Ron Swanson Speaks: 'Parks And Recreation's' Nick Offerman Talks Sean Hayes, Bacon And More
"Parks and Recreation" is going on a break after this week, but before it exits the NBC schedule for a month (returning April 19), it's offering up some extra Ron Swanson goodness.
Well, more accurately, Nick Offerman goodness. Thursday's episode of the sterling NBC comedy was written by Offerman, who also plays Ron Swanson, the boss of aspiring politician Leslie Knope.
In Thursday's episode, Leslie (Amy Poehler) preps for a big interview with Indianapolis heavyweight Buddy Wood, who is his city's Barbara Walters, according to "Parks and Recreation" co-creator and executive producer Michael Schur. Attention from Wood could make or break Leslie's campaign for Pawnee City Council, and not surprisingly, "he's just incredibly cocky," Schur said.
Sean Hayes guest stars as Wood, and just as Pawnee is a tight-knit town in which connections always matter, personal bonds helped "Parks and Rec" secure his services. Hayes formerly starred in "Will & Grace" with Offerman's wife, Megan Mullally (who also plays one of Ron's ex-wives on the show), and Offerman was happy to help bring him on board.
"We had always said the guy was the Matt Lauer of Indianapolis, and Sean made perfect sense," Offerman said. "I did get ahold of Sean and ask him to do it, and he delivered and then some."
On a recent visit to the "Parks and Recreation" set, I asked Offerman about enlisting Hayes, writing the Mar. 8 episode and many other things, from fanciful to serious.
When I put out the word on Twitter that I was looking for Ron Swanson/Nick Offerman questions, "Parks and Rec's" avid viewers delivered a ton of great queries, and I asked as many as I could in the time I had. Many thanks to the fans for supplying so many good questions. I especially enjoyed talking to Offerman about woodworking, his own personal Pyramid of Greatness, bacon and of course, his mustache. And don't miss the exclusive video at the bottom of this post, in which Offerman talk about the greatest accolade that he has ever received.
The following interview has been editing and slightly condensed.
What's in your personal Pyramid of Greatness?
I would probably have about a third of what Ron has in his Pyramid of Greatness -- honor, good manners, working hard, working with one's hands. I do enjoy red meat very much, although, unlike Ron, I would have more health-conscious items in my Pyramid of Greatness. There's a side of me that loves to just eat a ton of steak, and I get in trouble because I have cholesterol, because I'm not a cartoon character, I'm real ... Apparently, Ron doesn't.
[Other items include] tools, a love of animals, fishing. I love vehicles. Ron doesn't have vehicles on his pyramid, but I'm a big fan of mankind's ability to outsmart nature with sailing and with the wheel and other simple machines.
You are a noted woodworker, as is Ron. If an aspiring woodworker wanted to set up his or her own home shop, what should be their first purchase?
Their first purchase should be a subscription to Fine Woodworking magazine. Every year, they do an issue called "Tools and Shops." I read it like pornography. They have all kinds of different [articles], telling you how to set up a shop in your basement, a shop in your garage, your attic, your barn, "build your own" and all kinds of space-saving techniques -- if you only have a garage, you put all your machines on wheels.
Beyond that, the core of any shop is a table saw or a band saw. You need some hand tools -- some chisels and a block plane, a spokeshave and some Japanese pull saws. A drill press is really handy.
How did your mustache obtain superpowers?
Much like the Man of Steel, I grew up in Central Illinois, and hard work on the farm certainly had something to do with my facial follicles coming into manhood at an early age. I've rubbed a lot of pork and beef fat on my face inadvertently, and I think that can't have hurt.
Choose only one: eggs or bacon.
Bacon. I think it's self-evident. Eggs are the prudent choice, but bacon is the hedonist's choice, and that is my choice.
What if there was a zombie apocalypse, but there was bacon available?
Well, that's a whole other can of worms. If the shit goes down, bacon can only be gleaned through the death of your livestock, whereas eggs are a renewable resource. In that case, I would choose eggs, but maybe occasionally I would come across some bacon, and I would feed my chickens bacon. If I could infuse the eggs with a little bit of pork flavor…
The hybrid is the ultimate goal.
Yeah. The picken. Or the chig.
Expanding on that, if there was some kind of apocalypse and the government and internet and all institutions were gone, how would Ron Swanson deal with that? And would that be a bad thing, in his mind?
It would be sad to lose everybody, of course, it'd be tragic. But I long for the day that that happens. I think Ron, or myself, would make his way to the Vancouver area, and find himself a small island, and then build a water wheel with which he could power an entire wood shop, and then turn out boats and become incredibly wealthy by selling watercraft to the other survivors.
Why does it take so long to make a canoe?
I guess because there are a great many tiny parts to it. You can make a canoe a lot faster, [but] my canoes have approximately 60 strips of wood forming the hull. You can make a canoe with four strips of plywood. You can make a nice boat in about a week, but it's not nearly as nice-looking. There's some vanity involved. I mean, I'm making the best possible looking canoe as well as a craft that performs wonderfully.
