Nick Offerman has made a career out of playing colorful cranks — most notably, Ron Swanson, the hyper-masculine boss on the NBC comedy series Parks and Recreation.
But now, in the new film, Hearts Beat Loud, Offerman has a chance to play a more nuanced character — one he calls a "fully fleshed-out human being." Offerman plays a middle-age single dad who owns a struggling record store and wants to start a band with his teenage daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons.
"This is the largest role, by far, I've ever had in a film," he says. And it's been an opportunity to explore vulnerabilities and relationships in a way he hadn't previously been able to as an actor: "I just got to play all these scenes that I had never gotten to do in 25 years in the business," he says.
On finding his niche in theater school as a woodworker
In the four years of theater school it became clear that I was not going to be cast well, and it was well-deserved. I was trying too hard ... I unwittingly thought that my sort of country rube persona would not be interesting to an audience, I needed to be much cooler and hip and urbane, and so I just tried way too hard, which made me bad.
Meanwhile, one of the classes we had to take as freshmen was scene shop. ... That was my first real wood shop, and it might as well have been the Land of Oz. I was immediately smitten.
I knew how to use tools. I had worked framing houses. I had built a lot of stuff with my dad, including a small barn. And I picked up the tools and I hammered them together and the rest of the class stood there staring at me with their jaws dropped. ... The guy running the shop said, "Hey, you can make wages in here. In your off-time, you can come in and I'll pay you to use these tools and I'll teach you to use the shop."
So that organically became my formula, where everybody saw that and they said, "Hey, let's not give Nick too many lines because of the bad acting, but let's throw him a bone, because then he'll build the whole damn set." And so I exploited that circumstance for years, and it really paid off. They kept me around and five lines became six. One year I had nine lines. That was a big year for me. Eventually, the penny dropped and I said, "Oh! I should just talk like me." And then things began to pick up.
On struggling to appear nonchalant in auditions
The thing that's hard to conquer is: You're a broke actor. Every single job, it can be a guest star on some terrible TV show, but it will change your life. If you get it, it will pay for six months of rent, and so that lends a desperation to your audition and that's the secret to the whole thing, is learning to conquer that sensibility. I could never fake it.
On two turning points in his acting career
I decided to quit auditioning for commercials. ... I just added the hours that I had spent auditioning for commercials, versus if I had been paid as a carpenter for those hours, and I was like, "That was really stupid. I would've made another several thousand dollars." So I quit doing commercials and focused on working with my tools and my hands.
And the other thing was, I said, "I don't care if [LA is] not a theater town, I got to do a play." ... And so I looked all around and some great friends of mine, these casting directors hooked me up with this play, the lead of which was [Will & Grace actor] Megan Mullally [who later married Offerman].
And I was low. I was drinking too much bourbon. I was having a real tough time. And I got into this play, because I had feeling — and sure enough it saved my life. ...
Within the space of that play, my life changed. Our relationship began and I focused on working as a carpenter and this incredible new love relationship and suddenly going into these auditions, because my life was happy, that's where I found the nonchalance.
On how he landed the part of Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation
I had auditioned a handful of times for roles on The Office. And Greg Daniels, who created the American Office and Mike Schur [who was] sort of his star writer, they created Park and Recreation. And I guess Mike Schur had taken a shine to me at this one specific Office audition unbeknownst to me, and he wrote my name on a Post-it and put it on his computer monitor and, like, three years later when Parks and Rec was starting up he took that Post-it and said, "Oh yeah, I want to get this guy on my show."
And so they tried to put me in one role and it didn't work out. Coincidentally it was supposed to end up a love interest for Rashida [Jones], a notion which at the time NBC scoffed at. ... I was at the sporting goods store and they called me to say. "It's over." ... [But] by the time I came out to the parking lot, they called again and said, "OK, Greg and Mike Shur really want you on the show, so they're going to put you in this role of Amy [Poehler's] boss, supposed to be an older guy, but they're standing by it, they're being very stubborn." And I stood there and felt tears welling up and said, "That sounds fine, thank you."
