Interview with Nick Offerman & Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Michael Schur from Parks and Recreation

I had a great time on today’s Parks and Recreation conference call with Nick Offerman (“Ron Swanson”) and creator/writer/executive producer Michael Schur. Nick Offerman was hilarious, and from the way he answered questions, he didn’t seem a whole lot different than Ron Swanson! Sadly, during my question about the use of improv on the show, the sound of the phone cut out, and no one could hear the answer. Here are some of the highlights of the conversation:

On what it was like working with Patricia Clarkson and what Tammy 1 is like

Michael Schur: She’s in the first two episodes of the year and we have shot both of them and edited – mostly edited both of them, so we’re almost done with her, sadly.

Nick Offerman: Well, we’ve been incredibly fortunate with the selection of ladies that have graced our stage with their presence, talent and beauty. I think what the audience will be surprised to learn is that Tammy 2, played by Megan Mullally, the gorgeous Megan Mullally, may turn out to be the most kitten-like, timid women of the Tammys. I am about as giggly as a schoolgirl to have landed in a position where I’m portraying a man who has made love to both Megan Mullally and Patricia Clarkson. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Michael: [I don’t want to] spoil too much about the character, I would say that she is very different from Tammy 2’s character. The relationship she has with Ron is not a sort of hedonistic, animal attraction, pure and simple that we’ve seen before. They have a much different, more complicated, more kind of rich back story that we get into and delve into.

And we just – I mean, the point of casting Patricia Clarkson was to let her be Patricia Clarkson, and I think we accomplished that. And we just wanted to do something very different from Megan’s character and I think we accomplished that as well. So we’re very excited for people to see it.

We’re just worried that if we go into too great of detail about who she is and what she does for a living and how she knows Ron and all that stuff that it’ll be kind of anticlimactic when you finally meet her.
 
Jump with us to see what else they had to say.
 

On whether or not we’ll see a Tammy 3 this season—if Ron is on the prowl for his next Tammy

Michael: I think if it were up to Ron he would probably never meet another woman named Tammy as long as he lived. But, you know, Ron’s love life to this point has been mostly about the past. It’s about his ex-wives and his past loves.

And I mean he’s had a – he did date Wendy, Tom’s ex-wife for a while and there have been some other romantic interludes, maybe reference or something. But, you know, after the first two episode of the season air we will have met both of his ex-wives and I think, you know, the writers have spent a little bit of time…I think we are going to at some point want to – we do want to do some kind of romance story with Ron down the line.
 

On whether or not they expected Ron Swanson to take off in such a big way & be such a breakout character

Michael: I know that you can never expect anything to break out in television, especially in this very crowded landscape. I think if you asked me to lay odds on someone, one character breaking out before the pilot had aired, I might have if I were a betting man, have bet on Ron Swanson, only because he is played by Nick Offerman and has a big bushy moustache. And as far as predictions go, that’s about as good as – of information as you can have.

I’m not surprised that he has broken out, I would say. I mean, I think that he’s a character who’s not that common on TV. He’s a big, strong man who doesn’t care about pop culture or the world around him.

He’s sort of a 19th century individualist who lives – likes to spend time alone in a cabin and hunt and stuff, and it’s just not a character you see a lot, especially in a comedy show. So I would never in my life have predicted anything would break out from any show. But it’s not surprising to me that if there is a breakout character, quote unquote, that you would say it’s Ron.

Nick: I – for my part, I would not have expected it, no.

I usually assume it’s my musk that attracts people. I keep the dander to a minimum and I keep it clean, but I use just a little bit of hibiscus oil behind each shoulder. That would be my guess.
 

On whether or not they’ve explored the why or how of how Ron got into the government when he hates it so much

Mike: As far as how Ron got into government, when Greg Daniels and I were developing this show, we had this idea that the head of the department would be a libertarian. And we thought that that was funny but also kind of unrealistic until we were doing research and we talked to a woman in a local government here in California, and we said, “Listen, we have this idea that the guy who runs the department would be a libertarian. Is that – does that strain credulity?”

And she said, “Oh no, I’m a libertarian.” And we said, “You’re kidding.” And she said, “No. I’m aware of the irony, but yes, I’m a libertarian.”

And we thought, all right. And it turned out that her husband was also a libertarian and he also worked in the government and as we poked around more and more, we found that there were a lot of kind of true believers who were libertarians who got into government precisely to try to sort of keep a lid on it and minimize it. My father was in the Navy for many, many years in the Navy Reserve and he was a vowed pacifist, and he did ROTC to get through college.

And it was the same kind of thing where his argument was, we should have the Navy – the Armed Forces should be rife with pacifists so that we don’t get into unnecessary wars. And if the people who were in the military have this attitude that war is a complete last resort, then the world would be better off. And so that was sort of partly the genesis of it. But it turns out that there are a lot of libertarians who go into government for precisely that reason.
 

On whether or not there will be more Nick Offerman “things” that Ron Swanson will do, like the woodworking

Nick: Well, I have a penchant for the ballet, and I’ve been pitching the fellows for the whole time we’ve been in production for a Ron Swan Lake episode. And I haven’t heard of anything coming down the pike just yet, so…

Michael: I know you can dance the Black Swan, but can you dance the White Swan?

Nick: Give me a chance, I’ll show you.

Michael: There is actually an episode that we’re doing a redo for today that has a little bit of a real-life Nick Offerman in it. I’ll try not to give anything away except to say home repair, how about that? There’s a little home repair that goes in a future episode.

