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Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

We speak to the comedy legend about (reluctantly) swapping character acting for travel…

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller
Marc Chacksfield
24 February 2023

For some 50 years now Eugene Levy has been making people laugh on stage and screen. For some he will forever be known as Jim’s Dad in the American Pie series, the uncool father whose heart is in its right place - even when he has to deal with his son’s anatomy being very much in the wrong place.

For others, he’s known because of his amazing comedy improvisation work with Christopher Guest which saw him as a regular actor and writer on the classic films A Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show (please seek all of these out if you haven’t seen them).

Then there’s his more recent work, which he created with his son Dan, the modern-classic sitcom Schitt’s Creek.

It’s an enviable resume but there’s one thing Levy hasn’t ever done before on screen and that’s be himself.

Until now, that is, as we see the real Eugene Levy travel around the world starring in the latest Apple TV Plus show The Reluctant Traveller.

As you can tell from the title, while many of us would jump at the chance to try new things the world over, Levy is a tad more hesitant with hilarious results.

Here are 5 things we learned about The Reluctant Traveller, after chatting to its star Eugene Levy…

1. Levy originally said no to the show as he’s a very reluctant traveller

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

"I got a call from my agent saying that Apple TV Plus wants to talk to you about hosting a show about luxury hotels around the world. It was called ‘Room With A View’.

"When I heard it, initially, I was like ‘Oh, wow, I’ll be travelling around the world. Amazing’. But then I thought about me hosting it and I'm not fond of travelling. I don't use the hate word but there are things about travelling I don't love. And, by nature, I don’t have that gregarious personality. I don't play chit chat with people.

"So, I just thanked them, but said ‘no’. But they still wanted to talk to me and I said, ‘okay, well, I don't know how many times I can say no, but sure I'll talk to them.’"

2. But saying no ended up making the show what it is

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

"I then tell them why I'm not the person to host the show and while I was giving all the reasons why, I'm getting laughs on the other end of the phone and I'm thinking ‘okay, this is good’.

"It turns out, after the phone call, they got on the phone with each and said, ‘that’s the show! It’s incorporating that he doesn't love travelling and that’s what gives the show personality.’

"They then re-pitched the show to me, saying that I could be myself. I didn’t have to pretend to be somebody else hosting a travel show. And that’s why I eventually said yes to it."

3. There were a lot of destinations to choose from (and lots ruled out)

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

"There were maybe 20 destinations initially. In the beginning, I was ruling out destinations the way I would have in my own life. ‘I don't want to go there, no that doesn't sound interesting, it’s probably not good here. I don’t know the food here…’ Then we whittled it down to eight locations, and some of which, like Costa Rica, I said yes to, even knowing it was a rainforest - normally I probably would have said no to that!

"Fortunately, there was a lot of patience with the team. They never came down and said it would be more interesting for the show if you would go to these places you didn't want to go to."

4. This is the first time we see Eugene Levy as himself… and that frightened him

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

"I’m on air as myself and for the entirety of my 50 year career I’ve been playing characters. The more removed a character was from me, the more comfortable I was.

"In this business, especially in the world of comedy, I am a character actor. I would much rather be the person in the back of the room, watching the funny person in the front of the room, than be the person in the front.

"The idea of hosting the show as myself I had to get over the fact it's just you, the person you never want to be. And that was kind of the frightening aspect of doing the show."

5. Despite his years of improvisation, he had to hone some new skills for the show…

Interview: Eugene Levy on being The Reluctant Traveller

"You would think my years of improvisation would have helped but they really didn't play into it at all. It had to do with me being able to hone some skills that I didn't think I necessarily had. The ability to ask questions and converse. The ability to listen to people and talking to people.

"That was not my thing. I never really started up a lot of conversations while standing beside the person in the checkout line at a grocery store. I mean, if somebody started talking to me, I would just say, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean’. And that was pretty much it.

"Carrying on a conversation with somebody is not in my makeup. I'm not saying it's an attractive quality but it’s who I was.

"So, me being on camera, I had to go ‘well, you're gonna be the guy talking to people, you've got to get some cobwebs off in there and and start honing some skills’ and it has been a very positive thing.

"I've found after doing one season of this show, I think I'm in a better place because of it than I was before, quite honestly."

The Reluctant Traveller is available to stream now on Apple TV Plus.

All image credits: Apple TV Plus