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Parks And Recreation Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Parks and Recreation

This is an interview with Nick Offerman and Michael Schur on August 30, 2011 about the show Parks And Recreation.

Question:
Nick, I guess I'd like to start with you and ask about all the various Tammys in Ron's life and how it's been working with Patricia Clarkson and Paula Pell so far this season?

Nick Offerman:
We've been incredibly fortunate with the selection of ladies that have graced our stage with their presence, talent and beauty. I think what the audience will be surprised to learn is that Tammy 2, played by Megan Mullally, the gorgeous Megan Mullally, may turn out to be the most kitten-like, timid women of the Tammys. I am about as giggly as a schoolgirl to have landed in a position where I'm portraying a man who has made love to both Megan Mullally and Patricia Clarkson. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Michael Schur:
I just want to make it clear for anybody listening who's never spoken with Nick Offerman before, this is really how he talks. He's not doing a bit. That's actually the way that he talks in normal conversation. I just want to make that clear.

Nick Offerman:
Like a jackass.

Michael Schur:
Like a very well-educated jackass.

Question:
I just wanted to hear a little bit more about Patricia Clarkson's character. We're just dying for any little nugget of info. And can you describe Tammy 1's personality a little bit more?

Michael Schur:
I would only say with a heartfelt desire not to spoil too much about the character, I would say that she is very different from Tammy 2's character. The relationship she has with Ron is not a sort of hedonistic, animal attraction, pure and simple that we've seen before. They have a much different, more complicated, more kind of rich back story that we get into and delve into.

The point of casting Patricia Clarkson was to let her be Patricia Clarkson, and I think we accomplished that. And we just wanted to do something very different from Megan's character and I think we accomplished that as well. So we're very excited for people to see it. We're just worried that if we go into too great of detail about who she is and what she does for a living and how she knows Ron and all that stuff that it'll be kind of anticlimactic when you finally meet her.

Question:
Ron Swanson has taken off in such a big way. Did you guys ever expect him to be such a breakout character?

Michael Schur:
I know that you can never expect anything to break out in television, especially in this very crowded landscape. I think if you asked me to lay odds on someone, one character breaking out before the pilot had aired, I might have if I were a betting man, have bet on Ron Swanson, only because he is played by Nick Offerman and has a big bushy moustache. And as far as predictions go, that's about as good as a source of information as you can have.

I'm not surprised that he has broken out, I would say. I mean, I think that he's a character who's not that common on TV. He's a big, strong man who doesn't care about pop culture or the world around him. He's sort of a 19th century individualist who likes to spend time alone in a cabin and hunt and stuff, and it's just not a character you see a lot, especially in a comedy show. So I would never in my life have predicted anything would break out from any show. But it's not surprising to me that if there is a breakout character, quote unquote, that you would say it's Ron.

Nick Offerman:
I would not have expected it, no.

Question:
Nick, following up on that last question a little bit, first of all, do you have any idea though what exactly people are responding to with this character? He's this grumpy guy, you kind of hate everyone. What is making him loveable among the public? And second of all, how the heck did this guy ever get into government? He hates government so much. Have you explored the why or how he got into it in the first place?

Nick Offerman:
Well, to answer your first question, I usually assume it's my musk that attracts people. I keep the dander to a minimum and I keep it clean, but I use just a little bit of hibiscus oil behind each shoulder. That would be my guess. And I think Mike would be better suited to answer the second question.

Michael Schur:
As far as how Ron got into government, when Greg Daniels and I were developing this show, we had this idea that the head of the department would be a libertarian. And we thought that was funny but also kind of unrealistic until we were doing research and we talked to a woman in a local government here in California, and we said, "Listen, we have this idea that the guy who runs the department would be a libertarian. Does that strain credulity?" And she said, "Oh no, I'm a libertarian." And we said, "You're kidding." And she said, "No. I'm aware of the irony, but yes, I'm a libertarian."

And we thought, all right. And it turned out that her husband was also a libertarian and he also worked in the government and as we poked around more and more, we found that there were a lot of kind of true believers who were libertarians who got into government precisely to try to sort of keep a lid on it and minimize it. My father was in the Navy for many, many years in the Navy Reserve and he was a vowed pacifist, and he did ROTC to get through college.

