Schitt's Creek guest star Victor Garber on Catherine O'Hara's triple slap and his soap opera flashback wig
This article contains spoilers for Schitt’s Creek episode 610, “Sunrise, Sunset.”
It’s not entirely clear how long an IMDB page would be for “television’s Moira Rose” (Catherine O’Hara), but the Schitt’s Creek leading lady has had at least two stand-out roles: her viral turn as Dr. Clara Mandrake, an ornithologist in Interflix’s The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening, and as Vivian Blake on the long-running soap opera Sunrise Bay.
This week’s episode of Schitt’s Creek finally reveals more details about Moira’s sudsy history, in the form of two guest stars. Saul Rubinek (now on Hunters) plays Tippy Bernstein, the producer of Sunrise Bay who comes to town to convince Moira to sign on to a prime-time reboot of the show. And then there’s Victor Garber — a longtime real-life friend of both O’Hara and Schitt’s star and co-creator Eugene Levy — who as Clifton Sparks appears both in present day as part of Tippy’s pitch to Moira, and also in soft-focus flashbacks as Moira’s Sunrise Bay costar.
A depressed Alexis (Annie Murphy) has been binging old seasons of the series and discovers a popular fan theory that Clifton had Moira’s character killed off in a contract dispute because he was jealous. She also digs up a damning clip of Clifton telling a reporter on “the Housewives Channel” that “there’s only room for one head of surgery at Sunrise General.” Alexis — who is now the moderator of the Sunrise Bay Fan Forum — encourages her mother to negotiate hard with her former colleagues before signing up for the reboot. After Clifton admits he may have had something to do with her demise, Moira makes them "an offer they had to refuse.”
Garber, who also just wrapped shooting the film Happiest Season alongside Schitt’s other co-creator, Dan Levy, talked with EW about the wig he wore for flashback scenes, his memories of first meeting Dan, Eugene, and Catherine, and why he thinks his old friends have become a pop culture phenomenon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Eugene originally proposed to Dan that you play Artie, the older man who Alexis briefly dates in last week’s episode. Did you guys talk about that role at all?
VICTOR GARBER: No, it was only this one. I'm glad that I'm in his consciousness at any time, but this was the only thing that I've ever heard about and it happened very quickly. Eugene sent me an email, and said, “Would you consider this?” I couldn't believe they were asking me to do it. And it was one of the highlights of the year. I don't usually watch myself after I've done things, but I will actually watch this, because it was one of the best experiences I've had. I've known Catherine most of my life and we've never worked together. And so the idea that I would get to work with her as well is pretty exciting.
Do you watch the show regularly?
I'm a big fan. I haven't been able to watch much TV lately, but it's one of those things that I look forward to sitting [down with] over a weekend just losing myself in that world. And I just finished working on a movie in Pittsburgh, and Daniel was in it. That was a joy.
You've known Eugene and Catherine for so long, but when did you first meet Dan?
I think it was when he was working in Toronto on that music station [MTV Canada] — he was working in the office and then he suddenly became known. I remember we did go out to dinner once with him and Eugene.
How has he changed?
His intelligence is daunting, and I'm intimidated by him because I think he's a genius. I'm a little bit cowed by his intellect and his talent and he...listen, he comes from fine stock. His mother and his father are pretty extraordinary, and so he's a great compilation of those people.
Eugene was sort of beautifully starry-eyed in describing how you two met when you both auditioned for the 1972 Toronto production of Godspell, and how he had to follow your audition. He said you got a standing ovation from all of the other men — including himself — who you were competing against to play Jesus.
Well, yes, he's embellished it somewhat, but in my recollection, it was pretty thrilling. I've heard Eugene tell that story and it makes me laugh — and then Marty Short does an impersonation of Eugene getting up and walking up to the stage without his glasses, and he can't see very well. It becomes quite a party trick when they're together. We all met that one fateful day in Toronto — and Gilda [Radner]. I knew Andrea Martin before that. It was pretty heady and exciting.
Catherine O’Hara’s brother was dating Gilda Radner at that time, which is how she first met Eugene. Did you know her then?
I remember that and her being around, but I had moved to New York to do the movie of Godspell. By the time that Catherine and Second City came into being, that’s when I remember meeting her, seeing her on stage, I think, at the Second City cabaret. I just remember finding her intoxicating, because she's one of the most talented people I've ever worked with or known and she was inspiring to see on stage.
Let's talk about the Sunrise Bay flashback. First of all: your wig.
Well, the wig, that wasn't the first try. That was [after] a couple of really scary ones and then they found that. It looked very much like the way my hair looked when I was in the Sugar Shoppe, a Canadian [rock] group I was in [in the late 1960s]. I looked like that person, and we could barely get through it, we were laughing so hard. It was hilarious.
We’d heard in earlier episodes that a “triple slap” is one of Vivian’s trademark moves. Is there a secret to a successful triple slap?
It's just technique. You just keep working on it. The camera angle has to be right. And then we just did it over and over and over and laughed every time.
We also get to see the great Saul Rubinek in this episode. Tell us about working with him
I thought, boy, this is a high-end group right here. I’ve got to be on my toes because Saul can just steal the scene from anybody. I did Liberace with him, and I did Laughter on the 23rd Floor with him. These were TV movies, and he was formidable. He's a brilliant actor and a sweetheart. It was really fun to be reunited and the three of us sitting around a table, it was very nostalgic.
It's a little bittersweet that you don't actually get a scene with Eugene Levy.
Yes, I was sad about that. But Catherine made up for it.
How does it feel to see your friends make this show and have it become a hit?
When they started it, oh, how envious I was, that they could all be together — and Daniel and Eugene, that was the most exciting part of it, that it was a father and son enterprise. And then Catherine was the obvious and perfect choice. This came out of nowhere and I think what people respond to is the authenticity of it. It was just a departure from the world, the horror that we're living through at the moment. It was like what an old television show could do for when you were a kid. It just took you out of whatever you were going through.
It's like they're superstars — they sell out venues and they could just do that and not have to worry for the rest of their lives. It's a phenomenon that gives me more pleasure than I can even describe, because I just admire them all and love them all so much. And honestly, it raised my spirits. Whatever I was going through at the time that they called me, those couple of days in Toronto and having dinner with Eugene and Dan, it really revived me. I'm just very grateful that I could be a part of it, as small a part as it is. I feel very grateful.