Ron Livingston is sitting on the answer to the most mysterious 27 seconds of video ever filmed.
“I’m not sure if anyone knows why I did it, including me. It was something I actually spent a day or two on.” He laughs at the absurdity, a half-dozen years after he donned cat ears and puppet arms to bring his most serious role to fruition: a faithful, shot-for-shot remake of the classic, Keyboard Cat. Like all good internet, it was made in someone’s basement. “My wife would pop down and wonder what the hell I was doing. There were a few friends that I was doing it for, who I wanted to try make laugh, and I kind of didn’t even entirely know that — I think I wasn’t quite sure how YouTube worked, and I thought it had to be public for people to look at it.” 4.5 million views later, it’s suddenly viral again. The video was up for about six months in 2010 before it was discovered, the Easter Egg of all Easter Eggs, “I don’t know what the first person typed in to come across it!” But like anything made for the internet, it belongs to all of us now. The singular video lives alone, a solitary totem to what could have been.“They called me in for a meeting, to talk about where this was going. What the future of ‘Keyboard Cat’ would be.”
This is why we can’t have nice things.
Instead, the video stands as a digital reminder that Ron Livingston can make you believe he’s anyone. From an internet cat to a WWII Army Captain, from a cubicle-drone-turned-renegade to a New York City writer, most famous for penning the words, “I’m sorry, I can’t, don’t hate me.” Though that iconic turn centered around a tiny square of paper, these days his resumé takes reams. “In a Forrest Gump way, I’ve kind of stepped into some projects that kinda took on a life of their own, at least for a minute or two.” In a world where being a celebrity is as much a job as being an actor, Livingston creates for two people: himself; and the people who might watch and be touched. “I live in the illusion that maybe somebody else in the world might enjoy it, too.” He doesn’t mind if it’s a T.P.S. Report or a Post-It. “I don’t care what people connect to, if they’re connected to something, I feel validated and excited about it.”
Sometime that connection is more about real life. Here, his already unassuming nature turns even more humble. “Band of Brothers was an amazing experience. I still have people come up to me in parking lots and tell me about their dad or their grandfather who served, and that he started opening up to them for the very first time, all those years later when Band of Brothers came out. That’s something that goes beyond being part of the TV show to feeling like, ‘This made a difference in my life, but it made more of a difference in somebody else’s.’” Even his lighter roles are now part of pop-culture history. One of the most famous break ups of the modern television age, is showing its wrinkles. The break up Post-It, wouldn’t even be hand written anymore, it would probably be a text. “It does have a bit of a vintage quality to it!” He doesn’t shy away from claiming any of it, from the serious to the salacious, to any fan who wants to talk. “For the most part I can fly under the radar. I don’t have tabloid people chase me. I can go to the grocery store and nobody really pays attention. That’s kind of great. I enjoy it though, the times people come up, it makes my day.”
For an actor to be recognized for even one iconic thing in a career is an anomaly. For Livingston, it happens over and over. “Sometimes I just stepped in it. Something happened that hit the audience in a certain way, and I happened to be standing in the vicinity when it did.” The evolving entertainment industry, moving away from box-office tunnel vision, is making more room for video-on-demand, and allowing the slow burn that Office Space pioneered, happen more often. “There’s so many more small projects that I think 10 or 15 years ago, wouldn’t have even gotten made. Now they are, because there’s a niche audience for them somewhere.” But as long as there are jobs and cubes and insufferable bosses, the original niche has room to grow. “The crazy thing about Office Space, is that it seemed like that niche audience just kept getting bigger, until it seemed like it almost encompassed everybody.”
If Livingston the actor played the Everyman in Office Space, in real life he actually IS every man when it comes to plowing through his favorite shows. “I love a good binge watch. I feel like there’s something really satisfying about it, and it allows the story to hook you a lot more because you get to the end of the one and you’re kind of jonesing for the next one. You don’t have that week to forget about it, it just kind of feeds on itself.” He’s about to switch spots in this Netflix-and-Chill scenario, when his dark comedy Search Party for TBS, rolls out an entire series during Thanksgiving. “I’m really interested to see how that lands. I think it’s a brilliant idea to put the whole season out over the course of a week.” But like Thanksgiving dinner itself, if something takes so much work to make, should it be over so quickly? “I like it better, to be honest. It makes it a lot easier to do a serial story, because you’re not at the mercy of ‘What if someone misses a couple of episodes, and then they’re lost?’”
You won’t lose sight of this actor this fall, as projects continue to roll out. For someone as disinterested in his own fame as Livingston, his turn as one of the most famous men of all time — Elvis himself — got him all shook up. “That’s probably the most fun I’ve had doing a job,” his even keel is precisely level, even when talking about playing the King in Shangri-la Suite. “It’s a little crazy, I went crazy for a bit. Fortunately I only had a few weeks to prepare, or I would have gone insane.” There were no peanut butter and banana sandwiches harmed in the making of this film. “I drank a lot of milkshakes. I didn’t go that far, I didn’t go that Method.” And the intense crime dramas keeps rolling with Shimmer Lake, a movie he says is feels old school, kind of throw back — Mayberry with someTwin Peaks thrown in. “It’s like a small-town, crime mystery told Memento-style. It’s kind of told backwards.”
While his career moves forward this fall, the country also faces a crossroad. Here, he’s a diplomat. “I am active in politics, but I do like to keep it separate from what I feel like my job is in entertainment. And the reason for that is, there’s something that rubs me wrong a little bit about — some people are given a microphone and asked to stand up and say something, and a lot of people aren’t.” It’s refreshing and confusing in a world where everyone is tweeting, Tubing, and clamoring to be heard. His job might have come with a soapbox, but he’s politely declined the offer to use it.“I’m sure, that’s the one thing about American politics, I’m pretty sure everybody’s got their opinion made up, and at this point we’re just kind of waiting for the election to go out and vote.” He pauses. “Yeeeah. So we’ll see!” Sounding not unlike the Office Space Lumbergh character. ‘I’m going to need you to go ahead and come in on Tuesday and cast a ballot.’
He comes as close as he’s going to to tipping his hand. “It’s been a crazy cycle, I’ll say that.” Beyond the election, with cable news and viral Chewbacca Moms, are we in the realm of Idiocracy? He laughs ruefully. “That’s the funny thing about Mike Judge, he makes the crazy thing that now you look at and you realize it’s not that crazy after all. He’s very farsighted.”
He’s quite happy to keep his life private, and his YouTube wonder, one-hit. You won’t find him hanging out on social media. “It’s just something that I just didn’t pick up. I think part of it might be that I just thought everything was working fine before. I’m fine with phone calls and texts and emails.” Like he saw with the meeting about the “future” of Keyboard Cat Redux, the internet is a business of its own, even if you’re just there so you don’t get fined. “There’s a lot of work involved. A lot of people, it’s a full time job. They hire somebody to manage their social media portfolio, it’s just something that never appealed to me, personally.” The rest of his interests are decidedly down-to-earth. “I have a family that’s my #1 passion. I have two baby girls. I’d like to learn Spanish. I’d like to be a better piano player.” He’s called fatherhood the best thing ever, and talks candidly about what it takes to make a family. “Everybody, the way they start their family is so different, based on how old they are when they do it, who they’re doing it with. The thing that I can report from the other side, is that the water’s fine. It really is wonderful. I wouldn’t ask for it to go down any other way. It’s perfect. It’s perfect, and I feel very blessed. And lucky.”
It’s as if the real mystery is how a person can be in, and not touched by Hollywood. And the answer might be — Ron Livingston is just the real deal.