Eugene Levy ('The Man')
'Bringing Down The Man!'
Eugene Levy is perhaps best known as the go-with-the-flow dad in the classic comedies ‘American Pie,’ ‘American Pie 2’ and ‘American Wedding.’ He has also co-starred in Christopher Guest’s ‘Best in Show,’ ‘Waiting For Guffman’ ‘and ‘A Mighty Wind,’ sharing writing credits on all three films. His other film credits have included ‘Dumb & Dumberer,’ ‘Like Mike,’ ‘Father of the Bride 2,’ and ‘Once Upon a Crime.’ More recently, Levy was seen in the hit film, ‘New York Minute,’ with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and in the smash hit ‘Bringing Down the House,’ starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
The veteran actor began his career as both an actor and a writer on the acclaimed comedy series “SCTV,” on which he starred for eight seasons, portraying a gallery of memorable characters, including Earl Camembert, Bobby Bittman, Alex Trebel and Stan Schmenge. Other television credits include “Hiller and Diller,” “Mad About You,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “Billy Crystal’s Don’t Get Me Started,” “Bride of Boogedy,” “The Last Polka,” “The Enigma of Bobby Bittman” (which he also wrote and directed), “Maniac Mansion” (which he produced), Showtime’s “Sodbusters” (which he co-wrote and directed), along with a starring role in Fox Television’s, ‘Greg the Bunny.”
In his new movie, ‘The Man’, Federal agent Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) has 24 hours to recover a pile of stolen weapons and find his former partner's killers. This becomes much more challenging when the bad guys mistake salesman Andy Fiddler (Levy) for the gun buyer. Now, Vann has to get Andy to pose as the front man in a sting operation.
Catching up with the laid back Eugene Levy last week in a hotel in Birmingham, MI, I first noted that as this supposedly Detroit-set movie had now been revealed as having been completely filmed in Montreal, Canada, if he felt any cinematic shame? ”Yeah, well, it was set in Detroit, so why they didn’t shoot it in Detroit, I don’t know! It would make sense, wouldn’t it?! I have no answers for that except for perhaps it was cheaper for them to shoot with the Canadian dollar? You know, hundreds of movies have shot in Toronto, and not one of them are in Toronto and so we’ve got a whole insecurity thing going on up there for a different reason. You see our city everywhere, but it’s never our city!”
When you are filming in these ‘fake cities,’ do you ever worry that the audiences will undoubtedly figure it out when it comes to them seeing the movie?! ”Well, you know, at the time when you’re on location and you look around you see the street and you say, well, this is not New York, and you know it’s just not New York! But when you see the movie and they've gone to New York and they've actually shot some stuff for a couple of days and then cut it all in, well, you just don’t know any more! And the sad thing is the only people that really know are you guys, from Detroit!”
So, tell us more about your character Andy Fiddler ”Well, I have to be honest, I changed his name. Originally it was Tupper. That’s about all there is on that!”
Was this a role that you instantly took or did you have to consider it for various reasons? ”Oh, I have to consider everything that comes my way, because I don’t get hundreds of scripts. So, if a script comes in I have to seriously look at it and say, OK, how bad is this project, what can I do to it to make it better, can I get by in the project basically if this thing just sunk? I mean, I have to know if I can skate by? Can I do something with my part to get by in this? Just about everything I get I have to redo or rework or something, but if I don’t do it, I don’t work. So, I take the chance of turning stuff down and deciding for the next two or three months that I just don't work. Or, take the job and get paid for it and put some food on the table and hope for the best. And that’s pretty much my fact of life. That’s pretty much it. And yes, I have turned stuff down, some stuff that I really didn’t think was worth doing. But it's either not been good enough or it’s something that I’ve kinda done before.”
