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Nick Offerman on Being Ron "F@%&in'" Swanson

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 11th 2010 2:01PM
Nick Offerman of Parks and RecreationWhen viewers and critics first saw the government-hating parks director Ron Swanson on 'Parks and Recreation,' they didn't quite know what to make of him. Is he just a hard-ass? Or was there more to him?

Well, as the show has improved so has viewers' opinion of Ron, played by Nick Offerman. In the first half of 'Parks and Rec's' second season, Swanson has become a favorite of fans and critics; we've seen his love of breakfast food, his ability to build a small harp while drinking, and his secret life as smooth jazz stylist Duke Silver. And the 'stache... oh, the 'stache. It's the best one on primetime since Tom Selleck's.

When I was at the NBC party at the TCAs last month, I spoke to Offerman about how Swanson has developed, having his real-life wife (Megan Mullally) play Swanson's ex, and if we're going to see more of Swanson's jazzy alter ego.

Oh, and during the interview, Kate Flannery of 'The Office' came up to us and lauded Offerman for his moan when Chris Pratt's character of Andy rubbed his foot in 'The Camel.' "If you had Chris Pratt under your foot, you'd understand that it was not my doing," he said. When I asked him if that reaction was truly for real, he half-kiddingly said, "Oh yeah. They had to completely rescript the story once he got his hands on my foot. "

Pratt, for his part, denied it. "Think if you've had giant bunions that you've named, you come to (Andy's) shoeshine stand, and (he'll) give you close to an orgasm." When I asked him if he was that good, he said, "I'm not. Andy, however is that good."

How has Ron changed from the beginning to now, and what was your influence on that change?
Well, you know, I don't think...it's funny, (Executive Producer) Mike (Schur) had a great quote recently where he said, you know, if you were reviewing an 800 page novel, you wouldn't put it down after 20 minutes and discuss the character development. And with that in mind, I don't know that Ron has gone through changes so much as we're just learning more about him.

What is it about Ron that people seem to connect with? Why do people seem to identify with him so much?
I don't know. I mean, I'm very thrilled that that's the case. I don't know. I think a lot of people probably know the kind of jackass that Ron Swanson is. You know, the couple of characters and culture that I reference are... I keep forgetting the actor's name... he passed away... but the principal from The Breakfast Club and also Jeffrey Jones, the principal in Ferris Bueller. Ed Rooney.

I mean, we all know these buffoon, like pompous ass administrators, and I think, I don't know, I think people love to see us poke fun at him, you know?

One of the things Mike told me was that after Ron got shot in the back of the head, that the plan was to have you wear your head half-shaved for the rest of the season. And he said you were perfectly willing to do that.
OK, go back to April '09. We were doing DVD commentary on our season one of six (episodes), and Dan Gore, one of our writers and producers, and I were talking, and somehow it came up where I said "You know, as a character actor, I love looking really... I love doing really ugly things to myself." And in my career, I've done every combination of like shaved head, full beard craziness. And I said, "How hilarious would it be if Ron Swanson had to shave his head?"

And the poof would be in the front. The pompadour would be in the front and then it would just be shaved in the back...
Yeah. And he went home that night and e-mailed me, and was like, "I've got an idea for a hunting episode where Ron gets shot in the head." So the episode actually existed because we decided to shave my head. And then we ended up not getting to shave my head.

So it wasn't a moment where you had the razor poised over your head, and you didn't get a call saying "Nick, stop!"?
We had two episodes that got switched for scheduling difficulties. And so continuity got messed up. And so it turned out that just to be safe, we couldn't shave the head.

But I thought it was good that they had the section that hadn't grown back yet.
It was. It was a really...our makeup department did an amazing job.

The other thing that Mike told me that was interesting was Ron's love of breakfast and dark-haired women. And that came out because the photo you had of Bobby Knight you couldn't use anymore. Was it just that print? They used this random print of a woman with a plate of eggs and it just went from there?
Yes. Mike and I, in a panic, searched for days trying to come up with what could have the mojo to replace Bobby Knight in Ron's office. And you know, you can imagine the flurry of emails and...

Searching the stock photos...
Yeah. I was big on (using) Joe Don Baker.

That would've been good...
Right. I was trying to sort of replace the Bobby Knight vein.

And one day, I walked into work and Mike said "I found it." It's an attractive woman holding out a plate of breakfast food. And I started weeping.

Where did the idea come from of bringing Megan (Mullally) in to play Ron's ex? Did it come from that picture a little bit?
No, that was just a happy coincidence. The lady with the breakfast food, you know, Mike found that. And there was another picture of a butcher holding like a huge slab of a pig. And we chose the woman with the breakfast food, and something about it just, it was so full of detail.

And we had established in a couple episodes that my ex-wife Tammy was a bitch. And so, you know, in the room, they said OK, let's write an episode about ex-wife Tammy. And they started talking about her, and coming up with our dynamic. And in doing that, they said, OK, she's this horrible manipulator who has Ron by the balls. So they're either f--king like rabid dogs or they're screaming at each other. And at some point, they were like well, wait a second, we should get Megan to play it.

They thought of Megan how?
I think because to achieve the level... you know, that's everyone's favorite episode so far. And I think the reason that it was so genius to use Megan was because by using a real couple, it allowed us to go so much farther past safe boundaries or polite acting work.

So when you're all over each other, sticking your tongues down each other's throats...
Yeah. I mean, if they had just cast a funny actress, it would have been so much more polite, you know? And Mike approached me one day, and he said, "So we're writing this episode about you and Tammy, and she's a real bitch. How would you feel about Megan playing it? Like would that be OK with you guys?" And he was right to ask, because some couples don't like it.

Had you ever acted before with her?
We've worked together a lot on stage, on Will & Grace.

So you knew the chemistry was there, you knew that would work?
Yeah. But we've never gotten to be... I mean, I felt like we were an old comedy team, which was a great gift.

Are we gonna see any more of Ron's jazzy alter-ego?
Boy, I hope so. Duke Silver. I'm really crazy about Duke Silver. And I'm pretty sure that we haven't seen the last of Duke.

What other parts of Ron's world are we going to see?
I feel like there's been a spark between Ron and Tom's ex-wife. We may see more of that develop. Honestly, you know, there's... I don't know a lot. I think we have three in the can that haven't aired yet.

Does it feel kind of safe to be in that Thursday lineup, knowing that all these showsare gaining some buzz?
Well, if you have to launch an intelligent new comedy on a network, I can't imagine a finer place to be than NBC Thursday night.

Do you think being there, and also Mike & Greg (Daniels') track record, is that what gave the show a chance after that first six episodes that needed to kind of find itself?
Yeah, I think so. I think we have Greg & Mike's track record, and Amy (Pohler)'s clout. Amy's just such a shining talent that, she's not the kind of person you want to give up on right away. You know, combined with our placement on Thursday night, all those things lead, you know, thankfully to us getting the chance to begin to win public favor.

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Probably among the best things about Ron Swanson is the Claymore antipersonnel mine prominently displayed on his desk, with "front toward enemy," ofcourse, facing outward toward enemy.

February 11 2010 at 3:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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