Actor, writer, and director
Born December 17, 1946, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; married Deborah Devine, 1977; children: Dan, Sarah. Education: Graduated from McMaster University, 1970.
Home —Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Actor in television, including: Stay Tuned, 1976; Sunshine Hour, 1976; Second City TV (also known as SCTV and SCTV Network 90 ), CBC, NBC, and Cinemax, 1976–84; The Last Polka (movie), HBO, 1984; The Canadian Conspiracy (movie), 1985; Bride of Boogedy (movie), 1987; Biographies: The Enigma of Bobby Bittman (movie), Cinemax, 1988; Second City's 15th Anniversary Special (also producer and director), 1988; Camp Candy (voice), 1989; Partners 'n Love (movie; also directed), Family Channel, 1992; Harrison Bergeron (movie), 1995; Hiller and Diller, 1997; Hercules (voice), 1998; D.O.A. (movie), 1999; The Sports Pages (movie), 2001; Club Land (movie; uncredited), 2001; Committed (voice), 2001; The Kid (movie; voice), 2001; Greg the Bunny, Fox, 2002.
Film appearances include: Cannibal Girls, 1973; Running, 1979; Nothing Personal, 1980; Double Negative, 1980; Heavy Metal (voice), 1981; National Lampoon's Vacation, 1983; Going Berserk, 1983; Splash, 1984; Club Paradise, 1986; Armed and Dangerous, 1986; Speed Zone!, 1989; Father of the Bride, 1991; Stay Tuned, 1992; I Love Trouble, 1994; Father of the Bride II, 1995; Multiplicity, 1996; Waiting for Guffman, 1996; Dogmatic, 1996; Almost Heroes, 1998; Holy Man (uncredited),
Television and film writing includes: Second City TV, 1976–81; SCTV Channel, 1983; The Last Polka (also executive producer), 1984; Biographies: The Enigma of Bobby Bittman (also director and executive producer), 1988; Maniac Mansion (also executive producer and director of certain episodes), Family Channel, 1990; Sodbusters (also songwriter, director, and executive producer), 1994; The Martin Short Show, 1994; Waiting for Guffman, 1996; D.O.A., 1999; Best in Show (also songwriter), 2000; A Mighty Wind (also songwriter), 2003.
Director of films, including: I, Martin Short, Goes Hollywood (TV), 1989; Once Upon a Crime, 1992; Partners 'n Love, 1992; Sodbusters (TV), 1994. Stage appearances include: Godspell, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1972–73; Second City productions, Toronto.
Emmy Award (with others) for outstanding writing in a variety or music program, for SCTV Network, 1992; New York Film Critics Circle Award for best supporting actor, for A Mighty Wind, 2003; Critics' Choice Award (with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean) for best song, Broadcast Film Critics Association, for "A Mighty Wind," 2003; Grammy Award (with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean) for best song written for a motion picture, television, or other visual media, Recording Academy, for "A Mighty Wind," 2004.
Though film audiences have become familiar with comedic actor Eugene Levy through such movies as the 1999 teen flick American Pie and its sequels as well as such independent fare as the 2000 dog show fictional documentary Best in Show, he already had a long career working in film and television. Years before these films, Levy began in Canadian television as a star of the hit sketch comedy show Second City TV. He then embarked on a career that included small roles in film and television, writing or co–writing films and television specials, and some directing assignments in film and television movies, both in the United States and Canada. Despite his late success as an actor, Levy shunned the Hollywood life, keeping his native Canada as his primary home.
Born in 1946 in the steel town of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Levy was the son of a foreman at an automotive plant, while his mother worked as a homemaker. Performing was part of Levy's life by the time he was a student at Hamilton's Westdale High School. Music was also one of his interests. He was a member of a folk trio called the Tri–tones as a teenager. For college, Levy attended McMaster University in Hamilton. There, he met many future collaborators including Dave Thomas, Martin Short, and Ivan Reitman. Levy graduated from McMaster in 1970.
Levy's acting career began in 1970. That year, he made his film debut in the second feature directed by Reitman, the horror comedy Cannibal Girls. The film was not released until 1973, and also featured future Second City TV castmate Andrea Martin. Film was not Levy's only genre in this time period; he appeared in theater productions as well. In 1972–73, Levy appeared in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada, production of Godspell, with McMaster alumni Short and Thomas, as well as Martin. Levy and several of his castmates then appeared with the Second City comedy troupe in live productions in Toronto. Second City's live comedy theater including sketches and improv.
