Dan Levy Talks Playing Pansexual on Schitt’s Creek
CBC sitcom Schitt’s Creek stunned viewers when Dan Levy’s flamboyant character started banging ladies and came out as pansexual. FLARE grilled our feted former columnist on his trailblazing plotline, those drop-crotch pants, making out with ladies and whether queer activism trumps story
Three cheers for Canada, the lefties at the Ceeb and former FLARE columnist Dan Levy for being brave enough, cool enough and with-the-times enough to celebrate the love-is-love movement and include a pansexual character on Schitt’s Creek, a broad half-hour sitcom viewed by over a million people a week. And, even more impressively, this is no Lifetime Movie of the Week reveal—his character’s I-bang-girls-and-guys-and-whoever-really orientation is treated like it’s NBD.
MTV Live alumnus and Eugene progeny Dan Levy joined forces with his pops to create Schitt’s Creek, which airs its season finale tonight on the CBC. The critically acclaimed show—which is also broadcast in the U.S. on Pop—follows a spoiled family of four post–financial crisis as they move to the titular tiny town. (The paterfamilias, played by Levy, has owned it ever since he bought it as a joke for his son’s birthday.)
Along with Levys Senior and Junior, the cast includes comedy legend Catherine O’Hara as the monstrous bewigged mama and spirited newcomer Annie Murphy—who starred in our ingénue fashion shoot last fall—as the self-absorbed little sister. Dan Levy plays the eternally annoyed, lips-a-pursed David, a dapper high-fashion hipster clad in swaths of Givenchy, drop-crotch pants and floral blouses, i.e., seemingly super-gay.
On the show, the family stays at a rundown motel presided over by the surly rural babe Stevie, played by Emily Hampshire (also currently appearing on 12 Monkeys). The twist arrives when a night of drunken, weed-enhanced shenanigans results in David and Stevie banging in the honeymoon suite of the hotel. And later transitioning into a friends-with-bennies situation. Wait, what?! Was he just the gayest straight man alive? A bored gay dude simply passing time with his beloved hag?
But no—the big reveal came when David told Stevie that, despite her assuming that he was gay, he actually is pansexual and does it with whoever, i.e., one of the growing group of millennials who decline to be constrained by gender when it comes to matters of the heart (and junk).
As advocates for the sex without boundaries movement ourselves—from eschewing the bi or gay label to anything-goes sex parties—we wanted to chat to Dan Levy and find out how this watershed moment of Canadian television and sexual diversity on-screen came to be.
You mentioned in a recent interview that you and your writer’s room felt that pansexuality hadn’t been explored very much on-screen. Did you have any rare pansexual characters in film or T.V. on your moodboard to inspire you?
No. The more that we started exploring David and delving into his past, and what his whole life had been prior to when the show starts, it just felt like an interesting fit for him. The show is a family comedy. We wanted to approach it from a way that was very sort of normal, and by that I mean that the family was aware of it, they had been for a while. It wasn’t one of those, “Let’s teach a lesson about pansexuality” episodes. It was just who he was and who his family had accepted him to be. In the episode, where it comes out, the only thing that we express is from a dad’s perspective, which I thought was an interesting thing as a parent to try and explore, the idea of trying to understand sexuality. Especially in this new, sort of liberated age of really exploring sexuality and all that it can be. So you have the Johnny character who says it would just be so much easier for David if he just picked one gender. And then, out of all the characters in our show, it’s [hillbilly mayor] Chris Elliot who says, “Well, you can’t tell your kids who to love.” It was an interesting play on perceptions of sexuality. At the end of the day, it is a comedy and we’re ultimately just trying to tell a strong story, and we thought pansexuality is something that David would definitely be about, and open to.
It’s very curated, so, yeah.
[Laughs] It’s very curated, and I don’t think he’s ever turned down a sexual opportunity if it arose.
Just like most millennials, really.
Absolutely. So that’s where it came from. It really just came from exploring the character’s history and deciding that this was sort of an interesting element of his character.
My friend and I get together and watch the show every week, and within the first couple episodes, I was like, “Oh my god, are they setting him up for an arc where’s he’s going to fall for her?!” And then I was like, “Is he just like does-it-with-whoevs, or is he just gay and it’s for funsies?!” And so there was this interesting intrigue there. What were the challenges for you of playing those kind of different notes? Was it difficult to have more of a queer moment and then switch over to being a little more straight-ish?
I do feel like once you get the clothes on, and once you get the script…
Once the Givenchy goes on.
Once the Givenchy and the Rick Owens drop-crotches are put on, there’s a whole persona that comes out. And as soon as I started to shoot, there was this strange flamboyance that came out for David that was very controlled, and yet not controlled at all. I just kept telling myself: this is a person who has spent his entire life being someone else. And that he’s constructed an interesting, artistic guy that no one is really buying except for himself. I think that what we really found interesting about the Stevie dynamic is the question of what happens to a person who is so aware of who they are, of what they’re projecting? What happens to that person if they meet someone who they really are in tune with emotionally? But are not, you know, she’s not “his look.” She’s not anything that he would necessarily want to be seen with. She’s not elevating his status in any way. So, for him to meet her, he thinks: I’m going against everything that I’ve told myself about what I can and can’t explore. That’s where they had this strange, complicated relationship, where it manifested itself in a sexual way. It’s just confusion about what happens when you meet someone you love, but you’re not quite sure where they fit.
