Eugene Levy Never Wanted to See the World

The comic actor balked when he was offered a travel show. But hosting “The Reluctant Traveler” showed him the (mild) joys of leaving his comfort zone.

“The Reluctant Traveler” on Apple TV+ followed Eugene Levy from Finland to the Maldives.Credit…Heather Sten for The New York Times

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By Anna Peele

Eugene Levy has never been a traveler.

As a child in Hamilton, Ontario, the farthest his parents might take him and his siblings was Lake Erie’s Crystal Beach, an hour and a half away by car. They would spend two weeks each year staying at the same spider-dominated cottages, eating at the same fish and chips place and visiting the same local amusement park. Levy rode a train for the first time at 8 and never repeated the exotic experience.

As a 76-year-old, Levy maintains the ancestral position that the known is the best place to exist. Why should he leave his life in the Pacific Palisades, where every day promises comfort? Each morning, Levy wakes up and puts on the round Leon eyeglasses he purchased in bulk and has worn in the same discontinued style for more than a decade. He drinks coffee with cream and sugar. If it’s Wednesday or Friday, Levy golfs, always with the same people and half the time not bothering to keep score.

If he’s working on something, Levy descends to his office to write or edit or go over scripts. He and his wife of 45 years, Deb Divine, might go to West Hollywood to see their daughter, Sarah, and her baby son. They’ll often have dinner with Martin Short, Levy’s friend for over five decades, who lives less than five minutes away. “I truly love having nothing on the agenda,” Levy said.

So when David Brindley, an executive producer, and Alison Kirkham, an Apple TV+ programming executive, called Levy in 2021 and asked him to host a travel show, he said no.

They’d never get Levy to a safari, he told them. He had watched animals on wildlife programs and didn’t need to travel halfway around the world to see them again. He doesn’t love water. He doesn’t like the hot; he doesn’t like the cold. This, along with Levy’s vehement aversion to sushi and fear of humidity that could ruin his hair, became basically the episode guide for “The Reluctant Traveler,” which premiered Friday on Apple TV+ and follows Levy from Finland to the Maldives. There is a safari episode, a hot episode, a cold episode, a jungle episode and a lot of uncooked fish.

As can be gleaned from the title, Levy’s lack of anything resembling wanderlust is the defining gimmick. But it’s also genuine, and the host himself still has no idea why anyone would have thought of him for the role of travel guide. “I’m not a curious person,” Levy said in an interview last week. “No sense of adventure.” He can’t pretend to be excited about things he isn’t, and he has historically had no interest in being himself on camera for anything longer than a talk show appearance.

“As a character actor, the further the character is away from me, the more comfortable I was doing it,” Levy said, inverting his magnificent brows into a chevron. “The closer you get to me, the interesting factor starts dropping.”

It’s a sentiment he expressed over and over as we talked at a restaurant in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. “This is the longest interview I’ve ever had,” he said before he even sat down in the private room, seemingly baffled about how we would fill the time. “I’m rambling,” he said later, while not rambling. It felt less like an expression of anxiety than a writer’s un-self-conscious assessment that this dialogue could be tightened and punched up.

Levy’s career has been a series of ensembles and repertory companies. His first professional role was joining Short in putting together a now famous 1972 production of “Godspell” in Toronto, with a cast that included Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner and Victor Garber. A few years later Levy, Short and Martin joined John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis, among others, on “SCTV” (1976-84), the beloved Canadian sketch comedy show that emerged from the Toronto branch of the Second City improv and sketch company.

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