We found out recently that Ron secretly loves puzzles and riddles. Is there anything that you secretly love that fans would be surprised to find out about?
Well, my wife loves what I call garbage television like "The Bachelor," for example. I love spending time with my wife, so I will inadvertently end up seeing a lot of something like "The Bachelor." And I love it. I understand that, like a McDonald's quarter-pounder, it's not doing me any good, but I'm happy to unwrap it.
Has Leslie influenced Ron and opened him up to the idea of maybe taking on a higher role, like assistant city manager or something like that?
[Though] Leslie continues to succeed and sort of climb the ladder, at least in Ron's estimation, I don't think Ron's distaste of government and waste of taxpayers' money will ever flag in the least. If, through some freakish turn of events, he got promoted to something like city manager, I think he would just take it as an opportunity to further try to bring down the government. If someone wanted Ron to run for Congress or President, and he thought he had a shot at it, I think he would jump at it, in the hopes that he could crumble the entire Federal government.
But if Leslie is elected to Pawnee's City Council, what does that mean for Ron?
It's a really interesting question, because she'll have her job in the city council, where she'll be a superior to the entire Parks Department, but then she'll also retain her position here, where she's still my deputy. I think that'll make for some very interesting situations.
I think, as always, Ron will support and approve of Leslie as a friend. He really admires her gumption -- we've seen him time and time again get behind her, even if he doesn't agree with what she's doing. That's because he really respects her as a friend, not because he wants the Harvest Festival to make the city money. At the same time, when she is serving any political function, he's going to bristle against her desires, just as he would with any bureaucrat he's dealing with.
Do you think it's possible to know too much about Ron Swanson?
Sure. I think so. I think that's true of any character in fiction. That's why novels aren't 10,000 pages long. You paint a picture until it becomes delicious with form and palette and line, and you have to know when to stop. You have to know when the Mona Lisa is done. And yes, I'm comparing Ron Swanson to the Mona Lisa. [Laughs.]
It's funny, being married to Megan -- for years, I saw people saying, "You and Jack made ['Will & Grace']. It should have been 'Jack & Karen.' Will and Grace should have been fired." I would always say, I appreciate the sentiment and that you're such a big fan of "Will & Grace" and I agree that they're incredibly funny, but without Will and Grace, without Seinfeld and Elaine and George -- you can't just have Kramer. You can't just have Jerry Lewis, you have to have Dean Martin for him to spit milk all over. Otherwise, you just have a crazy guy spitting milk.
It's the same thing with Ron. When people say to me, "I wish there was a Ron spinoff," I say, "Keep in mind that what you love about Ron Swanson, you get in two- to three-minute doses, and that's adding up all his scenes in the whole episode." If you had Swanson for 30 minutes solid, I think it would necessarily get old.
And a lot of the time, what we look to with Ron is his reaction to whatever other people are doing.
It's true. He's the mirror held up to the curmudgeon in us all.
We've met multiple Tammys, obviously. Will we see any of them pop up in the rest of the season, or will Ron get any other love interest?
Ron does have a little bit of [romantic] intrigue this spring. I don't think we'll see any Tammys for the rest of this season. I have heard rumblings of a juicy story for next fall for Tammy 2, but it's early in the game. But as long as the show is on, I'm sure there will always be the terrible danger that one or more Tammys will descend on Pawnee.
Could he ever marry a woman not named Tammy?
That's a good question. I think something we may explore in the future is, will Ron end up with someone and how will that happen? Does he have to be able to live outside of his Tammy habit? They don't make a gum or a patch for Tammy [addiction]. It's something I'd look greatly forward to exploring.
What if he were to meet someone who is more off the grid, more anti-government, more of a meat lover than him? As much as Ron Swanson is the distilled essence of all of that, what if he were to meet a woman who is one step further along the path of bacon enjoyment and self-sufficiency?
That's a great story idea that I am immediately going to pitch to Mike [Schur]-- that Ron meets a woman who is as you described. She out-Swansons Swanson. He's not man enough. [Offerman begins writing things down.]
I like the idea of a woman who looks at Ron Swanson and says, "You need to prove yourself to me."
That is a funny idea. And another idea that Mike asked me about is congealing right now, something that's been loosely discussed.
Two of the things I pitched and asked for [over the course of a couple of years] were 1) Please let me coach a boys' basketball team and 2) Please give me some scouts. A couple times a year, I'd say, "By the way, please give me some scouts." Sometimes those things come to pass, but then there's also a handful of things that Mike and I thought were hilarious story ideas that we'll probably never see.
On the other hand, there are story ideas [that do happen]. There's a handful of Ron and Chris Trager stories coming up. One of them is a story about Chris taking Ron for a walk in his world. It's a very simple idea but it's something that never would have occurred to me. It's a delightful story and so fun to play. It's really simple, Ron just trying to exist alongside Trager.
