Exclusive: PARKS AND RECREATION’s Nick Offerman Interview

Nick Offerman

While many wonderful characters fill NBC’s hilarious PARKS AND RECREATION, the meat-loving, government-hating Ron Swanson is definitely a standout and his portrayer, the deliciously deadpan Nick Offerman, steals an impressive number of scenes. Of course, so does his mustache.

A long-time talented character actor, Offerman has finally found the perfect showcase for his talents and his joy at playing “Ron f—–n’ Swanson” shines through in every episode. When his real-life wife Megan Mullally drops by as Ron’s nefarious ex-wife Tammy, that joy turns to palpable glee, and rumor has it she might be making an appearance in the two-part third season finale, airing on NBC tonight, May 19, from 10-11pm eastern/9-10pm central.

Daemon’s TV talked to Nick Offerman about tonight’s finale and what it means for next season, Ron’s development over the first three seasons of Parks and Recreation, and how he feels about Ron-isms going viral.

I can’t believe Jimmy Fallon made the Ron Swanson turkey burger for you.

Nick Offerman: It’s an astonishing feast.

Did you actually eat any of it?

Nick Offerman: I did, yeah. I ate my fill.

How was it?

Nick Offerman: It was amazingly delicious. You have all the pleasure of an enormous beef burger with a deep fried turkey leg adding it’s savory flavor.

Is it strange having so much of Ron Swanson’s character – the turkey burger, the pyramid of greatness – go viral on the internet?

Nick Offerman: I think the things that become sort of viral items are fascinating in general. I talk a lot with different advertising entities when people are trying to launch something and the executives often say, ‘We’d really like this video to become viral.’ I always think, ‘You have no chance. You can’t plan a viral video.’ It’s the most incredibly random items that catch the nation’s attention, but I’m such a big fan of our show that anything that grabs people’s attention and gets them to look at it I think is all good.

Ron Swanson isn’t the ‘Parks and Recreation’ role you actually auditioned for, is it?

Nick Offerman: When they were creating the show, when I first came in they didn’t even have all the roles figured out yet. So, when I first came in it was reading for a role of a guy named Josh. Man, it was a funny part, and that part became Mark Brendanawicz and became the great Paul Schneider. When that didn’t work out for me they’d still been coming up with the rest of the cast and they said, ‘Oh, we have this part of Amy’s [Poehler] boss we’d really like try to you in.’ I said, ‘Okay.’

It seems like so much of Ron’s character actually comes from you, the woodworking and things. Is that true?

Nick Offerman: Yeah, I mean, that’s true of all the roles. I just have the very good fortune of having known Greg Daniels and Mike Schur through audition for ‘The Office’ and I was just the lucky son of a bitch where they were like, ‘We want to put this guy’s flavor into our goulash.’ So they came up with Ron Swanson and then as we were creating the first six episodes they had all of the actors come in. They said, ‘Okay, Chris Pratt, what do you love to do?’ He loves hunting and the outdoors, and so they took parts of all of our personalities and flavored the characters with them.

And his look, is that something you came up with on your own or was that decided with the creators?

Nick Offerman: It was talked about. It was a very methodical process. They said, ‘We have these eight people in these roles,’ and in my case I had a few meetings with the writers and they eventually came to visit my woodshop and they said, ‘We see all these flavors in your that we think would make for good comedy.’ So they incorporated them into the character.

What’s been the most fun about watching Ron develop over the three seasons?

Nick Offerman: Well, kind of the thing that’s the most fun, just in general, that as an actor when I started in theater school twenty three years ago you just try to find the best writing you can. That’s where it all begins. If it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage, and so, when you’re lucky enough as we are to land in the hands of a roomful of the most brilliant writers working today, every new script is the greatest Christmas present you’ve ever seen.

There was a recent episode about my birthday where Leslie surprises me with Ron’s perfect birthday party, just eating steak and bacon and watching ‘Bridge On The River Kwai’ and when we first get handed that script and you get to the end and the tag, it just literally says, ‘For thirty seconds in silence we watch Ron Swanson eat meat and watch explosions on television –’ week after week I just burst into tears. This is my dream job. I can’t believe it.

It’s probably the most character-driven show on television. The recent episode about Leslie and Ann’s fight showed so much about each character, for instance.

Nick Offerman: Thank you. I agree and I have always been much more kind of drawn to that kind of comedy. I can’t let that go by without noting that Amy wrote that episode. I never cease to be astonished in the middle of having two little boys at home, producing the show, starring in the show, she’s also like, ‘By the way, here’s next week’s script.’ It’s amazing.

