If “Schitt’s Creek” were a real place, Eugene Levy would never vacation there. The Canadian comedian and actor, who won Emmys as a lead actor and executive producer for the hit show, is very particular – even persnickety – about his choice of holiday destinations.
The trepid traveler, 76, admittedly carries around emotional baggage filled with neuroses and aversions. His list of dislikes includes humidity, extreme cold, reindeer meat, volcanoes, snakes, insects, hanging bridges and happy people. Despite his curmudgeonly attitude, or possibly because of it, Levy has taken on a new role as host of a travel show.
“The Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy,” which will premiere on Apple TV+ on Friday, Feb. 24, opens with a bewildered and bespectacled Levy standing awkwardly in a foreign setting. He grips a suitcase better suited for selling perfume samples door-to-door than roaming the globe. Over eight episodes, he ventures into such challenging environments as a Costa Rican rainforest and the frigid Lapland region of Finland, where he grits his teeth while sampling the local activities, culture and cuisine. In each show, he slowly unclenches his jaw and breaks into the genuine smile of a convert.
Last month, we interviewed Levy by Zoom while he was making the rounds at the Television Critics Association event in Los Angeles. He explained why he decided to enter the discomfort zone, the lessons he learned from the show and the contents of his vintage luggage. This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Before we officially start, I wanted to tell you that I was born in Hamilton as well.
Get away! Oh my God! That is fantastic. Listen, we could talk about Hamilton, but I don’t want to take up your time.
How would you describe your travel style or your vacation go-to?
My ideal vacation would have been going to a resort or a beach where you could truly relax and have nothing to do but chill by a pool with a piña colada and then talk about where you want to go for dinner. I love Italy because I love the food and you don’t have to do much to see the history. The sightseeing part of things didn’t really excite me. I’d go here and I’d look at this bridge, I’d look at this museum. It was something to do, but I didn’t really truly enjoy it.
Why did you decide to challenge yourself with a travel show?
Originally, it was a show that focused on hotels. I got a call from (executive producer David Brindley) saying they wanted to talk to me about hosting a travel show about hotels. And I said, “Jeez, why me?” I have a very low sense of curiosity and no sense of adventure.
Maybe they thought you were interested in hotels because your character, Johnny Rose, ran one in “Schitt’s Creek?”
Maybe. I never asked them. If you’re hosting a travel show, you have to be interested in what you’re talking about, and you have to be a chatty person who is interested in people. These are all things that I was really not. The conversations triggered another angle for the show. They called me back and pitched that to me, saying what if it’s about somebody who doesn’t like to travel. I said, “OK, yeah, why don’t we give that a shot?”
Did you have to prepare physically or mentally for the role?
No physical preparation. But mental preparation – I spent my career as a comedic character actor where I do everything in character. The closer the character came to who I was, the less comfortable I was. So I always opted for bigger, broader characters.
“Schitt’s Creek” was about as close as I’ve come to playing myself on camera, but even that was a character. This travel show, it’s not a character. I’m playing me. I’ve never been totally comfortable being me in front of a camera. That was a scary proposition.
What are you personally hoping to get out of this show, and what do you hope your viewers take away from it?
This is not billed as a funny travel show. They could have gotten Larry David if they wanted a funny travel show. This is a straight travel show. I think the humor comes through me and my reluctance initially to engage in things I would never normally engage in. That gives it humorous overtones, and that, I think, carves it out from the other (travel) shows.
I am hoping this show really appeals to people who love to travel. I hope it holds them. For people who don’t necessarily like to travel or were as uncomfortable about traveling as I was will find a kindred spirit. I’m giving them an experience very close to what they might actually be going through and what they actually might be thinking.
How did you pick the destinations and activities?
In the beginning, they had a list of locations, and the locations I said no to were locations I would probably have said no to if somebody had said, “Hey, why don’t we go here?” And I would say, “Really? I don’t think so. What else ya got?” I helped eliminate certain locations because I thought they wouldn’t be as much fun, didn’t know what the food would be like (or) was really nervous about. The more we did the show, the more I crawled out of my comfort zone. If I’m not doing things I’m not comfortable doing, I don’t know what kind of show we have. But I think the thing is: Go for it.
Has this show changed how you perceive vacations?
I think soooo. I’m engaging a lot with people. I really kind of enjoyed that. I don’t engage people in conversation readily in my life. I’m not that kind of person. I’m learning to love talking to people and listening to them and learning about the culture through these people. That was an eye-opener for me.
The show has made me grow in a lot of different areas. I am more open to doing things that I may not have done in the past, but there are still things I might not necessarily want to do again, like night hiking in a rainforest. Adventuresome, sure. But I wasn’t really thrilled doing it, because you’re dealing with creepy-crawly things. But it’s been good for me generally as an experience and hopefully helping make me a better person, a more exciting person, a more adventurous person.
What’s in the suitcase?
There’s nothing in the suitcase. It’s a prop. But I love that suitcase. It’s an old-fashioned suitcase that just seemed to be the perfect suitcase. They wanted me to have the suitcase to pick up at times. I didn’t question them.
Will there be a second season, and would you consider Canada as one of the destinations?
I would love to find a location in Canada. My wife, Deb, said, “Why don’t you do the whole season going across Canada?” Again, another great idea. There are a lot of unbelievably exciting and beautiful locations in Canada. My God, Lake Louise in Alberta – one of the most beautiful spots in the world. So hopefully, if we get a second season, that might be in the cards.
You’ll have to start in Hamilton, where it all began.
(Laughs skeptically). Maybe, maybe. Hamilton might not be in the second season.
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