And it was the same kind of thing where his argument was, we should have the Armed Forces should be rife with pacifists so that we don't get into unnecessary wars. And if the people who were in the military have this attitude that war is a complete last resort, then the world would be better off. And so that was sort of partly the genesis of it. But it turns out that there are a lot of libertarians who go into government for precisely that reason.

Question:
We've learned that the woodworking that Ron does on the show is actually a Nick Offerman thing. So I'm wondering if there are going to be more Nick Offerman things that are going to be integrated into Ron Swanson's character this season?

Nick Offerman:
I have a penchant for the ballet, and I've been pitching the fellows for the whole time we've been in production for a Ron Swan Lake episode. I haven't heard of anything coming down the pike just yet.

Michael Schur:
I know you can dance the Black Swan, but can you dance the White Swan?

Nick Offerman:
Give me a chance, I'll show you.

Michael Schur:
There is actually an episode that we're doing a redo for today that has a little bit of a real-life Nick Offerman in it. I'll try not to give anything away except to say home repair, how about that? There's a little home repair that goes in a future episode. And for the record, by the way, the Duke Silver saxophone playing is also a real-life Nick Offerman thing. Nick really plays the saxophone, that's really him playing in the episode from season two. He does build canoes, that was a Nick Offerman thing. There's no end. We could probably just base episodes around Nick Offerman's real-life skills and have a long and happy run.

Question:
Michael, you left us with a good cliffhanger there with Leslie being faced with the possibility of running for office, although it may come at an expense with her romance with Ben. What's her thought process going to be?

Michael Schur:
Yes, that's exactly right, and that is the essential dilemma of the first episode and in fact, sort of the first half of the year, is that she's in a kind of odd situation where she really likes the guy that she is dating and the guy that she's dating is her boss. And that means that if she dates him while she's running for office it's kind of a scandal. So that's really the basis of our entire premiere is her trying to make a decision about what to do.

And then the basis for the first half of the season, all the way through December, will be her living with the ramifications of that decision and probably occasionally kind of second-guessing herself and trying to deal with the inevitable sort of buyer's remorse. And we had this idea that we didn't want to do a story about how women can't have it all, because that seemed sort of archaic to us. And so we tried to make sure that the dilemma was specific and not just, "I can't have a career and a boyfriend," because that's, like, a Cathy cartoon from the 80s.

So we wanted to make a very specific situation where it's just Leslie Knope is kind of a superhero and under normal circumstances, she could probably have a great relationship with a guy and also run her campaign and make time in her schedule for both and also make time for her many community center classes and Girl Scout troop leading sessions and stuff. But in this case, it just happens to be that the specific guy is causing a problem because he's technically her boss. So we really wanted to focus on that aspect of it, not on the kind of age-old and kind of false dilemma, I think, that the media has created that, like, women can't have it all, which I think is kind of goofy.

Question:
Have you started shooting with Patricia Clarkson?

Michael Schur:
We indeed have, yes. She's in the first two episodes of the year and we have shot both of them and mostly edited both of them, so we're almost done with her, sadly.

Question:
Nick, what it was like working with her?

Nick Offerman:
I'll happily speak to that. I know she's a native daughter, Patty's mom runs the City Council of New Orleans. If the Mayor were to disappear, her mom would take over the City which is something she was trying to negotiate with me, unsuccessfully. So it was a little shady working with Patricia. She tried to involve me in a few criminal efforts which I managed to resist.

I've been such a huge fan of hers for many years and it's nothing short of a dream come true that I got to actually work in scenes with her. When the possibility arose, I couldn't believe my lucky stars. And she even surpassed our expectations. Not only is she gorgeous and an incredible actress, but she is insanely hilarious to boot. I think everybody on set was just bowled over with how funny she was on the show.

Question:
Nick, how did you know about her mom? Did you talk about that?

Nick Offerman:
She does nothing but brag about her mom all day long. The first day she had a t-shirt that says, "My Mom runs the City of New Orleans."

Question:
Nick, I'm still having a hard time digesting that photo shoot you did with Megan. No wax, were you comfortable doing this?

Nick Offerman:Michael Schur:
It's so early in the morning to give a monologue like that. It's like 9:20 in the morning.