After moving to California to start a new theatre company with fellow Second City troupe members John Candy and Joe Flaherty, the trio returned to Toronto when their venture failed. Soon after they returned, the comedy of Toronto's Second City moved to television. The program was a sketch comedy show that originally aired on television in Toronto only, then moved to the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) and later aired on American networks, including NBC and Cinemax, and other international networks. Originally titled Second City TV, the show was commonly known as SCTV, and later re–titled SCTV Network 90 and SCTV Network.
With SCTV, Levy was part of what many considered one of the best comedy shows produced in Canada for much of its run, which lasted from 1976–84. The cast included Candy, Thomas, Martin, and Short. In addition to writing for SCTV Levy also created a number of memorable characters, including fake comic Bobby Bittman and Stan Shmenge, one of the polka king brothers. Levy also did a number of celebrity impersonations such as Floyd the barber from The Andy Griffith Show, Gene Shalit the movie critic, and actor Ricardo Montalban.
Long after the run of SCTV ended, the show was still watched in reruns, and on video and DVD. Of the show's continuing popularity, Levy told Rob Salem of the Toronto Star, "With SCTV, we created an entire world, which was insulated from the real world and insulated from timely events. And in doing that, I think, the show survives well without being dated."
While a part of SCTV, Levy also appeared in several films, including the 1979 drama Running and as a voice actor in the 1981 animated feature Heavy Metal. After the end of SCTV, many of Levy's castmates went on to bigger and better things, including Candy who had a long career in Hollywood comedies. While Levy also had a film career after SCTV, he chose to remain in Canada instead of moving to Los Angeles, California. He and his wife, Deborah Divine, whom he married in 1977, wanted to raise their two children, Dan and Sarah, there. Levy told Lewis Beale of Daily News in 1997, "If I was career–oriented, I wouldn't be living in Toronto. I [just] wanna make a decent living, and I wanna do the jobs I wanna do.… When I got my first stage job, I couldn't believe I was going to get paid every week for doing this I still can't believe I'm getting paid for what it is I do." Levy remained Toronto–based throughout his career.
Levy still compiled credits in Hollywood comedies in the 1980s, but was primarily relegated to small or supporting roles. Levy played a car salesman in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, and a scientist who wants to capture the mermaid played by Daryl Hannah in the 1984 romantic comedy, Splash. The 1986 comedy Club Paradise featured many SCTV alumni. Levy played a swinger named Barry who was a patron at the failing resort. Levy's first larger role came in 1986's comedy about a security guard, Armed and Dangerous, which co–starred Candy.
Acting was not Levy's only post– SCTV pursuit; he also did some producing, writing, and directing. Many of his early projects were based on characters from SCTV. In 1984, Levy served as co–writer and executive producer of The Last Polka for HBO. This was a fake documentary based on his SCTV sketch about the Shmenge brothers and their polka band. Levy and co–writer Candy appeared as the brothers. Four years later, Levy wrote, directed, and served as executive producer on Autobiographies: The Enigma of Bobby Bittman, which aired on Cinemax. He also produced, directed, and acted in Second City's 15th Anniversary Special in 1988.
In the early 1990s, Levy continued to work in behind–the–scenes capacities. In 1990, he created the television series Maniac Mansion which was based on a computer game produced by Lucas Film and aired on the Family Channel. He also served as the show's executive producer, and wrote and directed certain episodes. In 1992, Levy directed the television movie, Partners 'n Love, for the Family Channel. That same year, Levy directed his first feature film, Once Upon a Crime. The film was a failure at the box office and among critics. In 1994, he served as a writer, director, executive producer, and song writer for the television movie Sodbusters, a comic take on westerns.
Levy continued to appear in films in the early 1990s as well, though primarily in small comic roles. His films included 1992's Stay Tuned, the 1994 Julia Roberts vehicle, I Love Trouble, and 1995's Father of the Bride Part II. While Levy's roles were still supporting or part of a large ensemble, in the late 1990s, his career and profile blossomed. The change came in the mid–1990s when he began working with Christopher Guest, a writer, director, and actor best known for his role in the cult classic from 1984, This Is Spinal Tap.
Guest tapped Levy to help him write the script for a new "mockumentary," 1996's Waiting for Guffman. The script was basically an outline with plot points, basic story line, and defined characters which left room for the actors to improvise. Guffman was set in the small town of Blaine, Missouri, where the locals were putting on a musical revue for the 150th anniversary of the city's founding. Levy played Dr. Allan Pearl, a cross–eyed dentist who has no real talent but much ambition to be a talk show host like Johnny Carson. Levy's Pearl hosts the show. Levy was praised for his work in the film and was considered by many critics to be one of the best in the cast.
