The cast and crew of American Pie: Reunion were recently in Australia and I was lucky enough to get some time with the creative Eugene Levy to talk about his career and his famous character in the American Pie franchise. He was great to speak with and here’s how it went down…
You can download a 5 minute audio extract of the interview by clicking here.
Matt: He’s in Australia at the moment and I’m sure you’ll realise who I’m talking with based on his distinctive voice. I say good morning to Mr Eugene Levy. How’s it going?
Eugene: Good morning Matthew. It’s fun to be here.
Matt: How have you been finding Australia so far? Have you had a chance to do any sightseeing?
Eugene: Well, I’m in Melbourne now. We got in the other day but I haven’t been able to get around much. I’ve just been looking out my hotel room and the city is gorgeous.
I did get around in Sydney for a day and drove through the city. This is my first trip here and so I’m going nuts. I’ve heard so much about it and it’s all true. The people are the friendliest I’ve encountered and the cities are absolutely beautiful.
Matt: That’s very nice of you to say. I have to start by saying that it wasn’t until recently that I realised that you were in one of my all time favourite comedies which is National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Eugene: Oh boy.
Matt: You were the car salesman who sold Chevy Chase his family queen truckster wagon at the start of the film. How did you get that role way back then?
Eugene: Harold Ramis who co-wrote and directed the film was a friend. In fact, we started our TV show in 1976 up in Toronto – it was kind of like a Saturday Night Live but it was called SCTV. Harold was on the show with us and when he started Vacation, he plucked some of us for certain roles and I happened to get one of them.
Matt: I know another director you’ve collaborated with a lot is Christopher Guest. The skit you guys did at the Oscars with the focus group, how did that come about?
Eugene: That was great. I got a call from Billy Crystal and I was working in Atlanta at the time doing a movie. He called to say they were thinking of doing this idea on a focus group that had watched the movie The Wizard Of Oz. I’m thinking “well that’s kind of a funny idea” and he said he’d like to use some of the people from our group – Christopher Guest, Catherine O’Hara and Jennifer Coolidge.
That’s all I knew about it until I flew there for the weekend to record this little piece. It was really, really loose and very much improvised. The cameras were set up and we got the premise. Bob started asking questions and that was it. We were just kind of making it up as we went along. It was a great group to do it with – a very seasoned troupe.
Matt: I know you’ve done a lot of great work throughout your career but I’m guessing that the role you’ve become most famous for is in the American Pie franchise. Most people know you simply as Jim’s Dad. Is that the role you are most recognised for?
Eugene: Without question, it’s one of the roles that I get recognised for. Nosing right up in there along with American Pie is, believe it or not, Best In Show. I either get people on the street going “hey Jim’s Dad” or people on the street saying “hey Two Left Feet”. It’s amazing because American Pie had huge distribution and Best In Show did not.
Best In Show is one of my favourites. It was a lot of fun to write and it was great fun to film. No question.
Matt: Talking about the American Pie series, the first film came out back in 1999. I know we’ve got the benefit of hindsight but did you ever think it was going to become as big a series as it has?
Eugene: No. Nobody really knew what was going on. The odd thing was that when we filmed the very first American Pie, it was actually not called American Pie. The script had a different name which was East Falls Great High. At the same time, I was shooting another movie at that time which was called American Pie.
When I got East Falls Great High, they had to work out a shooting schedule with American Pie so I could come out for 3 or 4 days to shoot East Falls Great High… which of course turned out to be American Pie! That American Pie seemed to gobble up the other American Pie’s title and that eventually went out under a different name.
We didn’t know it was going to be a huge movie. It was a small budget movie. Nobody had a clue that it was going to be huge until just before it opened. We started hearing how excited the studio was about this movie and the rest is history.
Matt: Well I know there have been 8 films in the franchise. I confess that I didn’t see some of the direct to DVD ones like American Pie Presents The Naked Mile. Have I missed anything?
Eugene: Well to be honest, I have not seen the DVDs myself. I haven’t seen any of them so I’m with you. I really haven’t. Those movies were just kind of situations where the job and the money was too good to pass up. I did take great care to make sure that I had control over what my character did in those straight-to-DVD movies. I didn’t want the character in any situation that I thought would jeopardise his reputation or that of the American Pie franchise.
Matt: Back in 1999, all these actors you worked with like Jason Biggs, Sean William Scott and Alyson Hannigan, now, you get to be reunited with them. What was it like being on the set catching up with them all again?
Eugene: The great thing about this one is that we are spending more time with them as a group. I never really got to know the kids in the other films because we didn’t share a lot of scenes together. Most of my scenes were with Jim and pretty much still are. The fact that we’re now travelling around has allowed me to get to know everyone and they’re all getting to know me.
They’re a great troupe of exceptional actors. These kids are amazing. They really are. If you knew how Sean William Scott is so unlike Stifler, you would realise how brilliant an actor he really is.
Matt: And you and Jennifer Coolidge have appeared in so many films together but you’re not often in the same scene. That changes here and you actually get quite intimate late in the film.
Eugene: Again, one of the great parts of the story pitch when I first heard it for American Reunion is that Jim’s Dad runs into Stifler’s Mum and I thought wow, what a great direction for both characters. We did have fun working together and she’s hysterical.
Matt: I know you’ve been doing comedy for decades but how easy is it to do some of the scenes in this film? The conversations that you share with Jason Biggs left me cringing and so many others were too at the preview.
Eugene: My intent with this character from the very beginning was that I wanted him to be “the dad”. I didn’t want him to be his son’s friend. I wanted him to be to “square dad” that kids don’t want to spend a lot of time with and certainly don’t want to be talking sex with. That created the backbone to a very funny character.
There’s a lot of improvisation that goes into our scenes as well. The scripted scene is very good but the writers and directors really encouraged improvisation so Jason and I tried to keep it as loose as we could. Honestly, it makes the scenes double the fun to do.
Matt: I should wrap up by thinking about your career to this point. You’ve won an Emmy for comedy writing for SCTV, you’ve won a Grammy for song writing for A Mighty Wind and you’re also a Member of the Order of Canada. What achievement have you most been proud of?
Eugene: I guess I’ve had a few. I have to say that American Pie has been an amazing thing for me. I kind of considered myself a successful character actor before American Pie but it really turned my career around and introduced me to a young audience that probably would never have got to know me otherwise. That experience was a high point.
Winning the Grammy was a big kick for me because I’m not in the music business but we did write a pretty good tune for A Mighty Wind. I was actually shocked when we won it because it wasn’t a real song! It was kind of a fake song.
Certainly the Order of Canada for me, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Matt: Well thank you and I hope the film is a great success and we get to see you back down here in Australia.
Eugene: Thank you Matthew.
You can check out my review of the film by clicking here.