Actor, master woodworker, writer and humorist Nick Offerman, 45, is starring as Ignatius J. Reilly in the Huntington Theatre Company’s world premiere production of A Confederacy of Dunces, an adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning novel playing at the BU Theatre Nov. 11-Dec. 20. A native of Minooka, Illinois, Offerman studied acting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including Parks and Recreation, on which he played Ron Swanson. He is working on his third book and operates the Offerman Woodshop in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife, Will & Grace actress Megan Mullally.
Nick Offerman: Number-one favorite episode is entitled “Ron and Tammy,” and it’s the first appearance of Megan as my batshit-crazy ex-wife. It’s just a magnificent script by Mike Scully from The Simpsons, who had his own bitter divorce to draw upon. It was a life-changing moment to get to work for the first time with my wife as a full-on comedy equal. Number-two favorite episode is called “Leslie and Ron,” which was in the last season, and it was like a one-act play with just me and Amy Poehler. Getting to do 20 minutes of TV with her was an incredible gift.
Amy Poehler—funniest woman alive? She’s right up there. If I could only pick one, I’d have to pick my wife, but they come from different schools. Amy’s the greatest third baseman in history, but Megan’s the best center fielder.
How close politically and philosophically are you to Ron Swanson? Well, pretty close. People get a little confused about that character. They tend to think that he’s more of a John Wayne backward type, and he’s actually quite progressive in his libertarianism. He’s a great feminist. I think that he would not come down on the side of the NRA on gun issues. He’s a decent and wise man. But the thing I share most with him is being a man of few words. I like to think we both don’t suffer fools gladly, and that includes ourselves.
Was A Confederacy of Dunces always a favorite book of yours? I grew up in a small town in Illinois that was rather bereft of popular culture beyond the most mainstream. So it wasn’t until I got to college in 1988 that I was handed The White Album and David Lynch and William S. Burroughs. And it was in my first semester that I read A Confederacy of Dunces. All these much more worldly theater kids took a shine to me, because I could build scenery, and they said, “Read this, smoke this, check this out.” Of course, I was smitten with it, but it never occurred to me that Ignatius J. Reilly would be a role that I could play, until I realized I’d played these petulant characters, including Ron Swanson, who throws a tantrum when there’s no bacon.
What are the biggest differences between the novel and the play? Well, what’s so magnificent about the book is that it’s such a sprawling description of the nooks and crannies of the early-’60s French Quarter of New Orleans, but it doesn’t have a straightforward narrative. That’s what’s made it so difficult for all the attempts at making it into a film. The adaptation we’re working with manages to take the chaos and distill it into a double love story, hopefully without leaving out any of the major details that its devotees love about it.
I paid for a couple of years of college by framing houses, and I began working at the theater scene shop for wages. I was always swingin’ a hammer to pay for things. That was my in. I was very bad at acting when I started, and I couldn’t get cast, but my friends fortunately wanted me around because I could build things. So I owe my acting career to it in many ways.
Probably the first canoe I ever built: 18 feet, made of cedar, hardwood trim. It just felt like it was rife with wizardry as well as wood and glue. Making a table or chair feels magnificently powerful for the simple reason that you don’t have to sit on the floor and you have someplace to put your beer. But making a canoe and then paddling it down a river made me feel like I’d done something magical.
Which woodworkers do you most admire? I’m working on my third book, which is about my shop and woodworking, and I’m hoping to meet and interview some of my heroes, like Mira Nakashima. She’s the daughter of George Nakashima, and he and Sam Maloof are kinda considered the two biggest rock stars who created their own artistic styles. But in Boston, there’s an incredible school, the North Bennet Street School, which is maybe the oldest and certainly the finest trade school in America, and I revere that place.
Parks and Rec took off, and I began just telling students a bunch of shit I thought they should know. That’s my agenda, both in my shows and in my books. Rashida Jones is a good friend, and she was the one who gave me the idea to write it down, so I tricked someone into a book deal. I’m just tickled that anybody would read 300 pages of my writing.
I’ve been accused of doing stand-up. I like to think of myself as a humorist, though, because I don’t think I’m as funny as my stand-up friends. And what I do isn’t all meant to be funny. Colleges started asking me to appear when
I do. I love nothing more than playing a character the audience loves to hate, the guy who makes you say, “You’re such a sonofabitch, but I’d love to have dinner with you.” One of the characters and actors I look up to the most is Ian McShane as Al Swearengen on
Deadwood I was on the second episode, and Wild Bill put one in my belly. A sort of brief and ignoble part, but one of the best things I’ve ever gotten to work on. I wish I hadn’t died.
The Men Who Stare at Goats Great name, and a great book, about a crazy conspiracy-theory-like but true story. A platoon of psychic soldiers we created because we thought the Russians were doing it. [Chuckles.]
The Lego Movie Can’t think of an easier one. I’ve had the good fortune to work on a few animated films and TV shows, and it’s incredibly fun. You can show up in your pajamas, but also the freedom it affords you is incredible. You think you’re getting hired for your own voice, but I asked, “Is it OK if I don’t sound like me?” They said, “Sure!” No one can see you, so I can play a 6-year-old girl. Maybe she’ll sound weird, but it’s the ultimate fun as an actor.
Sure. I’m a character actor. The character I’m most known for happens to have had a mustache, but he’s only one iteration of the stuff I’ve done, and there are plenty of roles in TV and movies where I have no facial hair. I just did a movie with Michael Keaton called The Founder that’ll be out next year, where I have a high-and-tight and I’m super clean-shaven. I’m thrilled that the career of my mustache took off like it did, and in this play I have one too, but I welcome roles where I don’t have one.
Does Megan like it? She thankfully does. She’s very meticulous and has incredibly fine taste, so it doesn’t really follow that she should be a big fan of my unruly whiskers. But perhaps it’s because she’s so refined that it’s an escape for her to lose herself in the brambles of my face.
I can dance like a motherfucker.
Probably me, but she gives me a run for my money. The combination of being a laborer and having hit my thumb with a hammer a lot, along with working in the entertainment industry, lends itself to a colorful vocabulary. But one of the things about Megan with which I was first smitten was her filthy sense of humor. When we first met, I’d call my best friend almost daily to say, “Listen to what she said about my balls today.”
Should your song “Pussy and Weed” be up for a Grammy? I don’t understand why that was not a No. 1 Billboard hit.
Are you a big weed smoker? I have been. I always enjoy intoxicants, but it’s interesting. Before my dreams came true vocationally, I had a lot more time to smoke and go into the woods. Now that’s a treat I have to work into my life. Also, there’s an escapism to it, and I’ve been so lucky that I don’t have as much need for escapism.
Your definition of misery? What a great question. The life of the mindless American consumer. If you don’t pay attention, the corporate interests in our country peddle misery. Their favorite broadcast channel is through your mirror. We’ve been taught to see ourselves as ugly ducklings, and in the brief times that I’ve subscribed to that mentality, it’s been a place of total misery.