Ron Livingston is "so money" he's gonna show you his "o face," but the star of two of the most beloved cult comedies of the '90s, "Swingers" and "Office Space," is ready to show you his scared face as well in the new doozy of a horror film, "The Conjuring."
The affable character actor plays the head of the real-life Perron family, who experienced a lot of ghostly phenomena after moving to an isolated Rhode Island farmhouse. Livingston sat down with us to discuss paranormal investigators The Warrens, sequel potential, the power of belief and sexy hamsters.
In this movie the Warrens are true believers; the Perrons not so much. They're not church-going, their kids aren't baptized. There's a parallel with filmgoers because statistically a good portion of the audience for possession movies has to be secular. What is it about demons and exorcisms that transcends religion?
I don't think they do, really. That's a good question. I personally feel like an exorcism movie without God is like a western without hats. Sure, you can do it, but why would you try? There's a thing in the modern world where we just wanna believe we can understand and control everything, and not just in spiritual matters, science and physics. We believe it about parenting, we believe we can read a book about it and there's a special formula that if we do this our kids are gonna turn out okay. We just don't like uncertainty.
The thing about a horror movie is no matter how much you know that you don't believe and don't buy any of it, you sit in the theater and it scares the hell out of you. You have to ask the question, "If I know this is fake, why am I scared?" That's a really healthy response. A lot of the people who pride themselves on being skeptical are only skeptical about other people's beliefs. You're not a true skeptic unless you're first and foremost skeptical about your own worldview. You have to almost constantly be challenging … it's the old bumper sticker, "Don't believe everything you think."
Right, like even if you're an atheist you have to be able to say, "I don't know."
If you're a real scientist you're constantly open to new data. Nothing is ever 100% validated. Isaac Newton was almost right.
Your character in the movie, Roger Perron, is a trucker, and he's gone for a lot of the initial haunting. It's hard not to imagine him on his own in this truck, potentially with a demon attached to him. What is the scariest thing you've ever seen on a long drive?
That's a good question. The scariest thing I've ever had about a long drive is almost falling asleep a couple of times. Those moments where you maybe should have pulled over and taken a nap, like a couple of hours ago. That's about it. Traffic on the 405 is pretty horrifying.
What would you say is the most interesting nugget from your research into Roger Perron's family that isn't in the movie?
The fact that they stayed in that house for nine or ten years.
After the fact?
Yeah. They didn't actually get rid of all the spirits, they just got rid of the nasty one, and continued to have a relationship with some of the more friendly, playful ones.
The film plays like gangbusters, and it's safe to say there will probably be sequels. If they did a "Warren Files 2" do you think there would be any callback to the Perrons?
I doubt it. I'm not sure. I guess the real question would be if the Warrens offered a warranty on their work. [laughs] If there's a relapse do you call the same … like if the bugs come back to your house do you call the same exterminator or do you wanna go with a new guy? I think their case files are so prolific I can't imagine they wouldn't take advantage and move on to other cases.
Probably the best aspect of this movie is how much of a throwback it is to the old school flicks like "The Amityville Horror" and "Burnt Offerings." What is your favorite horror movie made before 1980?
That's easy, "The Shining" is the one that gets me.
'73. I'm trying to think … is "John Carpenter's The Thing" post …?
That's '82, but that and "The Shining" are all frickin' classics. Speaking of classics, how many drinks have people bought you after recognizing you from "Office Space"?
You know, oddly enough a handful, but because that wasn't really a movie about drinking. Not so much.
So do you get more drinks from "Swingers"?
Yeah, you know, I haven't really had the experience of people … maybe it's because I'm more likely to be approached on the street or in an airport where there might not be a bartender standing by. People are pretty respectful like if I'm having dinner they won't come and interrupt. The thing about "Office Space" and "Swingers" both is it was such a slow build. For the first couple years the only people who would recognize you from that were in the know.
With "Swingers" especially, because you, Vaughn, Favreau, even Doug Liman, you've all had such longevity in the business. Was that just a weird synergy that happened in that movie or you all in the Illuminati or something?
No that was a lightning in a bottle. I'm kind of having a little bit of that experience with the young girls on this one ["The Conjuring"]. I remember coming off "Swingers" thinking, "Wow, it's gonna be like this every single time! You go make a movie, the movie's great, people love it, it works." We all kind of went through that a little bit. It takes making a couple movies afterwards to realize how special that one was. It's really rare when they work that well.
Favreau's script is so raw, you can tell it came from a personal place.
Super personal. That's really special, that one.
What did you do with your first Hollywood paycheck?
Paid off my student loans, and I bought a Kurzweil PC88 keyboard. Paying off my student loans was the best check I ever wrote.
You've done a lot of theatre. What stage role that you've done would you most like to play on the screen?
The thing is, I'm too old to play any of the stage roles I've played on screen. I've outgrown all those roles. One of the things about being an actor is you kinda can't get stuck in a rut for very long, because eventually you have to reinvent. You can maybe get stuck in a rut as a 27-year-old, then the next thing you know you look up and you're 35. You can't play that guy anymore, so you have to find a new rut. [laughs]
New York or L.A.?
New York to visit, L.A. to live.
Stephen King or Edgar Allen Poe?
Hmm, that's a tossup. It's Poe for the short form, but Stephen King for the long form.
Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra?
I'd say Sinatra.
What would your porn name be?
Killer D. For D Ave, and I had a hamster named Killer. Killer D is all right!
Yeah, I mean, it's a little weird for a white guy.