By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
If the ribald (by PG-13 standards) farce, described by Levy as "After Hours with a couple," at first seems a departure for the director — a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the parents who have logged a dozen or so hours schlepping their young 'uns to Levy's other films — in other respects his third "night" movie in a row sticks to the Museum series' successful template, confining its comedic action to a single surreal, madcap evening in which anything can happen, and frequently does.
"There's almost a fablelike quality about stories that happen in a compressed time frame, and that applies as much to After Hours as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles," Levy says. "I just like the idea of a contained adventure, the effects and the fruits of which the characters have forever thereafter. They go back to the suburbs, but they don't go back the same."
Levy himself grew up in the suburbs of Montreal, a self-professed drama geek who set his mind on Yale from the age of 10, and enrolled there a mere six years later, skipping his senior year of high school. Acting jobs like Zombie Nightmare, along with guest stints on Beverly Hills, 90210, thirtysomething and 21 Jump Street, helped pay his tuition, but it was while directing his classmate Paul Giamatti in a student production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that Levy experienced a kind of epiphany regarding the future course of his career.
"Two things became very clear," he says. "One, I saw the difference between a great actor, Paul, and a good actor, me. And I wanted to do something I could be great at. The other thing is that I found it really satisfying to help get Paul to a greater performance, and the satisfaction of directing actors, and the kinship and protectiveness that you develop vis-à-vis your actors, which I feel today for Ben and Steve and Tina and all my actors, was really gratifying."
He went on to hone his chops directing dozens of hours of youth-oriented TV series, like The Famous Jett Jackson and The Secret World of Alex Mack, which Levy says taught him to "do the work, be efficient, be decisive. On a television schedule, you can't aimlessly meander through the shooting day and hope that you'll figure it out."
The curious polarities of Levy's career thus far, however, may be best understood through his work with Giamatti. Two decades after Virginia Woolf, Levy reunited with his erstwhile muse for his 2002 debut feature, Big Fat Liar, a playful updating of the boy-who-cried-wolf story starring Giamatti as a despicable Hollywood producer who steals the idea for his latest movie from a compulsively truth-stretching 14-year-old boy. Only in the latter of their two collaborations was the actor required to play several scenes covered from head to toe in blue body paint.
Today, from his perch near the top of the Hollywood heap, Levy says he's lost none of the hunger that got him here in the first place. "I want to do so much more," he says with a broad grin. "I want to build a company that becomes a brand. I want to direct countless more movies in a wide range of tones and genres. The shift from Night at the Museum to Date Night to Real Steel, and turning 40 ... it's all of a piece, I think, to challenge myself and to frankly show myself and others that what I've done is not fully indicative of what I can do."
In parting, I ask Levy if he could imagine himself making a serious, straightforward adult drama on the order of 1979's multiple-Oscar winner Kramer vs. Kramer, a "family" film that also happened to be an enormously popular mainstream attraction in its time. At that, Levy brightens and tells me that Kramer is a movie so dear to him that he could quote large sections of it from memory. "And you better believe that before I'm done, I've got one of those in me, too."
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