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LEVY, EUGENE: Waiting for Guffman

Comic actor Eugene Levy had no rehearsals, not even a proper script, when he started shooting Waiting for Guffman, playing a dentist with showbiz aspirations. He talks exclusively to PAUL FISCHER about the experience.

In Waiting for Guffman, Eugene Levy's character Allan Pearl is a Jewish dentist with lofty showbusiness aspirations and nothing in common with his creator, Levy says. "He's like an amalgamation of a lot of different people, mostly Jewish, that I have known over the years, who are gentle souls, don't have much going for them, and think they're more talented and funnier than they really are." And along with the film's other characters, Levy's "developed in front of the camera, because we didn't rehearse any of the scenes before we shot them."

"I'm not great at analysing what I do"

He denies that his Jewishness - which plays a role in his Allan Pearl character - is tied in to his sense of comedy. "I don't think that has anything to do with it. I'm not great at analysing what I do. The thing that works best for me is riding a very fine reality line, and having people wonder: is it supposed to be funny or not? I like that line kinda blurred, and when it rides dangerously close to that line, that's when I get the most excited."

Primarily a Canadian TV comic, Eugene Levy is the scene-stealer in such comedy hits as Splash and Multiplicity but doesn't appear in a plethora of big-screen outings. When he does, viewers are inevitably in for a treat. Waiting for Guffman is his latest gem, which he also co-wrote with director Christopher Guest. It is a hilarious mock documentary, which chronicles the production of an amateur musical to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the fictitious small town of Blaine, Missouri.

It appears that Blaine has two claims to fame - it's the "stool capital of the United States" (as in footstool, but the ambiguity is used for humour) and it was visited by a UFO before Roswell was ever heard of. In fact, when the aliens landed in Blaine, they invited the residents on board their ship for a pot luck dinner, and when they took off, they left behind a circular landing site within which the weather never changes (67 degrees with a 40% chance of rain). Now, Blaine is 150 years old, and, to celebrate the occasion, the town council has decided on a number of special events, all to culminate with the play Red, White, and Blaine. Guffman is the Broadway theatrical scout coming to see iof the show’s up to standrad for the Great White Way.

"I can't say I love it, even though it's fun and a great way to work," Eugene Levy on improvising

Directing this play is off-off-off-off- Broadway exile Corky St. Claire (Christopher Guest), the man who attempted to turn Backdraft into a stage production. Corky is ably assisted by his music director, Lloyd Miller (Bob Balaban), and has a fine cast of six. They are the husband-and- wife team of Ron and Sheila Albertson (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), Blaine's travel agents (who have never been outside of Blaine), local dentist Allan Pearl (Levy), Dairy Queen waitress Libby Mae Brown (Parker Posey), auto mechanic Johnny Savage (Matt Keeslar), and an old coot by the name of Clifford Wooley (Lewis Arquette). Abandoning their day jobs and SCRABBLE clubs, they come together to breathe life into a musical version of Blaine's history. Unlike conventional films, Waiting for Guffman was largely improvised explains co-star Levy. " All Chris Guest and I did to begin with, was put together an in-depth outline for the movie. Much of the film was improvised, which is the way Chris did This is Spinal Tap." Levy, who was required to improvise his own hilarious on-screen character of singing and dancing dentist Allan Pearl, says he has mixed feelings about working in such a free environment. "I can't say I love it, even though it's fun and a great way to work; I don't think you could improvise any other kind of movie except this kind of mock documentary."

The 51-year old comic actor, who had gone to school and worked with the likes of Martin Short, admits he wasn't "especially funny as a kid but developed that side of me in high school when I started singing." Levy's first love was music (his first professional engagement was in Godspell) but he started to develop a keen ear for comedy in his later high school years, when he started to write skits. Levy says he has no idea where his humour came from. "I grew up watching all of the great comics of the fifties, but where my skewed sensibilities come from, I have no idea." Levy is coy about his Jewish childhood, saying "it was a reform kind of Jewish background. We observed everything that you had to observe, but not in an extreme, overt kind of a way."

"I felt very strongly about NOT raising a family in Los Angeles"

Levy starred for seven years in the classic Second City TV show, which also launched the careers of John Candy and Martin Short. But unlike his contemporaries who made the transition to film, Levy shunned a full-time Hollywood career. "I made a choice to stay in Toronto to raise my family", Levy recalls. "I felt very strongly about NOT raising a family in Los Angeles. Also, I did not have this huge penchant for building a career; my thing was to try and make a good living." He now continues to make a good living, and though absent on camera for a while, he's bouncing back, with several major films on the horizon, including a new film with Guffman co-creator Christopher Guess.

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