How Eugene Levys Hilarious Schitts Creek Character Came to Be

As Emmy nominations approach, Vanity Fairs HWD team is diving deep into how some of this seasons greatest scenes and characters came together. You can read more of these close looks here.

Johnny Rose, Schitts Creek

Kim Basinger may not know it, but shes partially responsible for Schitts Creek. Christopher Guest mainstay Eugene Levy and his son, Dan Levy, had already hatched an idea about a sitcom centering on a once-wealthy husband and wife—Johnny and Moira Rose, played by Eugene and Catherine OHara—who lose their fortune and are forced to hilariously cope with their lower-class lifestyle when they learned a precious bit of trivia about Basinger.

“We were in the early stages of figuring out what the backstory was,” explained Dan, who also costars on the series as Johnny and Moiras son, David. “We started to research different ways that people had lost tremendous amounts of money or gone bankrupt. In the process, I stumbled upon an article about Kim Basinger having bought this town in Georgia.” Indeed, in 1989, the actress reportedly paid $20 million for much of the town of Braselton in her native state of Georgia, with hopes of developing a tourist attraction and production center there. Three years later, the only businesses open in town were a furniture store and a dentists office. When a reporter caught up with the local postmaster a few years later for a story on the towns transformation—in a scene you could see playing out on Schitts Creek—the no-nonsense postmaster declared the town “deader than it was” when Basinger bought it. Five years after her purchase, Basinger reportedly sold it for $1 million.

“We thought, what if that could be funny?” said Dan. So he and Eugene flip-flopped Basingers scenario: Schitts Creek kicks off with Johnny being swindled out of his fortune earned as the head of a Blockbuster-like video-rental franchise. “The family bought the town as a joke because it had this terrible name,” Dan explained, ”and its the only asset left after everything gets repossessed, because the government didnt see any value in it…. Unfortunately, it took a probably very traumatizing experience in Kim Basingers life for us to get here, but yeah…It was the most unlikely of Google searches.”

Eugenes performance as Johnny Rose may be the most brilliant of the actors nearly 50-year career—a masterclass in his deadpan gift. But underneath those eyebrows and matter-of-fact zingers, the Second City TV alum zeroes in on a humanity that makes this fallen magnate strangely sympathetic. Reality-era television is filled with clueless narcissists, but Johnny Rose is one of the few such characters with a heart.

How Johnny Came to Life

Johnny is the shows even-keeled straight man—a type of character Eugene Levy, whos typically cast as a scene-stealing supporting actor, isnt used to playing. And theres a reason for that. “To be a credible businessman, a guy who ran the second largest video chain in North America, there had to be some credibility in terms of who he was,” explained Eugene. “I think that was the cornerstone of building the character.” So even when Johnnys washed-up soap-star wife is filming a sequel to The Crows in Bosnia that she hopes will revive her acting career and her kids are gleefully raiding her wig wall in the familys motel room, its Johnny who tries to keep the absurd situation under control. “You better remember which nails you pulled those wigs from,” Johnny solemnly scolds David (Dan) and Alexis (Annie Murphy). “Your mother keeps a spreadsheet.”

Explained Eugene: “Everything had to be relatively straight and not too comical with Johnny, as the guy whos trying to hold everything together and give everybody optimism that theyll make it out of [Schitts Creek] one day—to not panic, not get too excitable. That was kind of an exciting thing for me. Its not something I got to do too much over my career.”

Johnnys wardrobe is as authentic as his business-executive demeanor; hes always wearing impeccably tailored suits from Ermenegildo Zegna or Hugo Boss, left over from his glory days. And even though Johnny doesnt get to indulge in the zanier story arcs that Moira does—headlining the local Asbestos Fest fund-raiser, for example—Dan Levy, who is also showrunner of Schitts Creek, has found ways to infuse a bit of fun into his fathers story lines. In season one, for example, Johnny is awakened by a motel-room drip over his head—which Dan knew would be a trying test for his father, who is sensitive about his hair.

“He got a kick out of that one,” conceded Eugene. Another season one story line had the not-incredibly athletic Eugene running through Schitts Creek in his businesswear—take after take. “A lot of running in dress shoes,” Eugene said drolly.

“That was when we were sort of pushing you the most physically,” said Dan.

“But its gotten nicer over the years,” said Eugene, pointing out that the story line high was Johnny getting to sing alongside his wifes a cappella group, the Jazzagals, in the shows fourth season. “I got a session with the Jazzagals, which was kind of great,” said the actor, who prides himself on his vocal talents.

Though a first-time director son calling the shots on set for his veteran-actor father could have made for some tense power dynamics, the Levys—who seem as wRead More – Source