He's Ron F*cking Swanson: Nick Offerman Discusses His Hit 'Parks & Recreation' Character

06/08/2011 02:10 pm ET | Updated Aug 08, 2011

Now an icon of comedic subtlety, it is perhaps appropriate that the legend that is Ron Swanson was born of motionless hilarity. It was in the second episode of the second season of "Parks & Recreation" -- just the show's eighth installment, following a brief late season debut the year before -- that Nick Offerman, playing the lumberjack libertarian in charge of Pawnee's Parks Department, stole the show without moving a single muscle.

In an episode that introduced a number of critical, season-long narrative arcs, it was Swanson, bound to his chair by a blown hernia and pride, who won the most laughs as he furrowed his brow, crinkled his iconic thick mustache and winced defiantly, "I was born ready. I'm Ron F*cking Swanson."

The episode embodies his character, the subtle woodshed of a man who draws laughs in the spaces between the lines.

"That was a favorite. I never thought I'd be so lucky to just get a job where I get my biggest laughs either remaining silent or sitting still," Offerman laughed in a conversation with The Huffington Post. "One eyebrow carries a thousand thunderclouds."

Swanson is the reluctant elder statesman of the department, a one-time antagonist who has transformed into a wise (woodworking) owl of sorts, gruffly guiding his charges through their various insane dilemmas and problems.

"[Show runner] Mike Schur and the writers have talked about how, Mike and Greg Daniels envisioned Ron as more of an antagonist, not quite a villain, but definitely more of the dark cloud around the show," he said. "And once we started developing the show, they saw that there were a lot of great meals to be had at the hands of his relationship with Leslie. That even though he stands firmly against her policy, he respects her and likes her as a person, and so that creates a much more interesting conflict for him."

Indeed, Offerman's chemistry with Leslie Knope, the zany go getter of a deputy director portrayed by series lead Amy Poehler, is a large part of the show's success; as the emotional center of the series, they play off each other's highs and lows to heart warming results. But as an ensemble comedy, there is a large cast of beloved characters who need his stoic advice.

"That sort of bled over to all the other characters; he gets parental sometimes with [young married shoe shiner and curmudgeonly assistant] Andy and April, and even Tom Haverford [the club-going, scheming but ultimately lovable assistant to Leslie, played by Aziz Ansari], who he admires for his inability to get anything done at work," the star laughs. "There are times when he takes him aside and talks about women or other life pursuits, and I'm thrilled that it turned out that way, because it's made for a much more delicious, complex character to play."

Delicious is a word often on Swanson's mind; one of his best known quirks is his love of breakfast food. Indeed, in one episode that takes the crew to a strip club, he pays no mind to the women dancing around for him; instead, he lines up for plate after plate at the free buffet they offer. It's a subject on which both Offerman and his character are experts.

"Speaking for both Ron and myself, the key to a breakfast buffet is to have, first of all, have a very light dinner the night before, so you roll in with an appetite," he offers. "And then, I would have to get two or three plates on my tray. You've got the simple basics: you've got bacon as well as pork sausage, corn beef hash, a couple, maybe three eggs over easy and two scrambled. Then half a loaf of rye toast, buttered. On a side plate, two pancakes and I like to make pancakes with pieces of bacon in them. I do two versions. One has bacon, or bacon blueberry pancakes. You'd be surprised. And plenty of piping hot coffee, a ham of meat and well done hash browns."

A hearty meal for a red blooded American. And a red-politicking American, too. One of Swanson's recurring themes is his absolute disdain for the government in which he works. If he had his way, he'd be unemployed, because government would just be a guy in a room with his finger on a nuke button if needed. But then, he's no fool, either. To wit, when asked whether Swanson would support a Sarah Palin presidential run, Offerman hesitated to go that far.

"Gosh, I don't know. I guess there could be comedy drawn from Ron supporting an idiot like her, but I think that, I don't know -- I think Ron doesn't suffer fools gladly, [though] Ron might be attracted to Sarah Palin."

There is one hyperconservative that Offerman's other self loves, however.

"I know he's got a thing for Ann Coulter. Oh yeah, god. That was just something I brought in. I was like, if you open one of the files, one of the cabinet doors, there's like a centerfold of Ann Coulter," he laughed heartily. "She has this, like the cover of one of her books she's in like, a leather outfit, and I really think that she rides that really hard. That like a lot of the sort of Cheney club are like,' we have the hottest goddamn she-devil.'"

On the other hand, Knope is a strong liberal, an admirer of Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and other strong, women leaders from the Democratic Party. That creates tension in her and Swanson's working relationship, but part of the attractiveness of the show is that they're able to put politics aside to work and live together.

"One thing I really like about the show is that, even though it's a show literally set about the government, the show doesn't focus on politics, and instead, it focuses on people with really polarized political beliefs working side by side," Offerman said. "And so, the entire writers' room and crew and transpo department, are smarter than me when it comes to politics, and so I really enjoy the way they humanize everybody's different political bents."

Coming together to make a difference: it sounds like a value most politicians could use. The rest of Pawnee, though, is a bit of a political hotbed, with angry citizens screaming at town hall meetings and making trouble for the Parks Department. Interestingly, that discord, not the harmony, that seems to resonate with most real viewers.

"I've got to say, since I got this job, all over the country, people will approach me and say, 'My dad is in the parks department' or 'Every week, my mom is on the city council so we have these meetings once a month,' and by and large, what people tell us is, you guys, we love your show, you're kind of hitting it exactly on the head," he said, amazed. "And it's always disturbing. People are like, 'You know that guy who wanted to burn the children? That's exactly what my uncle's like!' And we're like, 'Oh, wow, he should maybe be imprisoned. It's upsetting.' And so, we point up certain attributes like Midwestern obesity and things like that, so hopefully the real places are not quite so fat and insane."

Suggest a correction