Since landing the lead in Mike Judge’s 1999 feature debut Office Space, Ron Livingston has worked onscreen steadily: the occasional TV show (Sex and the City), a classy miniseries (Band of Brothers), and supporting roles in a variety of movies (The Cooler, Dinner For Schmucks). But 2013 has shaped up particularly nicely for the Iowa-born, Chicago-trained actor. The upscale haunted-house thriller The Conjuring is in theaters, Drinking Buddies (now on iTunes and VOD) comes out Friday, and he’s currently working in Brooklyn on the fourth season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Plus, Livingston and his wife, actress Rosemarie DeWitt, adopted a daughter in May. He spoke with Rolling Stone about donning costumes with Jon Favreau, the miracle of childbirth, and how not to act scared.
You moved to Chicago to start your career. Why the Windy City?
There were a couple of big draws. One was the Steppenwolf Theatre. And all the John Hughes movies. But by the time I got there, both of those things had sort of passed. In terms of Steppenwolf – David Mamet, John Malkovich and Gary Sinise had all hopped a freight for the movie business at that point.
Who else was in Chicago with you?
I met Jon Favreau doing a marketing gig for Quaker Oats. We were wearing big foam Cap’n Crunch suits. Then we happened to move to L.A. at roughly the same time. I didn’t know him that well, but when you move somewhere and you don’t know anybody, someone that you kind of know is all of a sudden one of your best friends. At the time, he was taking the experience of moving to and trying to conquer L.A. and putting it all down on paper in the form of Swingers. It was a stroke of great fortune that he was doing that and I got to be a part of it.
The Conjuring and Drinking Buddies are extremely different movies. How differently did you approach them as an actor?
Acting in a horror film you can’t really show up and say “I’m gonna act scared.” The trick is to figure out what movie you think you’re in. I decided I was in a movie about moving a wife and five daughters into a new house. And that’s terrifying enough. I’m a new parent, and I know you don’t have to believe in possession or demons to know that if you hear the five-year-old scream from five doors away, it’s terrifying. Plus, there was a script. In Drinking Buddies, there wasn’t – every take you don’t just say the lines differently, you say different lines and do different actions. It’s not supposed to work that way.
Knowing how it all got put together, did watching The Conjuring scare you?
It’s like when your mom says, “Alright, you’re in for it now, just wait ’til your dad gets home,” and you have two or three hours to stew. There’s something about knowing what’s coming and still having to wait for it that only makes things worse.
You mentioned being a new parent. How’s fatherhood?
It’s fantastic. Any child coming to earth and joining a family, it’s a miracle. Ours felt like a double miracle.
Why a double?
Well, we adopted her, so not did she have to find her way to earth, but then she had to find us.
How’s her sleep?
Great. I hear it’s worse when they start to teethe.
All I can think about when I think about having kids is “are they gonna let me sleep?”
Well, when you’re 25 and you’re able to go out all night and not get any sleep, I realize now what that was for. It’s supposed to be for getting up and taking care of your kids. That’s when you’re supposed to have them.