Can you talk a bit about writing the episode that Sean Hayes is in?
It was incredibly fun and really hard ... It's a very collaborative process, writing for any TV show, because we have a whole staff of writers. But you ultimately you have to go off and write a script on your own. Mostly it was really fun, because Mike and the writers have created such well-defined characters and we know their voices so well that it was mostly just really fun coming up with things for everyone to say. As far as writing for myself, I just really tried hard not to be too self-indulgent. When I suddenly had a page-and-a-half monologue, I was like, "This is not going to look good." But it was really fun writing for Ron.
Did you help bring Hayes on board to play Buddy Wood?
Mike was the origin of the idea and he brought it up to me and Amy and we thought Sean would be hilarious. We had always said the guy was the Matt Lauer of Indianapolis, and Sean made perfect sense. I did get ahold of Sean and ask him to do it, and he delivered and then some.
You know, even though I'm in the media, I like the way that "Parks and Rec" lampoons the media. It feels kind of right, and not really mean-spirited or lazy or vicious, like a lot of media mockery is.
I know, the first thing that people think of when lampooning the media is the snarky, Nancy Grace [slams] -- "Let me be a complete a---- with my journalism!" It's not making fun of smart, good journalism. It would be generous to say that maybe seven percent of entertainment journalism is smart and good, and then there's all the TMZ garbage [and things like that]. We don't go in that direction. ["Ya Herd With Perd" host] Perd Hapley -- he's almost an innocent. It makes sense that someone like him would not make it outside of Pawnee. He's a Pawnee-caliber talk-show host.
I like that there are so many characters like Perd and ["Pawnee Today" host] Joan Callamezzo who just come in as needed. And it seems like Sean's character could come back.
Absolutely. And it's been said about our show that even the most inconsequential, one-line character can come back with a three-episode arc. In the episode I wrote, in fact, Andy's women's studies professor comes back. The B-story is centered around her, with Andy and April and Chris Trager and myself. It's fun when we're breaking the stories [when the writers think about bringing characters back]. In a very "Simpsons"-like fashion, it continues to flesh out the world.
In terms of pursuing other roles, do you ever think about whether you'll have to deal with typecasting?
Undoubtedly. I'm going to get into rooms where if the people casting the film are fans of the show, I think they're going to be my greatest enemies, because they're going to have a hard time not seeing Ron. The hard thing is auditioning for films when we're in production. When I can take the mustache off, it makes a world of difference. It also depends on the role. If I'm reading for a cross-dressing Frenchman, I'm going to have a better shot at seeming different than if it's for a Tommy Lee Jones, grizzled ex-Marine role.
You should play a lot of grizzled ex-Marines, though. Just a thought.
It wouldn't hurt my feelings, for sure. Almost since the series started, I've been asked, "Are you afraid of being typecast or pigeonholed?" And I say, "If I had to trade hopefully eight or 10 seasons of Ron Swanson for never getting another role again, I would so happily make that trade, because I spent 17 professional years leading up to getting Ron Swanson, just looking for my dream part. I would happily just spend the rest of my life in my shop, building sailboats." It's a little insincere for me to say that, because the theater always remains [an option]. If no one will cast me in a film, I can go play anything I want to on stage.
Now that you've written for the show, would you ever consider directing?
It's funny, I don't aspire to direct or produce, but I produced a film this summer that's premiering at South by Southwest. It's called "Somebody Up There Likes Me." The filmmaker's a friend of mine, and he asked me to produce it as well as be in it, and while I don't aspire to produce or direct anything, when I'm involved with the artist and I can have a positive influence on the project, then I really enjoy it. If I can do it some good, I'm happy to step up and do it.
When I wrote my episode, the writer of each script remains on set during the shooting and acts as a producer and stays at the monitor with the director. You're always pitching new jokes and trying to fine-tune it until the bitter end. It was during that period, when I was shooting, and I was watching it on the monitors, that I desperately wanted to have more influence and [be able to] say, "Do this. No, there's a comma there!" Only then did I think, if I get the opportunity, I would really like to direct the show, for that reason -- just to try and exact my sense of humor as firmly as possible on an episode.
Today is our first day with Amy directing [Poehler directed the 20th episode of the season], and it's so much fun. She's so smart, I've loved working with her and performing her scripts already. She's as much of a clear-eyed leader as I thought she would be. The only downside is, we just did this scene where Chris Pratt is acting out a scene from a Patrick Swayze movie, very athletically, and 40 feet away, off the set, you can just hear Amy cackling. And I'm supposed to keep a straight face the whole time, watching Andy do this buffoonery. That's the hard part with Amy writing and directing -- when she laughs, it makes you want to laugh.
And watch the exclusive video below in which Offerman talks about the greatest honor he has ever received.