The manly, meat-eating cult hero of *Parks and Recreation *disses aluminum canoes, wants to be ugly and explains the charms of the older woman.
PLAYBOY: Ron Swanson, your character on *Parks and Recreation, *is known for his love of all things meat. How does he deal with a surname commonly associated with TV dinners?
OFFERMAN: I think it’s a delicious coincidence. Ron has no problems with TV dinners, as long as they have meat. I mean, Ron shops at Food and Stuff, so he’s not super picky about how clean his meals are. The fact that the TV dinner has placed the name Swanson in the echelon of food lore doesn’t hurt.
*PLAYBOY: *You’ve said you enjoy making yourself as ugly as possible in roles. What do you mean?
OFFERMAN: The first thing I do is figure out what my transformation will be. I’ve done every possible facial hair configuration. And head hair—shaved, flattop, Mr. T’s look a couple of times. I want and like to stand out, because when I got into the business, I quickly saw that the majority of people striving to get ahead were trying to be as good-looking or as cute as possible. I was like, Man, what a drag, especially in L.A., where so many people get paid just to be good-looking. It seemed smarter to go in the opposite direction. There’s always room for the freak. Fortunately, my wife is very tolerant of this habit. Usually I hear, “Oh, honey, what have you done to yourself now?”—though in one instance she’d had enough. I slept on the couch for a couple of nights until it occurred to me to put on a stocking cap. Then I was back in bed and in business.
*PLAYBOY: *We’re talking today in your woodworking shop, where you build everything from furniture to ukuleles. How did you get started with that?
OFFERMAN: My dad, my uncles and my grandfathers all taught me to use tools. By the time I started a theater career, I was a practical carpenter and had also spent a couple of summers framing houses. Scenery came quickly and easily, and it became a nice source of income. The woodwork I do now became a passion only later in life.
*PLAYBOY: *You build amazing wooden canoes. What’s wrong with the aluminum kind?
OFFERMAN: The worst thing is that they’re incredibly loud. If you drop your beer in an aluminum canoe, you’ll scare all the fish for seven nautical miles. They’re also heavy and, mainly, unattractive. Modern wood-strip canoes like mine are about 50 pounds—really light. That’s because they have fiberglass and epoxy resin both inside and outside, creating what’s called a monocoque structure.
*PLAYBOY: *We know Ron Swanson is a diehard libertarian, with a heart. What’s your personal philosophy?
OFFERMAN: My favorite writer is Wendell Berry, from Kentucky. He’s a farmer, an agrarian, an essayist, a poet, a novelist. His overarching philosophy is that we’ve lost touch with the land we’ve grown up on, and if we could all take two steps back, if everybody planted a garden or if somebody in the neighborhood made shoes, we’d probably be a much stronger society with less need for the distractions of video games and all that. I often think of the shockingly accurate fat, baby-like adults in the movie *Wall-E. *If I had a soapbox—which I’d build myself—I’d use it to encourage people to make things with their hands or to get outside and walk in a park, to experience the world in ways that don’t involve screens.
PLAYBOY: When Rob Lowe joined *Parks and Recreation, *how did he handle being the second-best-looking guy on the set?
OFFERMAN: He has a tough time with it. I catch him peeking in the door of my trailer a lot and poking around, seeing if I have some kind of magic libation.
*PLAYBOY: *How often are you mistaken for Zach Galifianakis?
OFFERMAN: I was driving home one night and my mom called and said, “Hey, did you know you’re on a billboard in Chicago?” I said no. It turns out it was Zach. Another time, I was walking on the Upper West Side along the Hudson River. Four girls, maybe 18 or 19 years old, walked past, checked me out and giggled. And then I heard one say, “Definitely not. No way. That is *not *Zach Galifianakis.” I understand. I’m a few inches taller. I’m a big fan of Zach’s, and I hope our resemblance turns into some comedy, or maybe he turnsinto a superhero who is me.
PLAYBOY: You’re good friends with Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute on *The Office. *Who would win a deadpan contest between you two?