On the relief of having a stable job on Parks and Recreation for seven seasons
I don't have a quick analogy for it, but I suppose [it's like] if you ... had to row a boat across the Atlantic Ocean, but for the middle passage a seagull swooped in and dropped off an out-board motor, so you could put your feet up for that time and say, "OK, I know I'm going to have to row again at some point, but right now I'm just enjoying these clouds a great deal."
Heidi Saman and Mooj Zadie produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. You might know our guest, actor Nick Offerman, from his role as Ron Swanson in the sitcom "Parks And Recreation." You might say Ron's a man's man.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")
NICK OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Fishing relaxes me. It's like yoga, except I still get to kill something.
DAVIES: Offerman's had supporting roles in many TV series and films, including "The Founder," about the origins of the McDonald's chain, and the second season of the FX series "Fargo."
Offerman stars in a new film called "Hearts Beat Loud." He plays a middle-aged man who owns a struggling record store in Brooklyn. He's also a single dad. His daughter is a star student who's graduated high school and is headed to UCLA. They're both musicians, and they sometimes jam together in the evening. In this scene, he's interrupted his daughter Sam, played by Kiersey Clemons, who's studying.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HEARTS BEAT LOUD")
KIERSEY CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) Did you find my birth certificate?
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) Hello, dear Dad. It's going great. How are you?
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) I'm serious. I need it for enrollment. They keep sending me those emails.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) I know we hung on to your umbilical cord. I think I know where that is.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) You're not funny - not even, like, a little bit.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) I'll look for it tomorrow.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) You smell like cigarettes.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) That might be my new Axe body spray scent, Brothel. What are you doing, homework?
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) We're studying the heart this week.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) I hope you're hanging out with friends or something later, at least.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) They're all away for the summer.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) I just can't believe you're spending your last summer before college in a pre-med class right before you have to go spend four years taking pre-med classes, by which I mean, I'm very proud of your work ethic.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) Do you know how hard it is for an incoming freshman to get a research position?
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) No.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) I'm being prepared. Plus, I enjoy this. This is fun for me.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) Well, it's clearly got you in a terrific mood.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) Can I help you with something, or...
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) Yeah. Are you not watching the clock? It's jam sesh time.
CLEMONS: (As Sam Fisher) No.
OFFERMAN: (As Frank Fisher) Come on.
DAVIES: And that's our guest Nick Offerman with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." Well, Nick Offerman, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on this film, "Hearts Beat Loud." You know, it's not often you see the dad playing, hey, what are you doing, studying?
DAVIES: You're in a role here that you haven't done in real life, which is being a dad of a teenager. And you, at least on the roles that most of us have seen, have played a lot of characters who are sort of, you know, colorful cranks.
But this role has a lot of range. I mean, this guy's - has a lot of pain. Did it feel good to - I mean, I know you've done a lot of different, more varied roles in theater that most of us haven't seen. Did it feel good to be in a film kind of confronting all those different, challenging emotions?
OFFERMAN: Absolutely. First of all, I can't wait to tell my folks that you said I play colorful cranks. I'm tickled pink by that description. But, yeah, there are - specifically, just getting to play a fully fleshed-out human being. You know, this is the largest role, by far, I've ever had in a film. And so by nature of having this vulnerable relationship with my landlady who I'd like to be my romantic partner in Toni Collette, and this relationship with my daughter played by Kiersey, I just got to play all these scenes that I had never gotten to do in 25 years in the business.
The scene where I've had a little bit to drink and I'm on Toni's doorstep, you know, basically saying, will you please like me, which is at the heart of any film romance, every take, we would stop the scene. And I would say, you guys, I feel like a freshman at prom. I've never gotten to just do a scene like this - a boy asking a girl if she'll love him. So it was thrilling.
DAVIES: Yeah. And you got to deliver it with all the kind of deft and class that a drunken guy can do, which is tricky (laughter).
