Eugene Levy on How 'SCTV' Grew Out of 'SNL'

Working Both Sides of the Border - H 2016

"We did not have New York City at our feet, like the 'SNL' kids did," says the comedian, who, along with 'Schitt's Creek' co-star Catherine O'Hara, will be given the Legacy Award by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television on Feb. 25.

This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Northern Lights will appear Feb. 25 to honor Canadian comic legends Eugene Levy, 69, and Catherine O'Hara, 61, — SCTV alums and co-stars of Pop's Schitt's Creek — as they receive Legacy Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television. An Evening With Canada's Stars, now in its third year hosted by Telefilm Canada, also will celebrate the Canuck talents who contributed to this year's Oscar-nominated films — from Toronto-born Spotlight supporting actress nominee Rachel McAdams, who still calls Toronto home, to original song nominee (for Fifty Shades of Grey's "Earned It") The Weeknd. Levy spoke to THR about the career honor — "It's recognition from the country that you still have a great attachment to," he says — and finding success on both sides of the border.

You and Catherine O'Hara have worked together for more than four decades, so it must feel nice to receive the Legacy Awards together?

A bunch of us started out in Toronto at the same time in the 1970s. There was Godspell, and I am still working with — and still very good friends with — people in that [stage] production: Marty Short and Andrea Martin and Paul Shaffer and Victor Garber. Second City [improv] was the next show that came along. That's when I ran into talented people like John Candy and Dan Aykroyd and Catherine O'Hara. So to accept this award with Catherine, it's a good feeling.

Looking back, do you recall thinking on Godspell and then on SCTV that the 1970s were a golden age of Canadian entertainment?

The answer is no. That wasn't really crossing our minds. We were very fortunate because we had two major American shows that hit Toronto around the same time. Godspell, when it opened, turned this cast of nobodies into almost local celebrities. Then [Chicago's] Second City opened a Toronto branch. That was pro­bably the best school of improvisational comedy that you could go to. But honestly, back then, we were young and the big thing was we got a paycheck every week. That was the good thing about doing theater and comedy revues. The steadiness of getting a check, which meant you could go out to dinner and buy another pair of shoes — that was great.

How did you all get from Second City onstage to SCTV?

The reason SCTV started was because Saturday Night Live had started a year before. Half the creative element of SNL came out of Second City and the other half out of National Lampoon. Bernie Sahlens, the owner of Second City then, said, "Hey, they're taking our Second City and now they have a big hit TV show. We should get our show off the ground before we lose any more people." So we created SCTV and that was a great show to work on, but we were in Toronto. We did not have New York City at our feet, like the SNL kids did. We were just going in every day, doing the SCTV and then going home to dinner. When SCTV went on NBC [in 1981] and we became a 90-minute show, that's when the show really took shape and some really creative things were happening. We would look at each other and say, "Wow, this is a great show. This is really funny." That's the moment that we realized this show can compete with any show anywhere in the world, because it's that good.

Canadians joke that making it in show biz is so hard, you need two towns to work in, Los Angeles and Toronto.

When my wife was pregnant with my son, Daniel, we were in Los Angeles, but we decided to go back to Toronto to raise our kids. To us, it seemed like a more sane city to raise a family in and have your kids grow up in a world of equal footing, not in a show biz world. The irony is both my kids ended up being actors. It's always a joy to work on both sides of the fence. [Growing up] we were close to Buffalo and got programming through the border stations. We got a taste of what great American comedies were all about. When we started jum­ping in with both feet, there's something in the back of your head saying, "I want to compete." Getting work in Los Angeles became part of what you had to do. And it really has worked out for [Catherine and me], espe­cially now where we're in a beautiful half-hour comedy, having so much fun and now being able to celebrate all that.

An Evening With Canada's Stars
: Feb. 25
Location: Four Seasons, Beverly Hills