Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
March 4, 2013
On NBC’s fantastic “Parks and Recreation,” Nick Offerman has turned Ron Swanson into such a spectacular, hilarious symbol of contained emotion and old-fashioned, meat-and-potatoes masculinity that it feels necessary to establish that Nick Offerman is not Ron Swanson.
“I love musicals like crazy,” says the 42-year-old Minooka, Ill., native, whose new film “Somebody Up There Likes Me” opens March 8. “I think I have a frustrated Broadway chorus member somewhere in me. And so while I can watch ‘The Sound of Music’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ over and over again, I think Ron would rather eat glass.”
Like Swanson, Offerman enjoys woodworking (he has his own shop, which you can visit at offermanwoodshop.com) and displays paramount respect for women (particularly his real-life wife and frequent co-star, Megan Mullally). In the funny-but-shallow “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” Offerman plays another casual authority figure as Sal, a waiter who’s the only friend of Max (Keith Poulson), an obnoxious sleaze whose inability to commit to women doesn’t stop them from committing to him. At least for a little while.
By phone from L.A., Offerman talked about good-looking jerks' success with women, being the “sissy” of his family and his much-heralded marriage that merely “recognized a good thing to hang on to.”
FYI: Offerman will attend the film’s 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. screenings Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9 at Music Box. $10.
Something that struck me about “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is that Max is not a particularly nice guy when it comes to women, yet he has a lot of success in that department. What do you make of that, and how often do you see that happening in real life?
Oh. That’s a good question. I feel like that’s sadly a pretty common situation where people who are insecure, they don’t love themselves and so they don’t give the appropriate amount of love to those in relationships with them. And it’s an oft-documented case when you see women who were mistreated in their youth then look for relationships where they receive some sort of emotional abuse. It happens all too often, especially when the protagonist, when the fellow is cute, as Max happens to be. So many nice guys out there who aren’t quite as cute, who maybe are handy at woodworking, or you might call character actors, watching these guys knock ‘em down and saying, “Gosh, I wish you would turn your gaze over to a sweet fellow like myself.”
Woodworking being a totally hypothetical example.
Yeah. To make a “for instance.”
So anyone who sees the film and says, “Max could never get those women,” should realize this happens all the time?
Oh, sure. That certainly never occurred to me that it was unlikely in any way. A great percentage of relationships have some sort of imbalance like that, and that’s why so many don’t work out.
If you were a server, what’s something you just would not tolerate out of a customer?
I guess, depending on what food it was, I wouldn’t tolerate throwing food. Unless it was funny. If you can nail your sibling in the kisser with a spoonful of mashed potatoes, I’m going to have to allow that.
Nothing else, though?
Yeah, a hard roll, that can take out an eye. Or at least provide a bit of a flesh wound.
What if they were throwing a steak into your mouth?
Well, that’s a horse of an entirely different color.
In a matter of two minutes or less in the film, your character throws a young girl into a pool and gives a beer to a minor. Which is worse?
Well, throwing children into a pool is something I’d like to see a lot more of. Need to remind them who’s in charge, especially in this day and age. I don’t know; one beer isn’t going to hurt anybody. [Laughs.] I think I was five when I was tasked with supplying the members of the card table in my dad’s kitchen with fresh bottles of Old Milwaukee and Schlitz. They’d always leave me about a half-inch at the bottom of the bottle to put away before I [sent] the bottle back to the case.
How did you feel about it at that time? Most would say beer is an acquired taste; were you six when it was acquired?
Yeah, I didn’t start drinking it regularly until I was six or seven. [Laughs.] I grew up in a family of working people, and beer is a very ubiquitous beverage around the farm. So the youngsters start working like adults pretty early on in a farm family, and so it’s not long--if you put in a long, hard day--before your grandpa says, “You’ve earned a beer.” But I think they would frown on two beers. We’re not reprobates.
You’ve talked about becoming an icon for manliness but have called yourself the “sissy” of the family. Was there something in particular you were referring to? Why do you see yourself that way?
