By Diane Wild
Article first published as Interview: Star John Ralston Sells Living In Your Car With Optimism on Blogcritics.
HBO Canada is trying its hardest to sell their latest original series as tapping into the zeitgeist, reflecting today’s battered economy and lack of corporate confidence.
The protagonist of Living In Your Car, however, is not the victim of this economy; he’s the Kenneth Lay or Bernie Madoff of this economy.
“Steve Unger is a truly gifted CEO living a charmed life,” is how lead actor John Ralston described his character. “He’s a wunderkind of sorts, has probably been on the fast track his whole life, and he operates within this special world where he’s built an empire. Then it all comes crashing down.”
In last week’s series premiere, we saw Unger released from jail and trying to regain his previous life while clinging to its only remnant: his luxury sedan which currently doubles as his home, his identity, and his sense of order. “This guy has done some amazingly horrible things to his investors,” Ralston agreed. “You’ve got to really want to follow this guy and quite like him.”
He described the audition process as a struggle to find the right tone for the unlikely comedy. “It’s not a documentary. There’s a lovely lightness to the show. You’ve got this jam-packed, quietly subversive take on this man’s tortured, pathetic journey to get back to the top.”
“He embodies an incredible amount of childlike optimism. There’s where we find him, stumbling about trying in vain to make it all right again.”
“There’s a naivety to his outlook on life. He lived a very charmed life and now he’s about to live a real life,” he continued, persuasive in describing why the audience will want to root for Unger. “You like to follow people that have this life force, who are truly on a mission to go somewhere. He’s always smiling. Things ruffle him, but he’s like, that’s ok, I’ll use that. I’m sure there’s any number of books on how to turn adversity into a positive, which is what he does constantly.”
Living In Your Car is a co-creation of playwright George F. Walker, along with Dani Romain and Joseph Kay. Ralston had appeared in a couple of Walker’s Suburban Motel plays, and many of the other actors come from a theatrical background. “If you were in theatre at all, you knew and would give your right arm to do a George Walker piece,” he enthused. “It’s fast paced writing with its own rhythms.”
He described Living In Your Car as having the same style, with “great dialogue and wonderfully, wildly engaging characters.”
Ralston credits executive producer and director David Steinberg for much of the show’s snappy style as well. “These scripts were 40-something pages, which in network television is almost an hour, and we did them in 30 minutes.”
Steinberg in turn praised his leading man. “The choice of John Ralston was very important to all of us. We wanted someone to turn around your notion of what a bad guy is. John Ralston by nature is the most delightful person. As an actor he’s remarkable.”
Living In Your Car airs Fridays on HBO Canada.