Question:
Were you really comfortable doing that without shaving or waxing?

Nick Offerman:
Oh yes, I mean this is I can legitimately say that I insist on no shaving or waxing. I think that the emasculation of the modern man in popular culture is something that has weakened our society considerably. I don't know why a heroic male these days has to have a hairless torso. You know, when I grew up admiring Joe Don Baker swinging a baseball bat and walking tall, he was a hairy son of a bitch. And to me, that's a hero. You know, I'm a big fan of your Brad Pitts and your Jude Laws, but I'd like to see a little hair on their chests if they're going to be beating somebody up.

Question:
Word on the street is that Parks & Rec is going to take the Emmy for Best Comedy this year. How do you guys feel about that and feel about the nomination?

Michael Schur:
First of all, where is this street? Because I would like to walk on it.

Nick Offerman:
I think my mom lives on that street.

Michael Schur:
Your mom and my mom, yeah. They're hanging out next door to each other on the stoop going, "I think they're going to win."

Nick Offerman:
Yeah.

Michael Schur:
That would be, of course, an honor and I would say a stunning honor. I am of the opinion, personally, that there is more good television, more high-quality television being produced right now than at any time in the history of television. I think that there are 20 shows in every genre that deserve recognition as being at the top of the heap. I it would be shocking, frankly, and it would be an incredible honor. And we just like making this show and we want to make it as long as we possibly can. It's incredibly fun. We have an amazing time. All of the cliches that are spouted about loving your job are applied to us tenfold. And institutional recognition is not something that you can count on or you can't put too many eggs in those baskets because it's just too fickle a beast.

But it would be incredibly meaningful to us if it were to happen because the show has been bounced around a little bit and buffeted by various forces that are beyond our control. And we felt like we were making a really good season of TV and if it happened to be that our peers agreed, then that would be fantastic. But we we're shooting episode five of season four right now and just that fact alone makes us all want to weep with joy that we've made it this far and that we get to keep going, so.

Nick Offerman:
I would just like to add what he said.

Question:
What are some of your most favorite moments from playing the role of Ron Swanson?

Nick Offerman:
Gosh, probably the first one would be a phone call from Mike Schur telling me I got the job of playing Ron Swanson. Beyond that, that's a really tough question. This is such a plum role, it's really hard to choose favorite moments. If I started a list, we'd be on the phone for an hour and a half. I love when I get to eat meat. I love when I get to dangerously make out with my wife to the point of destroying buildings and furniture. And I love everything about it. Every time I'm handed a new script, I feel like a largemouth bass at a nightcrawler convention.

Question:
You have to love working with Aubrey Plaza?

Nick Offerman:
Oh, absolutely. She is a dream because she's so insanely funny in such a confederate way. She's always thinking against what is the right thing to do and it makes for great comedy, and she's a really lovely young lady outside of the office.

Question:
How much of Ron is improvised?

Nick Offerman:
I have a very concise answer for that question and that is about Mike and our writers. I love to improvise in the character what I'm handed by a room full of brainiacs. Cool stuff.

Question:
Mike, I wanted to ask you a little bit about the breakout character thing. And I'm curious if you've ever gotten any notes of you need to give more Ron?

Michael Schur:
I'll answer that in two parts. Part one is to say that I'm often asked questions about NBC and their potential interference or meddling in the show. And there's a kind of expectation I think that shows succeed in spite of networks or something. And I can only speak to my own experience but they've been nothing but great. Their notes on our show are smart and their interference or whatever you want to call it it's fairly minimal. They leave the storey breaking to us. They leave the rewrites to us. They offer their suggestions.

They give strong notes when they really feel something but they never give notes that they can't be argued out of or if they want to sort of engage in a discussion with us, it's really kind of a dream creatively. And I think they deserve a lot of credit for how they've gone about their business. And as far as Ron specifically goes, I can honestly say that with Ron or with any other character they have never said once to me go more in that direction, you know. We want to play that up or do more of this, less of this. Like, they really don't operate that way, at least they haven't with us. And they love Ron like we do. They love Tom and they love Andy and they love April and Ann and Leslie and Chris and Ben. They love all the characters and they're very, very positive and supportive all the way around. It's incredibly disappointing for people sometimes but it's really true.

