Dan Levy Once Felt Disrespected on Set, Never Again

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Dan Levy, Ruth Negga, and Himesh Patel talk with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff about their new Netflix movie, Good Grief.
  • Levy details his experience directing his very first feature film after directing a handful of episodes of Schitt’s Creek.
  • Negga and Patel sing Levy’s praises as an ideal leader on set, one who creates a working environment where everyone in the cast and crew feels valued.


Dan Levy has a significant amount of experience working in film and television, but Good Grief marks a major first for the four-time Emmy winner; the new Netflix film is his feature directorial debut. Having previously worked on sets where he, as an actor, felt like an undervalued part of the team, working alongside Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on Schitt’s Creek, he was struck by their kindness and generosity. Those are qualities he now strives to bring to all of his productions, especially something as emotional as Good Grief.

The movie, which stars Levy, Ruth Negga, Himesh Patel, Celia Imrie, and Luke Evans, explores grief after great loss, and rediscovering who you are in its wake. When Marc’s (Levy) husband (Evans) unexpectedly passes, pains from the tragedy and ones from the past must consume him, but Marc’s closest friends, Sophie (Negga) and Thomas (Patel), are there to love him through the transition. After a year spent nursing these emotional wounds, the trio embark on a journey that opens their eyes to difficult truths.

In an interview with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff ahead of Good Grief‘s Netflix release, Levy details how he goes about creating a positive experience on set, and what it was like working opposite Imrie on a particularly beautiful scene. Levy’s co-stars, Negga and Patel, also share what qualities they appreciate in Levy as a leader on set, and discuss the challenges they overcame throughout production.

You can watch the full interview in the video above, or you can read the transcript below.

Good Grief

When his husband unexpectedly dies, Marc’s world shatters, sending him and his two best friends on a soul-searching trip to Paris that reveals some hard truths they each needed to face.

Release Date
January 5, 2024

Rating
R

Runtime
100 minutes

Main Genre
Drama

PERRI NEMIROFF: Directing your first feature is a huge feat that should be celebrated. What is something about your Schitt’s Creek directing experience that you found coming in handy on Good Grief, but then also, what is a learning curve you experienced directing your first feature?

DAN LEVY: You know what? I think it wasn’t so much the directing. I mean, I honed skills directing episodes of my TV show, for sure. I think more than anything else it was watching the way that my dad and Catherine O’Hara handled themselves on set, because a set is governed by the top of the call sheet, so to speak. When an actor is, in the case of my TV show, actors are so generous and so collaborative and so wanting the experience to go smoothly and well, and for it to be enjoyable for people, the ripple effect, the domino effect of that can be felt through the entire experience. So yes, I needed to hone skills in terms of what it is to be a director on a set and what that means, but more than anything else, and I don’t want to say more importantly, but it is a significant part of it, running a set and knowing how you want it to be, how you want it to feel, how you want your actors to feel, how you want your crew to feel, that, to me, was the greatest gift that I was given from Schitt’s Creek.

And then, in terms of a learning curve … it’s about negotiation, ultimately. Every day is a negotiation. Every day you are in pursuit of protecting the movie you wanna make, and all you are up against are the elements. There’s a scene at the end of the movie on a Ferris wheel. We thought we were going to get an entire day to shoot on the Ferris wheel. They came to us the night before and said, “Not only will you not get any time on the Ferris wheel, the time you will get,” because we were supposed to rent it — cut to the night before, “You are no longer renting the Ferris wheel. You have to go on the Ferris wheel with all the rest of the tourists,” which is fine if you had pre-planned for that. But what ended up happening was that we had to prep the Ferris wheel pod with a camera and a team and a light, they had to do that while the tourists were on the Ferris wheel, then the pod came back around, we had to get on the pod and start acting as it was going around. It’s the hurdles that make the adventure worthwhile.

The first thing I thought when I saw that scene was, “That is a production hurdle right there.”

LEVY: That is a production hurdle.

The second you write that in your script, I’m like, “God help you.”

LEVY: Why don’t we walk around some Monets? Why don’t we get on a Ferris wheel in the middle of Paris? We shot for the stars and it worked out.


Ruth Negga & Himesh Patel Are Big Fans of Dan Levy

Dan Levy as Marc Dreyfus sitting and talking to someone offscreen in Good Grief
Image via Netflix

Himesh and Ruth, I love talking about the value of a good number one on the call sheet and a leader on set. To make Dan blush now, what is something you appreciated about him in that respect that you are excited for more actors to get to experience when they work with him as a director in the future?

RUTH NEGGA: Well, I didn’t know that was all going on with the Ferris wheel thingy. Isn’t that amazing?

