The Business of Being Nick Offerman in a Post-Ron Swanson World (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images
There is a BYOB restaurant in Chicago, indistinguishable from the myriad other brunch joints on the block, until you walk through the orange front door and are greeted by Ron Swanson's face. Everywhere. The walls are lined with Ron Swanson artwork -- pop art and oil paintings, carvings and cross stitchings, even an embroidered tissue box with his face on it -- underneath one of his most iconic quotes: "There has never been a sadness that can't be cured by breakfast food."
"Whisk, yes," Nick Offerman offers when I can't recall the name of the eatery. "They're very generous to me at that establishment." While he imagines he could get a free meal, the actor hasn't actually visited yet. "I'm kind of scared," he giggles. "I don't feel like I can be a normal patron in a weird bacon and eggs museum to my character."
It has been three years since Parks and Recreation -- the NBC sitcom in which Offerman played the surly, mustached, libertarian saxophonist -- left the air, but despite the "proliferation of Ron Swanson," as he puts it, the role didn't lead to the career boon you might imagine. "Across the seven years that we made Parks and Rec," he says, "my cache certainly went up considerably."
But the critical love, the memes and the freakin' breakfast restaurant in his honor leads people to assume certain things that just aren't the case. "They think Parks and Recreation was a huge hit, which it wasn't at all. We were always in danger of being cancelled," Offerman tells ET, seated in a suite at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons with one bright red New Balance sneaker resting on the other knee.
"We might have more viewers right now, on streaming services, than we did when we were actually airing," he adds, noting early seasons didn't factor in online viewership. "That leads people to believe that somehow I'm Jon Hamm or something, and I'm like, 'No. That's not how it was.' I'm very grateful that this character is so successful, but I haven't been offered Batman. Yet."
Not that Offerman has been lacking for work, following Parks and Rec with a run on the second season of FX's Fargo and voice work in animated fare such as Hotel Transylvania and The LEGO Movie. He's just aware of how many projects are in production at any given time and what percentage of that comes to him. "I'm not beleaguered by tons of choices, you know?" he says.
"The business is not beating my door down to try and get me in their projects, so, of the things that come my way, I recognize I'm incredibly fortunate that I can even pick between a couple," Offerman continues. "'Cause my rent is pretty much covered."
When discussing how he picks the projects he does sign on for, the actor frequently defers to his gut instinct. He won't say yes to anything that's not his "bag" -- which excludes anything too trendy "like zombie stuff." "Sometimes there will be a really funny script but there will just be like, a couple homophobic jokes and I'll say, nah, I don't want to be in bed with these guys. Literally," he lists off. And then there's the matter of making sure his schedule lines up with that of his wife of 15 years, Megan Mullally. "We have a two-week rule," Offerman explains, "where we never take a job that will keep us apart for more than two weeks. Which sometimes involves some pretty impressive aeronautical gymnastics."
But in the end, it comes down to following his gut. "And it's really worked out wonderfully," he grins through his overgrown beard, the dark scruff graying at his chin. Credit Offerman's gut for leading him to Ron Swanson, but also to many an indie gem -- his "bread and butter." His latest movie, the musical dramedy Hearts Beat Loud, ticks off all his boxes and then some.
Hearts Beat Loud, which opens in select theaters on June 8, sees Offerman play Frank, a record store owner, widower and single dad living in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood and dreading the imminent departure of his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), for college. When one of their father-daughter "jam seshs" produces a bona fide Spotify hit, the pair grapple with starting their band, called We're Not a Band, growing up and letting go.
"He was the only person we wanted," director Brett Haley, who co-wrote the script with Marc Basch, tells me, having written the role of Frank with Offerman in mind after working together on 2017's The Hero. "He's just the best. He's such a great human being and such an amazing actor and he has so much to give that I don't think audiences have seen. I could just feel that. He's hilarious but can be so sweet and open and I think he's going to surprise people."
"I've literally never had a role half this big," Offerman agrees. "It's funny, there are scenes with Kiersey and scenes with Toni Collette in this film that, when we were shooting them, I felt like a kid at my first dance. I would say, 'You guys!'" His eyes light up as he clasps his hands together. "'I've never had a scene where I'm just a vulnerable guy, like, trying to get a woman to love me! I'm 47 and I've never gotten to do this!'"
The paternal side of Frank came naturally to the actor. When Clemons arrived on set, "I started trying to be cool with her, which of course is super geeky and annoying to her," he laughs. "Our dynamic was established immediately where she's rolling her eyes but also laughing at me, and I was like, Oh! We're Frank and Sam!" The other muscles he was tasked with flexing -- revealing new colors of himself, performing music in front of an audience -- required more effort. But the experience coalesced into something magical. "I've seen the movie several times now and when Kiersey starts singing," he says, "I get goose bumps!"
"I secretly hope I'll stop getting acting jobs, at least for a while, so that I can go build another boat."
Next up, Offerman has a Parks and Rec reteaming, of sorts, as he and Amy Poehler host NBC's crafting competition series, Making It. The show has less of a connection to Ron Swanson than to Offerman himself, who has been pals with Poehler since their early improv and theater days in Chicago (hence, Whisk) and who has been crafty even longer, having learned to woodwork as a boy. Then there is more work on TV (Amazon's Neil Gaiman adaptation, Good Omens) and in movies (another LEGO Movie, the genre flick Bad Times at the El Royale). And then? Well, he'll follow his gut. But he isn't concerned.
"I don't worry about my career, as it were. I don't have ambitions. And I recognize that I'm very lucky that I don't have that actor stress of, Will I keep getting jobs?" he admits. "Because I have this woodshop" -- the aptly named Offerman Woodshop in East Los Angeles -- "and all I want to do is get to my woodshop. I secretly hope I'll stop getting acting jobs, at least for a while so that I can go build another boat."
What's stopping you from saying no, I ask, from taking a self-imposed break from acting?
"I love delivering some sort of medicine to an audience," Offerman replies without hesitating. "Whether it's through laughter or emotion or what have you, that's my favorite thing to do." He shrugs. "But if I couldn't do it anymore, I'm comforted to know I'd be very happy making chairs."