Emmys 2012: 'Parks and Recreation's' Nick Offerman: The Man Behind the Mustache
Droll tone and a real-life penchant for woodworking aside, the actor isn't exactly like his onscreen persona, Ron Swanson. But they do have the same taste in women.
As Pawnee's mustachioed, malaise-laced city worker Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman has redrawn the archetype of "funny office worker." Here, the Illinois native, 41, reveals how he's rendered powerless in a scene with co-star Amy Poehler, why he wasn't overly stressed about writing a big episode for Parks and Rec showrunner Mike Schur and what it's really like to act like a sex maniac on screen with his wife, Megan Mullally, whom he calls "one of my comedy heroes."
The Hollywood Reporter: Was there a scene this season that you couldn't get through without laughing?
Nick Offerman: One was "Pawnee Rangers," the camping episode. There's a scene where Leslie [Poehler] is marching around saying that her club is better: "Say it, Ron. Say it. Mine's better. Say it." And of course, the more Leslie tries to get him to say that, the more stone-faced and stoic he becomes. She gets up in his face, and the fire that I see lit in Amy's eyes is truly terrifying -- because never more than those moments does she remind me of Sally from The Peanuts cartoons. You see in her eyes that she's saying, "Oh really, you're not going to laugh at me?!" Then she ramps it up, gets up in my face, I vomit laughter, and we have to stop the whole scene because the makeup crew has to wipe the tears off my face. It's like having an uncle who tickles you; he sends you into absolute hysteria and discomfort, but you don't want him to stop. When I see Amy gearing up for one of those, I'm terrified, but I can't wait for the delicious meal I'm about to be served.
You wrote an episode, "Lucky," in which Leslie Knope's campaign is put in jeopardy after she makes a drunken appearance on TV. How much pressure did you feel to deliver one of the season's big episodes?
First, it was such a privilege to be asked to do that by Mike Schur. It's one of the many times in our history he's caused me to burst into tears. But, knowing how collaborative our show is, I wasn't worried because I knew that even if I turned in a complete turd, everybody would put their heads together and fix it. When I would get insecure while writing, I would think, "Well, at the end of the process, this is going to be an episode of Parks and Recreation, and I've never seen one of those that wasn't at least really good if not great." So I'm sure that these guys will protect me. The plan is for me to direct one this year, then I'll wait until we see how that goes, and if it goes well, then I will ask Mike if in the following season I can write one and direct it.
What other ideas do you have for future episodes?
One of my pet episodes right now is that Ron and Andy [Chris Pratt] get lost in the wilderness, maybe with or without Tom Haverford [Aziz Ansari] and April Ludgate [Aubrey Plaza]. It would be nice to have a couple of damsels in distress -- meaning Tom and April -- and see who ends up saving the day.
Who would be the hero?
Ron is obviously going to save the day. He'll have to chop down a tree to get over a ravine, or somebody will get hurt and Ron will have just the right splint or tourniquet knowledge, or he'll make a sled out of two limbs and drag Tom to safety. But I know that's not what the writers will do; they never go for the obvious story. Tom will end up saving the day because he has an iPod Nano with a compass.
Could we see a musical episode in the future, beyond the tease from last season in which Ron had a stint as a sax performer named Duke Silver?
Everybody on the show would love to indulge in that. There's probably a way that we could cleverly weave it into the reality of our show, and I think that would be a lot of fun. Whether or not Ron can sing and perform in any way, besides as Duke Silver on the saxophone, remains to be seen. Perhaps he's completely tone-deaf.
Like Ron, you're also a Middle American guy who enjoys woodworking. Where do the similarities end?
Ron is a very specific part of my sense of humor. I'm very rarely like Ron Swanson, and when I am, I'm being funny. I'm never sincerely like that, but like around [my] wood shop, if I need to admonish one of my helpers, sometimes I'll say it in a stentorian Ron Swanson tone. I often get asked to do interviews as Ron or to perform things as Ron out in my real life, and I always say, "I do that at my job." Ron is so much more than something I pull out of my pocket; he is a product of collaboration, and my collaborators are geniuses. If I tried to extemporize as Ron, it might be good for a minute or two, but then I'd think, "I wish that team of writers was here."
You and your wife, Megan Mullally, kill it as sex-crazed exes on Parks. How do you prepare for those scenes?
Megan was one of my comedy heroes [before we met]. We actually don't do much preparation. We knew that we wanted our lovemaking on screen to be as upsetting as possible to the viewer, so we actually went out into the yard, onto a soft, grassy area, to rehearse making out because the way in which we consume each other's faces and bodies has a certain violence to it. It's something that, really gratifyingly, Amy Poehler is unable to watch. When we're making out as Ron and Tammy, she has to leave the room because she finds it so nauseating.
Parks and Recreation returns Thursday, Sept. 20 on NBC.