Nick Offerman on life post-Ron Swanson, his tricky relationship with the Brewers
Nick Offerman might have one of the most iconic faces in the history of television.
With the help of his bushy mustache and perfectly disgruntled facial expressions – to say nothing of the rest of his delightfully droll performance – Offerman turned the bacon-loving, curmudgeonly yet quietly caring department director Ron Swanson of "Parks and Rec" into one of the most memorable characters of modern TV and one of its most unforgettable faces, so much so fans couldn't help but put his mug on the freaky CGI cast of "Cats" and the opening credits of "Full House." Because the internet.
Offerman hasn't needed any help from miscellaneous internet goofballs, however, when it comes to bringing his mug to new and unexpected projects and places post-"Parks and Rec." Since the show's conclusion in 2015, the Midwest-born actor's gone far beyond the cozy confines of Pawnee and TV comedy. Sure, he's made the occasional sitcom guest appearance, but he's also delivered a quietly effecting turn in the McDonalds origins movie "The Founder," popped up on the second season of the critically acclaimed dark Coens-inspired FX drama"Fargo" and re-teamed with that show's creator for the upcoming Natalie Portman-led awards season space drama "Lucy in the Sky."
Then there's "Devs," the upcoming FX sci-fi thriller series from Alex Garland – the fascinating mind behind "Annihilation," "28 Days Later" and "Ex Machina" – and Offerman's return to a regular TV role, albeit in very new territory: villainy. Will there be literal mustache twirling? One can only hope.
In between all of that, Offerman's also been on the road playing another role: himself, as the actor will bring his third comedy tour, "All Rise," to Milwaukee's Riverside Theater on Thursday, Sept. 12. But before his highly anticipated arrival, we chatted over the phone about life after Ron Swanson, what draws him to roles now, his plans for the Brew City stop and those bizarre all-Offerman TV and movie remakes.
But first, we had to discuss something even more disturbing than seeing his face deep-faked onto every member of the Tanner family ...
OnMilwaukee: I saw that you're a pretty big Cubs fan.
Nick Offerman: Well, I was going to have the good manners to not bring that up. But it's funny; I actually grew up traveling a lot in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and my large family from Minooka, Illinois – which is southwest of Chicago – we still drive through Wisconsin every year for our annual fishing trip. And for many years, we would stop and see a Brewers game. They were in the American League, so they were kind of like a charismatic alternative to the Chicago White Sox. Then they went and pulled a dirty trick and put them in the National League. And I'm now torn. It's like they were like a high school romance who's now married my enemy or something.
So it's a funny thing: The Brewers are one of the teams that, if the Cubs can't win it, I hope the Brewers do. But it gets weird when the two of them are at the top of the division.
My dad has the same story but flipped. He's obviously a Brewers fan, but he used to be fine being a Cubs fan when Milwaukee was in the American League. But ever since they joined the same league, he's been very conflicted.
We need Robin Yount back in our lives.
I've been seeing your face more than usual lately thanks to these weird deep fake videos putting Ron Swanson's face on the cast of "Cats" or "Full House." What are you thoughts on that? Creepy or the ultimate sign of respect?
(Laughs) Well, my siblings – my two sisters especially – definitely come down on the side of creepy. I'm just astonished by the timing of when Ron Swanson came along and the inexplicable positive fan reaction to him, which coincided with the advent of GIFs and memes. So this has been going on for years, where people sent me stuff all the time where they use my face or some sort of image of Ron Swanson in many ways like this. I suppose this has got to be the peak of that, the ultimate. The "Full House" deep fake video, I just shake my head and say, "God, what a time to be alive." Through no fault of my own, I ended up being the mug that people think is hilarious to do things with. I think it's best for my health if I just laugh and appreciate it and take it as a compliment. (laughs)
What is it like living with the specter of this iconic TV character? Is it harder or easier – especially when you and Ron Swanson have some similarities, like the passion for woodworking. Is it tough having that character always hanging over you?
Thankfully, it's been mostly terrific. The biggest downside is probably being approached by people at the airport or in public or at restaurants, but I learned early on from my wife a very good lesson, which is if it wasn't for those people who want to take a picture with you, then you wouldn't have such a cool job. That's one of many wonderful pieces of wisdom she's laid on me, and it's always stuck with me. It's easy to maintain the mindset in public when I am approached that it's the world saying, "You are one lucky bastard." So I don't know, I guess I feel very grateful that the audience seems to be letting me play other roles.
