Five Favorite Films with Nick Offerman
The Kings of Summer star also talks stunt choreography, typecasting, and what he considers manly.
RT: I want to go back to something you said earlier when you were talking about remaking The Quiet Man. You probably could handle a fistfight just fine, considering you were a fight coordinator when you were with the Steppenwolf Theatre.
Nick Offerman: It's true, yeah. I was really terrible at acting when I went to theater school, because I was brand new, fresh off the farm, and basically trying way too hard. So I couldn't really get cast very well, but what I could do, I was a great athlete. I'd been a football guy, so, of course, like any red-blooded young person, I picked up swords and was like, "Well, I can do this shit all day long, and I can do a backflip. Check this out." I could also build scenery, so those two skills enabled me to be around great theater and be contributing even before I knew what the hell I was doing with dialogue.
I still hope to get in a good swashbuckler project or two, because I feel like that's something that's really gone missing from the modern pantheon of films. Jackie Chan is the last guy who could impress with what he could do with his props, you know? This sort of Oliver Stone editing style -- which has now become, you know, The Bourne Identity and the James Bond movies -- you can have super cool weapons and fighting sequences without the actors needing to be able to juggle at all. And I just miss that. If you go back and watch Gene Kelly in The Three Musketeers, he has these moves as d'Artagnan. He's fighting three dudes on a staircase, where they're backing him down the staircase; he jumps backwards off like five steps, lands on his upper back, presses his knees to his nose, and flips back up the five steps. You know what I mean? That's the kind of thing that youngsters will watch and say, "Oh my god, I want to be Robin Hood, Superman, whatever." I really love that sense of swashbuckle.
RT: Let's talk about The Kings of Summer. Your role is the biggest adult role in the film. Can you provide some context for your character?
NO: The lead of the film is the character Joe Toy, deftly and brilliantly played by Nick Robinson, and my wife, his mom, has died, and we're both in terrible pain. But he's fifteen in the movie, and he's coming of age. He's at that awkward place where he wants to bristle against his dad, but it's just me and him in it together, and so we're butting heads. You know, at any other age, we probably would have said, "Hey, I'm really hurt." "So am I." "I love you; let's hug." But we're just at the father and son age where we're like, "The fuck are you looking at?" And so we have the period of the film to come to the realization that we're feeling the exact same pain, and that we need to throw our arms around each other and do it together.
Reading the script, it's full of really deftly and finely wrought humor. It's really a funny movie, and we're thrilled. It's like nothing we've ever seen, in that it's a really unique hybrid of... It's one of the funniest comedies I've seen in a long time, and that has nothing to do with me; it's all of this incredible cast that Jordan Vogt-Roberts assembled, this crazy 27-year-old wunderkind. I think he's 28 now, actually. This is his first feature, and it will blow your tits off. Even when we were shooting it, Megan and I were like, "Man, this kid has got his shit together." It's really great. He comes from the world of comedy shorts in like Chicago and then LA, you know, sketch and improv masters, and so every little cameo is the funniest person from the LA stage. It allows little throwaway scenes to become the jewels of the film. The meal is laced with bon bons and pigs in a blanket, where you're like, "Oh, god, that was a delicious mouthful. Now, back to my entrée."
So when I read it, I said, "Okay, this is super funny. We can have a lot of fun here." But I'm also so drawn to this nice emotional arc, which is not something that comes my way every day. It's funny because people will say, "Oh, Nick Offerman's playing himself in this." You know, many people say that I am Ron Swanson. For me, there's a vast gulf between Ron Swanson and Frank Toy in this movie, but it is a man with a beard, you know, who talks like me. Unfortunately for both Ron and Frank, I have to use my body and voice, so there are a few nods to similarity. But Ron is a cartoonish character in a very funny sitcom, and Frank is a much more fully realized human being in a very touching, funny film about teenagers coming of age. Ron is written in much broader strokes than Frank Toy; Frank Toy is more of a human being.
