Some actors possess an Everyman quality that gives them the versatility to take on any role. Ron Livingston is that type of guy. After gaining notoriety as a member of Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn's crew of Swingers, he went on to play a conflicted World War II captain in HBO's Band of Brothers. This fall the Iowa native gets his first opportunity to play a series lead on Fox's hostage-negotiator action-drama Standoff. But first he can be seen taking a stab at sci-fi in the Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King episode "The End of the Whole Mess," airing tonight at 10 pm/ET on TNT. TVGuide.com spoke with Livingston about what it's like to translate King, the pressure of being the face of a series, and how he feels about having girls come up to him at bars and quote Office Space.
TVGuide.com: In "The End of the Whole Mess," you play a character who must recount his family's history and the downfall of the human race. Seems like a lot to do in an hour.
Ron Livingston: It's a quick tell. That's one of the things that really attracted me to the project, that this guy's got to tell the story and tell it quickly. Plus, you see the effects of what's happening without giving away too much as things unfold. That sounded like a lot of fun.
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of Stephen King before working on the series?
Livingston: Yeah, I read The Shining as a kid, and it scared the bejesus out of me. I've also read various other things of his over the years, and, of course, I've seen a lot of the stuff on screen. He's one of those guys that you'd put in a category with the Beatles he's been so prolific, and if you can't find something in there that speaks to you, you're not trying hard enough.
TVGuide.com: There's a pulpy Twilight Zone feel to the story. Is that something you guys were going for?
Livingston: There is a fanciful element, and there's also a real feverishness to it. My feeling after reading the story and I think this comes through with our telling of it is that it doesn't feel like hard reality. It's more like delusions or visions from someone experiencing a severe fever. It sounds a little like a madman raving. Also, the diorama effects make it a little larger than life and a little crazy.
TVGuide.com: You play hostage negotiator Matt Flaherty in Standoff, premiering this fall on Fox. What kind of research did you do for the role?
Livingston: I came straight to that job from another gig, so I didn't have time to do a ton of research. I basically went through a lot of the negotiator-training materials. Fortunately, the writer had done a lot of his homework. That's one of the great things about the part when the guy who writes the things you say knows his subject, you're covered. But before we get started shooting the rest of the series, I look forward to going through some of the training.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel any pressure? This is your first series where you are the lead.
Livingston: I feel like I'm up to it. The thing I've learned watching people go through it is that it's not all about you. We're trying to tell a story and everybody on set is part of telling that story. I might have to be there a couple more hours than other people, but it's a team thing. I expect this is going to be a great ensemble piece. You're dealing with negotiators, so they're going to have to be on the phone with somebody. Those are going to be some great parts, and great parts attract great actors.
TVGuide.com: The show is basically about how Matt and fellow negotiator Emily (Cinderella Man's Rosemarie DeWitt) balance their relationship and job, so it's important the two leads have good chemistry. How do you go about making sure that happens?
Livingston: You know, you've just got to cross your fingers and hope the other person is cool. If the other person is cool, it just happens. I don't have a really good answer to how you make that happen. If I did, I'd be a lot wealthier.
TVGuide.com: Are you, like your character, particularly calm and collected during intense situations?
Livingston: I think so. On another project I did, someone told me that there are three types of people in a crisis: Those who break down before the crisis, those who break down during the crisis and those who break down afterwards. I think what he was saying was that people who are calm and collected have a natural ability to break down afterwards. I'm probably more inclined to be that way.
TVGuide.com: A few years ago I was in a bar where you were hanging out with friends, and I saw a girl come up to you and ask if you'd "put a cover on your TPS reports," à la Office Space. Do you get that a lot?
Livingston: Every once in a while. I hope I wasn't rude.
TVGuide.com: You weren't, even though it looked pretty awkward. I think you might have sarcastically said, "I haven't heard that one before."
Livingston: That's funny. You know, there's a closely guarded secret that people who are in movies and have their faces out there are subject to the same sort of starstruck thing that happens to people who aren't in the public eye. So when celebrities meet each other, a lot of times their tongues will swell up and they will say something dumb to each other for the first five minutes of talking until they feel comfortable. I never consider it to be anything but a compliment when people come up to me.
TVGuide.com: Even when they're quoting your movies?
Livingston: I love it. When it stops, I'll know I'm in trouble. I especially don't mind it when the girls who come up to me are cute.
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