A Most Wanted Man
Ron Livingston savors success performing “close to who I really am.”
“Hurting yourself is easy, but living is hard.”
So says Ron Livingston, as Sam Loudermilk, to a fellow addict in episode one of Loudermilk, a comedy on the Audience Network. But this wisdom applies to both characters Livingston plays on TV these days. In addition to the recovering alcoholic and addiction counselor, there’s Jonathan Dixon, an apparent success who kills himself at the start of ABC’s A Million Little Things but appears in flashbacks.
Ironically, Loudermilk, despite his struggles, has a purpose in life, while Dixon, despite his many achievements, mysteriously packs it in.
The characters “couldn’t be more unlike,” Livingston says. “Loudermilk, as big an asshole as he is, is 100 percent authentic. He’s not interested in presenting any illusions. Jon is the opposite: he constructed an elaborate persona and lifestyle based on how he wants to be perceived, and he’s trapped in it.”
The challenge of playing such different characters reached a climax last year when Livingston was shooting both shows simultaneously in Vancouver. It was a grind, but he concedes, “I’m happiest when I’m working.”
He’s been doing just that since he left Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to earn a B.A. in theater and English at Yale. In 1996, he had his first taste of success when Doug Liman’s cult hit Swingers came out. The film “kickstarted things for me,” Livingston says. “It was the first thing I did that had some buzz.”
But before long, he landed the lead in another cult hit, Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy, Office Space.
“It was a studio movie — the first job I ever got that opened nationwide, that my parents might see!” Major TV roles followed, on HBO’s Band of Brothers, The Practice, Sex and the City, Boardwalk Empire and more recently, The Romanoffs. But he says it was those early days on Swingers and Office Space when he figured out “how I might perform in a way that was close to who I really am.
“That’s where I discovered that ‘everyman’ thing — where you don’t ever do anything that would not be natural. The everyman is saying, ‘I’m not smarter than you, I’m not taller than you, I’m not better-looking or cooler.’ People can relate to that.
“Even on Band of Brothers — military officers, in my head, were all ramrod-straight and lantern- jawed,” Livingston recalls. “Then I got the book [by Stephen E. Ambrose, on which the miniseries was based], and the first thing I did was go to the index to find a picture of the guy I was playing. It was a shot of him bleary-eyed, hungover, surrounded by champagne bottles, hair messed up. That was right in my wheelhouse.”
As, eventually, was Sam Loudermilk. Livingston had sought a series lead for years, and when the opportunity came, he quickly worked out the character with cocreator Peter Farrelly. The show has been greenlit for a third season, so Loudermilk can continue to fulfill what Livingston sees as his duty: “telling people what is wrong with them, so they can stop it.
“His critical switch is stuck in the ‘on’ position. In a way, that makes him the biggest asshole in the world, but at the same time, he’s dealing with addicts and people in recovery. Sometimes, that’s exactly what they need — someone to just lay things out in their face.”
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2019