Above all else, Ron Swanson loves two things: dark-haired women and breakfast foods. But behind the perfectly crafted mustache of the beloved Parks and Recreation character lurks the seasoned wit of real-life actor Nick Offerman, who’s as hilarious as the Pawnee Parks director he plays on TV. Between rekindling his love for theater, being married to Megan Mullally (possibly the funniest woman on television, with all due respect to Tina and Amy), and his passion for wood working, Offerman still finds the time to star in NBC’s hit comedy. Swanson, a man’s man macho (see his Pyramid of Greatness) with a wry sense of timing, has become a sensation on Parks and Rec, a true blue eccentric that audiences can’t seem to get enough of. And the best part is, Offerman’s character isn’t so far from Offerman himself. After a brief seasonal hiatus, Parks and Rec–along with the Pawnee, Indiana government–is back. We stole some time with Offerman to discuss the evolution of Ron Swanson, the sexual screen chemistry between he and Mullally, and what season three has in store.
What did you do while Parks and Recreation was on hiatus? I finished a second canoe for a friend, and just the last few days, I’ve been making a bunch of canoe paddles to take to the Martha show to illustrate the different stages of construction.
How did you end up playing Ron on Parks and Rec? Well, it was the fall of 2008, and word was that there was this new Office spinoff and it was going to star Amy [Poehler]. When I heard that I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the show I have to get on.’ I had auditioned for The Office a lot when it started up and I had been in for some guest star stuff and, unbeknown to me, a few years into The Office I was reading for one of their guest star roles. It went so well that one of their writers, Mike Schur, wrote my name down. They offered me the guest star role but I couldn’t do it — at the time I was mortified but he wrote my name down anyway. So then when Mike and Greg Daniels became the creators of Parks and Rec, Mike said, ‘Well, I know I’ve got this guy Nick I really want to do something with him.’ So they tried to fit me into another role, but NBC said, ‘No, we don’t want to see Nick Offerman as a handsome guy. But we have this part as Amy’s boss, so let’s tailor that to Nick.’ They basically wrote the part for me. But the funny thing is that NBC then made them audition people for five months even though they wrote it for me. And it was a grueling five months, very much an emotional roller coaster. But at the end of the five months they only ended up testing me for the part.
I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. How much did you bring to the role that wasn’t in the script? You know, these guys are amazing at gleaning the parts of each of our personalities that will best suit their comedy and going to town with it. So they wrote this character that was a libertarian and that was anti-government, and I think the combination of their writing and my personality allowed them to see, Oh, this guy has a real thing for bacon.
That part was you? I think I exude a bacon-y sort of aura.
Did you come into the audition with the look: the well-groomed, full mustache and the hair? When they were creating the show, one of things we decided even before I got the job was that Ron had a kick-ass mustache. We actually call the hair The Full Douche. It didn’t really come into it’s full height until Season Two. It was sort of douche-y and parted on the side and then it achieved more pompadour. But the mustache was part of the inception of the character.
You brought your love for wood working into it. Do you actually play the saxophone like Duke Silver as well? I do, I do play, but I do have to say that nothing happens on our show without this incredibly brilliant group of writers. I would been remiss if I took any credit, because it’s them recognizing the value and putting it into the script that’s important.
How is it working with your wife on the show? Is that something you suggested? Well, I said ‘I don’t know if you guys know this, but I happen to be married to a comedy legend,’ and they said, ‘Why, yes we were aware of that, so we definitely need to get her on the show.’ So I remember early on, Mike coming to me and saying, ‘Okay, we’re writing this story of your bitch ex-wife Tammy and she’s really horrible and you hate her guts, do you think it would be cool if we asked Megan to play it?’ And he was asking me if it would be okay because he thought someone might take offense like, ‘What? You want me to play a horrible bitch?’ So I called Megan and I said, ‘Honey, check it out, Mike is asking if it would be cool if you played this part,’ and I described the part to her and she said, with relish, ‘Yes, please, and I would like to have lots of cleavage.’ Everyone always talks about the sexuality of those episodes. I’ve seen part one and two and I think they’re two of the funniest episodes of the series. In the first one, you two [Offerman and Mullally] throw down at the diner, and in this one your sexcapades land you in jail. At all true to life? We definitely climb the same peaks that Ron and Tammy do but have the good sense not to do it in a public restaurant. But yeah, Megan and I are delightfully boring compared to Ron and Tammy. Megan and I have hot love but it’s not as incendiary; we’ve never been put in jail for acts of love making.
You’ve been described as the shows secret weapon. Everyone seems to love the contrast between you being so straitlaced and firm on most things but also hilarious at the same time. Are there any people in real life or characters that you draw your inspiration from? There’s a few places I get parts of Ron. My dad is very dry. The thing that cracks me up the most is people that are super dry, it always makes me laugh the hardest. My dad is a really great guy and he’s a very simple sort of Norman Rockwellian midwestern father and school teacher He had all these rules that we were brought up to live by which were simply like: always carry a clean handkerchief, if you’re going to do a job do it right. He always said, “Ey, just be six two uneven.” He’s never been able to explain what that means or where that phrase comes form but we always knew what he was saying. So there’s a lot of that to Ron because he would always deliver those things with a little bit of a smirk. Paul Gleason who played the principal in the Breakfast Club, that guy to me was like the most god damn hilarious thing I’d ever seen. A guy who’s like middle authority and is incredibly pompous with his authority and overbearing.
I’ve seen the first seven episodes of the season. That’s five more than I’ve seen.
Really? Yeah, I wait to watch them with Megan when they air, it’s sort of our thing.
What’s something you can tell the readers to tune in for? The most obvious answer is Adam Scott and Rob Lowe. We’ve added these two incredible hitters into our lineup, they are both just so funny. I’ve been a big fan of Adam’s for years, he’s so subtly funny, he cracks me up. And I’ve got to say Rob Lowe is the new secret weapon.
I’ve never seen him like this before. It’s such a canny move on his part.
The episode where he gets the flu, he was brilliant. He’s so good because he understands what it takes to make the greatest comedy is to look as stupid as possible. Someone who is a renowned, good looking man has a hard time making an ass of themselves but Rob has taken to it like a duck to water.
They’re both great additions. Other than that, I think once people started getting on board with the show in season two, we have it really flagged. Everyone figured out how to keep all the pistons firing and I think that every episode is great. If you like season two, you’re in for some great treats, because there’s a lot more of it in season three.
I know you’ve been on Children’s Hospital in the past year and have played a lot of comedic roles, but how was it working on a film like All Good Things? Are dramatic roles something you want to explore? I guess it’s kind of pretty well-kept secret, but I don’t come from comedy, per say.
You got your start in theater. I come from theater, yeah, and I was known in town for more of a dramatic guy for years. I worked on ER, NYPD Blue, and Deadwood, but yes, I love being a transformative actor.
You do look very different without the mustache and hair. That’s my bag. There’s a move called The Go-Getter?
The film with Lou Pucci? Yeah! I play three parts in that and no one ever knows. It’s my favorite thing, to inhabit characters. So working on All Good Things was a fantastic experience in many ways. Working on a drama was nothing new, but getting to work with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst and Andrew — Andrew is just the greatest kind of filmmaker. He put so much care and generosity into the film, that it just made it an incredible treat and experience to get to work on it.