Interview : Eugene Levy


Talks “American Pie : Band Camp”

JOHN MILLAR recently had the chance to sit down with Euegene Levy, star of the outrageous “American Pie : Band Camp”, now on DVD.

Q: The kids in the film say they were overawed by you. Were you aware of that?
A: No, I did not know that I had that effect on them, and it is very sweet of them to say that. The kids were actually really quite sweet and fun to be around. I liked working with them.

Q: They had expected you to do improvisation and were fascinated by your amount of preparation…
A: (Laughs) I guess some people do think, because of these other films that we do, or the fact that some of us come out of an improvisational background, like Second City, that we just kind of wing everything that we do. But that is not the case. I’m actually quite methodical in the way that I work. Normally, if I am changing any dialogue I will do it beforehand with the blessing of the director and producer.

Q: Isn’t that part of the magnificence of your performance…that people think it is improvised because it is so real?
A: What I try to do in these little rewrites that I do on the scripts, is to try and take dialogue, which to me doesn’t quite fit the character in the way I see it, and try to have the dialogue come out of the character’s mouth so that it does sound as though it is almost being improvised. I give it as much spontaneity as I can. I think I have that naturally enough in my own speech pattern, and I try and bring that out in the characters.

Q: You have been in all four American Pie films – so they must mean quite a bit to you?
A: In the beginning I was a little ambivalent about this one. For obvious reasons…it was a film that was being done without any of the other cast members. I do have very strong feelings about the franchise, of course, and my prime concern was that it was done with the same spirit and whether there was anything that could possibly jeopardise the franchise in any way. But I didn’t see anything like that in the script. I thought they did a great job with my character, by placing him in a situation where he could do what he does. When I got on the set, Tad, the kid who played Stifler’s brother was just a dead ringer for Stifler. It was kind of uncanny. So there was enough of a tie-in. The fact that it was going to go straight to DVD was an interesting factor as well.

Q: Surely many movies are going to go straight to DVD because of the power and influence of the DVD revolution?
A: Yeah. I think that in a lot of cases they are actually making more money on DVD sales than in the theatrical release. I think it is going to be a major factor in the next Screen Actors Guild negotiation! But this film was a nice little job for me. I think Universal made this a very enticing project for me. The only thing I wanted to make sure was that there was no collateral damage. I wanted to see that the spirit was in keeping with the other movies and I felt that it was. We had a good time doing it.

Q: Why has the American Pie franchise been so successful?
A: It started with the very first American Pie which hit in a big way with kids, teens and adults. The film was handled well, it was in good hands with these two young guys, Paul and Chris Weitz who had impeccable comedy taste and made sure that the vibe of this story line stayed on the good side of bad taste. It could have very easily tilted in the bad taste direction and I don’t think that would have scored at all. It really captured what was going on in the hearts and minds of teenagers and because of how beautifully it was written and cast – this was an amazing cast of incredible actors that they put together for American Pie. These were for the most part, stars in the making, very talented kids. When I saw the first movie I realised this was a special movie that would have its place in cinematic history; it will be a cornerstone in the way that Animal House was. I think they did a really terrific job with the sequels in trying to maintain the tone without getting too raunchy with it.

Q: When did you realise that Jim’s dad was an iconic character?
A: I didn’t really realise that. But the thing that struck me when the first film came out – on the day the movie opened and there were all the reviews – I found out that the picture they were using in the papers was me and Jason Biggs [the father and son]. Just about every publication was using that picture. I thought…Wow! that’s odd, there are all these kids in the movie, which is really about this group of teenagers, and yet they have picked on a scene in which I’m with Jason. It was the beginning of a realisation that people were honing in on a part of the movie that they thought was important. I think people just loved this character. I understand why teenagers have great affection for this character because there is a lot in this father that a lot of teenagers hoped they could have in their own life. It is not every father who is as patient and tries to be as understanding and not judgmental as Jim’s dad! They were picking up things in this character that I can certainly understand, and the character did kind of take off in an iconic way.

Q: The setting now is Band camp. You are musical, did you go to Band Camp?
A: No I had no experience of Band Camp. Music was always in the family, there was always a piano in the house, my brother played piano. In fact he had a quartet in high school. When I started high school, my brother was a senior and he had this amazing quartet and I would watch him perform with his group. I got a bug watching him on stage and thinking…boy this would be a good thing to do. The crowd was going crazy and I loved the kind of attention he was getting, it didn’t seem a bad thing. So I started my own singing group and we carried on right through high school. That was my first foray into performing.

Q: Why didn’t you become a pop star rather than an actor?
A: Because I discovered comedy. While we were performing at high school we branched out into doing sketches and comedy pieces that were put into our shows. I found it was much more rewarding hearing laughs than just getting applause for a song. At high school that’s where it started, I started writing these odd bits and pieces and they started getting published in the high school paper and people started to see me as a comedic person.

Q: But you have a serious side because I believe you were almost cast as Toby from The West Wing?
A: Yes. It was actually down to me and Richard Schiff at the final audition. In my audition I was perhaps getting too many laughs and they seemed to be having too much fun watching me audition. In the back of my mind I was thinking…well this is one of the most fun auditions I have ever had, but there is no chance in hell of me getting it. Then I got a call back, and then a second call back, and then I find out at the final audition that there are only two people left. So there were definitely two different ways to go with that character….a guy who found more humour in situations and the other way that they eventually went. Years later at a function when one of the guys at The West Wing told me they loved my audition I said that I was sure they had not lost any sleep over it!

Q: You have been in more than 50 movies, so you must be one of Canada’s hardest working actors?
A: I never think of this work as hard work. Over the years I have been fortunate. A guy my age still being relatively busy in the business is a good thing. That is a blessing. It is all about working stead and where is your next job. Since American Pie I have been fortunate which is why I have great affection for the franchise. It was a movie that took me in a direction that I had not been in before.

Q: There was a rumour that you and Christopher Guest might collaborate on a western?
A: Not a western, no. We did talk about the idea of a western and who knows, it may happen one day. We are actually finishing up this week on a movie called For Your Consideration – it is our fourth movie together.

Q: Is it about the Oscar campaigns?
A: Yeah. Everybody is back in this one and I actually play an agent.

Q: You will have had lots of experience of different agents?
A: I have been around! I think it is a very funny movie. It looks as if it is well on its way to being our funniest. We are having a lot of fun putting that together.

Q: Have you composed recently?
A: No my music has taken a bit of a back seat. I still pick up the guitar, at least once a day, but I have not written anything. I should be writing more, I should be practising more. I don’t want to let it go completely. I miss the singing part of it a little bit. As nerve racking as it was, it was still fun.