Ron Swanson of Parks & Rec vs. Nick Offerman: The Food Interview
Like the character he plays on Parks & Recreation, Nick Offerman is a man with a magnificent mustache. Something of a libertarian, most certainly a contrarian and definitely not a vegetarian, Ron Swanson is the gruff but goofy patriarch who viewers have come to idolize. Such is the curse of success that people so adore Ron Swanson, they often can't, or won't, separate the man in the eye of the meat tornado from the man who plays him.
The Ron Swanson food pyramid.
It's a strange twist of fate for an actor who spent a good chunk of his early career working as a set-builder and performing in non-union theater in Chicago, a choice he likens to canoeing the L.A. River unironically. "Not a lot of people are going to hear about it, but... you're just happy to have done it," Offerman says.
Married since 2003 to Megan Mullally, who played Karen Walker on Will & Grace, the two of them live in the Los Angeles hills, where Offerman spends as much time as possible avoiding the internet and grilling bratwurst.
Over a lunch of prime rib, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and multiple desserts at the Tam O'Shanter Inn, located a few minutes from the Atwater Village workshop where he builds canoes and practices planking (not the stiffening viral trend), Offerman chatted with Squid Ink about mustache mania, his predilection for Dickensian restaurants and why, even in such a food-centric era, Parks & Rec may be TV's most food-centric sitcom.
"It's a great time to be alive," Offerman says. "Popular music all sounds like Neil Young records from 1972, and we're reliving this artisan appreciation in all the food we're eating."
Guzzle & Nosh Nick Offerman enjoys his steak.
Squid Ink: Now that I've bribed you with prime rib...
Nick Offerman: You've loosened my tongue.
SI: Everybody loves Ron Swanson. I used to do book reviews for Bitch, a feminist magazine. The entire editorial staff loves you.
NO: Wow, thank you... Bitch.
SI: So here's a question from the Bitch editorial staff: "Do you have any problems with fans who refuse to differentiate between you as an actor and your role? (Confession: the entire editorial staff of Bitch is guilty of this.)"
NO: No, I don't have a problem with it. I've seen headlines on blogs that couldn't state it more plainly: "Nick Offerman, Ron Swanson: Indistinguishable." It's very much not the case. I'm crazy about the character Ron Swanson, but Ron is like a Simpsons character. No mortal could survive his diet.
There are things about my personality, but they're very simple points. Ron loves to eat meat and he loves to work with wood and he's a simple guy who grows good whiskers.
SI: And plays saxophone.
NO: I'm not quite as good as Duke Silver, but I do play. There's no way, short of taking me out for prime rib, that the readers of Bitch could begin to understand that I'm just as much of a sloppy dipshit as the rest of us, trying to find my ass with both hands. Ron is a character like Superman. Christopher Reeve seems pretty indistinguishable to me from Superman, but I can comprehend what must be the differences. That was a bad example. Gene Hackman seems indistinguishable to me from Lex Luthor, but I can comprehend what the differences must be.
SI: Do you get a lot of Ron Swanson fan gifts?
NO: I feel like there's been some sort of shift in the zeitgeist, where people are now able to scratch a certain fan itch online. In [wife] Megan [Mullally's] day, we would receive a lot more things sent to our table at restaurants. There was more tangible physical evidence of fan worship. Nowadays, I actually don't get a lot of stuff, which I'm incredibly grateful for. What am I going to do with pigs with mustaches on them?
There have been a few occurrences where people in restaurants have sent me a rasher of bacon, which I am not going to turn my nose up at. I never let them down.
SI: As a food writer, I get a lot of well-meaning but silly food gifts. Eventually, I had to tell people: If you really like me, stop giving me bacon-themed gifts; just give me bacon.
NO: Let's commiserate: I mainly get mustache stuff. Can you imagine me sitting here right now wearing an ironic T-shirt about mustaches?
SI: For the record, you're wearing a dark blue shirt that says "A visual aid for knot tying," which is very practical.
NO: That's going to come in handy. If the shit goes down right now, and we get swept out to sea, guess who's got the knot chart?
I'm so grateful to be in the position where people want to express their love of our show with some sort of mustache-themed gift. I get that. They always say, "I saw this, and I had to get it for you." That's where you need to change the thinking. See it, think of me and maybe have a laugh with your friends.