If Emmys were given out for Outstanding Interview Subject, PARKS AND RECREATION star Nick Offerman — better known to viewers as meat-lovin’, tough-talkin’, man’s man Ron Swanson — would be a shoe-in. No, really. Having spent the past four years interviewing the Who’s Who of the television world, we here at theTVaddict.com are usually fairly-well prepared for anything an interviewee might throw at us. Yet, Offerman actually did something no other subject has managed to do: make us want to be a better person. Whether praising his colleagues (calling the show’s writers room “the best in the biz”) or speaking wistfully about wife Megan Mullally and their pups, one can’t help but be struck by the eloquence and sincerity of his words. And every now and then, he also manages to completely surprise you, as when Pawnee’s gruffest resident admits, “When I get around my family, I am the sissy!” So get ready, because if, based on Ron, you think you know Offerman, you’re in for a surprise. And trust us, it’s going to be a pleasant one.
Having spent the better part of your 15 year career as a working actor, one imagines that the success and notoriety that comes with playing a character like Ron Swanson on PARKS AND RECREATION must come as a bit of a surprise?
Nick Offerman: I always had a lot of confidence in my work and the unique flavor I like to bring to my characters, but you know I’m not a huge dreamer. And so once I got to Los Angeles and sort of got the lay of the land you quickly learn to survive you have to be much more of a realist. Having gone through most of WILL & GRACE by Megan’s side, I was aware at what an incredible… I’m not kidding — getting a part like Karen Walker or Ron Swanson — the odds are better to win the New Jersey Powerball lottery. I had to move to Los Angeles from Illinois to learn that my dream life was actually not like a David Lee Roth video. And once I sort of woke up to that I was like, okay, here’s what I want: I want to have a happy life with my wife and my home and our poodles and my wood shop. And I want to get to work as an actor, hopefully on good material with people who aren’t assholes. And so, Megan and I both made those sort of rules, work with people we like, on material we think is good and we’ve had really good luck at finding those situations. But I never dreamed that it could be as good as PARKS AND RECREATION.
Have you given much thought as to why Ron Swanson resonates so much with the audience?
No I haven’t given it a lot of thought because when you’re the clown you can’t spend a lot of time wondering why those kids are crying over there. But I really love the analogy of the human in that great movie WALL-E. You had those fat docile humans floating around in those robot chairs and being fed everything by milkshake and you know they had lost the ability to do anything for themselves and I think that in a looser sense that’s happening to our civilization. The more amazing technology and luxury we provide ourselves the less able we would be able to survive if we needed to chop or own firewood, or kill our own beast, and so maybe they can see something incredibly magnificent in Ron Swanson. I’ve always felt this way because when I get around my family I am the sissy. My dad, my uncles and my grandfathers when they were alive, these guys are “Ron Swanson” all day long and the reason they are is simply because they get their hands dirty.
Ron Swanson really is a man’s man, which some might argue is a nice change of pace from the proliferation of pretty boys on television!
I’m going to get a little waxy on you now, this is coming from my my favorite agrarian writer Wendell Berry, I’m pulling a lot of this from his philosophy, when the industrial revolution hit and advertising became big, we were sold a bill of goods that you deserve to put your feet up, you shouldn’t get your hands dirty, that’s beneath you. You should buy our vacuum cleaner, our electric typewriter, whatever it is. You should have all this luxury so that you no longer have to perform menial labour and everybody bought it hook line and sinker and we’re still buying it. And what we’ve lost sight of is that performing manual labor with your hands is one of the most incredibly satisfying and positive things you can do. Anybody who does something like doing a really good job of mowing your grass with a push mower, or washing your car, things that still exist in our world, you know that feeling of satisfaction. Or you know what a great one is, changing your tire. For the small percentage of people who will still change their own tire because they’re wearing high heels or they don’t want to get their Dockers muddy, there’ a very Ron Swanson feeling of I need to rely on nobody to sustain my life.
Following up on that, your credibility really is off the charts. Have you been approached with any interesting endorsement offers? Will Nick Offerman soon be putting his stamp of approval on a chainsaw, steak sauce or line of power tools?
You know I haven’t really had anything yet. It has occurred to me and my representation once Ron Swanson sort of hit the way he did in the zeitgeist we all said that would be hilarious, if Nick Offerman became the spokesman of a chainsaw company or tractor firm but I haven’t really fielded any offers yet. I did do this one thing though, Sunday was World Environment Day, a United Nations conservation holiday and I did this sort of feel good thing where I teamed up with Budweiser, they have this great program where they try and get men to stop shaving because you use an average of 5 gallons of water overtime you shave. They did this thing on their Facebook page called “Grow one save a million” and I teamed up with them to be one of the spokesman for it and that I felt really good about it because they got a hold of me because I have become known for my ability to grow whiskers. So that kind of fits into the category, but no, no one has contacted me to get behind their brand of sledgehammer.
From your love of steak to your passion for woodworking, the PARKS AND RECREATION writers have done a remarkable job of mining your personal life for stories. Are there any character traits or passions that they have yet to uncover that you’d like to see incorporated into future storylines?
