Nick Offerman: Better Than Other Mammals
Nick Offerman is the un-official poster guy for being a “real man” across the internet. He’s also the incredibly talented comedic actor who plays Ron Swanson on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, with a side career as a skilled woodworker and craftsman. He stopped by the SiriusXM studios recently to talk with Ron Bennington about his new film, “Smashed”, and all things wood. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: The single cringiest moment in the movies this year, belongs to you my friend. It’s in the new film “Smashed” which I think is just unbelievable.
Nick Offerman: Thank you.
Ron Bennington: We had Mary (Elizabeth Winstead) in here last week and I honestly think – I honestly think she’s going to get an Oscar nomination for this.
Nick Offerman: God, she sure should you know. I don’t know what else you’ve got to do to get one.
Ron Bennington: How did you get involved with a project like this?
Nick Offerman: The filmmaker, James Ponsoldt – writer and director, got a hold of me. He had Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in the 2 leads. And then he had these few other supporting roles. And he really did a beautiful job with his co-writer Susan (Burke), of writing their supporting roles so that everybody really had something to do. They didn’t just write in a waitress. They gave everybody a little story. And so, my part as the vice-principal – my wife Megan Mullally plays the principal of Mary’s school. And Octavia Spencer and Mary Kay Place, we all have a really nice little arc. And James got a hold of me and came over to my furniture shop. I have woodshop in L.A. and we had a really nice 3 hour meeting. And he said – I really want you to do this. And I said – I really want to do it. All the days you want me are “Parks and Recreation” production days, so unfortunately, I can’t do it. And then my superhero producer, a guy named Morgan Sackett who produces “Parks and Rec”, he said – oh, let me look at the calendar. And the next day, he said – we can make this work for you.
Ron Bennington: That just doesn’t happen. People don’t think – how can I adjust a show to help out somebody else. It just doesn’t happen.
Nick Offerman: And he’s doing it with 8 of us leads on the show. Somebody should buy this guy an island.
Ron Bennington: Well, the show – you bring up “Parks and Rec” and it’s just one of those shows that just works and everybody loves it. And whoever comes into the show, does great working with everybody. But it seems like you’ve got so many things going on, all the time, don’t you?
Nick Offerman: I do, yeah. I’m really lucky. I worked really hard for many years as a theater professional. And I guess even then I was multitasking. I would build the set for the play and then I would be in the play. I would choreograph the sword fights in the play and what have you. And my wife and both just love getting the opportunity to get this nice work.
Ron Bennington: And she plays a whole different side of her.
Nick Offerman: She does. She plays a monster. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: But your wife is so amazing because I missed her big NBC show. It was one of those shows I just never caught. And then when she was doing “Party Down” and “Childrens Hospital”, I was saying to people like – you’ve got to see her. She’s amazing. And they’re like – dude, she’s a big star. You haven’t discovered anybody. Why don’t you tell us about Lucille Ball next? She could go in so many different directions, man.
Nick Offerman: I’ve never met anybody more talented than her. I think she has an amazing dramatic turn in “Smashed”. And I think she’s starting to lean into a sort of Meryl Streep chapter where she’s going to get to start doing some great film roles.
Ron Bennington: Now the fact that you could build stuff, did that help you in theater? Is that one of the things that made you useful early on?
Nick Offerman: It did, yeah. It was key because I got into this theater school in Illinois and I was terrible for the first 4 – 5 years. I just had a long way to go before I became a naturalistic actor. And during those years, I couldn’t get cast for shit. But I was one of the only actors that could build stuff. I mean all these other kids from the suburbs had never hammered a nail. And so I was valued. They would give me small parts in shows so that I would show up and build everything. And through that, I was able to become better and better until I was finally able to get a decent role.
Ron Bennington: And you make canoes which to me is mind blowing because I cannot understand how wood can bend. It’s amazing. But you have this up on your website, this thing that you could sit down and watch you build this canoe. And it’s mind blowing.
Nick Offerman: Well, thank you. It’s something that I encourage people to do. I’m fascinated with woodworking because it’s a really healthy salve in my life. It’s great in general to be able to make a table because they’re useful. They keep your beer off the floor. But in a more philosophical way, it allows me to spend my time doing something productive. And it’s funny, it is unfathomable – when I first looked at a canoe, I said – I don’t think I can do this. And my teacher, a guy named Ted Moores up in Canada, he has a great company called Bear Mountain Boats. He said – you know what? Read this book. If you just do it one step at a time, you can accomplish it and I read the book and I said – alright, I’m going to trust you. And if you look at it, all of a piece, I mean it’s very much like life. If you look at a whole career, you say – I could never do that. But if you take one step at a time and you just accomplish a little bit each day…
Ron Bennington: Is there satisfaction in each step though? Or are you thinking ahead?
Nick Offerman: No. There really is satisfaction in achieving each step. I mean building a boat is magical. It’s using wood to create a form of locomotion that allows us to cross a lake where a bear can’t chase us. And there’s something – when you first go out on the water in a boat that you’ve built yourself – I felt like a superhero.
Ron Bennington: Sure.
Nick Offerman: I can think better than all you goddamn mammals around me.
Ron Bennington: And the other thing I guess is, just like a good chef, you’ve got to have the right ingredients. How are you finding the right wood?
