From ‘Schitt’s Creek’ To New Show ‘The Reluctant Traveler’

In The Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy, the award-winning actor and comedian steps far out of his comfort zone to land amid horizon-stretching diversions that dare and dazzle. This fresh Apple TV+ travel show, which premieres Friday, February 24th, is hosted by Levy — who, among other career accomplishments, co-created and starred with his son Dan Levy in the acclaimed sitcom Schitt’s Creek from 2015 to 2020. Now, his intriguing new travel venture features an unexpected twist: Levy, like a fish out of water, has long had an aversion to travel. What?! I was eager to hear how he managed to reel in an ambitious eight-episode series that spotlights Costa Rica, Finland, Italy, Japan, Maldives, Portugal, South Africa and, in the United States, Utah. Here is our interview. Much laughter ensued.

Laura Manske: I watched all the screeners. Let me start by saying: Bravo!

Eugene Levy: Wow!

Manske: Not only are you the host of this new travel show, but also an executive producer.

Levy: That’s pretty fancy, yeah!

Manske: This is a tremendous leap into a topic — travel — that you’ve been generally unenthusiastic about your whole life. How did The Reluctant Traveler come to be?

Levy: I’m glad that the powers-that-be did not listen to me! I got a call from my agent, Seth, more than a year ago, who said that Apple TV+ wants to do a travel show, called Room With a View, about luxury hotels around the world. [Execs] wanted to talk to me about hosting it. At first, I thought: Oh! That sounds fantastic! Then, it took only another few seconds for me to realize: Wait. I am not a big traveler. I don’t hate traveling. Hate is a strong word. But I don’t love traveling. Why am I saying yes to this? The packing. The airport. Take off your shoes and belt. Take out your laptop. My personal life is spread over [security] bins, moving away, without being watched. Then I get to wherever I’m going and there is a planned sightseeing agenda and I’m wondering why I am not more excited about sightseeing. Those are not the [feelings] that a travel show host should have. I replied: ‘It’s a wonderful offer, but I think that you can come up with somebody better to host this show.’ Then, I got a call back, saying that the Apple executive and producer really want to talk to me about this show. I answered: ‘I don’t see what the point is because I’ve already said no. But if they want to talk to me further, I’ll have a conversation and explain to them myself.’ So on the phone [with Apple TV executives], I went through all the reasons that I’m not the person for the job. I’m keeping our conversation very light. I didn’t want it to be a heavy. But when somebody for some reason wants you for a job, and you keep saying no, it borders on confrontation — and I’m not comfortable with that. I was trying to make light of it. For every reason that I gave them that I am not the best person to host this show, I got laughs on the other end of the phone. And I am thinking: Well, good, this is going well, because I am making my point. I found out later that as soon as we got off the phone, the Apple exec and executive producer David Brindley said, ‘That’s the show! About someone who doesn’t really care to travel. That is the personality of the show, which is going to set it apart from other travel shows.’ So they called back and pitched that angle to me. And I got it. I said: ‘Okay, I understand that.’ I don’t have to pretend that I am somebody I am not. I can be the guy that I am.

Manske: Please elaborate about the guy that you are.

Levy: I’m not very curious. I don’t have an adventurous spirit. [Plus, it would be] the only job that I’ve ever had in which I’m playing myself! I’m not playing a character. It has been a joy for 50 years to be able to hide behind so many characters — because it’s not really me out there.

Manske: That is funny.

Levy: That is the genesis of the whole project.

Manske: I’ll admit as a passionate travel lover, for which the word travel is like oxygen to me — I’ve been to more than 90 countries, sailed on more than 80 ships…

Levy: Ha! You’re one of those!

Manske: …when I initially heard the show’s concept, I pondered: ‘If he doesn’t like to travel, how can he headline this show?’ I soon discovered, however, that The Reluctant Traveler distinctly works. And your humor is spot on.

Levy: What we didn’t want is for the show to be a joke. It is not a joke show. I’m not trying to pretend that I’m Larry David. In order for this show to come to life and mean anything, I had to, for the first time in my life, reveal things about myself, which I have never done. Tell people what I am thinking and why. What I’m feeling and why. What my phobias are and why. There had to be an unveiling of who I am as a person in order for my travel reluctancy to make sense. So it is not the type of punchline that people might think it is.

Manske: The show will appeal to viewers who are already ardent travelers, as well as those who are content to see other places from an armchair. There is fun, enlightening info. A lively pace. Challenging moments. The filming itself is gorgeous. Music, too. It’s inspirational for your audience, as in: ‘If Eugene can do this, maybe I can.’

Levy: Yes. In an ideal world, the show would hit both crowds. To me, it had to be as entertaining and look good, to have the same kind of high-quality production, be as adventurous as other considered good travel shows. It had to compete. It couldn’t be any less than. Also, the hope is that people who, like me, do not travel as much, who don’t have an adventurous spirit, would be watching the show and thinking: ‘Well, he is basically a kindred spirit.’ I would be echoing the thoughts and saying the words that they might be feeling in the same situation. They are not alone with their feelings. That they shouldn’t have to feel terrible about not wanting to travel, not feeling comfortable about traveling, which was and, to a degree, still is, who I am.

Manske: The Great Outdoors means different things to different people. You quip in the show that you’re more the Great Indoors type of guy. As your journey of wild experiences built over unfolding episodes, it seemed as though you did change your point of view, warming to an appreciation for nature.