I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some easter eggs remaining somewhere about, but whatever they may be I probably am not aware of them because although I do bring the bacon and sawdust and what have you, it’s our incredibly genius writers who have the ability to pick and choose which attributes of our personalities they’re going to focus on with all the characters. And so while it’s easy for the viewer to think that was pretty sharp of Nick Offerman to decide this love of bacon and woodworking but it’s not me, I’m just the vessel. In my opinion we’ve got easily the greatest group of writers working in TV and I’ve seen a lot of great writers room. But these fellas and ladies are so smart and funny it’s one of the things that make my job such a dream.
When WILL & GRACE became the hit it did, your wife Megan was catapulted to an entirely different level in terms of fame. Did getting to experience that alongside her help you in dealing with the popularity of Ron Swanson?
Well Megan is about 11 years older than me, and interestingly she got WILL & GRACE right about at the same age that I got PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s been one of the great blessings of our marriage, having gone through all these lessons on Megan’s arm, sort of learning vicariously how to deal when all of these new pressures come into our lives. Of course, the difference between us is that Megan is so brimming with talent that her whole life, even though she didn’t get her “big break” until WILL & GRACE, her whole life her talent was being recognized — either on the Broadway stage or as a young women in Chicago — she was by far the young ingenue of Chicago musical theatre in the early to mid 80’s. In fact, William Morris snatched her up and there was a moment she was going to have Rebecca De Mornay’s part in Risky Business but then they changed producers and re-cast things. You know, she’s had moments. She has a scene in About Last Night where she’s the girl that Rob Lowe makes out with her where Demi Moore decides to try and dump him. Everyone has known she was a knock out star and it is a testament to how hard the business is that it took Megan Mullally to the age of 38 to break out on a national level. If you ever see her in a broadway musical you’d be like what is the f*ck going on? She’s a tiny beautiful elfin women and she walks on stage and everything you ever heard of Ethel Merman comes to mind. Just a light explodes from behind her and her voice just knocks you over… can you tell I’m a fan?
Yes, and to be perfectly honest, it’s ridiculously sweet.
We feel very lucky in that regard. I can’t sing like Megan, so I always say that she’s like an incredible chocolate cake and I’m like a pint of Guinness. We’re both delicious, but mine is a much more acquired taste. Maybe it’s a bigger astonishment to me that I got a part like this than it was to Megan, but I certainly am so much better prepared for a lot of the new parts of my life being in the limelight to the extent that I am from watching Megan go through it first.
Does recognition in the form of Emmys mean anything to you, or is it simply as Ron Swanson might put it
the icing on the cake the steak sauce on the steak?
Again watching Megan going through a serious Emmy run, I think Megan had 7 nominations in a row and she won the first and last which is pretty cool. Going through that with her you see it’s not a meritocracy, there are too many shows, too many amazing performers and so it’s not like a foot race where I hope I can outrun Chris Colfer in the 100 meter dash. But that’s how it sort of plays out. It brings a sort of sporting analogy, like we’re going to give a trophy to the champion of comedy, by the way I would love to sees a foot race between Neil Patrick Harris and Chris Colfer. Last year for example we felt like we could have got a nomination for a show but the thing is there are so many networks. For example, Showtime has these great shows that are a different breed than traditional comedies. I think Laura Linney is going to be up for a best female in comedy and you’re like well obviously Laura Linney is a great actor of our generation, she’s not in the same file drawer as Steve Carell and Alec Baldwin when you think of comedy. So when you look at all those really disparate factors you can’t really get invested in what it means or if the Emmys bestow any meaning beyond a pat on the back.
Having said that I love a pat on the back as much as the next guy and my answer to this question is always with a great Robin Williams quote I read years ago in an interview. He said, “For an actor getting a job is a job and when you get a job that’s your vacation.” And it couldn’t be more true because all we’re ever trying to do is get a stage, get a platform so that an audience can see what we love to do. Ever since i started theatre I’ve likened it to giving people medicine because that’s what it feels like when you have 300 people laughing in a live theatre. So if getting a job is your vacation, getting this job on PARKS AND RECREATION is the best critics award I could ever receive.
Any Emmy or any other award is a wonderful pat on the back and of course it would be great to get that pat on the back but I’m much more invested in Mike Schur and the show winning some trophies and Amy [Poehler] because I’m the lucky kid who showed up and got the part of Ron Swanson, but Mike Schur and Greg Daniels, these guys have been turning out some of the greatest heartfelt comedy that we’ve all been enjoying from SNL to THE SIMPSONS to KING OF THE HILL and THE OFFICE to this. I would rather see Mike Schur win three Emmys then me even get an invitation because if I win a trophy or if anybody else on our show does, a large slice of that deserves to go to Mike Schur.
What would Ron Swanson say about all the hullabaloo surrounding the Emmys?
Ron Swanson wouldn’t have even taken your phone call. He wouldn’t have anything to say because he’d have been outside fashioning a bow from Osage Orange to get rid of a few of the pesky blackbirds around his house.