Nick Offerman on the Emotional ‘Parks and Rec’ Reunion and ‘Stupid, Gross’ Business of Hollywood
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” podcast, the man behind Ron Swanson shares behind-the-scenes details from “Devs” and the “Parks and Rec” quarantine reunion.
Nick Offerman has been busier than ever under quarantine.
“I keep reading about people getting to learn how to cook osso buco and make pasta from scratch and have all of this downtime they need to fill,” he tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I have yet to experience anything but a more busy schedule than when we're not in quarantine.”
The actor and his wife, Megan Mullally, have been taping episodes of their podcast In Bed with Nick and Megan from home for the past several weeks. They have been getting into “virtual bed” with their celebrity guests instead of inviting them into their actual bed as they did when the show launched late last year.
“From what I understand, if you want to do that, you have to travel to Florida or Georgia,” Offerman says dryly. When I jokingly ask if they considered moving the show to a state that has eased up on its lockdown, he adds, “We did not, because we’re not assholes.”
When he’s not podcasting or woodworking Offerman has been promoting Devs, the critically acclaimed sci-fi series from Ex Machina and Annihilation director Alex Garland, which premiered in early March and has become a welcome, bingeable distraction now that it’s available in full on FX on Hulu. His disturbingly dark performance as tech giant Forest is a major departure from the role that changed his life and defined his career, Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation.
Last month, the entire cast of Parks and Rec reunited for a special benefit episode that was by far the most successful and affecting piece of quarantine content to date. The premise of the special found the characters connecting over video chat during the pandemic, but as Offerman reveals, they each taped their own parts in isolation, without the benefit of the other actors to play against. “To my knowledge, it would be impossible to do all the scenes together,” he says, “which, when you go back and look at it, is pretty goddamn amazing.”
For Offerman, that meant filming in his real-life Los Angeles woodshop with showrunner Michael Schur and other producers on Zoom helping him set up the shots. Midway through the special, it is revealed that Ron has his ex-wife—Megan Mullally’s Tammy 2—tied up in his cabin.
He thought it was hilarious that viewers were “freaking out” on social media, asking, “‘Oh my God, why are those two people together?!’ And then they discover that we're married and it blows their minds.”
The special ends with the cast singing “5,000 Candles in the Wind,” a tribute to the miniature horse Lil’ Sebastian that has “remained a very vital part” of Offerman’s life in the years since Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer first performed it on the show nearly a decade ago. And yes, those were real tears fans saw welling up in Offerman’s eyes on screen.
“The way Ron feels about Lil’ Sebastian, not only does that make Ron tear up, but that makes me tear up,” he says. “It’s just layers upon layers of gratitude and emotion.”
The joke in the special is that Ron Swanson is perfectly suited to quarantine because he’s been “social distancing since he was 4 years old.” So is Offerman coping with quarantine better or worse than Ron? “Probably not as good as Ron,” he says, “because I am a social animal.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
How he landed the role of Forest in ‘Devs’
“I was at my woodshop one day and I got a call that Alex Garland wanted to meet with me about a new show he was doing. I've had a wonderful run of good fortune in my life, but still getting that phone call was a big surprise. I would never have thought I would be on Alex's radar, mainly being such a huge fan of Ex Machina and Annihilation. I would have played any goddamn part in that show. He was not familiar with Parks and Recreation, I eventually learned, which was pretty satisfying. It’s always my goal to have some of the audience at some point say, ‘Oh my God, that’s that guy from the other thing!’”
Why his lack of ambition has served him well in Hollywood
“I have this disposition where—and it’s served me so well in this stupid, gross business—and that is, I’ve never been terribly ambitious. I love getting to perform good writing for people, whether it’s funny or gives them a catharsis of one sort or another. When I was merely an unknown character actor and ‘Mr. Megan Mullally’ and working as a carpenter and an aspiring woodworker, I thought I had made it beyond my wildest dreams. I was like, holy cow, this life has turned out amazingly. Then when I was 38 I got Ron Swanson. And life was like, ‘Oh, by the way, things are going to get way more super crazy.’ I’ve gotten to do things beyond my wildest dreams and so that allows me to not be ambitious.”
On the ‘24’ director who told him to physically ‘rough up’ his co-star
“One of the directors I worked with was kind of misogynist. He sort of took me aside. There was a part where I had to terrorize a woman physically, kind of rough her up and scare her. And the director, he was an old-fashioned director, he took me aside and was like, ‘Why don’t you go ahead and be a little rough?’ Like really be brutal to this actress. The first thing you are taught as a stage choreographer and stage combatant is obviously, it’s fucking safety first. The most important thing is that everyone feels safe. So I said, of course, no, I’m not going to do that. So that was upsetting. So there’s things like that where you’re like, oh wow, stuff like that does exist in this business.
On acting opposite Larry David on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
“It was so fun to do. But it was really weird actually doing a couple scenes with Larry. Because he obviously is just such a comic genius and he’s so funny and he’s so specific. You sort of realize that he’s funny despite—and I don’t even mean this to disparage him—but he’s not a very good actor. Obviously it’s great, whatever he’s doing, don’t fix it. You realize the thing to do is like, bend your knees and play defense and get ready to catch Larry in case he falls in one direction or the other. But it was just so fun. It felt like you were in a scene with Bugs Bunny or something where you’re like, oh my God, this man has made me laugh so many times. Now I just have to keep my shit together.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Comedian and creator and star of Netflix’s After Life, Ricky Gervais.