After the success of Guffman, Levy worked on a number of Guest's subsequent films. Levy again co–wrote the script for 2000's Best in Show, a mockumentary about dog shows. Levy also had a prominent role in the ensemble film, playing an obsessive dog owner named Gerry Fleck who literally has two left feet and a formerly promiscuous wife named Cookie. As with Guffman, much of the film was improvised, and Levy shone in the critically acclaimed film.
While Levy was building a reputation in ensemble mockumentaries, he also found an audience in an unexpected place. In 1999, Levy was cast in American Pie in a supporting role known only as Jim's Dad. American Pie was a teen comedy film, and Levy's character was the father of the main character, played by Jason Biggs. Jim's Dad was loving and full of fatherly advice, but bumbling and known for his bad timing.
Levy's role remained prominent in the two sequels: 2001's American Pie 2 and 2003's American Wedding. Of his role in the films, Levy told Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun, "I haven't heard a negative thing about the character since the first movie came out. So I'm very proud to carry the moniker of 'Jim's Dad' now. I find myself picking up some things from the character, just in terms of trying to stay on an even keel. I've actually tried to adopt a few personality traits of the character."
These successes led to more roles in Hollywood films for Levy. In 2001, he appeared in Down to Earth, a Heaven Can Wait remake directed by the Weitz brothers (Paul and Chris) who were part of the original American Pie movie. Levy played Keyes, an angel who is not great at his job. Levy also played a small but important role as a salesman in the 2001 romantic film, Serendipity. In 2003, Levy played rich lawyer Howie Rottman, the friend to Steve Martin's lead character, in Bringing Down the House. The film was panned by critics but Levy's work received their praise; the film did well at the box office despite less–than–favorable reviews. Levy was similarly acclaimed for his role as the cheating high school principal in 2003's Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, though the movie did not do well. While Levy was building up a career in film, he still worked in television on occasion. In 2001, he provided a voice for Committed, a CTV (Canadian television) animated comedy, also with SCTV alums Martin and Catherine O'Hara. Levy was the voice of Joe Larsen, a freelance writer who works at home with his kids. Levy appeared in the short–lived 2002 television series, Greg the Bunny, on Fox. The show was a behind–the–scenes look at a puppet show, Sweetknuckle Junction, in which the puppets were as real as the humans who worked on the program. While the show barely lasted its first season, it did develop a cult following.
In 2003, Levy again collaborated with Guest as co–writer and performer in A Mighty Wind, a mockumentary about folk artists reuniting for a tribute show. Levy played Mitch Cohen, a 1960s folk singer who is trying to make a career comeback. Cohen had been part of a folk duo, Mitch & Mickey. O'Hara played Mickey, Cohen's ex–wife and ex–partner. Though Levy had to play music live for the first time in many years, he still managed to garner several awards for a song he co–wrote for the film, including a Grammy.
Levy enjoyed his success, gladly accepting the fact that he would not be a lead actor. He told Tim Carvell of Entertainment Weekly, "I'm a character actor. That gives you the ability to go in knowing that you've only got a handful of scenes. And you don't necessarily have to carry the movie, you just have to score. It's a great way to work."
Celebrity Biographies, Baseline II, 2004.
Daily News (New York), January 27, 1997, p. 32.
Entertainment Weekly, April 25, 2003, pp. 50–52.
Houston Chronicle, April 20, 2003, p. 8.
Maclean's, March 19, 2001, p. 47; April 21, 2003, p. 59.
Newsweek, February 10, 1997, p. 66.
Ottawa Citizen, August 16, 2003, p. J3.
People, July 1, 1985, p. 8; August 11, 2003, p. 64.
Time, April 1, 2002, p. 67A.
Toronto Star, July 5, 1986, p. F1; February 28, 1997, p. D1; October 31, 1998, p. SW4; March 9, 2002, p. SS04.
Toronto Sun, March 3, 1997, p. 36; March 10, 2001, p. 38; August 7, 2001, p. 27.
Vanity Fair, April 2003, p. 162.
Variety, February 19, 2001, p. 37.
"Eugene Levy," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0506405/ (February 9, 2004).
"OutKast Snag Top Grammy, Eugene Levy Represents Canada," Chartattack, http://www.chartattack.com/damn/2004/02/0907.cfm (February 18, 2004).
— A. Petruso