Well, my family, I come from this family of American, salt-of-the-earth, bucolic folk who all inexplicably work as farmers, schoolteachers, librarians, paramedics and nurses. I think that covers my entire family. And so they’re all incredibly hard-working, decent people. And I am the one who said, “I’m going to mince about in a humorous way.”
You said those words exactly, I’m sure.
I did. I said, “Mom and dad [laughs], I’m going to mince about and entertain people with my whiskers and my japes.” I think it’s pretty easy looking at that particular balance to call me the sissy of my family. “You guys can go deal with a classroom full of 30 unruly kids. I’m going to make a funny face and eat a sandwich.”
How much do family members give you crap about that now?
They’re pretty tolerant. They were brought up very well. They have good manners and so when we get together I still am the worst smart-ass in the family. So some things never change. I still try and get a rise out of my sisters whenever possible.
I interviewed your “Smashed” co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead last year, and she said you and Megan are the best couple in the world and should win a trophy for it. It seems you get a lot of compliments like this. How much do you think about the fact that as people who are clearly very happy, very much in love and very demonstrative about that, some see that as an awesome exception to the norm?
I guess it points up the fact to me that we’re incredibly lucky. We definitely commit a lot of attention and nurturing to our marriage, but beyond that I think we’re just incredibly lucky to find each other because to us, we didn’t have a master plan of, “Here’s how we will craft the perfect relationship.” Instead, we fell into it and recognized a good thing to hang on to. To hear people say … that’s so incredibly sweet. I think that just makes me feel really lucky, and I hope that everyone can find their ideal mate because it makes life so much more worth living.
How often do fans try to finagle a double date with you two?
Not very often. We’ve been very lucky, Megan and I have. For some reason our fans in general treat us with a certain amount of respect. And so we don’t often get too much weirdness from them. We’re incredibly grateful to our fans in general because as Megan taught me early on, without our fans we wouldn’t have the cool jobs that we have. But you hear these stories of weirdness from other people and for one reason or another, there’s always some sort of deferential treatment where people don’t bother us too much. And we’re very grateful for that.
I read the A.V. Club interview in which you gave romantic advice, and I watched your recent performance with Megan of “Smell Yo’ Dick.” It seems you two have a consistent interest in male genitalia, not to mention your old headshot [which featured Nick holding a giant prosthetic penis]. Why does that continue to abound with you?
Ah, yes. Well, I think that’s a classic theatrical icon. I’m not the first performer to think that hanging your hog out of your jeans is hilarious. We’re simply relying on the tried and true tricks of the trade. I can understand where the score is sort of leaning in the direction of the male genitalia, but I think we have a comedy short that’s going to be released March 13 that I think will tip the scales back in the other direction for you a little bit.
I’ll look forward to that. I’m a huge fan of “Parks and Rec.” Tell me something about you that Ron Swanson wouldn’t approve of, and something about him that you envy.
Well, something about me that Ron would not approve of is that I am a big fan of vegetables and greens. I can’t get enough spinach, which Ron would find reprehensible. Something about him that I envy would be the simplicity that he has achieved in his life by adhering to a few simple rules. I think that I succeed in a very small way in the way that Ron succeeds hugely when it comes to ignoring the advances of the information age. He’s perfectly happy with his job and his woodworking and his menu. He doesn’t need to consider any new information, and I think that provides him with a complacency that we all could desire.
It makes you want to sit alone in a room in silence with a steak and a drink. It seems like a relaxing night.
Yeah, yeah, if it could only be that simple. I’d love to do that, but I’ve gotta get back to answering all these emails.
“Parks and Rec” is as great as it’s ever been now, but “30 Rock” is over, “The Office” is ending and “Community” has had plenty of problems. What is the feeling on the show of being the surprising last one at the party there?
Well, network television is in a very precarious state these days, and I think really any half-hour comedy that remains on the air feels—[laughs]—some parts of surprise and gratitude. I thank you for your compliment, and I agree that the show is just of a very high quality and that has allowed us to survive through a variance in ratings and shake-ups in the Thursday night lineup. But I think that there’s some justice being served because Mike Schur runs an operation that’s as full of goodness and love and hilarity as anything going these days. So I’m just really grateful that we’re getting to keep playing.
