A Conversation with Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman

Parks and Recreation finally returns tonight from it's too-long spring break, which means its back to work for Ron Swanson—head of the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department—and Nick Offerman, the charming, deadpan actor who plays him. We chatted with the man (and the mustache) behind the role about his carpentry skills, his favorite breakfast food, and his dream of appearing on Dancing With the Stars.

TV.com: Hi Nick! Parks and Rec has been on hiatus for a while. Does that mean there are big things ahead for Sweeps?

Nick Offerman: Well, I make a point of not paying attention to sweeps because, otherwise, I get too emotional. It’s too traumatic for me, I can’t handle that much drama. But the big exciting news is that Adam Scott and Rob Lowe are coming to our show for a time. And we’ll see them in the last two episodes of the season. God, they were so funny! And the writers came up with such funny material for them. They are two representatives of the State Government who come in to help our city budget try and deal with the recession.

Will Ron and Leslie be spending a lot of time with them, then?

Yes, very much so. You know, of course, it’s Ron’s dream come true that somebody might want to cut the budget a little bit. So he’s sort of gleeful about the whole thing. And, of course, Leslie’s doing everything she can to hang on to all the Parks Department programs.

You and and Ron seem to have a lot in common, aside from the fact that he hates his job and you clearly have a good time doing yours.

Yeah, he’s trying to bring down the government from inside, whereas I have just been looking professionally for 17 years or so—looking for that job that’s so hilariously written by people who make a show with love, and I have found that job. I never imagined—you know, my sense of humor is a lot of what fuels Ron, combined with the sense of humor Greg Daniels and Mike Schur and our room of brilliant writers. I never dreamed that I could prosper with my perverse sense of humor on a network show.

Your real-life experience has informed not only your character, but storylines and whole episodes. I read somewhere that "Hunting Trip" came about because you had a discussion with the producers about shaving your head. And a few episodes ago, you used your very real carpentry skills to build a canoe. What else on the show has come straight out of your personal life?

It's funny, there’s a real simpatico with the writers and myself. I’ve played saxophone my whole life, and they didn’t know that when they wrote the story about Duke Silver. And they turned in that script and I said, “Well, did you guys know that I actually play saxophone?” And they didn't, so there’s a lot of serendipity taking place. I grew up in a small town in Illinois, and my Dad was a basketball coach. Thanks to him, I have excellent fundamentals in both basketball and baseball. And sometime in the near future, I may be putting my basketball fundamentals to good use. But I think, you know, it’s true of any room of writers having to crank out 20 scripts a year, anything that’s interesting about you—if I happen to juggle fire, they’re going to try and stick that in there somewhere.

Did your background have anything to do with the self-defense class you taught in "Park Safety"?

I worked a lot in Chicago’s theater scene as a fight choreographer. And so I do have a lot of experience in stage combat and also in Kabuki dance and Kabuki theater. And all of that informed the self-defense class. I threw in a couple of Kabuki moves that we all had a hard time keeping a straight face through.

Carpentry, stage combat, saxophone—what don't you do?

I’ve had a very rich life and I enjoy a great many pursuits. A lot of my experience comes from finding ways to enjoy my life while trying to get better acting jobs. You know, even working actors can end up having a lot of spare time. And you can either go sit at the Starbucks and wait for your agent to call you, or you can go learn how to build a Shaker blanket chest with hand-cut dovetails.

I recently looked at some ofthe furniture on your website; it's really impressive. I can't believe you've even gone as far as building a wooden case for a document shredder!

Oh, thank you. That was a special piece. My wife [actress Megan Mullally] loves to shred documents. It’s a passion of hers.

Oh yeah?

She loves nothing more—there’s something really gratifying about destroying personal evidence. And early on—gosh, eight or nine years ago, early on in our relationship, I got her a shredder for Christmas, which in light of her passion was a very romantic gift. And I was flabbergasted that you could not get a good-looking shredder. And, you know, she’s very stylish, and she designs our house to the nines. And I was mortified that you could only get, like, white, black, gray, or silver shredders. And so I built a lacewood shredder holder. And if I was more aspiring—and I’ll give this idea away—I think if somebody mass-marketed one of those and put it in the SkyMall catalog available in walnut, oak, maple, or mahogany, I think it would be a big seller.

You have clearly thought this through.

Yeah. I didn’t want to do all the paperwork.

Regarding your passion for woodworking, you once mentioned in an interview, and with great admiration, the boat that Agent Gibbs is building on NCIS. And so if Ron Swanson and Gibbs went head-to-head in a watercraft competition who do you think would win? I guess you have the skills in real life; I don’t know if Mark Harmon does...

Well, I’m given to understand that he is an incredible woodworker. I mean, I only have this secondhand. I’ve, actually, never met Mark Harmon. But some crew guys that worked with him said that he has a vintage Airstream trailer and he’s completely done the interior in mahogany, which is no easy feat because, like a boat, it doesn’t have any straight lines. So I imagine that the boat building is, like it is for Ron Swanson, I think it probably comes from his own real life passion. And he’s got quite a few years on me. So, I would imagine that Mark Harmon would probably clean up in a race of boat building against me. Swanson and Gibbs, it might be a little different. If Swanson’s got enough scotch, he can stay up all night and that would be a distinct advantage.