In the early going, maybe Tom was breaking out because Aziz is a little sparkplug and has so much charisma. They never said, yes, chase that, make this the Aziz show. You, know, when Ron was breaking out they never said, yes, now it's the Ron Swanson show. They've just never done that. They don't operate that way to my delight. I've had a great relationship with them. I believe Greg has as well. I'll speak for him on this point at least. We've had really great relationships with all the creative executives at NBC.

Nick Offerman:
I will say that I did put in a request that my catchphrase would be it's clobbering time. And I was told that had already been taken.

Michael Schur:
It was taken, yes. And it was, of course, Archie Bunker's catchphrase on All in the Family. It was Mary Tyler Moore's catchphrase.

Question:
Is it hard to keep a straight face with all the great lines you have during the show?

Nick Offerman:
I guess in a word yes. One of the hardest things about the job, when you are working with a cast of ten homerun hitters it's simply tolerating their skill without busting out laughing. For me especially, when Ron is supposed to be unmoved, which is quite frequently, especially in the face of Andy or Leslie just being the most amazing clown right up in my face it can be really difficult. But at the same time, that's what makes the job so fun is when we do have a moment to break out and laugh at each other because we're watching the funniest work going today.

Michael Schur:
I will also add to that I've been lucky in that this has never happened to me but I know a lot of my friends or comedy writers have worked in places where for whatever reason it's not cool to laugh. Like somehow she's laughing it shows weakness, you know. There's a kind of hipster comedy mindset where it's like you're not supposed to laugh at anything. And to me that's the whole point.

I mean for God's sake, what are we doing in this business? I'm an uncontrollable giggler as is Nick as is Amy as is Aziz. Everyone on our show loves to laugh and giggle. It makes for such a nicer, more friendly environment. I don't act very often but when I do I often just basically ruin every take I'm in because I just start laughing. I forget I'm not supposed to laugh and I just start laughing. And I'm lucky that my actual day job is one that allows me to just do that as long as I'm far enough away from the set so that I don't actually ruin their takes.

Michael Schur:
Nick, how do you prepare for a scene because you're so freaking hilarious and I'm sure what you kind of disregard as not good enough in your preparations is like my idea of perfection?

Nick Offerman:
I don't know. I don't think I'm particularly special. I think that I'm just so lucky that my writing is so good that my main focus is to stay out of the way of the writing. If I had a bad tendency it would be to add something hilarious. Maybe, what if I make a really funny face when I look at this poster of breakfast food and then I say, it's clobbering time. And then I think, no, you know what, I'm just going to do what they've given me. Don't have the ego to think you need to add a little dash of Nick. Trust the great writing. Whether it's Checkoff or Mike Shur.

Michael Schur:
Thanks, appreciate it guys.

Nick Offerman:
You bet.

Question:
Are there any chances that we're going to see a Tammy 3 this season? Is Ron out on the prowl for his next Tammy?

Michael Schur:
I think if it were up to Ron he would probably never meet another woman named Tammy as long as he lived. But Ron's love life to this point has been mostly about the past. It's about his ex-wives and his past loves. He did date Wendy, Tom's ex-wife for a while and there have been some other romantic interludes, maybe reference or something. But after the first two episode of the season air we will have met both of his ex-wives and I think the writers have spent a little bit of time.

Question:
Why do you think people continue to tune in and watch Parks and Rec?

Michael Schur:
Their TVs are broken and stuck on Channel 4 would be my guess. I don't know. I don't know why anybody does anything in the world of television. I don't know why I sometimes watch the things I do frankly but our show has been remarked on and many times I think has a very sort of optimistic world view. It's one of the themes of the show is that optimism is better than pessimism and that optimism kind of wins the day.

That's what Leslie's all about and her character kind of colors the show that way. And I think that it has a kind of warm and positive feeling to it. And besides that, I mean I think it's the best cast on TV. I know every show runner says that about his or her show but I honestly don't think there's a better cast of comic actors anywhere. And I frankly don't think there's a close second. So if you are a fan of any kind of comedy, of dry comedy, of political satire, of physical comedy, or pop culture reference comedy, there is a comedian for you on this show. And I think that you would find that the people who start watching our show continue to watch it because I think it's kind of comedically speaking for me it's a very big tent show. There's something for everybody.

