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Playing clueless characters isn’t exactly taxing for Levy

Nancy Mills New York Daily News

With his nerdy glasses and a pair of eyebrows that may merit their own zip code, Eugene Levy hardly seems the type to be courted by Hollywood studios.

But if you’re looking for an average Joe – one who happens to have written a few well-regarded comedies himself – Levy’s, well, the man.

“I am the common man,” says Levy, who wears his trademark black-rimmed glasses off-camera, too. “I’m polite, I love my family and I play by the rules. And sometimes I get pushed around.

“That’s my lifestyle, and that’s what I try to bring to characters.”

In his new film, “The Man,” Levy plays a dental-supply salesman who gets caught up in an international arms deal gone wrong. Forcibly partnered with a federal agent played by Samuel L. Jackson, he finds himself trying to buy guns instead of discussing tooth care.

“Sam and I are two actors you’d never think would show up in a movie together,” Levy says. “Most buddy movies are seasoned with quippy one-liners, but I think it’s important to have an emotional investment in the characters. ‘The Man’ may not always be laugh-out-loud funny, but the situation is funny.”

While spending many hours driving around Detroit in Jackson’s souped-up Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Levy temporarily gains the upper hand. At one point, he drags Jackson to a ballet recital. At another, he slaps Jackson across the face.

“Eugene has been doing comedy for so long he can find humor in the most overlooked places,” director Les Mayfield says. “When he slapped Sam, that wasn’t scripted or my idea. The reaction shot we used was that first take. Sam didn’t know the slap was coming.”

“The Man” is Levy’s first starring role since “Armed and Dangerous” with his former “SCTV” co-star John Candy in 1986, and he is slightly dumbfounded.

“A lot of guys my age can’t get a job,” the 58-year-old actor says. ” ‘American Pie’ opened a lot of doors for me.”

Before Levy was cast as “Jim’s dad” in that 1999 teen-comedy blockbuster, he had built his film career on playing shlubby guys who pop in for a few scenes, steal them and then disappear.

The same pattern should have prevailed in “American Pie.” He worked for only five days. But Levy brought a poignancy to his clueless yet caring father that helped turn the film into a classic.

He’s also kept busy co-writing and co-starring with Christopher Guest in three comedies aimed at a more sophisticated audience – “Waiting for Guffman,” “Best in Show” and “A Mighty Wind.”

The fourth, “For Your Consideration,” “about what happens when ‘Oscar’ is dropped into a conversation in relation to someone’s performance,” starts shooting in October.

“It’s very easy to sit down and work on a script with Chris,” Levy says about his relationship with Guest. “We make each other laugh.”

The birthday bunch

Movie director Brian De Palma is 65. Drummer Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead) is 62. Actor Scott Patterson (“Gilmore Girls”) is 47. Actress Kristy McNichol is 43. Actress Virginia Madsen (“American Dreams”) is 42. Actress Roxann Dawson (“Star Trek: Voyager”) is 41. Musician Moby is 40. Singer Harry Connick Jr. is 38. Rapper Ludacris is 28.

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