It was kind of the perfect setting to interview Nick Offerman: a folksy hotel lobby, nestled a little bit away from the hustle and bustle of Park City, Utah’s Main Street during the Sundance Film Festival. It kind of looked like a place Offerman might hang out in his free time, only probably without the reporters and publicists hanging around. (Maybe surprisingly, this is a rare occurrence at Sundance, most interviews happen at a very sterile, corporate sponsored, designated spot. So this was a treat not to have to go to that sterile, corporate sponsored, designated interview spot.)
Offerman has two movies here at Sundance. The first is Hearts Beat Loud, a crowd-pleaser of a film in which Offerman plays Frank, a widower raising his teenage daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), in Brooklyn. One day, after jamming with his daughter on a new song she wrote, Frank uploads it to Spotify and the song takes off, being played in coffee shops around New York City, leaving Frank and Sam to try and figure out what comes next. The other film is the retelling of the classic, White Fang. It’s an updated animated version in which Offerman voices a local lawman who becomes attached to White Fang after rescuing him from a dog fighting ring.
Nick Offerman is very different than the character he’s probably best known for playing, Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation. If you’re reading this, you probably already know that, but you’d be surprised at the amount of people who don’t quite get it. Like the legions of MAGA types who hound Offerman’s Twitter account, mad that Offerman isn’t the fictional conservative hero he protrayed on TV. A couple of times, Offerman has had to have fake Ron Swanson accounts taken down because they were becoming way too mean and too personal. In person, Offerman is maybe a little more fun-loving than you’d expect – with a biting dry wit that he can quickly interchange with a earnest line like, “We all want a hug and we all need to love each other at the end of the day,” and know he really means it.
You’re in two movies here, Hearts Beat Loud and White Fang.
Somehow I backed into a career where my bread and butter brings me through Sundance with great regularity, which is a wonderful – it’s the ideal kind of pain in the ass that an actor desires.
You were here for The Kings of Summer, where you also played a character named Frank. You play a lot of Franks.
I mean, my delivery is often curt and I’m known for being pithy, so those are both synonyms for frank.
Frank is a good name.
Frank’s a good name. It’s also a synonym for a sausage. Covering all my bases.
People at work are kind of obsessed you mentioned Uproxx in one of your comedy specials…
You seemed confused by the whole thing, and the internet.
Well, I come by it honest. I don’t look at the internet whenever I can help it. In fact, these days I just use it when I need new work boots or I need to order a new hammer or something.
Though, I have seen you arguing with MAGA types that think you’re actually Ron Swanson.
Well, that’s using Twitter on my phone.
I count that as the internet.
Because that’s an app. I never go online to go to social media. I use Twitter and I’ve started using Instagram, but even that… The first like year I used Twitter, I felt obligated to consume the whole thing and keep up with it…
Oh, that’s a mistake.
And it’s impossible. It would be a full-time job. And so, even that, I just dip in. I try not to engage with people because it devolves into stupidity very quickly, but sometimes I’ll see something that rubs me the wrong way and it usually has to do with people mistaking the character of Ron Swanson.
It’s a very light reading of it to think, oh, he’d be a Trump guy.
Well, it is. But, on the record, I’ll say what I say, but then I don’t engage in arguments with people, because who’s got time? But there have been two times that I made statements from Ron Swanson and both times I say, “I spoke to someone close to Ron Swanson.” And both cases I put the question to Mike Schur, the head creator, the head writer of Parks and Rec, and he’s the one that answers. I would never deign to write Ron Swanson’s voice, because I’m not the writer. And that’s what’s so laughable about people telling, not just me, but actually the main creator of Ron Swanson – telling us, “You don’t know. It’s so sad, you don’t even know the character.”
We just saw it happen with Star Wars. Some people were like, “Oh, this is the way it should go.” It’s hard to create anything anymore without outside people claiming some weird ownership over it.