What was your reaction to the news that Samuel L. Jackson was going to be your co-star in ‘The Man’? ”It was pretty exciting, you know. It was exciting when I heard that he was coming on board as the second half of this team. That was exciting, because I knew that we’d wanted someone really good. I wanted a good actor and initially – in the very beginning – they were talking about Snoop Dogg or Puff Daddy. They were trying to get a rapper and hook me up and try and do that kind of casting that would appeal to a different genre. But, to me this was not just this kind of flippant buddy movie that I was looking at. What got me attracted to this thing was that it was a good two-hander. It’s about two guys and is a relationship between two people and I’m a character actor and this is the kind of stuff that I love. Put two people in a car and that’s what I love. That’s my thing. It’s not the running and jumping and getting hit by a car. That’s not what I do. I mean, I do it here, but it’s not my thing. And so, I wanted to make sure the guy could act. Because that was the only way we could get a nice full relationship going here and it was going to be fun. So, when I found out it was Sam, I was excited. That was as good as it gets, because for me he’s in the upper echelon of good quality actors. He knows what he’s doing. So, yeah, it was exciting … and a little bit intimidating!”
How much physicality did you put into your rough and tumble scenes?! ”Well, that was me running,” he laughs. ”And, there wasn’t much else that I recall. I mean, no, I didn’t get dumped out of the car. I won’t fall out of a moving car, but everything else is me. There was some running, some dropping, I fell, and I jumped up on a hood of a car!”
Was there much ad-libbing on a set like this? ”No, none,” he states quickly. ”No, a few words with me perhaps, because I can’t do two takes exactly the same in a row, in exactly the same way. So, I’ll change a word or two, but that’s not to me ad-libbing. But, no, we improvise on other movies, but not this one.”
Tell us more about the days surrounding your ‘American Pie’ exposure! ”I would say that probably ‘American Pie’ was a big movie for me, but nobody knew it at the time we were doing it! We just approached it like any other job. But it was a huge hit that introduced me to an audience that I would never have hit otherwise. A young audience and because all the sequels were such hits too, it opened the doors for other movies for that kind of audiences to see me. But, I just do what I do and this is the same kind of role for me. It’s another character role for me, the only difference was it was co-staring role, but it’s not like I was setting out to look for co-starring roles. I never saw myself as an above-the-title guy, because character actors don’t usually carry movies. They support the leads and that’s what I do, but I guess I’m supporting myself it this thing … in more ways than one.” he laughs.
Tell us more about your role in ‘Bringing Down The House’ ”I have to say that again, it was one of those movies where you look at the script and to me, it wasn’t written well, it wasn’t a strong script, but the idea and the story was a funny idea … and the character was a funny character. So, everybody pitched in with the project and worked on the script, but the key was Queen Latifah. The "Straight-trippin’ boo" line is such a great line, but it was her line! I went up to her with all these different lines that were written for me for these scenes ... lines that never struck my ear as being right. There was always something weird about the lingo here and it felt like it was some writers idea of what it should be. So, I went up to her and I showed her the lines and asked her what she thought of them. And she looked at them and said ‘I wouldn’t say them’! So I asked her what she would say and she actually said ‘You’ve got me straight-trippin’ boo, so why don’t you try that.’ So, every time we had a line that would come up like that I would go to Latifah and she would say ‘My cool points are out the window,’ … and so her contribution to those lines not only made the movie better, but gave my character so much more credibility then it would have had, had I have done these hookey lines that they had initially written for me.”
How is it that you don’t crack up more in all those hilarious outtakes that we get to see?! ”Well, maybe I don’t always think I am hilarious! Maybe that’s what it is! I don’t break up a lot in movies. I tend to do what I do. I don’t recall people breaking up in scenes with me. I know that when there’s a funny situation, like when we were doing ‘American Pie’ all those scenes that I did with Jason were improvised in rehearsal. And so, when we got to shooting it in front of the camera, none of the lines were written down that we had revised in rehearsal the week before. And so, we sat down and did it, and Jason Biggs said afterwards that the toughest thing he had to do was sit through those scenes without laughing. Because a lot of the stuff that was coming out was stuff that he had never heard before!”
Finally, will "Earl Camembert" from Melonville ever see the light of day again?! ’Ohhhh, noooo! I don’t think so. No, but did you get the ‘SCTV’ DVDs. Yeah, just pop those things in and boy, they hold up very well.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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