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Dan Levy shares the personal loss that shaped “Good Grief”: 'I was in a very strange headspace'

Dan Levy shares the personal loss that shaped “Good Grief”: 'I was in a very strange headspace'

The Emmy-winning creator of "Schitt's Creek" returns with a story about the importance of found family and the struggle to process grief.

When word first got out about Dan Levy's feature film directorial debut in 2022, some in the press described it as a rom-com, which is funny now for the Schitt's Creek creator to recall. As he says, the project that would become Good Grief is "absolutely not" that.

"In the early days when that idea was coming to fruition, it was originally conceived potentially as a romantic comedy, and then whatever press got out set what is now a very strange description of the movie," he tells EW over the phone from his home in London. "I see the movie as a drama or a dramedy."

He does admit a lot has changed about Good Grief since the idea first came to him. After Schitt's Creek, which earned Levy four Emmy Awards and made him one of the most famous Canadians, he knew where he wanted to go next. "Having written 80 episodes about an actual family, I felt compelled to tell a story about found family and the importance of it," he says. Then, like most of the world at the time, he felt irrevocably changed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

<p>Netflix </p> Dan Levy as Marc and Luke Evans as Oliver in 'Good Grief'

Netflix

Dan Levy as Marc and Luke Evans as Oliver in 'Good Grief'
<p>Netflix </p> Dan Levy's Marc in 'Good Grief'

Netflix

Dan Levy's Marc in 'Good Grief'

"I lost my grandmother toward the tail end of the pandemic, and I was in a very strange headspace in terms of feeling the weight and the profound sense of tragedy of what the COVID pandemic had done for all of us, while at the same time trying to honor the passing of someone who meant so much to me," says Levy, who also lost his dog in close proximity. "It was hard for me to feel the specificity of loss when all I was feeling was grief for so long. It was that conversation that really expedited the concept of the movie."

Levy, who wrote and directed Good Grief, stars as Marc, a former painter and current children's book illustrator who's content with his life in London, even though he's often overshadowed by his exuberant and charismatic husband Oliver (Luke Evans), an author whose novels have been adapted into a wildly popular global movie franchise. Everything is forever changed after Oliver's abrupt death the night of the couple's annual Christmas party. As Marc is forced to deal with the tragedy, hard truths come to light which compel him and his two closest friends, life-of-the-party Sophie (Ruth Negga) and the more reserved Thomas (Himesh Patel), to travel to Paris.

Celia Imrie also appears as Imelda, Marc's lawyer; and Arnaud Valois plays Theo, a man Marc meets one night at an art gallery soirée who reminds him that there can be life after loss.

<p>Chris Baker/Netflix</p> Marc (Dan Levy), Sophie (Ruth Negga), and Thomas (Himesh Patel) in 'Good Grief'

Chris Baker/Netflix

Marc (Dan Levy), Sophie (Ruth Negga), and Thomas (Himesh Patel) in 'Good Grief'
<p>Netflix </p> Ruth Negga as Sophie in 'Good Grief'

Netflix

Ruth Negga as Sophie in 'Good Grief'
<p>Netflix </p> Marc (Dan Levy) kisses Theo (Arnaud Valois) in 'Good Grief'

Netflix

Marc (Dan Levy) kisses Theo (Arnaud Valois) in 'Good Grief'

It was important for Levy to keep the romantic relationships of Good Grief relegated to the background, so that the friendships could take center stage. "I feel like the older we get, the more profound our relationships are with our friends and the more complicated they get," he explains. "Sometimes the people that are closest to us, we excuse the most in terms of having those hard conversations about life and bad habits and patterns of behavior that could be slightly course corrected. It's an uncomfortable conversation to have, and yet that intimacy exists within these friendships."

It's an experience Levy has felt in his own relationships and something made more profound on screen by Negga and Patel's performances. Levy wrote the character of Sophie as "this intrinsically magnetic and charming ball of energy," which he says the Preacher and Passing actress had in her bones. Then there was Thomas, whom Levy says could've been a one-note Eeyore figure, but he mentions how the Yesterday and Station Eleven actor brought "a sensitivity and warmth and softness and nuance to his choices."

The trio rehearsed together for two weeks before filming began in London, a city Levy has credited with saving his life when he escaped a bad relationship in his 20s. "They would come over to my house every day. We would talk about life and loss and love and share stories about ourselves," Levy says of his actors. "For a story like this where the audiences need to understand the complexity and the deepness and the love that exists between these three people, it was such a relief the minute that Ruth and Himesh came on board. I knew that the truth of these friends would be there."

<p>Chris Baker/Netflix</p> Marc (Dan Levy) throws a Christmas party for his friends in 'Good Grief'

Chris Baker/Netflix

Marc (Dan Levy) throws a Christmas party for his friends in 'Good Grief'
<p>Chris Baker/Netflix</p> Dan Levy directs and stars in a scene on the set of 'Good Grief'

Chris Baker/Netflix

Dan Levy directs and stars in a scene on the set of 'Good Grief'

Has the process of making Good Grief shifted Levy's own perspective on loss? "When I went into it, I was still processing a lot," he says. "Not that we ever fully process grief, but that question of, am I grieving properly? Have I done enough? I do feel like, in making this movie, I have honored the grief that I felt at the time, that this is all I could do to celebrate the feelings that I had when my grandmother and my dog passed away. Sometimes if you have the ability to write, it's the greatest outlet for pain and catharsis."

Although Good Grief is coming from a fundamentally different place than Schitt's Creek, however, it does maintain a similar spirit. "In so many ways, I feel like they both share a level of uncomfortable honesty," he remarks. "I had to access the most vulnerable parts of my own self and my relationships in the hopes that they were universal. While Good Grief is tonally very different, I think the level of honesty is still there and a desire to remind people that things are going to be okay."

Good Grief premieres on Netflix this Jan. 5.

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