Will there be any outtakes of you guys acting drunk? I feel like–as funny as it was–there’s probably a lot of terrific stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Nick Offerman: There is and I think we do get a very healthy portion of it in our gag reel. They always put a ton of stuff on the DVD, as well, when it comes out.

How hard is it to play drunk? It must be easy to overplay.

Nick Offerman: It is. It’s a famous acting mistake, that it’s really hard to play drunk. I haven’t received a lot of reviews on my own personal success with it, but we’re often astonished on the set by particularly Aziz [Ansari] and Rashida [Jones] who’ve both received a lot of kudos for their subtle drunkenness.

There’s a scene earlier I think in last season where Rashida’s drunk at the Snake Hole Lounge and she’s chasing a stir straw around her glass with her tongue and that was actually in the script. That’s such a great subtle behavioral moment. You’re on camera and it’s kind of the equivalent of trying to tap the bottom of a slushy out of a cup. You lose your self-consciousness in that drunkenness.

Can you tease any of Thursday’s season finale?

Nick Offerman: The final two episodes culminate with an event so traumatic that there very well may be school closings on Friday. Certainly, urban areas will shut down their transit lines and black flags will be hung from the windows.

Does that mean Tammy is coming back?

Nick Offerman: The nefarious Tammy may rear her ugly head.

She’s such a glorious bitch that’s so much fun to watch.

Nick Offerman: Shooting scenes with her, I feel like a broken record because I always want to be much more acerbic and witty when talking about the show, but I have no choice but to continually say that I cry all the time because I’m so lucky.

There’s a scene with Amy and Adam Scott that’s one of my favorite of the season. It’s sort of a standoff, a battle of wills between the three of us and I think it’s easy to imagine who comes out on top of that battle, but doing scenes like that or doing a scene with my wife, I can’t help but think, ‘My, God. What did you do to get so goddamn lucky to have Megan Mullally standing here and literally rubbing her boobs on me?’

And you guys finished shooting this season months ago, right?

Nick Offerman: We did, yeah, because of NBC’s fascinating decision to make us a mid-season show we shot all these episodes in the fall, finishing around Christmas which has made watching this season really fun because we’d forgotten everything that we shot. So, usually you’re just a few weeks ahead and you know exactly what’s in the episode, but now they air and I think, ‘Oh, right, yeah. I love that little girl. I totally forgot about her.’

Are you anxious to go back to work?

Nick Offerman: We are, yeah. When you work in incredibly difficult business of show and you finally land the most incredible dream job vacations kind of lose their allure. It’s nice to go take a nap for a minute, but then it’s like, ‘Hey, lets get back to the amazing comedy.’

Do you have any idea what we can expect for the next season?

Nick Offerman: Well, one of the great things about the finale is that we set up some crazy cliffhangers, four big boom, boom, boom moments where you’re like, ‘Oh, my God.’ Mike Schur has talked about it. He said that it’s something that he’s learned from Greg, that they love to write themselves into the most insane corner in the season finale and they have the summer to be like, ‘How the hell are we going to get out of this mess?’ So I know there will be some stories where we’ll see more of Tammy and she’ll come to be known as Tammy 2 because if you’ll recall, my mother’s name is Tammy and I have two ex-wives named Tammy. So, some more characters from Ron’s past will come to light which I’m very excited about.

Luckilly it seems NBC learned from that ‘fascinating decision’ of holding ‘Parks and Recreation’ until midseason–

Nick Offerman: We’re safe, knock on wood. I think we’re safe for Christmas since we got an early pick up. It’ll be exciting on Monday to find out what their plan is for the fall because I know they’ve picked up a few new comedies. So we’re all waiting to find out if they’re going to open up another night of comedy or if they’re going to shuffle things around or how it’s going to fall out.

A couple of years ago the so called experts were basically leaving sitcoms for dead and watching your show, they clearly couldn’t have been more wrong. I don’t think TV has ever been funnier.

Nick Offerman: I agree. Thank you. That’s a very nice compliment. I had this conversation with some film actors the other night. Sitting at a table with T-Bone Burnett, the great musician and musical director of films, but he had a great quote. I forget the exact quote, but he said that every art form turns the last art form into a classic. So, when television came it turned film into priceless art, the highest art form, and then with the advent of the internet television is becoming where all the great writing is and where people are paying attention to the stories as they affect society.

Parks and Recreation usually airs on NBC Thursdays at 9:30pm eastern/ 8:30 central, but tonight, May 19, there are two episodes, including the third season finale, beginning at 10pm eastern/9 central following the one-hour season finale of The Office.

You can read all our Parks and Recreation coverage here.