Simply the best: Noah Reid on Schitt's Creek's swan song and its enduring heart
The Canadian Screen Award nominee opens up about his time with the Roses
In anticipation of Canadian Screen Week and the Canadian Screen Awards, Johanna Schneller, co-host of The Filmmakers, talked to five nominees about what they do, how they do it, and why they love it.
Noah Reid is nominated for best supporting actor, comedy, at this year's Canadian Screen Awards for his role as Patrick in Schitt's Creek, David Rose (Dan Levy)'s "butter-voiced beau." As a child actor in Toronto, Reid voiced the title turtle in Franklin. He sang on skates in Score: A Hockey Musical and played Kevin in the ABC Family sitcom Kevin From Work. If that show hadn't been cancelled, he wouldn't have landed Schitt's — proof that in the acting life, a disaster can be a gift. We talked about coming into an ensemble with a different energy, and singing That Song.
Johanna Schneller: Season four, episode six: Patrick sings a stripped-down version of the Tina Turner hit "Simply the Best," and Schitt's Creek lifts off to a new, more emotional level. Could you feel it?
Noah Reid: I was really nervous. Catherine [O'Hara, who plays Moira Rose] had said to me, "If you ever film a live performance, ask the director to shoot the audience first. It gives you an opportunity to warm up, and the audience gets to genuinely react to it." Bruce McCulloch, the episode's director, let me do that. It did feel like something was happening. I remember Catherine turning around to grab a tissue. It was a pretty great day.
JS: How did that moment come about?
NR: Just after we finished shooting season three, I released my first album [Songs from a Broken Chair], and Dan came to a show I did in Toronto. He was standing in the back; I could just make out the outline of his glasses. I thought, "He came, that's so nice." Shortly after, that script came in. I think the line was, "Patrick plays a soulful acoustic cover of 'Simply the Best.'" Dan always thought that song was lyrically beautiful, but such a danceable power anthem the romance didn't get its due.
Dan loves a good live performance — Cabaret, the Jazzagals. That goes back to Catherine and Eugene's [Levy, who plays Johnny Rose] roots in SCTV. On most television shows, things move so fast; there's not enough time or creative trust to go around. But Dan gave me the license to make the song what I thought it could be. His research and paying attention and trust resulted in that moment.
JS: How did you make it your own?
NR: I didn't know quite how to incorporate the rhythm with the emotional content. I'm not a great guitar player. I wanted to come up with something that would feel authentic to Patrick, and to the moment it represented for him and David. I landed on that little picking pattern, which had enough drive but still allowed the vulnerability of the song.
JS: Any other moments the writers crafted specifically for you?
NR: That's the mark of a great writers' room — they start to look for things to give you that you can really crush. The baseball episode [season five, episode nine] came out of a yearly baseball game I have, The Birthday Baseball Classic. I invited Dan, and he swung the bat pretty well that day. That gave us some great competitive comedy. That was one of my favourite episodes to shoot.
JS: Competitive comedy — Patrick and David established that early on.
NR: It was there on the pages I was given for the audition, that first scene where David comes into Ray's office. I read it and something clicked. I could hear Patrick's voice. Patrick is amused by the flustered yet confident nature of David Rose; a relationship is developing over the course of a few pages. It was exciting.
JS: To me, it felt like Patrick was a butterfly lover and the Roses were butterflies: look at all the colours!
NR: It's like coming across a unicorn and being like, "There it is. A unicorn." I knew Patrick couldn't be a straight-laced businessman. His wonder and delight at the Roses is something I tried to include as much as possible. They have a flashy excitement about them, and David fills some missing part of Patrick. I never wanted him to be judgmental of their strangeness.
JS: You also give him an edge.
NR: Again, a lot of this comes from the writing. Patrick has a level of self-confidence and intelligence and a cutting sense of humour that can meet David where he is. He can hit the ball back. That dynamic happened early on between Dan and me. My job was to present a polar energy to whatever he was doing: "Do you see what you're doing right now? Do you see how strange that is?" That became a fun game for us.
JS: When you get together in real life, you often play games.
NR: During Covid we did Zoom game nights with a group of friends. Dan always has some game you've never heard of that you have to download on your phone. It erupts into hilarious arguments. For his birthday last year, Dan, Andrew Cividino [a Schitt's Creek's director] and I played an intense game of Scattergories. I remember thinking, "It's 4am!" as an argument raged about whether the word starting with F was actually what he said it was.
We're always trying to get one over, get away with something. That energy is alive in Patrick and David's relationship, too. They're both trying to win, but only when it's useful and fun. Then in the big, human moments, they're there to support each other. It's a beautiful example of a relationship that can switch gears and be different things.
JS: When did you realize it was having a positive effect in the wider world?
NR: When Patrick came out to his parents [season five, episode 11]. What that meant to our audience was quite overwhelming. That's when I realized we were part of a movement, in a way. Then we marched in the Toronto Pride Parade. It's one thing to read comments on Twitter, but to be in the midst of that kind of energy, it was wild. When people saw Dan, they were seeing their hero. Television doesn't have a terrific track record of telling queer stories. Schitt's Creek was a real lead-by-example show.
JS: Let's go back to competitive comedy. What was it like to spar with legends?
NR: There's a difference between having respect for people and being in awe of them. If you're in awe, you can't operate. [The comedian] Neil Brennan has a bit about [how] when you're with a famous person it's like you're driving next to a cop car. I tried to focus on what I could offer a scene that it didn't already have. Catherine and Eugene never make you feel like they're on another level, though of course they are. They treated each person on that set like it was really important they were there.
JS: You're currently in New Mexico shooting Outer Range, an Amazon series. What's the log line?
NR: Josh Brolin is a Wyoming rancher with a strange family secret. The scope is huge. It's a wonderful departure from what I've done. But I'm not counting any chickens. The life of an actor is a strange thing; you never know where it's going to go.
JS: Any other projects in the works?
NR: I have some time down here in the desert. I'm thinking of doing some kind of screenwriting. I've never tried it; I thought my attention span could only handle five-minute songs. And I recorded a new album here, which I hope will come out in the fall. [laughs] When I was touring my last record [Gemini], I would play "Simply the Best" as an encore. So everyone would have to sit through my songs first.
The Canadian Screen Awards will be held over four nights from May 17-20, 2021.