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?