Nick Offerman interview: ‘I would absolutely play Ron Swanson again’

‘Parks and Recreation’ star Nick Offerman talks about reuniting with Amy Poehler, his TV shows of choice and Donald Trump

Jacob Stolworthy
Friday 23 June 2017 13:06 BST
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The actor is aware he's largely considered a supporting player than a lead
The actor is aware he's largely considered a supporting player than a lead

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Nick Offerman may perhaps be best known for playing Ron Swanson, the director of Pawnee's Parks and Recreation Department in the NBC sitcom of the same name, but look beneath the surface and there's an oeuvre the uninitiated may be pleasantly surprised to discover.

Offerman's improv background led to initial roles in US sitcom George Lopez and Adult Swim medical drama parody Childrens Hospital, but if it's more of the actor's serious roles you're after, they're certainly there to be found: single father Frank in The Kings of Summer (2013), alcoholic lawyer Karl Weathers in season two of Noah Hawley's acclaimed series Fargo (2015) and, most recently, Dick McDonald in fast food chain origin story The Founder.

The multi-talented actor – who runs a side business as a wood craftsman – is aware he's largely considered a supporting player than a lead. “The industry is not breaking my door down to get me in stuff,” Offerman says with an ounce of relief. “I’m very lucky to have more than one hat to wear to work.”

The Founder - Trailer

Your career has seen an exciting blend of comedic roles, serious roles and voice work [The Lego Movie , the Oscar-nominated My Life as a Courgette]. Do you have a preference?

Oh boy. I don’t. I’m very lucky to have more than one hat to wear to work. I’m not particularly ambitious – I don’t have any overreaching goals in any one field. Both my wife [Will & Grace star Megan Mullally] and I love to just be involved with good writing and whether that’s on stage or television and film really doesn't make a big difference. As long as anybody is still buying my brand of ignorance, I’m very grateful.


Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Marc Evan Jackson star in the 2013 film ‘The Kings of Summer’ 

 Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Marc Evan Jackson star in the 2013 film ‘The Kings of Summer’ 
 (Rex)

I saw The Founder on the same day Donald Trump was elected President and was shocked to find some disturbing parallels in Michael Keaton's narcissistic lead character, Ray Kroc. Was that a coincidence?

It was certainly not lost on us but it was an absolute coincidence because the film was in development for nine or ten years. We shot it before the campaign really even ramped up. Donald Trump was a pre-joke while we were making the film. Then when it came out, the election was over and we were ramping up for his inauguration, and the parallels were just uncanny.

It's a pretty fascinating time for the world. Megan and I happened to be in London when Brexit went down. It’s really interesting; we’re sort of learning as a world population the pros and cons of our devotion to capitalism and how the sandwiches that we’re being sold are perhaps not as nutritious as the labelling might have us believe.

Speaking of The Founder, what are your wider views on the character of Ray Kroc? His story really splits audiences.

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I had the general picture but what I was surprised to learn was the personal story of the McDonald brothers and the way the whole transaction went down between them and Ray Kroc. So when I got the script, I was really titillated but also nervous because I said, “Is this going to lionise or tell the true story?” By the time I read it, I said: “Holy cow, this is the best part I've ever been offered.” From the moment I read the script to seeing the final product, I found Ray Kroc to be a fascinating conundrum because on one hand it can’t be argued that he is a legendary capitalist – he had a vision that he voraciously chased and saw made manifest – but also you have to say: “Okay, you win the trophy for making money, but – if you bring ethics into the question – at what cost? How much is your integrity worth? How successful are you if you make a great deal of money while causing worldwide obesity?” To make a hypothetical example.

Offerman's character Dick McDonald in 'The Founder' has his company pulled from him and his brother by businessman Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton
Offerman's character Dick McDonald in 'The Founder' has his company pulled from him and his brother by businessman Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton (Studio Canal)

Would you say the film and TV scripts you receive now are better than ever?

The industry is not breaking my door down to get me in stuff. I’m grateful that I get to work consistently but I don’t see a great expanse of what’s going on in the business, so it's interesting to me that I think really good writing has transitioned now from mainstream film to independent film to cable television series.

One thing I enjoy a lot is the writing of my friend Mike Schur who created Parks and Rec and now has a show called The Good Place. He wrote an episode of Black Mirror last year with Rashida Jones. Him and Damon Lindelof, who did Lost and The Leftovers, and then Noah Hawley with his work on Fargo and Legion, and Jill Soloway with Transparent. [These are] writers that are kind of breaking down genre – exploding the rules of what you can do with a series. For years we’ve been seeing the divisions erode between drama and comedy. We’ve shattered this idea that a TV comedy has to be 30 minutes or multi-cam and so forth. I don’t know if I'm qualified to speak to if it’s better or worse – I don’t think I've seen enough of a breadth of what’s going on. I also don’t know that I have the faculty to analyse the field of writing; I don’t have a big enough noggin to wrap my head around it all.

Would you return to Fargo in a different role for a future season if asked by Hawley?

Oh sure. I'm a theatre actor first and foremost. I love nothing more than transforming, my favourite thing to do is be unrecognisable. I did a great Sundance movie in about 2003 called The Go-Getter. It was my own tiny Kind Hearts and Coronets. Long before Parks and Rec, Sundance movies were kind of my bread and butter. I would never be up for the lead; I'd be reading for the very interesting bus mechanic, the one who saves the kid at the end. So I’d go into these auditions and I would pore over the script and say, “Hey, there’s this sweet corn salesman in these two scenes, so just to hedge my bets, I'm versatile – I can do a couple of these roles.” So a director was finally charmed by the idea in my audition for The Go-Getter and he ended up offering me the two parts I'd read for. He also came up with a third and so I ended up playing three parts in this movie, and no one ever knows. It's something that I really enjoy – every couple of years someone says, “Holy cow, this guy without fanfare played these three little roles.”

There's a great actor named Garrett Dillahunt who was on Deadwood in two major different roles. I was always so envious of his beautiful work on that show because to me that is the greatest: to get to work with a great writer like Noah or [Deadwood creator] David Milch and have them think enough of you to bring them back as your crippled cousin.

Would you consider a Ron Swanson prequel or spin-off?

Sure. In order for something like that to happen, it would mean that the show creators would feel that they had a valid reason to tell some more stories in that world with this character. If that were the case I would absolutely sign on as long as I'm still on my feet, because I think there’s no writer I appreciate more than Mike Schur. He's one of the smartest comedy writers I've ever come across, but more importantly, he has such a high level of integrity and empathy in his writing.

What can you tell me about the reunion with your Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler on The Handmade Project?

I’m incredibly excited about it. It's in development at the moment so I haven't seen any actual scripts but as it’s been described to me, it’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart in that it’s celebrating people who make things with their hands. I think that everybody has an inherent crafting skill –I think everybody’s got to be good at something. To me, it’s woodworking. Much more than the joy of making a table, which has incredible rewards in and of itself, [it's] why I'm doing it: I'm not online, I'm not getting into snarky fights with anybody, I'm not at the pub drinking too much, I'm not spending my time in a negative fashion – I'm spending my time in a productive fashion. The end result is my clients or my loved ones' lives are improved in some way by what I've made with my hands. And so that philosophy and lifestyle is something I'm really excited to celebrate with The Handmade Project. I also think it’s going to be so fun to clown around with Amy again.

‘The Founder’ is available on digital download, Blu-ray and DVD now. ‘My Life as a Courgette’ is currently in select UK cinemas

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