We remember him best for his role as cubicle slave Peter Gibbons in “Office Space,” but the acting career of Ron Livingston didn’t stop there. He has appeared in such films as “Swingers,” “Game Change” and the surprise hit of 2013, “The Conjuring.” On television he has made his mark on shows like “The Practice,” “Standoff” where he met his wife Rosemarie DeWitt, “Sex and the City” where he romanced Carrie Bradshaw for a season, and he can currently be seen in the acclaimed HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” Suffice to say, he has not been lacking for work for some time.
I got to catch up with Livingston when he was at the press conference for his latest film, “Drinking Buddies.” Written and directed by Joe Swanberg (“Hannah Takes the Stairs”), he stars as Chris, a businessman who is in a relationship with the ever so lovely Kate (Olivia Wilde). But during a weekend getaway where they go to a beach house with Kate’s friend Luke (Jake Johnson) and his girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), Chris begins to wonder just how strong his relationship with Kate is.
“Drinking Buddies” is one of the more unusual movies to come out in 2013 in that there was an outline of a plot instead of a screenplay, and the scenes were improvised by the actors. As a result, the cast was invited to take more of a risk than they ever would in a regular Hollywood studio movie.
Livingston proved to be a very nice guy as we talked to him about this movie and his work on “Boardwalk Empire.”
You broke up with Carrie Bradshaw with a post-it note on “Sex and the City,” and now you break up with Kate after you kiss her friend…
Ron Livingston: What am I thinking?! What is going on?
Were you looking for roles where you break up with women, or what else was it that made you want to do this movie?
Ron Livingston: There’s a funny story about that. I got to town, and the movie has kind of a loose narrative structure to put it mildly. Something happened that has never ever happened to me before in all my years working on movies; I got off the plane and within half an hour somebody said, “we know you’re not supposed to shoot until Thursday (this was on a Tuesday), but we are two days ahead of schedule so can you come in and shoot the breakup scene?” I was like “uh, yes but you have to tell me who I’m breaking up with and why” (laughs), and they were like “I don’t know. We’ll get back to you on that.”
It used to be you’d marry your high school sweetheart at 19 years old and then not divorce her for at least 20 years, but now it doesn’t seem to work that way. Everybody, even if they have one great love in their life, has a lot of car wrecks along the way.
What did you contribute from your own personal experience in relationships to your character?
Ron Livingston: I would say it’s the knowledge that when you’re done, you’re done. You can beat a dead horse for so long. I think there’s a thing you do when you’re younger when something’s not working and you’ll come back to revisit it five or six times or somebody will drunk text somebody and you’ll hook up and get back together. But I think there’s a certain age you get to where you lose the taste for that because you realize when the ghost is gone, the ghost is gone. That was something I was really proud of in my scene with Olivia because it’s a very adult moment, and it’s crazy because people are like “why the hell is Ron Livingston turning Olivia Wilde out into the street?” But I think that’s kind of the way it goes down.
Jake Johnson said that, when you were working on the movie, the original intent of doing this was for the process, and that was always in the forefront even when the other actors came on board. Were you aware there was this possibility that the movie was going to be horrible but at least the process was going to be enjoyable?
Ron Livingston: Yeah we knew. On our very first Skype call (between me and Joe Swanberg) we talked more about the process than really about what the movie was going to be. I know Joe referenced “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” and we talked a little bit about the Chicago music scene and he sent me some stuff to listen to. I think that was it.
I was game for it and I was excited to give it a shot. I also saw what my wife had done on “Sister, Sister” and was blown away by that, so I was jonesing to roll up my sleeves up and get in there.
Is it hard to be the guy that isn’t likable?
Ron Livingston: No, I don’t think in those terms. I like unlikable people. I feel like everybody’s likable in some way and unlikable in some others. I just try to be a human being and let the chips fall where they may.
What’s it like working on “Boardwalk Empire” and how does your character fit into the series?
Ron Livingston: It’s great. It’s one of those jobs that kind of reminds you when you’re a kid what you thought acting would be like where it’s all about clothing, sets, time periods and spending time with Gretchen Mol. I’ve done it a couple times where I’ve gotten an opportunity to come into a show that’s firing on all cylinders and it’s already great. It’s not on your shoulders. You might mess up your corner of it, but you’re not going to ruin the show. There’s a real freedom that comes with that.