Right. I mean, I think you just have to ignore it. Because in the pros and cons of our connectivity, that’s one of the cons: the hive think actually gets to have a voice and sometimes it’s loud enough to be noticed by Mark Hamill. Nerds were doing that during the first Star Wars movies, you just never heard from them.
Do you get annoyed that you played this character that a certain political ideal has taken as their own? Because you’re very different than that character and those people seem surprised by that.
It’s superficially annoying. But again, you have to just remember that there are lots of smart, engaging, valuable brains in our world. And then there are a lot of vapid, sheep-like consumers. And then there’s a whole spectrum between. But, you know, there’s a sect of people who have lost the ability to discern what television is and what what fiction is versus reality television. And so there are many people who seem legitimately confused that I’m not actually Ron Swanson.
I’ve seen your Twitter. They do seem confused.
People have said to me, “So was that whole Ron Swanson thing just an act?” Which, simply, “yes.” By definition, it’s exactly what it is. I’m an actor. So, you know, yes, superficially it can be irksome. You know, there’s also something else that is, I think, gross. On social media platforms, there are people who pretend to be Ron Swanson, but then they cross a line where not only are they writing their own material, which is gross, but then they also cross the line where they’ll say things in my voice about Megan [Mullally], for example. And so a couple of times I’ve seen things where I had it shut down because I think that’s offensive. That feels violating. But ultimately, that’s the initial animal response, but then I take a breath and I think, you know, there’s dumb people and there’s smart people, and everybody can be on Twitter. And if there’s jackasses pretending to be your TV character, that’s a pretty good problem to have. It means that the character was successful and it’s inspiring.
In Hearts Beat Loud you get to show off your music playing skills.
That’s a generous estimation. I appreciate it.
You’re known for playing, and now you get to perform in a movie.
It’s really nice. I’m always a student. And I’m thrilled with the movie.
It’s a crowd-pleaser.
It is. It’s really nice. And I’m glad that the music sections are so effective. But of course, you know, it’s like if I was watching myself play basketball, I wouldn’t just be like, man, you are amazing at dunking. I’d be looking at what fundamentals I still need to improve. You know, I kind of stop and start a couple times and I play the wrong note one time, and that’s great, because it’s clearly live and it’s really happening. And I’m not supposed to be Eric Clapton, you know? I’m a dad in Brooklyn. But the actor wants to be Eric Clapton and be like, “Oh, let me try one more time to blow my dad’s mind with my sick guitar playing.”
It’s a great Red Hook movie, too. That’s a great New York neighborhood.
I love Red Hook so much. Coincidentally, they wrote it because they love Red Hook. Brett Haley, the filmmaker, and he has a writing partner named Marc Basch – they had no idea that when my wife, Megan Mullally, was doing Young Frankenstein on Broadway, I decided to build my first wooden canoe. And I cast about the boroughs and I found, down at the bottom of Van Brunt in Red Hook, those warehouses. I found a shop space and that’s where I built my first canoe. So we were living on the Upper West Side, so I rode my bicycle every day to Red Hook.
That is a long bike ride.
It is, but sadly it was safer and more enjoyable and doable than commuting by bike in LA. It’s insane. But I loved it so much. And so, there’s a coffee shop called Baked, which is where something exciting happens for my character for the first time. That was my spot. Like every morning, I’d stop there and get my coffee, and they just make a delicious biscuit with jam and butter. And Sunny’s, the bar with the music.
That scene at Baked reminded me of That Thing You Do!. They first hear their song on the radio, but this was a very 2018 version when you hear your song on Spotify at a coffee shop.
Brett, the filmmaker, says that it’s his homage to that moment in That Thing You Do! So yeah, I’m so glad that I got to do this because I’ll never get to be in a rock band. But then you hear Kiersey sing…
She just makes my hat fly off. When she kicks into her vocals, you’re like, oh my god, this movie is really going to do something.
Another really neat scene, Ted Danson plays a guy who owns a bar, and then you guys even say, “Cheers,” right in front of him.