We’ve talked about the image some people have in their minds for you. Is there a movie, or an album or song that you listen to, that people would be surprised to hear you like and contradicts that perception?
Um, well, there’s a few different ways I could go there. I’m a very big fan of David Bowie. And They Might Be Giants. And modern bands like Wilco, Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, all of which I think would be less surprising to Ron and maybe more just beneath his [taste]. “The Sweet Smell of Success.” That’s a film that I love that I think Ron would shut off. [Laughs.]
He’s not interested in that world at all.
Perhaps. I know what the answer is, is musicals. I love musicals like crazy. I think I have a frustrated Broadway chorus member somewhere in me. And so while I can watch “The Sound of Music” and “Singin’ in the Rain” over and over again, I think Ron would rather eat glass.
Have you ever caught yourself singing “The Sound of Music” in the shower?
Oh God, I sing it all over the world. When I was a kid in the ‘80s, we lived down in the country and we never had cable in our house, but we got a VCR at some point and we had four movies: “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Sound of Music, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Oklahoma.” So do the math. Those musicals made me the man I am today.
What is the bestseller from the Offerman woodshop, and why do you think, as you’ve said, that both men and women find handcrafting sexy?
The bestseller I believe at the moment is the kazoo. It’s our latest hit. Created by a clever young elf named Matt Micucci. People are just going crazy for the Micucci kazoo. And I think both men and women find handcrafting sexy because I think it pushes an instinctual button when you see somebody engaging in whatever their creativity is. It tells you something about the kind of nest that they would build or the sort of life that you could create together. When you see someone cook or garden or play music or sew or knit or build furniture, it touches an animal button that says, “Oh, together we could provide for our brood.”
I was just going to ask if it has to be wood, or if knitting and that type of thing still counts.
Oh, no, anything creative. That’s the thing; I have friends that are CPAs, and that’s their creativity. They are incredibly weird of course, but they’ve discovered that what they love is to make sure that all the numbers are right. That’s their jam. And so they love to go to work and go through piles of our tax paperwork and make sure that everything is right. It’s a little OCD admittedly, but your creativity can be something that is incredibly boring to other people. Some people like to make baskets or bead necklaces which can be incredibly repetitive, monotonous tasks, but if that’s what floats your boat, that’s what’s going to turn on other basket-makers.
How often he returns to Illinois: “I get back at least once a year, if I’m lucky twice. Because my whole big family is still outside of Joliet in our little town of Minooka. So if I can I love to get back for the sweet corn.
Favorites in Chicago: “When Megan and I visit Chicago my favorite place to go is still Moody’s pub. Which has the finest burger in town. I love to sit out back in their courtyard … I get [the burger] without the blue cheese. Call me crazy … I’m a very big fan of cheese. I’m just not crazy about blue cheese.”
How he feels about the Cubs this year: “The same way I feel every year. I think this is going to be our year. What could go wrong? We’re going to go all the way … One of these years I’m going to be right. [Laughs.] Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.”
His prediction for the next non-Blackhawks Chicago sports team to win a championship: “I have a hard time discerning my optimistic hope from my sports acumen so I feel like … I don’t follow hockey as much, but I feel like it’s going to be a crazy year in which the Bulls, Bears and Cubs all take the gold.”
On Seth MacFarlane’s misogynistic humor at the Oscars, which Offerman didn’t watch: “I’m sorry to hear that Mr. MacFarlane would tell jokes in that flavor. He’s doing very well; he doesn’t need to pander to the baser human instincts.”
If he sees himself taking a boat he makes and traveling in it, similar to what Andy did recently on “The Office”: “I would love to do that. I have put in a great many miles in my first canoe, whose name is Huckleberry, But I would certainly love to build a larger sailing vessel and put some nautical miles behind me. That’s definitely on my list.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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