Q & A: Nick Offerman on ‘Parks and Recreation’, Ron Swanson and his love of ‘The Ballet’

After what I thought was a sluggish first season, NBC’s Parks and Recreation has now become one of my favorite TV shows thanks in no small part to Nick Offerman.

In one of the funniest conference calls I’ve ever been a part, I talked to Nick and Co-creator Michael Schur about the show and the upcoming season. When asked what he loved about his character, Nick said that he loves everything about it. “Every time I’m handed a new script,” he says, “I feel like a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention.”

After giving my condolences for Lil Sebastian (which they greatly appreciated), Nick talked about his preparation, what makes Swanson so loveable and his penchant for ‘the ballet.’

If you love the show and want some serious laughs, listening to the full audio interview is a must!

Click the audio link above or download from iTunes

Parks and Recreation premieres on Thursday, September 22 at 8:30/7:30c

First of all, I just wanted to say, rest in peace Lil Sebastian.

Michael Schur: Amen.

Nick Offerman: Amen.

Nick, how do you prepare for a scene because you’re so freaking hilarious and I’m sure what you kind of disregard as not good enough in your preparations is like my idea of perfection?

Nick Offerman: Well, I’m still in a moment of silence for little Sebastian. Just a second. All right, I’m ready. I – you know, I think – I don’t know. I don’t think I’m particularly special. I think that I’m just so lucky that my writing is so good that my main focus is to stay out of the way of the writing. If I had a bad tendency it would be to add something hilarious.

Maybe, what if I make a really funny face when I look at this poster of breakfast food and then I say, it’s clobbering time. And then I think, no, you know what, I’m just going to do what they’ve given me. And so, you know, if there’s a lesson to be had for the readers of the DailyActor.com it’s stay out of the way of the script. Don’t have the ego to think you need to add a little dash of Nick. Trust the great writing. Whether it’s (Checkoff) or Mike Schur.  

I’d like to start with you and ask about all the various Tammy’s in Ron’s life and how it’s been working with Patricia Clarkson and Paula Pell so far this season.

Nick Offerman: Well, we’ve been incredibly fortunate with the selection of ladies that have graced our stage with their presence, talent and beauty. I think what the audience will be surprised to learn is that Tammy 2, played by Megan Mullally, the gorgeous Megan Mullally, may turn out to be the most kitten-like, timid women of the Tammys. I am about as giggly as a schoolgirl to have landed in a position where I’m portraying a man who has made love to both Megan Mullally and Patricia Clarkson. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Michael Schur: I just want to make it clear for anybody listening who’s never spoken with Nick Offerman before, this is really how he talks. He’s not doing a bit. This is – that’s actually the way that he talks in normal conversation. I just want to make that clear.

Nick Offerman: Like a jackass.

Michael Schur: Like a very well-educated jackass.

Ron Swanson has taken off in such a big way, there’s Ron Swanson stuff all over the Internet. Did you guys ever expect him to be such a breakout character?

Michael Schur: I know that you can never expect anything to break out in television, especially in this very crowded landscape. I think if you asked me to lay odds on someone, one character breaking out before the pilot had aired, I might have if I were a betting man, have bet on Ron Swanson, only because he is played by Nick Offerman and has a big bushy moustache. And as far as predictions go, that’s about as good as – of information as you can have.

Nick Offerman: I – for my part, I would not have expected it, no.

Nick, do you have any idea what people are responding to with this character? He’s this grumpy guy, who kind of hates everyone. What is making him loveable?

Nick Offerman: I usually assume it’s my musk that attracts people. I keep the dander to a minimum and I keep it clean, but I use just a little bit of hibiscus oil behind each shoulder. That would be my guess.

We’ve know that the woodworking that Ron does on the show is actually a Nick Offerman thing. So I’m wondering if there are going to be more Nick Offerman things that are going to be integrated into Ron Swanson’s character this season.

Nick Offerman: Well, I have a penchant for the ballet, and I’ve been pitching the fellows for the whole time we’ve been in production for a Ron Swan Lake episode. And I haven’t heard of anything coming down the pike just yet, so…

Michael Schur: I know you can dance the Black Swan, but can you dance the White Swan?

Nick Offerman: Give me a chance, I’ll show you.

Michael Schur: And for the record, by the way, the Duke Silver saxophone playing is also a real-life Nick Offerman thing. Nick really plays the saxophone, that’s really him playing in the episode from season two. He does build canoes, that’s a – that was a Nick Offerman thing.

There’s no end. We could probably just base episodes around Nick Offerman’s real-life skills and have a long and happy run.

So word on the street is that Parks & Rec is going to take the Emmy for Best Comedy this year. How do you guys feel about that and feel about the nomination?

Michael Schur: First of all, where is this street? Because I would like to walk on it.

Nick Offerman: I think my mom lives on that street.