My favorite thing that Brett did, because we were very aware of Cheers and Ted’s history behind the bar – that’s why when we meet his character, Dave, he comes up like he’s just my friend and we have a little scene and then I say, “I’d like another beer, if you don’t mind.” And then we’re like, oh, he’s the bartender, hilarious. So we sort of ease you into it rather than open on him standing behind the bar. I think would be a little jarring. Like, “oh my god, it’s him!”
You’ve got to ease people into the fact that Sam Malone might be back.
White Fang got me. I wept.
Though, I’m an easy cry right now because I lost my dad in November…
Oh, I’m sorry.
Thank you. But anything about parents right now, even animated wolves, is going to get to me. It really hits.
It really does. I’m so grateful when I get the call to do something like a classic Jack London book. And in an animated form, which means if they were shooting it in Alaska, I would want to go do it too, but that has a lot more complication.
That’s a huge commitment.
You’d have to go to Alaska, I’m going to need new socks, all that.
I feel like you are someone who likes Alaska.
I love Alaska. I mean, it’s my bag. But doing the animated version, I can just drive over to Burbank and it’s perfectly temperate in the studio. But man, getting to do that and seeing the animation, I just am so grateful that I backed into jobs like that. And I think it’s interesting this year that my two offerings are really nice and they have a lot of heart, and I think it’s kind of indicative of our national climate – that I think they’re going to succeed because people just need to be reminded that we’re all human beings. And no matter what you want to yell across the aisle at the other guy, we all want a hug and we all need to love each other at the end of the day.
People are looking for nice things right now.
You mentioned Michael Schur, and I think that’s why The Good Place is popular, because in the end it’s people coming together and being nice to each other.
It’s loving. I look up to him so much because he is always thinking outside of the box. He’s trying to move the genre forward. He’s trying to explore the genre and do things you’ve never seen before, but it always comes from such a place of optimism and empathy. And there are very many reasons that I owe him a great debt of gratitude for Parks and Recreation, but perhaps none so much as just teaching me that if you live a creative life, anything you make can be considered a way of telling other people I love you.
That’s really nice.
It is really nice. And the business is so cynical, you know? To protect ourselves, we’re often really harsh and ironic and critical and negative. And god, working on Parks and Rec just taught me you can be hilarious, but still be saying I love you instead of I judge you.
Speaking of how people perceive you, out of the blue my friend asked me to show you the table he built. He texted me a picture. [Offerman takes my phone.]
That’s very handsome work.
I don’t know if you enjoy looking at that kind of thing or not.
I do very much, I love it. And actually now let me look at the base. [Offerman zooms in on the photo.] I have some questions for him. He’s cut some joinery into his base. And that end looks like a solid half-lap. And I’m not sure what’s going on on this end, if there’s some hardware there? I love that people show me that stuff because, with whatever platform I have, I love to encourage people to make things with their hands, whether it’s furniture or lasagna or music or happy children. Again, it supersedes politics. It’s something that I think if we can remind ourselves to focus on what we can actually put our hands on and have an effect on, that will echo up.
And I think that, to try and nutshell it, we’re in a general worldwide malaise that’s the result of corporate industrialism. In general, corporations are using up our planet in a violent way, assuming that it’ll be okay, that if they use up all that coal in that state, they’ll just move to another one. Well, eventually you have to figure you’re going to run out of coal and you’re going to run out of states, and unfortunately you’ve destroyed communities and families and so forth. And by getting our heads off of online shopping and back into our local communities, which involves making things and trading things and growing things, that, to me, is a way to try and bring ourselves back to a national strength that doesn’t involve objects made in China.
Well, good luck, I think people will like these movies you have here.
I hope so. I’m very grateful to be making the rounds here. They’re long days, we do a lot of press, a lot of interviews, but it’s an absolutely wonderful pain in the ass to have.
That’s a good way to put it, even on this side of things.
Well, we’re all in it together.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.