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Ron Livingston on Dinner for Schmucks and How Don Draper Slept With His Wife

Most famous for late-ninties comedies like Swingers and Office Space, Ron Livingston has spent the better part of the last decade in supporting roles in dramas, from Band of Brothers to last year’s short-lived sci-fi show Defying Gravity. He's returned to comedy in Dinner for Schmucks, in which he plays a smarmy financial analyst who attends the titular dinner. We recently spoke to Livingston about remembering how to be funny, avoiding torture porn, and if he was jealous of Don Draper for sleeping with his wife.

A lot of times when actors play the villain or the jerk, they say they don’t necessarily see their character as a bad guy. What did you think of your character?
I see him as a bad guy. I think when people say that, what they’re saying is they maybe relate to him and it means they don’t see themselves as a bad guy. But I sometimes see myself as a bad guy. I thought he was pretty smarmy and not a guy you’d wanna hang out with.

In the big dinner scene, there’s a vulture at the dinner table. Did the vulture ruin many takes?
Some people will blame some stuff on the vulture, but honestly, I think the vulture hit his marks. That vulture was just the hardest-working vulture in show business. You know, he took a crap on the floor every once in a while, but if we’re truthful, how many of us have ever taken a crap on the floor while shooting a movie? Not many.

The entire movie took 57 days to shoot. How long did it take to shoot the dinner scene?
Three weeks in all. Dinner scenes in general are kind of notoriously long to shoot, and this one was sort of the granddaddy of all dinner scenes. Any time you have a bunch of people sitting around a table talking to each other, you not only have to shoot each person but you have to shoot each person from the perspective of every person they talk to or might make a comment to. Thank God lobster doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

Did you have fresh lobster all day long?
I don’t know if I’d call it fresh lobster. We had lobster, and every couple hours they would replace it with a different one. But I’m pretty sure they were just switching them from person to person. I don’t think we had more than seventeen of them; they were just rotating the chairs. We tried not to eat it too much. I think I took one bite.

You’ve starred in a lot of dramas recently but this is the first big comedy you’ve done in a while. Did you feel rusty at all?
I don’t think so. Even sort of the straight stuff I’ve done will have a comedic element to it, and even the comedy stuff I do I take it seriously. As funny as Office Space is, my job for most of it is to be really miserable. A lot of times it was Dave [Herman] and Gary [Cole] and Stephen [Root] that are getting a lot of the laughs. A lot of comedy for me is the reaction stuff. … I sort of feel like in this movie my job is to stand outside the three-point line and make somebody cover me. If they pass the ball I’ll shoot, but really I probably don’t need to.

Are there any types of roles you’d like to play more of, and any you’d rather not do again?
I’m pretty open to anything. The only stuff I’m not crazy about doing is movies that are just about sawing women into pieces. That tends to be a pretty easy pass. Those tend to be movies that not only I don’t really wanna see, I just don’t wanna live in that for two or three months at a time. And I don’t feel that I’d be proud of it at the end of the day.

You’ve actually gotten offers to do those kinds of roles?
Yeah, everybody gets offers to do those things at some point. I may go back on that. Maybe tomorrow there’ll be some fantastic sawing-women-into-pieces role that I just can’t pass up, but I think for now I’m good.

You’ve starred in two TV shows in the last five years that unfortunately didn’t take off. Do you have a wariness of doing television shows now that you didn’t have before?
Actually, sort of the opposite. I’ve never been scared of doing a good show that doesn’t take off; I’ve always been scared of doing a bad show that does because then you’re stuck on it. I think everything I’ve picked to do I’ve really wanted to have succeed, but I was also really proud of it even it didn’t.

Sex and the City 2 brought Aiden back. Have the Sex and the City people ever contacted you about possibly reviving Jack Berger for a movie?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve bumped into them every once in a while. I don’t really know what Jack Berger would do. I think what people forget about Jack Berger is that even in his brief run on the show, he had a couple chances. And then after the Post-it note, it was really off. I don’t think you get another chance after the Post-it note.

I read that you recently married Rosemarie DeWitt. Congratulations.
Yeah, we got married in November.

Do you guys ever rehearse lines with each other?
All the time. We met working together — and not only working together, but working together as partners. We played partners [in Standoff]; we were partners. I don’t wanna jinx it, but she’s not only a wonderful person and a wonderful wife, but she’s my favorite actress, and it’s kind of a privilege to have a front-row seat both on her process as an artist and on her the unfolding of her career. She makes a mean cup of coffee, too.

You didn’t have any twinge of jealousy when she was Don Draper’s lover?
No, not at all. There’s been a couple of things she’s done where I have a slight little twinge, but you know, part of the reason that a movie works at all is because when the leading lady is talking to the leading man, the guy in the audience feels like she’s talking to him. And that’s how I feel when I watch Rosemarie: I always feel like she’s talking to me.

What are you working on next?
I got one that I did in Arizona, a comedy starring Lizzy Caplan called Queens of Country. It’s a very, very out-there kind of comedy set in the world of country line dancing. It stars Lizzy and Joe Lo Truglio and Matt Walsh and Maynard James Keenan, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve had doing a movie in a long, long time. I think it’s probably gonna hit the festival circuit first. It’s in post now.

Do you do a lot of country line dancing?
Yes, I do quite a bit of country line dancing. I do zero country line dancing in real life.

Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images