OFFERMAN: I’m not much given to competition, but at the same time, I think both our heads might explode if we got into it.
PLAYBOY: One joy of *Parks and Recreation *is the cussing, even though it’s bleeped. How great is it not to have to watch your mouth?
OFFERMAN: It’s just one aspect of how liberating it is on our show. On day one Greg Daniels, the co-creator, said, “Anytime you want to say or do anything, go ahead.” That was incredible, especially since a lot of our cast comes from improv and sketch comedy. I come from the theater, where the script is scriptural. It’s like the Bible. But now, if I have the impulse, I can say “Fuck that!” All along the writers have taken our natural impulses and written them into the characters. We really leapfrog and piggyback on one another.
*PLAYBOY: *Megan Mullally, your real-life spouse, plays the second of Ron Swanson’s ex-wives, both named Tammy. Was it weird or wonderful to have a racy sex scene with your wife?
OFFERMAN: Casting my wife, who is a comedy juggernaut, allowed us to go to disgusting places of intimacy I wouldn’t dare approach with any other actor, out of sheer politeness. When we got the script for that episode, Megan took me to a soft, grassy area in our yard, and we rehearsed disgusting kissing and groping techniques to see how far we could comfortably go, to find our safe zone. I have lots of good friends I love making comedy with, but if one of them had been cast, I couldn’t have licked all over her face or rammed my tongue down her throat the way I could with my wife because she’s my legal property.
*PLAYBOY: *Obviously. Last season, in the episode “Ron and Tammy, Part 2,” there’s a scene in which you and Amy Poehler walk into Megan’s office and find her bent over, showing her backside and a thong. After everyone gets a good look, she stands up and tells you she was just checking for scoliosis. Then it gets hotter as Megan is intimate with a large, stiff piece of beef jerky. Is she acting or bringing it from home?
OFFERMAN: It’s a fine line. She’s certainly using the wiles she’s developed over her 53 years. Fortunately, we have a deep and abiding love, so she never has to resort to checking herself for scoliosis to take me there. The beef jerky? Well, ever since watching her on *Will & Grace *I’ve been astonished at how Megan can get away with the most filthy gestures and insinuations on network television. Even Mother Teresa would know it was a penis slapping her in the face. I just have to shake my head in wonder.
*PLAYBOY: *Your initials are N.O. Do you ever think you’d have been better served if they were Y.E.S.?
OFFERMAN: In college, the whole theater department would audition for the semester’s plays at once. They’d post the cast lists, and you had to initial that you accepted your role. The department was run by a dignified British ex–TV star named David Knight and his wife, Wendy McClure Knight, an ex–West End musical dancer and theater performer. It was so great to have these regal theater professors in the middle of Illinois. One day Wendy called me into her office, where she was always enjoying a cup of tea, and said, “We’ve posted the cast list for *Three Sisters. *You were given the role of the 92-year-old doorman, Ferapont, who has three lines, and you have written ‘No.’ It’s actually not a bad role. Would you care to explain?” I said, “Wendy…my initials are N.O.” She was very embarrassed. That’s the only time it’s gotten me in trouble.
*PLAYBOY: *Would it bother you to learn that on a website of cats that look like Ron Swanson some of them are female?
OFFERMAN: My wife insists I have a powerful and beautiful lady inside me. My inner lady is very coquettish. She makes a great pan of biscuits. And she’s a terror in the garden.
*PLAYBOY: *Megan is 12 years older than you. Describe the charms of the mature woman.
OFFERMAN: Megan has had and continues to have a wonderfully successful career in the viciously difficult field of beautiful women in Hollywood. I’ve always been glad that I’m not a good-looking young woman in this town. Without kissing any ass, I said to her when we first became acquainted, “You, to me, are like a playboy Centerfold. You are a fucking knockout.” She’s a beautiful, stacked lady. So, you know, it’s easy to stomach the age difference if your wife is insanely gorgeous. There’s never any issue. I don’t have a tough meal to get down. I don’t think, Wow, you’re really starting to look like an old shoe.
