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Questions and Answers With Nick Offerman

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Who is the real Nick Offerman? You know him as mustachioed TV icon Ron Swanson from NBC's "Parks and Recreation," but how do you separate the man from the legend — or, more importantly, the man from the mustache?

Easy: You don't.

Meeting Offerman to talk about his new movie, "Somebody Up There Likes Me," a dark comedy about a self-centered narcissist (Keith Poulson) and his only friend (Offerman), he was everything we hoped he'd be, with facial hair in full bloom and the deadpan delivery that's made "Parks and Rec" devotees of us all.

We discussed the many mysteries of "Somebody Up There" and the secret to working (and not working) with his wife, Megan Mullally. We waxed rhapsodic about childhood pets. But when we touched on his deep-seated fear of tofu, we were really getting somewhere.

The movie is delightful and peculiar.
Thank you.

Tribeca Film Tribeca Film

There's a lot of symbolism going on: The main character, Max, doesn't age, though the story spans decades. He possesses a suitcase that gives off light and possibly magic. You had the benefit of the writer on hand, since he also directed this. Did he actually tell you what the movie's about?
No. [Bob Byington] is very mysterious. He's very closeted when it comes to revealing any of his intentions. It's my third film with him recently, and the two earlier films were more lighthearted and ...  lightweight, I guess. They were more slice-of-life comedies. When the script first came to my wife and I, it just had much more of an epic feeling to it, like, "Oh, this is big, this is about all of life. This is about the human condition in a more profound way."

It is funny, though.
It is, certainly. I love Bob's humor the most. He's very smart, but he's also very funny. It became sort of a running joke that continues to this day. "What's in the suitcase?" I begged him, after the credits, to insert a flashback that would say "40 years earlier" and it would be my character, Sal, jerking off into the suitcase.

I assume he only declined because he wanted to retain a sense of ambiguity, as clearly that's a brilliant idea.
Because he's a fool.

It's so obvious.
It's magic and sparkly...

You and Megan have worked together a great deal. Do people approach you as a package deal at this point?
They often do, which is wonderful. We love working together, which is rare, I think, among performing couples. Our personalities are such that, whatever it is that makes people not like to work with their spouses, we don't have that problem. We're such big fans of one another that we love nothing more than that we get to play together as a team. 'Cause we have the same filthy, irreverent sensibilities.

One of the bummers about working on location is having to be away from your wife for two, three, four weeks. We have a rule that we'll never be apart for more than two weeks. So part of agreeing to any job out of town is making sure that we don't break our rule.

NBC NBC

A majority of your roles are gruff and socially awkward, but you seem like an affable guy. Do facets of your personality draw you to those parts or are people giving you those parts because you're just so convincing in them?
That's a nice compliment. I have a peculiar point of view and the thing that draws me to roles is good writing. So I definitely have a take on how I think things should go ... Eventually, I learned from people repeatedly saying, "I love your crazy take on my writing." I was like, "You obviously wrote it wrong if you disagree with my interpretation." I don't put too much thought into it, it's just my natural funk or the mold that has accumulated on my psyche, and I think Megan's the same way.

We've talked a lot about the reason it took both of us a long time to get a big break like "Will and Grace" or "Parks and Recreation." It's because we never try to give the people, especially TV producers, what they want. And so people who are making safe choices quite often get the jobs, because a corporation wants a brand they can trust. "Oh, I know that guy, he loves beer and t*ts. Put him on TV." But I come in, and they're like, "I don't know about this guy who loves dead animal skulls and the Illuminati."

You're not giving them what they want. You're giving them what they need.
Exactly.

The head shot on your IMDB page has no mustache. It's jarring. Does the facial hair, or lack thereof, influence your identity?
Somewhat. When I put this mustache on, my face immediately shifts downward into a bit of a constipative rictus.

No, I suppose it does. There was a ["Parks and Rec"] episode with Patricia Clarkson and Megan where Patricia, as my first ex-wife, Tammy #1, has me shave my mustache. And playing the couple of scenes that I had to play as Ron without my mustache was incredibly difficult. Like, I didn't know how to talk as Ron without my mustache. I hadn't realized... I suppose it's like if I went in to catch for a major league baseball game without my pads. I was like, "This is not a good idea. I don't have my equipment. I don't have the accessory that I need." Because the way I use my face and the way I speak as Ron is built around my mustache. It worked great for the story because Ron was as naked as Sampson without his tawny locks.

What did you buy with your first Hollywood paycheck?
A Dewalt twelve-inch portable planer.

What freaks you out?
Feta cheese and tofu. Both innocuous, bland substances that are not pleasing whatsoever in any way.

Rock or rap?
Rock.

Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake?
No.

New York or L.A.? Or Pawnee?
Pawnee.

What's your porn name? It's the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on.
Baron Bell.

He was a German Shepherd. He was a goddamn good dog.  We lived in the middle of a cornfield in the '70s. They hadn't invented fences yet. And Baron just had the run of the county. And my dad, who whistled so loud, he'd go on the back porch and whistle, and we'd just wait. After about five minutes, from the horizon, we'd see Baron come hauling ass.

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