And for the record, by the way, the Duke Silver saxophone playing is also a real-life Nick Offerman thing. Nick really plays the saxophone, that’s really him playing in the episode from season two. He does build canoes, that’s a – that was a Nick Offerman thing.

There’s no end. We could probably just base episodes around Nick Offerman’s real-life skills and have a long and happy run.
 

On some of his most favorite moments from playing the role of Ron Swanson

Nick: Gosh, probably the first one would be a phone call from Mike Schur telling me I got the job of playing Ron Swanson. Beyond that, that’s a really tough question. This is such a plum role, it’s really hard to choose favorite moments.

You know, if I started a list, we’d be on the phone for an hour and a half. I love when I get to eat meat. I love when I get to dangerously make out with my wife to the point of destroying buildings and furniture.

And I love everything about it. Every time I’m handed a new script, I feel like a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention.

Michael: You guys all know that analogy, right?

Nick: You can quote me on that.

Michael: That old chestnut, a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention, sure.
 

On whether or not Mike has ever gotten any notes from the network about how to change or “improve” the show and its characters

Michael: Well, I’ll answer that in two ways – two parts. Part one is to say that I’m often asked questions about NBC and their potential interference or meddling in the show. And there’s a kind of expectation I think that network – that shows succeed in spite of networks or something.

And I can only speak to my own experience but they’ve been nothing but great. Their notes on our show are smart and their interference or whatever you want to call it it’s fairly minimal. They leave the storey breaking to us. They leave the rewrites to us. They give – they offer their suggestions.

They give good notes when they – strong notes when they really feel something but they never give notes that they can’t be argued out of or if they want to sort of engage in a discussion with us – it’s really kind of a dream creatively. And I think they deserve a lot of credit for how they’ve gone about their business.

And as far as Ron specifically goes, I can honestly say that not – with Ron or with any other character they have never said once to me go more in that direction, you know. We want to play that up or do more of this, less of this. Like, they really don’t operate that way, at least they haven’t with us.

And they love Ron like we do. They love Tom and they love Andy and they love April and Ann and Leslie and Chris and Ben. They love all the characters and they’re very, very – just sort of positive and supportive all the way around. It’s incredibly disappointing for people sometimes but it’s really true.

They’ve never – you know, as, you know – in the early going, maybe Tom was breaking out because Aziz is a little sparkplug and has so much charisma. They never said, yes, chase that, make this the Aziz show. You, know, when Ron was breaking out they never said, yes, go – now it’s the Ron Swanson show. They’ve just never done that. They don’t operate that way to my delight.

So it’s been – I’ve had a great relationship with them. I believe Greg has as well. I’ll speak for him on this point at least. We’ve had really great relationships with all the creative executives at NBC.

Nick: I will say that I did put in a request that my catchphrase would be it’s clobbering time. And I was told that that had already been taken.

Michael: It was taken, yes. And it was, of course, Archie Bunker’s catchphrase on All in the Family. It was Mary Tyler Moore’s catchphrase.
 

On whether or not it is hard to keep a straight face with all the great lines he has during the show

Nick: It’s – I guess in a word yes. One of the hardest things about the job, when you are working with a cast of ten homerun hitters it’s simply tolerating their skill without busting out laughing.

For me especially, when Ron is supposed to be unmoved, which is quite frequently, especially in the face of Andy or Leslie just being the most amazing clown right up in my face it can be really difficult. But at the same time, that’s what makes the job so fun is when we do have a moment to break out and laugh at each other because we’re watching the funniest work going today.

Michael: I will also add to that that I think – I’ve been lucky in that this has never happened to me but I know a lot of my friends or comedy writers have worked in places where for whatever reason it’s not cool to laugh. Like somehow she’s laughing it shows weakness, you know. There’s a kind of hipster comedy mindset where it’s like you’re not supposed to laugh at anything. And to me that’s the whole point.

I mean for God’s sake, what are we doing in this business? I’m an uncontrollable giggler as is Nick as is Amy as is Aziz. Everyone on our show loves to laugh and giggle. And it’s just a – it makes for such a nicer, more friendly environment. I don’t act very often but when I do I often just basically ruin every take I’m in because I just start laughing.

I forget I’m not supposed to laugh and I just start laughing. And I’m lucky that my actual day job is one that allows me to just do that as long as I’m far enough away from the set so that I don’t actually ruin their takes.
 

On whether or not we’ll see Ron bond with anyone else this coming season, as he has with Andy, April, & Leslie

Nick: No.

Michael: I don’t know. That – to me, my favorite aspect of Ron is when the cracks show in the façade. You know, in the Flu Season episode last year he started off by saying that the best friend he ever had was a guy whose name he didn’t know, who he worked with for three years and never learned his name, you know.

And then by the end of that episode Andy was – he was doing something really nice for Andy and Andy was hugging him very warmly. And I think that’s the most fun part of Ron to me is when his sort of crusty, individualistic exterior is cracked in half by the sweet and warm attention from one of the people he works with. And we get to see that he really does care about those people.

And I think at this point we’ve sort of seen that. I mean we’ve certainly seen it with Andy and April. We’ve seen it with Leslie. We’ve sort of seen it with Tom. I would say if there’s one person this year that you’re going to see more of it would be maybe Tom.
 
 
Thanks again to Nick and Mike for an informative and entertaining call. Be sure to watch the season 4 premiere of Parks and Recreation> on NBC on September 22 at 8:30/7:30c!

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