RT: Did you know Jordan Vogt-Roberts prior to this film?
NO: I didn't. We share an agent, and my agent fortuitously thought that they should get a manly guy with a sense of humor. Jason Statham was not available, so they called Russell Crowe, who also told them, apparently, to go fuck themselves and hurled one of his Blundstone boots, which is a fine Australian boot, at my agent. And then they came crawling to me.
RT: Megan mentioned that, when either of you are offered something, you'll bounce it off each other. Do you find that when that happens, the two of you have similar tastes and sensibilities about what you should and shouldn't take?
NO: Yeah, pretty much 100%. [laughs] Yeah, it's funny, we both come from Chicago theater, and I know that we're known for these comedy characters we've done, but we both are actors. We're prepared, we've got the chops, especially Megan. She can do anything Meryl Streep can do. She is as high end of a talent as you can come across, and that's something that we often kind of combat in the way that we're perceived in town, where people are like, "Well, I wasn't really thinking of someone so funny for this." But you know, look at Bryan Cranston, who was so funny on Malcolm in the Middle for so many years, and then he turns around and plays this chillingly dramatic character on Breaking Bad. I'd be happy to be the sixth man on Bryan Cranston's bench, but still, I'd like to play on his team, where I could be a scary evil sheriff just as soon as I could be a chuckleworthy parks and rec. director. So when we bounce things off each other, we definitely find we have similar sensibilities.
RT: In fact, you and Megan just recently opened a more serious stage production here in Los Angeles.
NO: We did, yeah. We're doing this play that's called Annapurna at the Odyssey Theatre with our company the Evidence Room, and it's a two-hander. It's just the two of us on stage for ninety minutes, barreling through this drama that leaves the audience devastated. It's like an early Sam Shepard, with some different, more poetic laughter. It's some deep dramatic work, and we're just loving the meal.
RT: Do you think that when people come to a show like that and they see you and Megan on stage, they'd be surprised by the kind of material you're doing?
NO: Certainly. Absolutely. The good thing is, when we take part in anything, theater, TV, or film, a) it usually doesn't suck; b) it's usually really interesting, it's usually really thought-provoking material, and sometimes, especially in Megan's case, it's sublime. So I think people certainly will come to see our play because they love Will & Grace or because they love Parks and Rec, and they'll be like, "Whoa, this is not like Ron and Karen." But, I think this play is very effective. We've had four or five audiences and even though we're still figuring out what the hell we're doing, we've been very gratified with the audience's reaction. And, you know, that'll be true for the rest of our lives. When you're on a show that gets syndicated, you're in people's living rooms with one particular clown mask on, so when they come see you play your other clown character, they're like, "Oh, well, this is not like the other one, but that juggling's not bad."
RT: Since I have the opportunity, I have to ask: What words of advice would you offer to those strapping young men striving to achieve Nick Offerman-like manliness?
NO: Mind your manners, tell the truth, and make the relationships in your life a priority. When you give to those you love around you as much as you can, you can't help but, I think, come across as having those decisions be seen as manly.
RT: Lastly, do you accept apprentices at your woodworking shop, and if so, what does one need to do to become one?
NO: It's a tricky crucible that one must be put through. We do have a couple of apprentices, but it's weird. With an operation like mine, where everything is handcrafted, the main thing we try to do is keep it small. The couple people that have come around, we sort of make them prove that they're interested in being there to learn woodworking and not to rub elbows with a guy who once did a movie with Sandra Bullock. What I would say is, there are many shops that work in many artisan hand crafts, and most of them are probably doing way better work than I am, because I'm an actor, and they're just practicing their craft all day. The way to get involved in any shop -- or theater, for that matter -- is to just show up and start hauling shit for them and start sweeping, and if you're a decent person, eventually they're going to say, "Oh hey, I need a set of hands. Come here." And eventually you got the keys to the truck, and then you're good to go. Sweeping. Sweeping is the secret to success.