LEVY: The big takeaway is the Ferris wheel.

NEGGA: Do you know what? A set that is safe and kind. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

Why isn’t it that simple always? I don’t understand that.

NEGGA: I don’t know! The will isn’t there sometimes, and the will has to be there. And everything that Dan said about being on set and the top of the call sheet and how the energy filters through, never a truer word was said. It really matters. Sometimes it’s kind of scary that the welfare of a set can depend on someone’s personality. Unfortunately, that is sometimes the way it is. It shouldn’t be that way. But luckily Dan understands all of that, and that all you want to do, anybody who’s working on a set wants to do their job the best they can, safely and with kindness, and hopefully enjoy themselves, and that is exactly the set that you want to come to work on every day, and that’s what I felt on this one.

HIMESH PATEL: And I think that generosity, actually, I’m excited for actors, but also crew members to work with Dan because I think that generosity is filtered through the entire production. You’ve made a concerted effort to make sure the food we were getting every day was good rather than, sometimes food on film sets isn’t always the best.

It sounds like a little thing, but it’s important!

PATEL: It’s a huge deal. It means that everyone’s happy and they want to work. It’s just such a simple thing — you feed everyone well, and they’re happy.

LEVY: I worked in an environment when I was in my early days where I felt so disrespected in the workplace.

NEGGA: Undervalued.

LEVY: Undervalued! And disrespect, I guess, is what I had interpreted, like as undervalued/disrespected.

NEGGA: No, I totally get it.

LEVY: You personalize it in a way.

NEGGA: Absolutely, you do.

LEVY: And you stop working. You stop doing your best because you think, “Well, if nobody notices and there’s no concerted effort being made to make me feel included, or like my work is helping here …” The factual truth is, you pull one person away from a film set and something will change. So if you don’t make everyone on that set feel like the work they are doing is completely valuable and necessary to the process, you’re not going to get people to work as hard because they don’t feel motivated. They don’t want to come to work. So when people feel like, “Oh, what I’m doing, from the food that I’m making to the lighting that I’m setting up, is crucial,” they take ownership, rightful ownership, over the film that they’re making or the TV show that they’re making and it becomes theirs. It’s not a job. It’s something they have ownership and stake in. And especially on things that are lower budgets. Schitt’s Creek, for example, had no money to it, but we got what we got out of it because everyone had stake in what we were making, and that was crucial in this project and anything that I have the privilege of setting a standard that I am able to set. So often, as actors, you walk into a set where the culture of the set is dictated for you, so when you get that opportunity to set that bar, it’s crucial that people walk away feeling valued.

I’m a big believer that when a set has that quality, you can feel it radiating off the screen and I felt that here.

NEGGA: Yes! It’s alchemy. That’s the alchemy. It doesn’t just get created if you’re just turning up. It takes work.

Dan Levy on the Magic Behind Celia Imrie’s Showstopping Scene in ‘Good Grief’

I have to wind down with you. I want to squeeze in one spoiler question because I am obsessed with the third act scene with Celia Imrie. It’s one of the most exceptional performance beats I’ve seen all year. What is it like figuring out how best to support her with an emotional monologue like that?

LEVY: It wasn’t supporting, it was giving a platform to. And I think Celia is one of the great actors of her generation, and it was such a thrill to get to work with her. So, what I did was create an environment for her to be free to do what she wanted to do as many times as she wanted to do it, and it was easy for me, as it is for a lot of actors when you’re working with wonderful people. I mean, it’s very easy to react, and that’s all I had to do in that scene. So I just had to set up the platform for her to do her thing, and when the cameras turned around on me, I didn’t have to do much. I remember shooting that scene with her and no one really knew — we didn’t rehearse it, and she just caught us all by surprise. Not that we didn’t expect it from her, but we didn’t know what choices she would make. And there was such vulnerability and such stoicism in a way. It was miraculous, and I just remember thinking, “Gosh, this is gonna be one of those great scenes.”

Arnaud Valois’ Organic Connection with Dan Levy Elevated His Work in ‘Good Grief’

Theo (Arnaud Valois) in Good Grief
Image via Netflix

For more on Good Grief, check out Perri’s conversation with Arnaud Valois who plays Theo in the movie. The actor discusses the found family aspect of Levy’s script, the profound lessons he learned while playing the character, and shares more of what makes Levy an especially skilled director. Valois also talks about enjoying the creative freedom he had on set, sharing the screen with Levy, and lessons learned while making Good Grief that he’ll take to future projects. Check it all out in the video below.

Good Grief is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

Watch on Netflix



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