Michael Schur: Your mom and my mom, yeah. They’re hanging out next door to each other on the stoop going, “I think they’re going to win.”

That would be, of course, an honor and I would say a stunning honor. I am of the opinion, personally, that there is more good television, more high-quality television being produced right now than at any time in the history of television. I think that there are, you know, 20 shows in every genre that deserve recognition as being at the top of the heap.

I, you know, it would be shocking, frankly, and it would be an incredible honor. And, you know, we just like making this show and we want to make it as long as we possibly can. It’s incredibly fun.

Nick Offerman: I would just like to add what he said.

What are some of your most favorite moments from playing the role of Ron Swanson?

Nick Offerman: Gosh, probably the first one would be a phone call from Mike Schur telling me I got the job of playing Ron Swanson. Beyond that, that’s a really tough question. This is such a plum role, it’s really hard to choose favorite moments.

You know, if I started a list, we’d be on the phone for an hour and a half. I love when I get to eat meat. I love when I get to dangerously make out with my wife to the point of destroying buildings and furniture.

And I love everything about it. Every time I’m handed a new script, I feel like a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention.

Michael Schur: You guys all know that analogy, right?

Nick Offerman: You can quote me on that.

Michael Schur: That old chestnut, a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention, sure.

Is it hard to keep a straight face with all the great lines you have during the show?

Nick Offerman: It’s – I guess in a word yes. One of the hardest things about the job, when you are working with a cast of ten homerun hitters it’s simply tolerating their skill without busting out laughing.

For me especially, when Ron is supposed to be unmoved, which is quite frequently, especially in the face of Andy or Leslie just being the most amazing clown right up in my face it can be really difficult. But at the same time, that’s what makes the job so fun is when we do have a moment to break out and laugh at each other because we’re watching the funniest work going today.

Michael Shur: I will also add to that that I think – I’ve been lucky in that this has never happened to me but I know a lot of my friends or comedy writers have worked in places where for whatever reason it’s not cool to laugh. Like somehow she’s laughing it shows weakness, you know. There’s a kind of hipster comedy mindset where it’s like you’re not supposed to laugh at anything. And to me that’s the whole point.

I mean for God’s sake, what are we doing in this business? I’m an uncontrollable giggler as is Nick as is Amy as is Aziz. Everyone on our show loves to laugh and giggle. And it’s just a – it makes for such a nicer, more friendly environment. I don’t act very often but when I do I often just basically ruin every take I’m in because I just start laughing.

I forget I’m not supposed to laugh and I just start laughing. And I’m lucky that my actual day job is one that allows me to just do that as long as I’m far enough away from the set so that I don’t actually ruin their takes.

With the Emmy nomination, Parks and Recreation is getting better reception than ever. How does that affect what’s going on within the show? Has there been any difference returning to set for the fourth season?

Nick Offerman: There’s – you know, there’s been an ever burgeoning feeling of delight since we started production. And it’s a slowly rolling snowball that continues to gain mass and speed. You know, we felt from the beginning that we – against all odds have put together an incredible show that people would find really funny and really heartwarming. And we have done nothing to continue to grow in sort of critical response and audience reaction.

And it was so gratifying and so sort of validating when we got the Emmy nomination for the show. And so I think that we just generally have this feeling of grateful optimism that, you know, we tried to do something nice and people seem to agree that it’s working. So we’re just really glad that we get to keep climbing the hill, which kind of goes against the snowball rolling down the hill but you know what I’m saying.

Michael Schur: You know, we were moved to mid-season for Season 3 and what that meant was that we made all of Season 3 in a bubble. We shot every single – we wrote and shot and edited most of the episodes before the first one had even aired.

And it was a very strange kind of experiment because usually, you know, you start making the episodes and you’ve made about six of them or seven of them or something and the first one airs and you start getting feedback. And, you know, critics and fans are sort of weighing in on what they like and don’t like and so forth. But we did everything without anybody seeing any of it.

And I remember having a conversation with Amy towards the end of – we had almost finished shooting the entire season and I had this conversation with her where I said, you know, look, unless I’m crazy and I mean deeply crazy. I think this is a really great season of TV. Like, I just – I don’t have any way to know because no one’s seen it except me and our editors but I think it’s really great. And I – it was just a very strange feeling.

And so, you know, the – but I guess the point of the story is that, you know, we were happy coming to the set for all of Season 3 when no one was – had anything to say about our show because it wasn’t airing. And everyday the actors showed up and everybody was in a great mood and we – the writers wrote our scripts and we all had a ton of fun.

And I can honestly say that if none of those episodes had even ever aired I would still think about how fun it was to make that season because everyone just is a nice person and is happy and it’s just great – it’s a great job. So and I mean it’s incredibly – like Nick said, it’s very, very validating and very – it feels wonderful to have people, whether it’s critics or fans, be positive about the work that we’re doing. But it would be fun to come to this job no matter what.

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