Levy: I went to a rain forest in Costa Rica — a place that I would have never, never, ever gone on a personal vacation. To be honest, that night hike I went on…

Manske: With the viper snakes!

Levy: …yes. I didn’t truly enjoy it. And if somebody asked me: ‘Would you like to do it again?’ My answer would be, um, no. However, Finland was largely an outdoor experience and filmed in winter. I did not look forward to a cold climate. And yet, I had exhilarating experiences there! Driving a dogsled across a frozen lake at 35 miles an hour was truly enjoyable for me.

Manske: Which destination surprised you the most?

Levy: South Africa. I had never wanted to go on safari. When I got there, I really felt an affinity for the landscape and the wildlife. Shocking as it was. I felt the pain of danger that these animals are in, something that I had never felt before I got there. They are in danger every day from poachers and hunters. I went to a rhino conservancy. Spent time with the animals. Fed them. It was a very touching experience — an outdoor experience that turned me around.

Manske: That’s beautiful, Eugene.

Levy: Again though, in general, give me a pool, a piña colada, maybe a round of golf and that is still my idea of an outdoor experience. Listen, I’ve never been to Hawaii, one of the key vacation areas in the world! But if I were to travel there, what I would just love to do is golf and hit the beach.

Manske: I always say, Eugene, that destinations are fascinating, but it is the people whom I’ve met along the way who hold a special place in my heart. Did you feel the same while filming this series?

Levy: One-hundred percent. Out of this whole season, the most memorable experiences were the encounters I had with new people. It was an extremely memorable and beautiful time that I had in Utah with the Navajo Nation. Meeting terrific young men. Visiting their families. Spending an evening with them. My first priority in life is my family. I always embrace a world in which family comes first. That was a natural for me. In every one of the eight locations, there were [local] people who guided me, showed me around. Interesting and quite lovely people. They made the trips come alive for me. In a way, I surprised myself. I don’t have a gregarious personality. I don’t really open up to people whom I don’t know that readily in real life. I am not a huge conversationalist. So this show, for me, has been a very positive growing experience. Luckily, at age 76, it was the right point in my life for this all to make sense.

Manske: Let’s talk about food, which has a way of defining a trip. I believe that food is one thing that makes everything feel different from place to place.

Levy: I don’t have an exotic palate. I am your basic meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. I was not a fan of sushi in Tokyo. Did not care for the reindeer meat that I ate in Finland. If you want to take me to two different restaurants and one excels in the best meatloaf and the other is a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant, I’ll take the meatloaf any day of the week.

Manske: Tell me about a food or dish that you liked. I know that when you were in Utah at the Amangiri resort, you seemed to be very positive about the food there.

Levy: Yes, I did have the best pancakes of my life at the Amangiri. Overall, across the shows, the culinary experience was fairly enjoyable. There were some things, like sea urchin, that scared the hell out of me. In Japan, I also had a Wagyu steak, one of the best steaks ever. I was nervous about Finland, because of the reindeer. The best meals were at the dining room of The Gritti Palace in Venice. I do love Italian food.

Manske: What was the funniest moment for you, or perhaps the moment during which you laughed a lot?

Levy: Ice floating in Finland. I hit the water and my first reaction was gleeful laughing.

Manske: Because you couldn’t believe that you willingly dove into freezing water?

Levy: It felt so good. And that shocked me.

Manske: What was your most profound lesson gleaned from doing this show?

Levy: Stop saying no.

Manske: In the show, you say: ‘Having new experiences is better than having no experiences.’ That is a major crossover for you.

Levy: Yep, because I was almost to the point in my life where I was almost proud of the fact that I could say: ‘No, I’ve never been there’ and ‘I don’t really care to go.’ [That attitude] was too easy. This show has, of course, coaxed me to try things that I would have never tried. I am very glad that the opportunity came to do this. Because I would have gone my entire life without having done it and never truly know what I missed. Some things are big winners. Some are not. But at least I can now say: Been there, done that.

Manske: You’ve made possible these astonishing memories.

Levy: I have an incredible fear of heights. Yet I forced myself to do the helicopter ride and walk on a suspension bridge 180-feet above a rain forest.

Manske: One of your smart humor lines in the show is: ‘There is something to be said about facing your fear when you only have to do it once.’

Levy: Yes, that pretty much is absolutely the case!

Manske: Inspired by this show, have you now added other travel wishes to your personal bucket list?

Levy: The answer is no.

Manske: Ha!

Levy: I don’t have a bucket list. I love to go to London. Love the English countryside. Love Italy, the food and its outdoor cafés. Italy’s history is in front of you. You don’t have to put a dozen things on your to-do list. You just drive. On the show, Tokyo was a great experience. My son, Daniel, has been there six or seven times. And he kept telling me: ‘You’ve got to go to Tokyo.’ I always thought, nah, it’s too busy. Too many people. Don’t like sushi. But going there was an eye-opener. Yes, there are a lot of people, yet it’s the quietest big city I’ve ever been in. You don’t hear a car horn. You don’t hear people shouting on the street. Quite amazing.

Manske: And it is safe.

Levy: Yes, very safe.

Manske: Our conversation has been a pleasure, Eugene. The Reluctant Traveler is unique and impressive. There’s nothing like it on TV right now.

Levy: Laura, being the traveler that you are, I’m thrilled that you have taken to the show in a big way. That has made my day. Great! Thanks so much.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

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