You’re like, “I didn’t know my orientation was motel desk clerk.”
Yeah. Like, never knew that the motel front-desk girl was my vibe, but good to know. And again, they talk about being bored and desperate, but essentially they’re covering up for the fact that they’re very unsure of what they’re feeling.
Have you found in pop culture and around you a rise in people who identify as pansexual? Or bisexual, or no labels, or fluid on the sexuality spectrum?
What I’ve seen a rise in is the conversation. I hear it more. I read it more. The fact that we’re having those discussions about what is acceptable, the fact that people are writing about sexuality in way that is questioning conventions and really exploring where you can take sexuality. Especially now on television, we’re slowly coming into an age where Transparent is celebrated in the way that it is, and Orange Is the New Black, and Laverne Cox is being applauded for being an actress who happens to be trans. I think we’re headed in a very positive direction, I hope.
Even if you look on Looking, which is a high-brow cable show and—even though it airs late at night—they have all sorts of sassy things happening this season.
And Girls as well. I think HBO is definitely on the forefront sexually, like that’s just a general thing. Game of Thrones I think you can throw in there as well. But it’s interesting television. I think what’s really great about it is, for the most part, I don’t feel that sexuality is getting exploited in these shows, or being incorporated for the sake of representing a “minority.” What’s being told now are really interesting stories about people, people who just happened to be trans or gay or pansexual, and that’s really great.
You yourself are a member of the queer community—is it important to you to use your art and your voice to further the visibilities of these communities, or is it just coming from a place of story for you? Or is it tied together?
For us, when it came to the show, it was really about story. It was about telling the best story we could and the most thoughtful story we could and creating characters that were dimensional and had something to say. That’s really where everything is based. Anything that sort of comes from there—that’s the foundation.
Now that you’re an actor, you’ll be subjected to the same question I ask everyone, which is: How was filming your first love scene? Was it intimidating? Was everyone joking around on set? Did you close the set?
There was a lot of gum around. Fortunately we only did the big makeout scene, and then the wake-up-in-the-morning scene. So we didn’t actually have the lovemaking.
But makeouts are so intimidating!
Well, it’s literally, like, you’re at a craft service table and then you’re making out with a person you’re friends with. There’s nothing natural about it. They’re like, “Do you mind just pushing her up against the wall and this time try it where you’re just all over each other?” Its like “All right, well, that’s it.” It didn’t help that my dad was sitting at the monitor during all of this. That added a very bizarre element to all of this, but fortunately when you trust the person you’re doing it with, it’s all in good fun.
You’ve mentioned that people online have had a lot of reaction over their relationship. What was that like? Confusion? Vitriol?
It was general confusion. Which was intended. We did leave that piece of information out until the very end because we wanted, first of all, to tell a story about the family, before we started getting into everybody’s backstories, but also just to let people form their own opinions before telling them what we wanted. The U.S. hasn’t seen that episode yet.
Are you going to be on Twitter constantly refreshing the second it happens?
To be perfectly honest with you, and maybe it’s because my family is pretty liberal and my friends are very open and liberal, and I live in a very sort of accepting world, I genuinely didn’t think twice about what that could do, or what that would do. When it aired in Canada, I just started getting all of this feedback from people over Twitter, appreciating the fact that pansexuality was being discussed in a very thoughtful way on a network television show. It touched me a lot, actually, that kind of response, because I just assumed that everyone would be OK with it, but I also underestimated what actually representing something like that on television would actually do, or I guess could do for someone who doesn’t necessarily see that all the time. So, we’ll see what happens when it hits the American television.
You’ve been renewed for season two already! What are some things you would want to do for the second season? Would you want to show David with a dude?
The season is laid out. It’s… The way that it ends, there’s a story to be told in the second season, not about that. Something, you know, it’s more story-related. I think David still has a ways to go before he opens up enough to accept someone romantically into his life. I think there’s a lot of darkness in David, and I think you’ll know what I’m talking about tonight. It’s a surprisingly emotional episode of Schitt’s Creek.
He’s hiding all his dark secrets in his drop-crotch pants.
Maybe! There’s a lot of secrets kept in those pants.
Do you want to know my Schitt’s Creek conspiracy theory was for a while? My conspiracy theory was that Dustin Milligan—who is dating Annie Murphy on the show—his apartment was so tasteful and he’s kind of weird around David, and I was like, “Oh my god, what if he’s secretly in love with David and they’re going to get together?”
Don’t think we didn’t explore that in the writer’s room. There was a moment where it was like, “Well, is that a thing?” But yes, by the end of the second season… there is someone introduced.