationships with the same hunky woodworker: Jake. When Jake proposes they merge their relationships into a triad, David rejects the idea soundly. However, Daniel explains it wasn’t meant to judge the idea of threeway relationships in general. “It was definitely not rooted in any kind of politics whatsoever,” he says. “ That storyline was really about David and Stevie realizing that sexual intimacy was going to complicate something that they feel is quite substantial — which is their friendship.”
It’s worth noting that while Alexis is constantly making reference to her fairly full sexual resume, David chooses his moments more judiciously — for example, admitting that he’d had a relationship with a certain louche photographer who visits to photograph Moira. Daniel says this reserve may have more to do with David’s state of mind than his amount of experience. “I think David’s general persona in Season One was extremely guarded, and I think he was pulled so far out of his comfort zone that he really retreated. To admit to any kind of personal revelations would be to explore sides of himself that he didn’t want to show,” he explains. “I think that’s why the intention of David’s arc over the course of these past few seasons has really been poking a hole in him by way of Stevie — finding some kind of ally and then slowly letting the light in and letting the character who has never felt safe in his life open his mind to the possibility that this town could be the safe space he’s always needed — and then the introduction of Patrick.”
“I Think It Was Something about Your Boyfriend’s Shoes?”
In Season Three, after completing his tenure at the local Blouse Barn, David sets out to open his own business and ends up seeking advice from, then becoming business partners with, and ultimately dating Patrick (Noah Reid). The pair are a study in opposites — Patrick’s practicality balancing David’s penchant for perfection, David’s been-there-done-them approach to relationships in contrast to Patrick’s first steps toward understanding his own sexuality. Watching their relationship blossom has been a joy for audiences, and Daniel says his writers’ room has enjoyed exploring “the sort of naivete of being in a relationship with someone where you don’t have to question whether they’re going to leave you or not.” He also likes that “you get to see David acknowledging that he is deserving of love in a core, base way and that Patrick has balanced him in a way to make him feel comfortable enough to be open to that possibility.”
Daniel says that in creating the character of Patrick, he wanted explore an experience that some of his friends have had: “Realizing very late in life that they had feelings for people that they didn’t previously expect,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just the person, and sometimes it’s more than that: sometimes it’s realizing that you are gay.” Patrick’s story of coming out works in beautiful tandem with David’s story of opening up, and the two make an immensely lovable pair, in no small part due to a winning performances from both Daniel and Noah. “Noah Ried, who plays Patrick, is just so brave and plays that character with such a gentle confidence and charm; he was just the perfect fit for that character and able to handle all that comes his way.”
So far, that has included a scene where the pair share a touching, tentative first kiss, which Daniel admits, “I ended up re-writing, like, four times because I just couldn’t get it right, and finally — I think it was about an hour before we started shooting — I ran up to Noah with the scene that we ended up shooting, and I was like: ‘It needs to be perfect and it needs to be special and it needs to feel real and I hadn’t got it, and now I got it. So, sorry, you have 45 minutes to learn these lines.” The relationship has also included Patrick serenading David with a heartstring-tugging acoustic rendition of “Simply the Best” — made all the more touching when Moira offers her blessing, shushing someone because, “My boy right now is being serenaded by his butter-voiced beau,” while David smiles, fighting back tears.
“The FBI Knew Where I Was the Entire Time”
Daniel says that although he spends most of each year making the show, he turns to travel as “a way to reset my brain.” He counts the Land of the Rising Sun among his favorite destinations. “I’ve been to Japan five times now; I try to go every year, Tokyo is the most incredible city I’ve ever experienced.”
“You have a city that is so progressive in terms of its technology and at the same time so rooted in tradition and honor, and that intersection is so remarkable to experience,” he says. “And then Kyoto and Naoshima and Hakone and all of these amazing places — Nagano and seeing the monkeys: there are so many places [there] that I haven’t visited,” he says. “Coming from the political climate here in North America, it’s always sort of reassuring to be in a place where things are done with a great deal of care.”
“I don’t get out a lot, so traveling is actually one of the only times when I get to really see how far reaching the show has gotten,” Daniel adds. “I lived in London for a while, and then I went back and visited last year and I was stopped on the street by some people who are fans of the show and I asked them, ‘Where do you see our show?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s on Netflix,’ and I was like, ‘Oh — of course it is!’”
“Impulsive, Capricious and Melodramatic”
When it comes to the future, “I know everything about Schitt’s Creek, I know how it ends,” Daniel admits. “In this particular kind of show, it’s important to know what you’re building towards. I think it makes for slightly more thoughtful, more focused storytelling. … I know the stories that I want to tell in the meantime.”
“It really is a show that has consumed my life but also changed it and broken it open in ways that I never thought possible,” he explains. “So I’m going to ride this ‘til it dies, and by that I mean, when the show ends, not when we get it to a point where people stop watching, but I will say that this is not a show that will go on forever, and there will be a time to say goodbye, and hopefully people will still be interested.”
Working on the show also helped Daniel realize showrunning is something he was meant to do — so much that he’s already developing a new show. “If it works out,” he says, “I’m going to be very happy about it, because it’s a good one. I think so we’re at a point now where we’re trying to get that off the ground, and we’re close.”
In the meantime, Daniel plans to continue telling stories rooted in joy, love and acceptance on Schitt’s Creek. “In a small way, you feel like you’re contributing to the cultural conversation in a constructive way, and being able to tell stories in a public forum is something that’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly, and I think there needs to be more positivity out there in television, and hopefully our show is an example of an idea that is rooted in something very joyous without compromising humor.”
And along the way, he’ll also continue to inadvertently set off devices equipped with Amazon’s Alexa — which tends to respond to Schitt’s various characters shouting Alexis’ name. “I guess I’d like to publicly apologize,“ Daniel says of the phenomenon, “but at the same time, in the back of mind, every time I read this, I was like: You know what? They’ve got to make Alexa a little bit sharper, because ‘Alexis’ and ‘Alexa’ are two different names, and I feel like in 2018, Alexa should know the difference.” As he discusses the subject, his voice takes on a delightful comedic intensity — perhaps channeling a bit of David. “It is an epidemic, and I don’t know what to say about it other than: Alexa wasn’t around when I started writing the show — I don’t think, and we were here first!” Catch up with Schitt’s Creek at poptv.com and follow Daniel on Twitter @danjlevy.
Last modified: March 16, 2018