Question:
Ron is famously against having friends but we've still seen him soften towards Andy, April, Leslie. Is there going to be another character this season that we're going to see Ron bond with probably against his will but either way?

Nick Offerman:
No.

Michael Schur:
I don't know. To me, my favorite aspect of Ron is when the cracks show in the fa??ade. You know, in the Flu Season episode last year he started off by saying that the best friend he ever had was a guy whose name he didn't know, who he worked with for three years and never learned his name, you know.

And then by the end of that episode Andy was doing something really nice for Andy and Andy was hugging him very warmly. And I think that's the most fun part of Ron to me is when his sort of crusty, individualistic exterior is cracked in half by the sweet and warm attention from one of the people he works with. And we get to see that he really does care about those people. And I think at this point we've sort of seen that. I mean we've certainly seen it with Andy and April. We've seen it with Leslie. We've sort of seen it with Tom. I would say if there's one person this year that you're going to see more of it would be maybe Tom.

Question:
You're in the fourth season. What's been your favorite memory of shooting or favorite episode to shoot so far?

Nick Offerman:
When they shut the lights off at the end of 12 hours of shooting I'm still sitting at my desk hoping they'll come back and we'll get to work some more because I love the job so much. So really the whole thing is my favorite. If I had to choose probably the first Ron and Tammy episode because it was so much fun to do in and of itself but also getting to work as a comedy team with my hero, Megan Mullally was such an incredible gift that it allows it to win by a nose in the race of favorite episode.

Michael Schur:
I would say the cheesy but true answer is that my favorite episode is always the one we're about to shoot because it's really fun to make the show and I'm always excited to see what happens next. I have a specific affinity for an episode called Woman of the Year which we made in Season 2 I guess. And the idea was that Leslie thought she'd won an award from a women's group and instead the award was given to Ron for these various political reasons that were stupid. And it was from the moment we had the idea to the moment we locked the edit it was just delightful because it was just Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman just going at it head to head. It was just two giant comedy grizzlies attacking each other. To me it was a perfect comedy story. It was a huge conflict between the two main characters of the show. And I just have always really loved that one.

Question:
With the Emmy nomination, Parks and Recreation is getting better reception than ever. How does that or does that affect what's going within the show? Has there been any difference returning to set for the fourth season?

Nick Offerman:
There' been an ever burgeoning feeling of delight since we started production. And it's a slowly rolling snowball that continues to gain mass and speed. You know, we felt from the beginning that we against all odds have put together an incredible show that people would find really funny and really heartwarming. And we have done nothing to continue to grow in sort of critical response and audience reaction.

And it was so gratifying and so sort of validating when we got the Emmy nomination for the show. And so I think that we just generally have this feeling of grateful optimism that we tried to do something nice and people seem to agree that it's working. So we're just really glad that we get to keep climbing the hill, which kind of goes against the snowball rolling down the hill but you know what I'm saying.

Michael Schur:
You know, we were moved to mid-season for Season 3 and what that meant was that we made all of Season 3 in a bubble. We wrote and shot and edited most of the episodes before the first one had even aired. And it was a very strange kind of experiment because usually you start making the episodes and you've made about six of them or seven of them or something and the first one airs and you start getting feedback. And critics and fans are sort of weighing in on what they like and don't like and so forth. But we did everything without anybody seeing any of it.

And I remember having a conversation with Amy we had almost finished shooting the entire season and I had this conversation with her where I said look, unless I'm crazy and I mean deeply crazy. I think this is a really great season of TV. Like, I don't have any way to know because no one's seen it except me and our editors but I think it's really great. And it was just a very strange feeling.

I guess the point of the story is that we were happy coming to the set for all of Season 3 when no one had anything to say about our show because it wasn't airing. And everyday the actors showed up and everybody was in a great mood and the writers wrote our scripts and we all had a ton of fun. And I can honestly say that if none of those episodes had even ever aired I would still think about how fun it was to make that season because everyone just is a nice person and is happy and it's just a great job. So and I mean it's like Nick said, it's very, very validating and it feels wonderful to have people, whether it's critics or fans, be positive about the work that we're doing. But it would be fun to come to this job no matter what.

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