Exclusive interview: Ron Livingston of Loudermilk on being a ‘miserable cuss’ and Weinstein scandal

Ron Livingston plays Sam Loudermilk in Loudermilk
Ron Livingston as the titular character in new Audience comedy series Loudermilk. Pic credit: AT&T Audience Network

Ron Livingston plays Sam Loudermilk, the abrasive recovering alcoholic/former music critic in the new Audience series Loudermilk on DirecTV.

The new comedy is a slow, sweet curveball that builds into a rare TV home-run.

Livingston’s character is a former rock journalist and recovering alcoholic who now spends his time as a substance abuse counselor, holding group meetings usually at a local Catholic church. That is, when the priest isn’t booting him out for some offense.

Like the setting of Seattle [really Vancouver], the grunge-y Sam is rumpled, pure sarcasm and a shot of salt in the wound. He’s hurting, and so will you if you cross his path the wrong way.

An average guy whose raison d’etre of snarkitude is realized into the series, his personal story laid bare. No spoilers, but he has reason to deflect and protect.

But time truly does heal all wounds and there is some light at the end of a very dark tunnel for our antihero.

His tether to society is roommate and sponsor Ben (Will Sasso), and along with Father Michael (Eric Keenleyside), Sam tries to do the right things and often falls short or suffers a colossal case of horrendous timing. Just ask his comely new neighbor, Allison (Laura Mennell) — Sam cocks up every opportunity to make a good impression.

Loudermilk was created by Peter Farrelly (of the famed Farrelly Brothers producing team) and Colbert Report alum Bobby Mort.

It is their craftily penned and sentimentally nuanced script — and not so subtle characters — combined with the Walter Matthau-esque air of Livingston that make this a no-miss comedy to savor.

Bittersweet, ridiculously funny, Loudermilk even employs the talents of comic Brian Regan, cast as Mugsy, one of the brilliant group therapy gang that at a certain point hearkens the great film, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. You will cheer for them all.

We spoke to Ron Livingston about his role in Loudermilk:

Monsters and Critics: Your character, he’s using sarcasm to hide his grief…

Ron Livingston: Yeah, it’s what we used to call a ‘miserable cuss’, you know, just a miserable cuss. He’s like somebody that Walter Matthau would have played thirty or forty years ago.

M&C: Exactly. But you transmit a sense that you so deeply want to reconnect with someone. You’re open to the opportunity of being interested in someone again. Could you talk about that?

RL: Yeah. The thing about recovery and people that are in recovery is it’s obviously a group that selects people who are prone to addiction and have poor impulse control and make bad decisions and find themselves sort of failing out of every aspect of their life. So, they’re f*** ups.

But, at the same time, I think the work of recovery for anyone who’s been successful with it and has been able to keep it going for a few years, it really takes a hard self-examination and just a lot of work in becoming responsible and accountable and rediscovering some sort of self-love.

In a weird way, these [Loudermilk and his roommate/sponsor Ben] guys are both completely emotionally inept, completely socially inept and still f*** ups through and through. But, there’s kind of a wisdom, I think, that going through that kind of fire, that crucible, imparts.

The fun of this show to me is how do you have little bits of elements of both in a way that doesn’t feel hokey, in a way that is going to surprise you every episode?

M&C: One of the things I noticed about you and your career is you’ve been fortunate in that you’ve got some incredible chemistry with Will Sasso, and in Band of Brothers, Damian Lewis. Can you talk about Will Sasso and your work with him and how he came to Loudermilk?

RL: Will was [cast] before I was. Will and Pete [Farrelly] worked together on Three Stooges, and I think Pete for years, as he was kind of percolating this idea, always had it in his head that when he did it, it was gonna be Will.

Pete’s a good judge of talent and a good judge of character. I think we do have great chemistry, but to be honest, I think Will would have great chemistry with anybody. He’s just a fantastic actor and a fantastic human being.

But, it’s interesting that you compare it a little bit to the relationship with Damian [Lewis], because I think the one thing that holds true to both of those relationships and makes it interesting is it’s not sort of a clearcut ‘here’s the guy and here’s the sidekick’, at least in the mind of the sidekick.

I think part of what made Band of Brothers work with that relationship is that Nixon kind of always thought he was the brains of the outfit, that he maybe had a little bit of competitiveness with Winters like good friends do, you know?

I think likewise with this thing, there’s something really interesting to me…it’s not in the show, but inside this apartment, [that] Will wears the pants. Will’s the sponsor. Will’s the responsible one. I think Loudermilk looks up to Ben [Sasso], in a way that he doesn’t look up to anybody the way he looks up to Ben. I think that makes for kind of a lovely dynamic.

M&C: And yet, Ben is going to, I assume, disappoint him in the fact that he’s hiding his drinking again.

RL: Oh, he sure is. He sure is. I will say [that] Pete said something to me that I never heard before and I thought was kind of brilliant. He said the secret to writing something, especially comedy, is you have to do it in such a way so that the audience has some idea of what’s going to come next. Right?

You can’t just have a bunch of random stuff happen. You have to have something where they go, “Oh, I see where it’s going.” And then, you never go there. You always go somewhere else.

So, that they both have the experience of getting to anticipate what’s going to happen, and then have the surprise in seeing what’s actually going to happen. That’s kind of going to be your running theme throughout our show, and I think it’s what saves it from getting sort of stale or repetitive. Things get shaken up at every junction.

