The characters in Coastal Elites, the HBO special written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Jay Roach, are fictional people, each affected by the political atmosphere of 2020 and COVID-19 pandemic in different ways. Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson, and Kaitlyn Dever all deliver separate monologues reflecting how their characters are holding up as the world spins amid an unprecedented health crisis.
For Levy in particular, who plays an aspiring gay actor named Mark who was on the verge of landing the the lead in a major superhero film in which the titular character was also gay — a first in even this fictional Hollywood world — his character's experience auditioning for characters who don't quite match his authentic experience hits close to home.
"Reading the monologue, there were so many moments in it that I had experienced, in terms of being asked to play parts that you knew were not serving your community as best as they possibly could, but also being stuck in that place where you didn't have other work," Levy told TV Guide. "A lot of people don't have the kinds of opportunities to pick and choose their jobs. The complexity of going in and auditioning, and then coming out of the room and really grappling with the choices that you've had to make — did I make the right choice? Did I compromise myself? Did I give myself away? It's a really strange conversation that you have with yourself."
Within Coastal Elites, Mark is actually having the conversation with his therapist over Zoom and takes the audience through the highs and lows of potentially landing a career-redefining gig that may force him to knowingly do a disservice to his own community. The struggle is left unresolved, as Mark is still waiting to hear if he actually got the part by the time the monologue finishes.
"Paul articulated that so beautifully in the monologue, just Mark's struggles with the parts that he's been given, the way that gay people I think can be reduced to caricature and entertainment, while at the same time seeing opportunity in the first gay superhero and really wanting that job," Levy explained.
While Levy can relate to Mark's experience as an actor, that juxtaposition is why he's worked so hard in his own career to break those stereotypes and create the types of characters he wishes he had seen growing up — most notably with his Emmy-nominated series Schitt's Creek, which has been lauded as a breakthrough in LGBTQ representation for its unabashed depiction of gay joy. Getting to play someone in Coastal Elites who is also still trying to break those barriers particularly resonated with Levy.
"I feel like, for me, I've just been trying to combat that as much as possible in my show, getting to tell queer stories that I do feel like are complex and speak to my experience in ways that I hadn't necessarily seen depicted before," he explained. "So yeah, it all it there was something quite meaningful to it for me."
When it comes to relating to Mark's sense of being stuck thanks to the Hollywood shutdown, however, Levy feels less of a connection to his character. Even though Schitt's Creek had wrapped its final season run shortly before everything came to a halt, and the world was waiting for Levy to announce his next big move, he's grateful for the time he's had to really think about what he wants to do next and put his name on — to continue the good work he's already been doing.
"I'm a very slow moving person when it comes to work and everything that I want to put my name to. I think I want to make sure is as good as it can possibly be," he said. "So to be honest, this kind of time to really sit down and and start developing the ideas that I had had, and take that time to really think through what I want to do next, has actually been a great gift."
Coastal Elites is now streaming on HBO and HBO Max.