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Eugene Levy moved countries to keep his family out of showbiz. This week, they won seven Emmys.

Eugene Levy was so determined to keep his kids away from showbiz that he moved countries. Yet somehow, the family ended up starring in a sitcom together that’s just scooped the pool at the Emmys. 

The Canadian actor’s career in American comedy movies was starting to take off when he and his wife, Deborah Divine, were starting a family. Eugene and Deborah made the decision to leave Los Angeles behind and bring up their kids in Toronto. 

“He made a very conscious effort to keep my sister and I and our family in Toronto so as to avoid the Hollywood life,” his son Dan recently told Variety. “In retrospect, being in this industry and knowing how valuable it is to be in Los Angeles, I realise even more what kind of sacrifice he made professionally in order to protect my family from being exposed to an industry that he really wanted to keep separate.

“Family was always first. He’s never been hungry for fame.”

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Dan was born in 1983 and Sarah in 1986. Eugene racked up a string of movie credits: Splash, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Waiting For Guffman, American Pie. His co-stars loved him. Jason Biggs, who played his son in American Pie, says Eugene taught him “so much about comedy, about life”. 

“I was a kid but he had so much respect for me,” he remembers

But Eugene rarely talked about his work at home, only bringing out his comedy characters when he felt it would help. 

“It was usually when we were fighting when I was a teenager,” Dan says. “He would use it to kind of neutralise any kind of teenage anger I might have. It’s very hard to stay mad at someone who is putting on voices and getting into characters.”

In fact, Dan told Vogue that he didn’t realise his dad was famous till American Pie came out. 

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“And then everyone started asking me if the movie was based on my life,” he remembers. “And unfortunately, I have not made love to a pie.”

Eugene is close friends with comedian Martin Short, and the two families would go on holidays together, with the kids putting on little shows for the adults. Dan and Sarah were also in high school plays.

But Eugene and Deborah insisted the kids get regular jobs as teenagers. At 15, Dan went to work at a kids’ clothing store, so he wouldn’t bump into anyone he knew. Next came jobs in a bakery and a video store – jobs that would provide him with comedy material years down the track.  

Eugene says he and Deborah knew Dan was gay, and they were waiting for him to tell them, until one day, they couldn’t wait anymore.  

"I believe it was Mum who just actually said, 'Okay, are you gay?'" Eugene told Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen. 

"She did,” Dan added. “She almost knew. My mum and I have a very close relationship in that sense and it almost felt like she knew that I was ready."

Dan went to film school and had a “tumultuous” relationship, then moved to London for an internship, which he describes as “hell”. Coming back to Toronto, he heard MTV Canada was looking for on-air talent, and applied, thinking it might be chance for some self-improvement. He was the first person hired, and became famous for co-hosting an after-show for The Hills.

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Dan tells Variety that being on MTV was “amazing” for him, in giving him confidence, “not just as a host, but as someone who was trying to make a name for myself outside of my dad”. 

“I had been working at a video store before that, so this was a major step up,” he says. “But I was not getting up in the morning and feeling great. It was a tremendous amount of anxiety, because the shoe wasn’t the right fit.”

After eight years he quit MTV. He went along to auditions for acting roles but did badly at them due to anxiety, and he couldn’t even get representation as a writer, due to his years at MTV

“I was turned down by, like, every agency in the States,” he told GQ. “They wouldn’t even take a meeting.”

So he just started writing, and six months later, he’d come up with the idea for Schitt’s Creek, a sitcom about a wealthy family who lose their money and are forced to move to a small town they once bought as a joke. But Dan needed help. He decided to turn to his dad, something he’d avoided doing until that point.  

“For a long time, I avoided any kind of association with him,” Dan said in an interview with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. “I feel like this industry is incredibly unforgiving when it comes to nepotism.”

Listen to The Spill, Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast. On this episde, co-hosts Kee Reece and Laura Brodnik discuss The Emmys. Post continues below.

Eugene tells GQ he was elated when Dan approached him. 

“I said, ‘Absolutely,’ and it really wouldn't have mattered what the idea was.” 

But then he was afraid. 

“The very first couple of days of brainstorming, I would wake up at night in a cold sweat thinking, ‘What if he doesn’t have it?’” 

Eugene says he felt he had to “mentor” his son in the beginning. But it only took a few weeks till he realised he didn’t need to. 

“I thought, ‘Just let him go and listen to him because his ideas are great,’” he told Bustle. “It was a very, very proud moment."

With Eugene as Johnny Rose and Dan as his son David, Catherine O’Hara came on board to play Johnny’s wife Moira, and Annie Murphy scored the role of David’s sister Alexis. 

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Meanwhile, Sarah had studied theatre at uni and moved to LA to look for work. She’d only had a few small roles in movies such as Larry Crowne. Then Eugene and Dan told her about the sitcom they were working. 

“They asked if I wanted to be a part of it,” Sarah told TV, eh?. “And of course, it was. The opportunity to work with my family seemed a really wonderful thing. And we obviously had no idea where it would go, but I went along for the ride gladly.”

Sarah joined the show as waitress Twyla Sands. 

The rest is history, with the show’s final season winning seven major comedy awards at this week’s Emmys. 

“It’s amazing to know that my dad and my sister and I have this chapter of our lives documented on film,” Dan told Variety. “I really feel like my dad and I have really managed to navigate six years of working together, and being related to each other, and come out on top of it.”

Feature image: Instagram/@instadanlevy

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