Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

A quick word: Eugene Levy (+trailer)

A quick word with Eugene Levy, the funny man with the serious eyebrows best known for his role as Jim's well-meaning if embarrassing dad in the American Pie movies and as a regular in the casts of the improvised comedies of Christopher Guest, such as Waiting for Guffman, A Mighty Wind and Best in Show. He returns to the Pie role of Noah Levenstein for an eighth time - parts four to seven went straight to video - in American Reunion, which brings back the cast of the 1999 hit.

So is this the last one for you?
I can't say that.

I guess the inevitable question is ...
How long can it go on?

Well, you must say 'bye bye American Pie' at some point.
No, no. That is not true. I call it the gift that keeps on giving.

Do people still recognise you now after the scene in the new movie where you had the eyebrow work done?
I tell you something. I had to let them grow for this movie, which is a very scary thing because honestly, it's almost eyeliner now by comparison. When I looked at that movie on the big screen, I tell ya, I jumped out of my seat. My God, we need a gardener for those things.

If only it was in 3D.
Oh, look out!

So the Pie series is the gift that keeps on giving. What exactly?
I have had a very successful career as a character actor over the years. No question, I thought I was doing okay. Then this thing sort of took everybody by storm and just kind of exploded. I think I owe a hell of a lot to this franchise. It really turned my career upside down, which is great. It opened me up to an entire new audience of under-25s.

And now you're the only member of the cast who has been in all the movies.
That's true. I did all of them, including the straight-to-DVDs. To me those were tough jobs to turn down. I hate to be crass about it but there was kind of a lot of money for little work. But before I took those jobs I did say I wanted to be able to control what I do in the movie because I want to be able to control what my character does. I kind of went through and made sure I didn't have to do anything that would embarrass me, the character or the audience. At the time the theatrical was over, the trilogy was finished and nobody in a million years would have dreamed they were coming out with a number four.

How has your Pie gig compared with working in the Christopher Guest movies?
The movies that Chris and I have done with that group of extremely talented people are kind of rare movies. They are not big money-makers. They are movies that you get a chance to do and nobody tells you what to do. You don't have to answer to a studio or anything because they are so inexpensive to make. There is a kind of freewheeling approach to these movies but there is a fair degree of improvising in the American Pie movies. That kind of approach was welcomed even in the very first American Pie. In fact, all the scenes in American Pie with my character were improvised off the script because I wasn't enamoured with the character as written originally. We really revamped everything and even now with American Reunion improvising is encouraged. The vibe is pretty loose.

What was wrong with Noah as-written?
I thought the character as written was a little on the crass side in a way. I wanted the character to be more of a dad and not a friend. Just a good old square dad who would embarrass the kids and the kind of dad that the kids don't want to spend a lot of time with.

Give us the trade secret to your speciality - keeping a straight face.
First of all I think doing four movies with Chris Guest. The very first movie we did together, Waiting for Guffman I was breaking up. I found it hard to control myself and I ended up ducking down and crawling off the set while we were filming so I wouldn't have to stop the scene because I was laughing so hard. You learn the worst thing that you can do is laugh in the middle of a take, especially in a movie that is being improvised, because once you blow that take you may never catch that moment again.

One last thing: the song American Pie and your name work quite well together.
Chevy by the levee? We used to drive a Chevy when I was a kid. But we never parked it by the levee, put it that way.

Who: Eugene Levy, Canadian screen comic also known as Dad Noah Levenstein in the American Pie franchise.
What: American Reunion, the fourth cinematic release after the original trilogy and three straight-to-video instalments. He's appeared in all of them.
When: American Reunion opens at cinemas April 5

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