Speaking of Ron, let's move on to the some of the now-requisite questions about your character. First things first, what's your favorite breakfast food? Do you share Ron's love for the most important meal of the day?

You know, it’s hard to beat bacon at anytime of day. But I also am a big fan of corned beef hash. I grew up in a farm family, and so we kept it simple. We’d have hash or bacon and eggs over easy and toast and butter and some kind of hash brown or fried potatoes. But I can appreciate a delicious cholesterol-sogged meal anytime of the day.

Okay, we’ve got breakfast under control. Next question: Have you done an interview in recent history where you haven't been asked about the mustache?

No, usually people lead with the mustache.

What kind of upkeep is required for facial hair of that caliber? You just don’t see that kind of mustache anymore.

I feel like, you know, being a sort of “real man” working as an actor these days, I’ve really noticed a dearth of a real hirsute leading man, you know. We’re in this age where shirtless men have to be completely waxed and hairless. A real emasculation has taken place in modern pop culture that I think, again, ties into my philosophy of life. People no longer have the ability to go out and split their own cord of firewood or, you know, dig their own garden, let alone cobble a pair of shoes or create candles from beef tallow. And growing up among the men on my family’s farm, specifically my two uncles, Uncle Don and Uncle Dan, they both had these bad-ass mustaches growing up. I’ve always associated it with manhood and virility. And so I’ve had every combination, or every possible kind of facial hair you could imagine. ...And so when Mike Schur and I sat down to sort of sculpt what Ron Swanson was going to be like, one of the first things we decided was that he would have a super kick-ass Midwestern mustache.

So it's not going anywhere anytime soon.

I can’t imagine. I mean, you know, if we ever needed some sort of Sweeps event, and Ron lost the mustache, actually, that could be an earth-shaking event.

But Ron Swanson's shop is up to code now, so you can’t have some sort of wiring incident that singes it off.

Well, you never know. An errant blowtorch can do a lot of damage, too.

So, when you’re not filming and you're not in the woodshop, what do you watch on TV?

Well, Megan and I seldom watch TV without each other. Sort of the only time we watch TV is as a relaxation moment together. And our favorite shows recently have been The Office and 30 Rock. And Party Down was a was a huge favorite in our house even before Megan got cast on it; she has a knack for landing the most excellent jobs. Like, once we think something is really sublime, pretty soon they’re calling to see if she’ll come to work on it. We also love watching DIY shows, different design shows. We don’t really miss Saturday Night Live, 'cause we’re both diehard fans. And sometimes we’ll voraciously consume a season of American Idol or—you know, a show we love is So You Think You Can Dance. So You Think You Can Dance, we think, is such an incredible show. Megan spent a lot of her youth training as a ballet dancer in Oklahoma, and then at a ballet theater in New York. And I, of course, as you might have guessed, have a long history with the dance.

Wait, with ballet?

I had two semesters of ballet because it was the elective in college that allowed you to be around girls.

Okay, so Megan has a history in ballet, and you took ballet in college...

Yeah, we both—I mean, we’re both performers. She’s, actually, an amazing like Broadway musical performer where she’s done a great deal of dancing. And I’m usually called upon to dance for more of a comedic result, but we both love performing and dancing. And the performances and the stuff that the kids do on that show is just mind-blowing.

Sounds like it's only a matter of time before one of you appears on Dancing With The Stars.

She’s been trying to get me on that show, and the schedule has never quite permitted it. But maybe one day, we may see me on there because I’ll definitely take the role of—was it Emmitt Smith that won?—it was one of the football players. I definitely would fall under the category of, like, not the most top-notch dancer but carries a lot of personality. That would definitely make my wife’s day.

I'll look forward to watching it! Are you working on anything else right now?

Yeah, I have a little part in a new series that's coming out in July on Adult Swim. It's called Children’s Hospital, and it’s really the funniest damn thing going, I think. It’s written and directed by Rob Corddry. And Megan is, actually, one of the leads on the show. It’s a satire of all the hospital procedurals, which just are never-ending. So, you know, imagine any [inaudible] broad comedies in a children’s hospital, and like every off-colored joke you can imagine. It’s so hilarious. Megan plays the chief of surgery, a la, Laura Innes on ER. So, I have a little part on that that’s a lot of fun. Beyond that, you know, I’ll probably pick up some film work here and there. But I’ve been looking for the role of Ron Swanson for a very long time. And if that’s all I do for, hopefully, some years, I’ll be a very happy boy.

Parks and Recreation airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on NBC.

Comments (3)
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May 01, 2010
Totally awesome! I saw him first in a small part in Gilmore Girls and I am thrilled to see that his talent is finaly recognised! Ron Rocks!
Apr 30, 2010
This guy is awesome.
Apr 29, 2010
great interview! love ron sawnson! mustache