Eugene Levy looks uncomfortable.
Which is fine---this is what he does. He's a pro at looking slightly awkward and getting laughs. Even when in a dapper black suit, his Order of Canada pin on the lapel, shaking hands and posing for photos. Even on a day he's flown into town to receive an honourary Doctorate from Dalhousie University. Maybe especially on that day.
"It is strangely formal, in a way," says Levy, leaning in, the most famous eyebrows in show-business---with apologies to Martin Scorsese---peeking over black-rimmed Le Corbusier-style eyeglasses. "You're standing there in these robes that you know in your heart you have no right to be wearing. And if you're in comedy---which I am---it's tough to stay that straight for so long, without trying to go for a laugh. But I can't overemphasize what an honour it is."
Levy's well deserving of a few kudos. The guy has navigated the shark-infested waters of Hollywood---and the Canadian entertainment industry---for decades, famous to fans of classic Canuck TV for his work on SCTV, to indie comedy aficionados for being part of Christopher Guest's cinematic ensemble and to fans of teen sex romps for his role as Jim's dad in the American Pie franchise, the most recent of which, American Reunion, is still in cinemas. What's his secret to surviving?
"Don't go nuts," he says. Levy didn't make it big until he was in his 20s, but he's worked with a lot of young stars, from the Olsen twins (New York Minute) to Bow Wow (Like Mike) to those baked-good fornicators, now all grown up.
He suggests young actors need a strong, steadying influence. "They can get a little nutty. It's party central. I have no idea what it would have been like to have that kind of success, fame and money when I was 16. You need somebody in your life to say, 'Don't do that.'"
Levy can do anything he wants with his life and career now. Even work with Tyler Perry (Madea's Witness Protection opens June 29). "I just wanted to find out whether he was a guy who wanted to stick to the script or a guy who doesn't," says Levy. "I found out on day two he loves to veer off. He wrote the script as well, so you can't just change things unless you know whether he's into that or not."
As an example of a director who does not endorse on-set improvising, Levy tells an anecdote of a friend who worked with Alexander Payne, the guy who did The Descendants, which leads to a question: Payne's films have comedic moments but are mostly dramatic. Does Levy see himself ever moving into drama?
"I'm not opposed to it," he says. "I don't think I'd dive into Hamlet." He recalls when Bill Murray did the period drama The Razor's Edge in the 1980s, a notorious bomb. "It's a culture shock for people who are fans to go see someone they love in a movie and don't get what they want. I understand that." His old SCTV colleague John Candy had the right idea, says Levy, doing a serious supporting role in JFK.
And even Murray hit dramatic gold later on, when audiences were more ready for it. "I'd do that, probably ease into something more serious."
From Levy's mouth to casting agents' ears. And who knows? Maybe Levy's easing into drama will be a little less awkward