Dan Levy Talks 'Coastal Elites' & Emmy Recognition For 'Schitt's Creek'

Dan Levy Coastal Elites HBO
Q&A
HBO

HBO is bringing fans a unique presentation this Saturday, September 12 with Coastal Elites, a collection of socially distanced comedy monologues from playwright Paul Rudnick and director Jay Roach.

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The comedic satire boasts an impressive cast including Dan Levy, Bette Midler, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever. Coastal Elites explores the current state of our world by diving into five separate stories that illustrate the universal pursuit for human connection in a deeply divided political landscape.

Dan Levy Coastal Elites HBO

(Credit: HBO)

Emmy nominee and Schitt's Creek creator Levy portrays Mark Hesterman, a young actor who engages in a video conference with his therapist for career and personal reasons. TV Insider caught up with Levy ahead of the special's debut to discuss his role in this project, as well as the impact of Schitt's Creek on the eve of this year's Emmys.

What should people know about Coastal Elites?

Dan Levy: It's a collection of monologues touching upon the current political climate through different sets of eyes. And I think Paul Rudnick did such an incredible job of writing this piece and of playing with perception. I think so much of what it is, is playing with your perception of who these people are and realizing as the monologues carry on that they're actually much different than what you might have originally thought.

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The actress plays a nurse in this pandemic-era, play-like presentation.

And I thought those twists and turns were really thoughtfully done. It's what really excited me about this project. Even the idea of playing on the name Coastal Elites is kind of playing on judgment that I think we have as a culture. To promote something like sitting down with these characters and actually listening to them candidly, I think, is representative of what we need to do more of in order to better understand each other because we're in such a combative culture where we're not listening anymore. We're just trying to hold onto what we believe in so that it's not taken away from us.

Your character goes on quite an emotional journey over the course of his monologue. What should people know about Mark and how he fits into Coastal Elites?

Well, he's an actor who is given an opportunity to audition for, and then get very close to playing, the first openly gay superhero in a big blockbuster movie. Processing what that means and his experience of getting to the point where he is waiting for a phone call is far less glamorous than what I think people expect of the film industry.

Coastal Elites Dan Levy

(Credit: HBO)

Getting to expose some of those less glamorous moments was really meaningful to me because I think Mark and I, both being gay actors, have experienced very similar moments where we have been asked to compromise who we are and what we stand for, for someone else's idea of what a gay person should look like or talk like or be. Getting to explore that conversation you have with yourself and your soul, when you're asked to compromise in that kind of way, was something that hit very close to home.

Was that what drew you to this character and project?

Yeah, absolutely. I think the minute that you can find yourself in a character, it's fun when you can find that connective tissue because in a way it makes the job easier. You're instantly aware, to an extent, of who this person is or what they've gone through. Obviously, I think we're very different in the sense that he takes up 20 minutes of his therapist's time talking about a movie role, but that movie is important to him and important to a lot of people. It certainly ropes you in in a very clear and compelling way. And then obviously, Jay Roach, Paul Rudnick, and that incredible cast of actors... You can't turn away from that. That would be a mistake.

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In the HBO special, an all-star cast delivers satirist Paul Rudnick's inspired rants about life in a polarized society during a pandemic.

Speaking of the cast, you were able to participate in a virtual table read. What was that experience like?

It was quite remarkable. I was absolutely terrified because suddenly you're on a Zoom [call] and there's Bette Midler just watching. And the way that they did the table read was very seamless, so there was no stopping. It was kind of like you unmuted yourself when your part came up and you did your monologue and then you muted back down and then the next person would come in. It was nerve wracking because I'm watching these performances and you can read them and the words are so compelling, but then to see the caliber of talent bringing these words to life in such compelling, beautiful ways only made me more nervous about what I was doing. But I was really moved by the whole thing, seeing everyone having worked so hard with these characters, because monologues aren't easy.

It was beautifully written, but at the end of the day, it is the actor speaking right into a camera and there's nothing around them. So you have to do everything you possibly can so that you don't lose people's interest and you service and honor the words that were written for you in the best way you possibly could. After walking away from that table read, I knew that there was something really special to what we were doing. There was something really new and exciting in the air.

Schitt's Creek cast

(Credit: Pop TV)

Schitt's Creek ended its run earlier this year and earned multiple Emmy nominations. How does it feel to be recognized for the show's final chapter?

Well, you can't ask for a better way to end a pretty extraordinary time. It really does feel like the cherry on top because we, as a team, had just the greatest time making the show. I am so proud of everybody and the work that they did and the time and the care that they put into this show, because we weren't working with a big budget, we didn't have a ton of opportunity. So you really are having to give it 110% to get it out there. And to have this last season recognized in this kind of way is really extraordinary. Not just our actors, but to see our crew members being recognized with Emmy nominations, it's truly wild and I am just thrilled for everybody. I'm so proud.

Coastal Elites, Premieres, Saturday, September 12, 8/7c