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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

Ron Livingston on ‘Holly’ and ‘Music Within’

Music Within

A few weeks back I was all hot ’n’ bothered over the prospect of seeing two new movies in one week starring Ron Livingston. So you can imagine how much infinitely more, ahem, interesting it was when I managed to snag an interview with him about those films. Yes, interesting is the word. Smart and funny are some more words. Charming as all hell is another.

Oops, no, sorry: that last one is a phrase.

Anyway, Music Within is now playing in limited release and is expanding to more cities on Friday: in that one, Ron portrays the real-life Vietnam veteran who lost much of his hearing in battle and went on to become a champion of rights for the disabled and was fundamental in getting the Americans With Disabilties Act passed. Holly opens in New York City this Friday and then expands on November 23 and November 30; here, Ron plays a fictional character amidst the very real horrors of child sex trafficking in Cambodia. [More on Holly from me here.]

I’ll post reviews both films shortly. Meanwhile, here’s Ron on these roles:


MAJ: Holly and Music Within are pretty socially conscious, which is unlike what you’ve done before. Is it just a coincidence that these movies are coming out at the same time? Or did you make a conscious choice to go after films like these?

RL: I think it’s more of a coincidence. I definitely didn’t say, “Let’s do a couple of socially conscious movies and have them come out a week apart from each other.” These actually were about a year apart in the shooting of them. And there are a lot of similarities between them, although I wouldn’t say that I was aware of that until maybe afterwards. But they’re both about people who are told that they’re broken and worthless by the people around them. And through the course of the movies, they come to realize that they’re not broken, that the world around them is broken and the world around them can be fixed.

MAJ: You talk about characters being broken, and it’s easy to see where that fits in Music Within, but do you feel your character in Holly was somehow broken, or were you talking more about the girl?

RL: Both of them, actually. Cambodia is an interesting place. The only Westerners that seem to be there — besides the backpackers that are there for a couple of weeks — are either there to sort of prey upon the chaos or to try fix the chaos and in both cases they seem to be working out something in themselves. The people that I met over there… if you were trying to escape as far as you possibly could from everything in your life and everybody in your life, Cambodia is where you’d go.

MAJ: So, your character is running away from something…

RL: Yeah. I think he’s somebody that’s running away from something and has gone there to disappear. He feels that, for whatever reason, his life is not redeemable. And what I think Holly manages to tell him is: “You don’t just get one life — you get any number of lives, and in your life you get any number of moments…” So you don’t have to think about all of the moments in this life, you have to think of this one moment in this life, and what you are doing right now. And if you want to think bigger than that, you need to think about all of the lives you have ahead of you. Patrick moves from being a person who has an inability to act to someone with the ability to take action. He escapes from his trap.

MAJ: Did you change your approach to acting at all because you had such a young costar or because the subject matter was so sensitive? [Thuy Nguyen, who plays Holly, a child prostitute, was only 14 during production.]

RL: Not really. Whether you’re shooting a Van Damme kickboxing movie or you’re shooting Holly with a 14-year-old girl, the first thing you have to do is let the other person in the scene know, “Hey, I’m on your side and I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re safe with me.” Once you do, you set the precedent that that’s the most important thing, the physical and emotional safety of everybody onboard. You then say, all right, our second priority is to tell the story as well as we can, and so, how do we do that?

[more of my interview with Ron Livingston is coming soon: you’ll get his take on Office Space, Sex and the City, and more]

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