Nick Offerman: Well, the great thing about boat building and wood working in general is that we as a society have been perfecting it for centuries. The lines – the design of this canoe comes to me through this great teacher, this guy in Canada, Ted, who is sort of the Obi Wan Kenobi of canoe building. But he learned everything from his sort of grandfather and it’s been passed down. And so I call him and say – in this modern age I can get wood from anywhere in the world. Boat building utilizes woods like cedar. Actually it’s interesting. The same woods that make a great top of a guitar are great boat building woods. Because they’re lightweight with a high tensile strength. So they’re really strong, but light. And that makes them vibrate and transmit sound well, but will also hold a shape. And travel through water well. It’s an interesting parallel.
Ron Bennington: So soon you’ll be out on the water – your own canoe, playing your guitar and then you can die.
Nick Offerman: I’ll be the king of all that I survey.
Ron Bennington: Now the weird thing is that people see this in Ron Swanson and you’re like the king of the internet memes where they’ll just come up with these macho things and throw them out there. And it’s because I think people realize – hey, I’ve got a college degree and I’ve done all this studying and yet I don’t know how to change a light bulb. I don’t know what to do. And then they see Ron Swanson and they go – that’s masculinity.
Nick Offerman: It’s funny. I come this great big farm family in Illinois. And I always say to people when they bring up masculinity with me, I say – please bear in mind, my family are farmers, firemen, teachers, paramedics, librarians – I’m the sissy in our family that ran away to theater school that prances about on the stage. I literally mince about for a living. And there’s a lot of the country where the 8 year old daughter in the family can hammer a nail and can build a fence. Just in the urban areas – it’s where we’ve lost the ability to fix our own door knob. And that’s why I encourage people. It’s so gratifying to just do something like go to the hardware store – if you have that wonky door knob in your house, you can replace it. It’s so easy these days. All you need is a screwdriver.
Ron Bennington: There’s just this strange thing I think people have about failure. And when you’re doing that kind of work, you fail all the time and you have to restart, right? I think that you view failure differently – that where most people just give up.
Nick Offerman: Absolutely. I mean it was in my dad’s basement woodshop – growing up as a kid, I distinctly remember him saying to me – now, you just completely fucked that up. My dad wouldn’t say that, but I would. And he said that’s how we learn. For the rest of your life, you have to have to evaluate your mistakes because that’s how you learn to do it the right way. And in woodworking – the joy of woodworking, the reason I’m so obsessed with it is because it’s a tangible version of doing something like a crossword puzzle – except when you’re done with the puzzle, you have a chair. You have something beautiful that’s serves a purpose. But they say about woodworking masters and it applies to any part of life – mastery just means that you’re better at hiding your mistakes.
Ron Bennington: Right. And you are right that at the end of it, there does – you want there to be something beautiful. There are places in the city that I’ll go into and look because they’re Art Deco old school – and you’ll look at these desks which are now a fortune. And just think – these men sat behind these desks and built the country. They were running things. But the desk lives on. That desk is still there and it’s more gorgeous than anything you could buy today.
Nick Offerman: Well, that’s a big part of what drives me. I was putting together a table for my wife when I was really getting obsessed with woodworking. And it was from a catalogue. Furniture has become so disposable, like cars, shoes and everything else. And I was putting together this table and being a carpenter and knowing how to build things, I said – this is garbage. This is going to start to wobble and in 2 or 3 years, we’re going to set it out on the curb, hoping somebody will take it away. And I said – I can make things that will last for 300 years. I can make heirloom pieces and that really drove me to learn about fine woodworking. Because you don’t use any screws or nails. There’s a lot of Japanese joinery involved where with age the joinery actually grows in strength because of gravity and the way the wood behaves. And that just feels so much more charismatic to make a table that you hope these people will give to their grandchildren and so on.
Ron Bennington: And you will have that memory connected too where you’ll be like – this is where my grandfather sat and this is where this happened in our family. It really becomes this piece that has it’s own life – has it’s own sense of history. For people who want to check this out online – your shop, you kind of videotape and leave everything open.
Nick Offerman: Yeah. We have a site called Offermanwoodshop.com. And I have 4 or 5 young woodworkers there now and it’s this really great sort of theckened place where both artists and sculptors and woodworkers can come and make stuff. And we make some things to sell online, but most of what we do is interesting, like commission work. And for some reason, maybe because I have a visibility as an actor, we get really weird great requests from all over the country – where people are like – can you make my dad a fish-shaped coffin for his dog. And we love sort of tackling new challenges. I’m really excited. We’re building our first commissioned canoe right now. And a couple of the youngsters are learning to do it. And if that’s something we can begin to offer, I think it will be so exciting to produce boats for people.
Ron Bennington: And also the videos of you working on it are up there and it’s fascinating just to watch. It’s fascinating to go through piece by piece. Of course, another big season for “Parks and Rec” which is about as good of a show that you can get on TV. Congratulations for that.
Nick Offerman: Appreciate it. Thank you.
Ron Bennington: Every Thursday night. And this small film “Smashed” is one of the truest things out there and people that have lived that life, look at that already and are like – good, I’m glad that the story is being told. Thank you so much for stopping by Nick. We’ll see you next time through.
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You can hear this interview in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.