The “Madea’s Witness Protection” Interview
with Kam Williams
You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy
Born in Hamilton, Ontario on December 17, 1946, Eugene Levy has appeared in over fifty motion pictures, seven of which having topped the one hundred million-dollar mark. His box-office success in films like “Bringing Down the House,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2,” the “Father of the Bride” franchise and Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” has helped establish him as one of Hollywood’s most popular, comedic character actors. But it was his unforgettable portrayal of Jim’s Dad in Universal’s billion-dollar “American Pie” franchise that cemented his reputation as America’s favorite film father.
Teaming up with Christopher Guest, Eugene earned critical acclaim for co-writing and co-starring in “Best in Show,” “Waiting for Guffman,” “For Your Consideration” and “A Mighty Wind.” And he garnered both a Grammy Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for his work in “A Mighty Wind.”
Levy started his career on the popular late night comedy series “SCTV” where he won two Emmy Awards for writing. His early films include “Splash,” “Club Paradise,” “Armed and Dangerous” and “Multiplicity.”
Recent roles include the reprisal of his role as Jim’s Dad in the Universal feature, “American Reunion” and the hockey comedy “Goon,” opposite Jay Baruchel, Sean William Scott and Liev Schreiber. Here, Eugene talks about playing George Needleman opposite Tyler Perry in Madea’s Witness Protection.
Kam Williams: Hi Eugene, thanks for the interview. I’m honored to have this opportunity to speak with you.
Eugene Levy: Well, I been looking forward to it myself.
KW: What interested you in Madea’s Witness Protection?
EL: The big thing for me was getting the chance to work with Tyler Perry. I have so much respect for what he’s been able to accomplish in ten years, and the idea of doing a movie with this Madea character kind of excited me.
KW: Tyler told me that the movie was inspired by the idea of Madea being cooped up with a character like Bernie Madoff. But when I think of Madoff, all that ever comes to mind is that same video you always see of him being shoved by a photographer as he tries to pass through a crowd outside of his apartment building. So, what did you base your approach to George Needleman on?
EL: The thing of it is, George Needleman is not really the Madoff character in this movie. George becomes the fall guy for the Madoff character. It’s actually Tom Arnold’s character who runs the Ponzi scheme. I end up taking the heat for it and getting blamed for it. So, for me, it wasn’t so much how could I model myself after Bernie Madoff, but a fish-out-of-water scenario for me and my family.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: How much freedom to ad-lib were you allowed during the making of this film as a veteran of improv?
EL: I would say 99% freedom. When I started the movie, I didn’t know what Tyler Perry’s process was. I didn’t know how much improvising to expect in the movie. But once we started shooting, I found out that he encourages improvising, he wants you to go off book, he wants you to go a little crazy. And watching him work when he turns the camera on himself, he goes completely on these improvised runs that are hysterical. Those are the chunks that end up being the movie. When he kind of riffs.
KW: Editor/legist Patricia Turnier says: I was a kid when Splash came out and I looooved that movie. She is also Canadian and would like to know how you felt when you were honored last year with the Order of Canada?
EL: There is no greater honor in Canada than getting the Order of Canada. I was thrilled to death. I have a couple of very good friends who’d received an Order of Canada, and I’d always been kind envious of that. I finally got mine, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.
KW: Larry Greenberg asks: Did working with Tyler Perry remind you of the crazy voice work you did for the film Heavy Metal?
EL: No… No… To be honest, when you just mentioned Heavy Metal, it’s the first time I’ve thought about Heavy metal in about thirty years. So, no, I didn’t make a connection to it at all. In fact, I can barely even remember what I did in Heavy Metal.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
EL: Well, that last question was one that no one’s ever asked me. But I can’t think of one that I wish someone would. It’s not like I wish people would ask me a question about my work. [Chuckles] It’s actually hard for me to talk about it. It’s like asking somebody to talk about comedy. That’s tough. It’s something you do, but not talk about necessarily.
KW: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
EL: Wow! I guess it has to be pistachio ice cream.
KW: The Pastor Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most content?
EL: When I sit down for a meal. I love eating. I look forward to it. Food itself is a guilty pleasure.
KW: What motivates you?
EL: trying to make sure the people I care about are looked after.
KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?
EL: Dish to cook… I kind of lean two ways. I’m not into cooking with a recipe book. I love barbecuing. I think I’m a good barbecuer. And I love your basic lunch fare, like making a good tuna salad. Or a great egg salad. Or a great salmon salad. But in terms of meals, I’m not really into the complicated cookbook aspect of it.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
EL: Well, that’s a very interesting question. I have to admit that I’m not a very avid reader. The last book I read was “Harpo Speaks.” It’s Harpo Marx’s autobiography. He talks about his whole life, including coming up as a vaudevillian as one of the Marx Brothers and being a member of the legendary Algonquin Roundtable along with drama critic Alexander Woolcott. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0879100362/ref=nosim/thslfofire-20
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
EL: By going to see Madea’s Witness Protection.
KW: Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets,” asks: What was the best business decision you ever made, and what was the worst?
EL: The best, was accepting to do “American Pie.” The worst? [Pauses to think] You know what, that’s a tough one because, to be honest, I don’t really make any of the business decisions. My wife does. But I do know that agreeing to do “American Pie” after I initially didn’t want to do it turned out to be a great decision.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
EL: I see a guy that I like.
KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
EL: For people to think of themselves as being citizens of the planet.
KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
EL: I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be a camel, because I’m not fond of the spitting thing.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
EL: Being lifted into a bathtub by my mother. I was probably less than two years-old.
KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
EL: Following their heart.
KW: The Melissa Harris-Perry question How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?
EL: It enabled me to finally discover the woman I ended up marrying who turned my life around and was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What is your favorite charity?
EL: I don’t know whether I have one favorite charity. I’ve been active in autism awareness in Canada, and in supporting the hospital for sick kids in Toronto. Those are two of my favorites.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
EL: Make sure you really, really impassioned about doing it. Otherwise, look for a job that’s going to make your life a lot easier.
KW: The Zane Question: Do you have any regrets?
EL: I really have no regrets. If I had to live my life all over again, I’d do it the same way.
KW: The Tavis Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
EL: I want to be remembered as a nice guy.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Eugene, and best of luck with the film.
EL: Well, you had some really interesting questions in there. Thanks, Kam.