M&C: I love the group therapy scenes and when you lead them. It reminds me of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a way, the energy, the exchanges.

RL: Yeah, that’s a great comparison. I mean, obviously, that’s like an iconic film. The shape of it. I give that all to Pete [Farrelly] because he assembled those guys. A lot of those guys are not actors have never acted before. We have a world-class standup…

M&C: Yes, Brian Regan, he plays Mugsy. So, he’s never acted?

RL: He’s never acted. Can you believe that? And I didn’t know that until I had no idea until we were doing the SAG panel the other day and Pete sort of dropped that bomb as if everybody should know that and I almost fell out of my chair because he was terrific.

One of the things I look forward to most about getting to go back and do more if, in fact, we do, is getting to see those guys again and getting to work with those guys again because that’s a very fun week that we got to shoot that stuff.

M&C: Talk about the location for this series…

RL: There are two elements at play, one of them is kind of cynical, one of them is the fact that we shoot in Vancouver because Vancouver is very economically gentle and Vancouver looks like Seattle, so that’s part of it, but the bigger thing I think was that you learn through the course of the show that Loudermilk was a rock ‘n’ roll critic, who has since kind of fallen through the cracks and backed away from it.

I think Pete just asked himself, okay, so where would a guy have like broken as a music critic and in this one, you look at all the towns that did music moments and Seattle is the one that really fits the best.

There is something about that grunge element, Seattle, a place that kind of had a cultural heyday and now that heyday is gonna move on to other places, and I think that dynamic really fits well for both the character and sort of people in recovery in general.

M&C: I am compelled to ask you this, the Weinstein scandal and all these people being outed as predators. You are from Iowa, I’m sure you have observed things in your career, maybe with yourself, maybe with other people, and I wanted to know if you had an opinion about it.

RL: The whole thing with Harvey Weinstein, it is really heartbreaking. I know Katherine Kendall. We did ‘Swingers’ together. I’m not close with her but that was the movie that she would have met Harvey on. So, for me to think that, ‘Oh my god, this girl…Katherine Kendall’, she’s one of the women who’s come forward, and it makes me sick.

“It makes me sick with myself really because Harvey’s going to face up to what he’s done at this point, but my question really is, ‘where were the rest of us? Where was everybody else?’

Because we needed to be there. We would all like to think that we’re the guy who would try to kill Hitler at the banquet, you know what I mean? Go out in a blaze of glory. We would all like to think that.

But I think the truth is that very, very, few people actually have the stones to do that. I would like to think that had that been something that I was aware of going on that I would have done something about it or said something about it or refused to work with some people. But I think that’s giving myself credit that I don’t really deserve because I didn’t do that. I didn’t pick up on that.

It has to change and it has to change yesterday. There’s no place for it and I mean compare it to this a little bit…you come into a business like Hollywood and you have big aspirations and you want to be part of it and it’s been like this forever. Young girls and women have been a commodity. They’re put in vulnerable situations.

That existed before any of us got here but that doesn’t excuse the fact, that doesn’t make up for it now. If you’ve got a ten-foot pit with stakes on the bottom in your front yard and every week kids are falling into it, you don’t get to say, ‘well, that was already here when I bought the house.’ You own it. You have the keys to it now.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to soapbox on it but it’s got change and it’s got to change right now. I just have massive, massive respect for the women who’ve come forward and it’s so demeaning when people say, ‘well why didn’t they do it 10-15 years ago?’ and the answer is ‘because you’re jumping on them now!’

These allegations obviously seem to have some force behind them, so you wanted them to come forward as a 22-year-old all by herself back then? It’s gotta change. It has to change and we have the power to change it so we just have to do it. That’s what I think of that, so yes, I do have an opinion on that.

M&C: Well said. Switching gears, tell me about the film Holly Slept Over. You are filming?

RL: Finished it. It’s a sex romp farce basically. There’s a couple where the wife admits to the husband that she had a little fling with this woman she knew in college. She was her roommate for a while I think and that kind of blows his mind.

He doesn’t know what to make of that and now this college friend will visit and he gets the idea in his head that he’s going to try and make a threesome happen. So, it’s about that. I play the neighbor down the street who gives him terrible advice. It sounds icky, I think…if you just describe it like that.

It’s actually a little charming. Cause it’s really about how do you make your marriage better? What does it take to make your marriage better and what does it not take to make your marriage better? So, I had a blast doing it.

M&C: One last question for Loudermilk, the group therapy older gentlemen with that hat? He’s a riot?

RL: You tell me, man. You tell me. I can’t get a read on that guy at all. If you told me he sleeps on a park bench and has never acted a day in his life and that they found him walking through the park, I would absolutely believe you.

M&C: So, you really don’t know who he is?

RL: No. If you told me that he was, like…had a Knighthood and was like this acclaimed Shakespearian actor, I would absolutely believe you and I have no idea which of the two it is and a great thing about that, about a guy who’s name I don’t even know is, he could go either way.

He doesn’t let on which it is. He shows up to work as that guy, he goes home as that guy. I don’t know who the guy under that guy is but man is he fun to have in the room cause he kills it.

Loudermilk debuts October 17 on AT&T’s Audience Network.

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