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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Defying Gravity: Ron Livingston

Ron Livingston as Maddux Donner

"Maddux Donner is basically an astronaut who's getting a second chance he never thought he would get. As the engineer on the ship, his job is mainly to fix broken stuff," says Ron Livingston.

"He's an engineer, so he's really practical. He likes to think of things as problems that can be solved. I can relate to that. He loves what he does and he's not really happy unless he's working and doing the one thing that he's trained to do. That's very much like me.

"I think Donner's greatest strengths are really his confidence and his arrogance, which are all sort of intertwined. He's not afraid to trust his intuition, and he's not afraid to assume that he's right. He's not afraid to assume that he knows more than anybody else in the room. And I think that is something that usually serves him well and every once in a while gets him into a lot of trouble. He's good in times of crisis. He can be a little tough to get along with and the women in his life find him exasperating. I think emotionally, he's probably a little stunted.

"Donner's got a couple of love interests. There's a bit of a triangle going on that includes Nadia Schilling (Florentine Lahme), who's the ship's pilot. She's sort of like the ace German fighter pilot turned astronaut, number one in the class. And she's really a man's woman – hard drinking and better than the guys at most things. I think they have kind of an understanding.

"And then there's Zoe Barnes (Laura Harris), who's the girl-next-door type. Donner finds himself kind of pulled between the two of them for different reasons. Zoe's that girl that you see across the playground who you can't stop looking at, and you're not quite sure why. He's been around a while, and he's definitely had a lot of experiences with a lot of women, so he thinks he understands it. He thinks he's got it all figured out, and Zoe's the one that kind of makes it all new for him, and it draws him and scares the hell out of him at the same time. So it was really interesting to me, the idea of this guy that's supposed to be a big astronaut, jock, womaniser, and there's one woman who scares the hell out of him, and he spends most of the first season of the show trying to run away from her," says the star.

There is also, for Donner, the shadow of his former love, the astronaut he was forced to leave behind during the Mars landing tragedy. The last is part of a common thread that unites many of the characters in Defying Gravity, as Livingston points out.

"All of the characters in the story have something in the past, something in their closet that surfaces throughout the course of the story. That's a big part of the show, people dealing with the baggage of their pasts, and it's part of how the unknown rears its head."

The Iowa-born, Yale University graduate, who audiences will also remember for his role as Captain Lewis Nixon in the award-winning HBO series Band Of Brothers and as Jack Berger in the hit series Sex And The City, was at first engaged by the script and then even further impressed when he realised that the storyline for the entire series was already thought out.

The 42-year-old actor, whose film credits include The Time Traveller's Wife, describes the central theme of the series and how it relates to the interaction of the characters.

"Ultimately, it's a show about people exploring the unknown, and that takes place both at the level of the astronauts being explorers, taking baby steps out into the universe, and on an emotional, inner level. It's about people exploring the dark places in their own pasts, places maybe where they're not comfortable with each other. At the heart of it, there's always some deeper mystery, and I think this show is, in large part, about that mystery."

Livingston, whose own research included a trip to Cape Canaveral in order to get a better idea about the lives and living conditions of astronauts, has nothing but praise for the cooperation he received from the people in the space programme.

"I made a trip down to the Cape, and I saw one of the last shuttle launches, which had always been on my list to do, and this was a great opportunity to go do that. I found the NASA people to be really generous with their time and their expertise."

Thanks to his own family background, he also admits to a life-long interest in the subject of outer space.

"My dad came out of school in the late Sixties as an aerospace engineer. He was in high school during the Kennedy years, the Apollo years. He was one of those kids that really kind of took up Kennedy's challenge and the idea that we could do anything we could set our minds on. I remember growing up building models of the very first test shuttle, the Enterprise. And my dad worked for Rockwell, so I spent a summer working there."

The Golden Globe-nominated actor admits that he once wanted to be an astronaut and recalls meeting one of his real-life heroes.

"I think every little boy wants to be an astronaut at some point in time, and I was no exception. I actually got to meet John Glenn at one point when I was in college. I remember telling him that he was a hero of mine as a kid, but that I was a bit confused. I thought he was from space and I was disappointed to learn that he was actually from Ohio. But then I got over it, and he was still my hero. I don't know if he appreciated that or not."

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