Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman shares his own small-town tales
By MATTHEW SCHWERHA March 4, 2013 9:04AM
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson in "Parks and Recreation."
Updated: March 4, 2013 9:25AM
Before his breakout role as Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” Nick Offerman was just fine with being recognized as the significant other of a famous actress.
“I was a happy character actor,” Offerman, 42, said. “I was enjoying a rich existence as Mr. Megan Mullally. It was a major step up for me when ‘Parks’ took off.”
Offerman, who was born in Joliet and raised in Minooka, comes to Chicago on Friday for the premiere of his new movie, “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” at Music Box Theater.
Growing up in the rural town of Minooka, Offerman had plenty to explore as a child — including his grandparents’ farm.
“We worked on the farm as kids,” Offerman said. “Spent a lot of time down at the crick fishing. It was like growing up in the ’50s. You could ride your bike into town without worrying about being abducted.”
A graduate of Minooka Community High School, Offerman fondly remembers his time at the school.
“I was influenced by my teacher Glenda Smith,” Offerman said. “She had a hell of a resume. She was helpful in the beginnings of my career. She directed the school plays.
“I was crazy about Mr. Maas. He taught me a great deal about sarcasm. I had a terrible crush on Ms. Pillsbury. She showed us all the sexy parts of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ She had all the fellas’ attention. She knew what she was doing.”
Before settling down with Mullally, Offerman remembers courting the women of Minooka.
“You would try and impress a lady and head for The Creamery, and get her a Butterfinger blizzard and tell her she looked terrific in her track and field track top,” Offerman said.
Other favorites in Minooka that Offerman named were Aux Sable Creek and Cookie’s Restaurant.
Before setting off for college, Offerman said he had an idea he wanted to be a performer, but didn’t see the path until a visit to the University of Illinois.
“I was visiting U of I with my girlfriend at the time,” Offerman said. “Theater students asked me why I was loitering in the hallway. I was shocked to learn that you could get a job being in plays. I auditioned for the program and got in. I was terrible when I started. There was a need for big, dumb guys. You have to have a couple of guys who can carry things. I snuck in under the wire and began a delicious education.”
After college, Offerman was a regular on the Chicago theater scene and became an acquaintance of Amy Poehler.
“We met in Chicago because our social circles overlapped,” Offerman said of the beginning of his relationship with Poehler. “We enjoyed each other socially and had a lot of fun together. I stayed in Chicago and had a theater career and she soon after took over on SNL and became the goddess of American comedy that she is today.
“We reacquainted in 2000 or 2001 when Megan was hosting. It was nice to see someone from our beginnings when we were both kids getting started in Chicago.”
Years later, Poehler tapped Offerman to play her boss in “Parks and Recreation” — which debuted in 2009.
“I never considered myself as someone who could work alongside Amy,” Offerman said. “I was quite nervous when the show started and when I was doing scenes with her. I had to maintain a stern demeanor amid her comedic onslaughts.”
Offerman’s character on “Parks and Recreation” pulls from his interests in his personal life — which includes a love of woodworking.
“When we were creating the show, the writers would talk to the actors about parts of our personalities that they could find humor in,” Offerman said. “I would always tell them that I was at the shop when I was on the phone with them. They piled into a van and came over to my woodshop. They wanted to see if it could be Ron’s shop. They think it’s funny to belittle my life’s joy.”
Another side of Swanson that comes from Offerman is his love of bacon.
“Unfortunately, I have a circulatory system that exists in reality,” Offerman said. “While Ron superhumanly consumes as much cholesterol as he sees fit, I have to use a little more discretion.”
The mustache Offerman sports while playing Swanson has become a legend of its own.
“It takes five weeks to grow the whole Swanson mustache,” Offerman said. “The whiskers just beneath my nostrils have to achieve the depth of my upper‐lip. I’m thrilled that people seem to love the mustache so much. Anything that makes them tune into the show is great. It’s one of my accessories I employ as an actor. I try to be as unrecognizable as possible. If I shoot a movie, I’ll add pieces. Before the show, I always looked different every three months.”
“Somebody Up There Likes Me” was written and directed, by Bob Byington, who wrote Offerman as the lead and asked if he would produce it with him.
“I love working with him,” Offerman said. “He has a unique, smart, funny sense of modern American life. I really love his dry humor. Making films with him reminds me of my time in Chicago — collaborative and feels like a family. It’s really heartwarming, and there’s a much stronger connection to the project as opposed to a big-‐budget, studio network project.
“I love that I get to get in there and help carry crates. I built a camera dolly. Megan steals the movie as a therapist.”
Hosting the premiere at the Music Box has special meaning to Offerman. Tickets are available to watch the movie with him at four different times Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9.
“I saw so many great movies at the Music Box when living in Chicago,” Offerman said. “I’m in love with the venue. It’s one of the best theaters in Chicago.”
Music Box Theater wasn’t the only thing Offerman became fond of while living in the Chicago area.
“Through the ’80s and ’90s, I could recite the stats of everyone on the Cubs’ bench,” Offerman said. “I could tell you how many triples Keith Moreland had. It’s a team that has been incredibly easy to love despite not bringing home a World Series in some time now.”
Offerman said he does make it back home to Minooka — where his parents and other family members still live — every so often.
“We love to visit Minooka,” Offerman said. “Our family comes to visit us a lot. We usually get together five or six times a year. Living in Los Angeles is a lot of fun, but I am deprived of homestyle family cooking and all of the fresh produce from my dad’s garden and the sweet corn from my uncle’s farm. It’s actually nice to sit at my mom’s table and do the dishes after we are done.”