Interview: Eugene Levy Hosts a New Travel Series

'The Reluctant Traveler' is a TV travelogue that pushes Canadian comedy icon Eugene Levy far and away from his comfort zone

‘The Reluctant Traveler’ is a TV travelogue that pushes Canadian comedy icon Eugene Levy far and away from his comfort zone

When Eugene Levy was approached by Apple TV+ to host a new travel show, the veteran Canadian actor and comedian immediately thought, “They’ve got the wrong person.” But as the SCTV and Schitt’s Creek legend went on to explain why they had chosen poorly, it elicited a surprising reaction. “I went through a list of reasons why I’m not the person who should be doing this. I tried to keep it light, you know? Every reason I was saying, ‘I’m not the person,’ I’d get a laugh on the other end of the phone and I’m thinking, ‘Well, good, this is working,’ ” Levy recalls. “What I didn’t know until later was that after that call, [executive producer] David Brindley said, ‘That’s the show! Somebody who is not fond of travelling doing the travelling.’” The result is The Reluctant Traveler, a show about a person that usually eschews adventure, who nevertheless finds himself in strange and wonderful locations around the globe.  

Recently, TV Week sat down with Mr. Levy to discuss confronting his fears and, as a result, becoming a better person. 

The Reluctant TravelerApple TV+TV WEEK: On the show, you do things that seem very adventurous—dog sledding, ice floating—but there were probably hard passes on other activities. Were there things where you said, “Uh-uh, this is not for me!”? 

EUGENE LEVY: Well, there were a couple of things that I ended up doing, but I did actually say no before I said yes. One was getting a stool sample from an elephant in South Africa where I said, “OK, you know what? I’m not going there.” And I ended up doing it because, “OK, it’s for the show, all right.” And the other was going on a night hike in Costa Rica in the rainforest. It’s not because I thought I was going to die from something—although it could have happened—but it’s that creepy-crawly rainforest thing at night. I’m going, “OK, I’m looking at a snake and now I’m looking at spiders and these ants that can really make you hurt bad for 24 hours if you get bit by one.” I can say, “I did it.” But would I want to do it again? Nah, not really. 

The Reluctant TravelerApple TV+TV WEEK: What is interesting about being curious?  

LEVY: Well, I’m not curious. That’s why I thought I was the wrong person for this job, initially. I don’t have a great sense of adventure as a person. I don’t like to go off the beaten path. 

TV WEEK: What happens when the job forces you to? 

LEVY: What happens is, actually, I’m growing as a person at this late stage in my life, which is good for me. I’m doing things that I would never have done before. I’m talking to people that I would never have talked to. I’m not one to readily initiate conversation with people that I’ve just met or I don’t know. That’s the most important thing for me, how I’m relating to the people that I’m meeting, because, ultimately, it’s the people that I’m meeting that make these trips memorable for me. It’s not so much what I’m seeing or what I’m looking at but it’s the people that I’m meeting. That’s been a big eye-opener for me. 

The Reluctant TravelerApple TV+TV WEEK: On the show, you strike a balance between being curmudgeonly and funny without making fun of the culture that you’re in. How do you juggle showing respect, while also doing something comedic? 

LEVY: I guess it’s coming through who I am. And I am a family-oriented person, so when I’m around somebody and I’m around their family, I’m very relaxed and I can relate to them the way I could relate to my own family. I get a sense right off the top whether they have a good sense of humour. If I sense that they do, then I’m more relaxed in terms of being myself and being able to say something that I know they’re going to take well. I may have run into a couple of people in these episodes where I could sense they did not have a good sense of humour. I found that you’ve got to just ride it out. I mean, you could try to be funny with somebody who doesn’t really appreciate it and then get a reaction from the camera after that. But by doing that, you’re, in a way, making fun. And what you don’t want to do is make fun of the people who have agreed to come on the show and talk to you. It’s a fine line but it’s really just trying to be myself and I genuinely like everybody that I’m talking to. 

The Reluctant TravelerApple TV+TV WEEK: Let’s clarify one thing: the Finnish are fun, right? 

LEVY: Well, the Finns are fun and they’re big vodka drinkers. Their thing was when I checked into the complex in Lapland and every place has a sauna, I was told the first day to take a sauna and then just run out of my place naked and roll in the snow.  

TV WEEK: Did you do it? 

LEVY: No, I didn’t do it. I said, “Yeah, OK. Maybe not on this trip but at some point, down the line, I’ll try that.” The woman who raises huskies in that episode, every morning she goes down to this frozen lake and they’ve got a hole cut through the ice and she’s got a little ladder and she goes down in the ice water for five minutes every morning. Whatever it is, it’s working for them, OK? If that’s doing it for you, then go to it. 

TV WEEK: Travel always changes people. How do you feel this changed you?  

LEVY: I used to be almost proud of the fact that I could say no to certain trips. “No, not interested. No, don’t want to go there. Don’t really want to do that. Do we have to go here and see this today?” But the fact that I’m now creeping out of that comfort zone, because of the show, is making me a better person. Because looking at it from the other side, somebody who is looking at a person saying, “No, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to try this,” what they’re thinking is, “Wow, too bad about this guy,” you know? And they’re right. If you stay in your little hole forever and you don’t wander out, then that’s the way you’re going to stay. I’m glad I’m not staying that way right now. I’m glad I’m engaging with people, listening to what they have to say and actually truly being interested in what they’re telling me. I’m glad I’m trying things.  

The Reluctant Traveler premieres Friday, February 24 on Apple TV+