When we were making "Parks and Rec" and it became popular and Ron Swanson gained his own anomalous popularity, I got asked that a lot in interviews: Are you worried that you'll get so associated with this character that you'll never work again? (laughs) And I would say if I had to make a deal, seeing what Ron Swanson and "Parks and Rec" has become, that I could do seven years of Ron Swanson but I could never work again in TV or film, I would make that deal. Because I never dreamed that I would fall in with a group of writers so brilliant and a cast so incredibly collaborative and genius and incredibly prolific. The amount of comedy that came out of those eight or ten people, I would happily understand that it's like winning the lottery seven years in a row. I would make that deal.
You're doing other things as well – including a new show for FX, "Devs," with creator Alex Garland.
Since "Parks and Rec," I've been trying to choose projects that they make me feel. Specifically when I read a script, if it just feels like a good job – which I've been offered many of since "Parks and Rec" – it doesn't move me to say, "OK, I want to commit three months or six months or five years of my life to this film or TV series; it just feels like a good job." Which is such a weird place to be in, because 15 years ago, as a working actor, I would've given my left arm for such a job. But now that I've lived through the phenomenon of "Parks and Rec," I'm unmoved by those because my rent is covered. I have all the socks I need.
My incentives now are specifically that I need a script to move me and make me feel like this is moving me, and/or all of us, forward in some way. That it's taking a swing at the ultimate job of the artist, which is to move humanity in some kind of medicinal way – to make us more tolerant or just to ease our pain with laughter. It's an ever shifting landscape.
Frankly, I'm a huge fan of Alex Garland, who wrote and directed "Devs" – specifically his films "Ex Machina" and "Annihilation." So when I got the call that he wanted to meet with me for this show, I was immediately moved in that way. I'm hoping to work with this kind of visionary brain, to feel like I'm continuing to ascend in my work. It'd be very easy to stay in Hollywood and crank out television comedies for another 30 years, but the batting average of those is much more difficult – especially coming off "Parks and Rec." If I may make an analogy, it's like having a young Bryce Harper season or two and then everyone's watching you for the next 15 years thinking, "Nope, not quite what he was." (laughs)
Knowing Garland, I imagine the role on "Devs" is a very different role than what people might expect.
Yeah, that thrills me. I come from theater, and because of "Parks and Rec" – and if people hear that I came through Chicago – they think I'm from the comedy pipeline that produces people for "Saturday Night Live." But I never set foot in any of those places.
I come from straight theater. That doesn't mean that I'm not interested in being funny – I obviously love performing comedy – but in the theater, you prepare whatever's in the season. So I'm ready to slip on a banana peel and make you laugh, but I'm just as prepared to stab a protagonist and make you hate me in a deep drama, and everything in between.
So my work in "Devs," I'm terribly excited for the audience to see a completely other side of me. Because that's what I do: I'm an actor. My dream for any job is for the audience to say, "Oh, that's that guy from the other thing?!" To sort of fool people with appearance and manner, so that they don't see everything and say, "Oh, that's Ron Swanson."
You've got your upcoming show coming to Milwaukee, the "All Rise" tour. What can people expect from your appearance, and what's your goal with this upcoming tour?
This is my third tour; the first two were called "American Ham" and "Full Bush." And they're just a blast. I love specifically writing funny songs and performing them on a guitar. That joke delivery system just thrills me to no end. I never get tired of it.
So I've got seven new songs. The opening song is called "We Effed It Up," about the state of affairs in our country but also on the planet. It sort of details the acrimonious mess that we're in, with everybody shaking their first at each other. But if you take a step back from that fray, it's easy to discern that we've done this to ourselves – especially in America. We did this. We get to vote for what we have and so everyone's screaming at each other, and part of the show is to say, "Hey you guys, no one's doing this to you except you. If you don't like it, we've been given the means by which we can change it. So maybe let's make fun of ourselves here for about 90 minutes."
There's a funny song about people who don't believe in science. There's a veritable paean to Brett Kavanaugh. There's a beautiful ballad about a worker bee named Billy Bob Bill. And I always love closing my show with some kind of rousing or emotional anthem, because I know that my vehicle, my delivery system, is to make people laugh. But I was brought up with a strong sense of values and work ethic, so that's the broccoli that I try to hide in the pizza. So that the audience leaves feeling like they had a delicious treat but maybe they also leave a little more polite or a little more open minded.
It's definitely I think the funniest of my shows so far – which I would hope would be the case. I did the freshman show and my sophomore show, so now I'm a junior and I'm hoping to make varsity. Especially in Milwaukee, the people of Wisconsin always feel like family to me. Maybe it's because my show will be fueled by bratwurst and cheese curds and a hefeweizen.
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