Jim's Dad talks to Nick Dent about American Pie: Reunion.
In person, Eugene Levy conforms to expectations: black-rimmed glasses, Groucho Marx eyebrows, bearish physique. Time Out half expects to be clapped on the shoulder and offered some fatherly advice about wanking. It’s masturbation that brought Levy, 65, to mainstream attention when he took virtually the sole adult role in 1999’s American Pie, as Noah Levenstein (‘Jim’s dad’), a lovable dork who reacts with tolerance on finding his teenage son (Jason Biggs) having intimate relations with an apple pie.
The film raised the bar on mainstream sleaze and launched a new generation of stars like Biggs, Chris Klein, Mena Suvari, Seann William Scott and Tara Reid. Thirteen years later, the entire cast has reunited for American Pie: Reunion, but ironically, apart from Buffy alumnus Alyson Hannigan, it’s Levy who has had the strongest career since. And Jim’s dad was a part he almost didn’t take.
“When I read the script of the first movie I called my manager and said ‘I don’t think I can do this. It’s too raunchy’,” the prolific Canadian actor says. “‘By the time you hit page 20 you’ve already gone through somebody ejaculating into somebody’s beer, somebody drinking it, somebody performing oral sex – why would I do it?’”
Convinced to take a meeting with directors Paul and Chris Weitz, Levy voiced his concerns that the father was too ‘cool’. “Kids don’t want to be friends with their parents, they want parents. I went in with Jason and we improvised. What came out of it was the fact he was trying to do a good job as a father but coming off as awkward. There was an affection there and the scenes became sincere, but funny.”
Levy is so closely identified with the Pie franchise that he not only appears in the three sequels but in four straight-to-DVD American Pie Presents spin-offs – the only original cast member to do so. “To be honest I’ve never seen them,” Levy says. “I couldn’t say no to what was very little work and a lot of money. But I did say, I don’t want my character doing or saying anything that I don’t want him to be doing or saying. I didn’t want him to be standing in the middle of some nude women.”
The new theatrical release was able to get the original cast back, Levy says, because the script (by co-directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg) evolved the characters. “Making [Noah] a widower turned the tables, because in the little father-son pep talk it’s Jim who counsels his dad: ‘I think it’s time you got out and started dating again’.” Jim’s dad even gets a romantic subplot with ‘Stifler’s mom’ (Jennifer Coolidge).
Levy and Coolidge are both members of the ensemble of Christopher Guest’s semi-improvised movies Best in Show, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, which Levy co-scripted. Viewers of this year’s Oscar telecast would have seen the group in the skit where a 1939 focus group offers idiotic feedback on The Wizard of Oz. (“I didn’t care for the rainbow song,” a moustachioed Levy intoned.) But a new Guest movie, sadly, isn’t in the offing. “That style of shooting, the mock documentary, is now used all over the place in TV shows. We haven’t found the idea yet to take this to another level.”
A star of Canadian TV for years before breaking into Hollywood comedy, Levy grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, and avoided classes at university by acting in plays with the likes of Martin Short and Ivan Reitman. “Ivan left to go direct his first movie. I realised I was going to bomb out so I called him and said, do you have any jobs on the movie?” Levy worked as a coffee boy on 1971’s Foxy Lady. “And because Ivan knew I’d done all this acting in school, when he started his second feature [horror comedy Cannibal Girls] he said, ‘how would you like to star in it?’”
American Pie: Reunion opens on May 17.