*PLAYBOY: *How tough was it to quit smoking?
OFFERMAN: Tough. I was a magnificent smoker—two packs a day of Reds. I loved it. But I’ve had to learn to pay attention to my hedonistic tendencies. I started to quit when I was 31 or 32, but I was sort of an idiot about it. Megan and I were going on a romantic trip to Paris. I said, “Perfect. I’ll quit smoking now. Let’s go to the airport. I’m done!” We landed at Charles de Gaulle, and everyone there was smoking. I don’t think I left the building before I had a pack of Gauloises in my pocket. A second attempt was during a trip to New Orleans. I did a film called *Lush *with Campbell Scott, and I thought, Great, I’ve got this time to myself. I’ll quit smoking…on my movie…in New Orleans…during Jazz Fest. I went on the patch, but by the time I beat it, I was a pack a day again. Now Daddy’s medicine is nicotine candy.
*PLAYBOY: *After the Emmy nominations last fall, much of the media whined that you had been snubbed. We agree you should have been nominated, but is there really such a thing as an Emmy snub?
OFFERMAN: No. That said, my wife and I believe being snubbed is amazing. I’ve gotten so much more positive press from it than if I was dude number six. My take on art trophies is that they’re set up as though we’ve all run a footrace. They’re like, “And the winner, by a nose, is.…” Jon Hamm’s acting is just that tiny bit more quality thisyear than Hugh Laurie’s—you know? It’s easy to dismiss. When my mom called me, outraged that I’d been “snubbed,” I said, “Listen, Mom, you’re using some foul language. I’m gonna allow it today, but I’ll just remind you that if down the road I ever do get nominated by these folks, somebody else’s mom is gonna be cussing on the phone. So don’t worry about it.”
*PLAYBOY: *Maybe you should take extraordinary measures. Tell us about Ron Swanson’s sex tape.
OFFERMAN: I think it would be in a sort of shadow-puppet genre, captured inadvertently by a neighbor maybe trying to make a video for *America’s Funniest Home Videos *and filming some shadows in flagrante delicto coming from Ron’s shop, through a tarp.
*PLAYBOY: *We usually ask if you wear boxers or briefs, but this time let’s add thong and loincloth.
OFFERMAN: I have a dream that I’ll become a kilt guy at some point. I’ve tested the waters with Megan. Somebody sent us an advertisement for a badass dude kilt, the kind you could wear to frame houses. That put me over the edge. I was like, “Honey, I *could *wear this kilt.” My wife has incredible taste.
She is amazing at designing our house and both her wardrobe and my own. She is an absolute tastemaker, while I have taste in my mouth and little else. All my choices are practical ones. These days, realistically, I do boxers or boxer briefs, if they’re cotton boxers with the button fly. I kind of swing between those two, literally. Ron Swanson probably has three pairs of Army surplus boxer shorts. They’re on a rotation. He launders them only in salt.
*PLAYBOY: *You come from a grizzled, salt-of-the-earth farm family. Was it tough to come out as an actor?
OFFERMAN: My family is so nice, and their list of vocations—schoolteacher, paramedic, librarian, repeat ad nauseam, and a bunch of farmers—shows how solid they are. Any layman would have a difficult time understanding what could be hard about a job like acting and what makes 12-hour days exhausting. I remember at one point, to sort of break away from my conservative family upbringing, I was nude in a play. That’s right. I had to show my genitals to an audience, get tattoos and prove to myself that I was a cutting-edge artist—he said with a laugh. But it played its part. Acting should be approached fearlessly.
Just don’t ask me to sing.
*PLAYBOY: *What’s more difficult, the acting or the rejection?
OFFERMAN: The rejection. I heard this Robin Williams quote years ago: “For an actor, getting a job is your job. When you get a job, that’s your vacation.” I’m kind of mad that Robin Williams gets that quote because I don’t think he had much of a job then. He’s been working pretty steadily.