OFFERMAN: It is. We went for less is more. Another thing that made it pretty painless to sort of carry this film, if indeed I did, or to the extent that I did, is the fact that I had these vulnerable relationship scenes for the first time in my career, that I was speaking this dialogue across a room to Toni Collette.
Her gaze was so comforting. You know, besides playing the scene with me, she also was spotting me in the most literal gymnast sense. You know, I was attempting my first cartwheel, and she constantly let me know she had me in case I fell. I am trepidatious to whatever extent I'm feeling insecurity. You know, I'm playing a scene like this for the first time. And Toni's attention - her rapt attention, her engagement - made me feel safe and gave me the courage to make a fool of myself, which is what was scripted.
DAVIES: You know, this is - this character also lost his wife. She was hit by a car while she was on a bicycle.
DAVIES: And the daughter barely remembers her. And, you know, I know that you've written about how much it meant to meet your wife, actress Megan Mullally. And it struck me that you met the love of your life at around the same age this character would have lost the love of his life. Did that occur to you?
OFFERMAN: It did. Yeah. I mean, first of all, by setting the film in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the screenwriters unwittingly gave me a huge injection of romance and nostalgia because 10 or 12 years ago, my wife was doing "Young Frankenstein" on Broadway, and we were living on the Upper West Side. And every day, I rode a bicycle to Red Hook, where I rented a shop space and built my first wooden canoe. That was one of the things I occupied myself with, you know, while being Mr. Mullally here in New York.
OFFERMAN: And so...
DAVIES: Maybe you should just explain to the audience where Red Hook is in Brooklyn, 'cause it has it's - it's not what people think of when they think of Brooklyn, probably.
OFFERMAN: It's not. It's this old maritime sort of shipping neighborhood on the waterfront. As is said in Red Hook, it's an old dock neighborhood. It's very working-class. And it's at sort of the southwestern tip of Brooklyn, where the East River meets the harbor. So - and I was down on a pier coming off the tip. So looking out the window to the west, I had the Statue of Liberty in the window of my canoe shop. So if you look out, you know, towards the statue and then to the right a little bit, you see Wall Street and the bottom tip of Manhattan.
And so I already had this great feeling of romance. The coffee shop called Baked was where I went every morning to get my coffee and my biscuit for canoe building. Sunny's Bar is where I would get a beer after work. So I already had a built-in memory bank of this neighborhood.
DAVIES: In the film "Hearts Beat Loud," you play music. And this is a song that you have written to your daughter. And it's, I guess, remembering your wife, who was killed years before, and her mom. It's called "Shut Your Eyes." And in this scene, you're kind of showing it to your daughter, so it's not, like, a polished performance. You're working it through. But I thought we'd listen to just a bit of this. This is from the film "Hearts Beat Loud." The film - the song is called "Shut Your Eyes."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT YOUR EYES")
OFFERMAN: (Singing as Frank Fisher) Anything I say couldn't take the pain away, but it might help you to sleep somehow. I know it's just a line how they say to wait on time. And that's no use to you right now. But somehow in the evening when you can't escape the feeling and you're far away, sleeping doesn't even help when dreaming is her leaving or coming back someday. Shut your eyes. Calm your mind. Just give it time.
DAVIES: That's the song "Shut Your Eyes." It's written by Keegan DeWitt, performed by our guest Nick Offerman in the film "Hearts Beat Loud."
OFFERMAN: That song was - I don't know. It was very vulnerable because I'm not known for my skills on the guitar. You know, my playing is competent for the delivery of jokes when I tour as a humorist. And if people are laughing, they don't tend to notice my musicianship. But this was a very quiet room (laughter). Sadly, that's me trying as hard as I can to play it perfectly, but it was really - it was really tough. So I'm glad I made it through (laughter). And I'm glad that it works in the movie.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Nick Offerman. He stars in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "ALPHABET ST.")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with actor Nick Offerman. He stars with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud."
People best know you, probably, for playing Ron Swanson in the series "Parks And Recreation," which ran seven seasons - right? - on NBC. So let's talk about "Parks And Recreation." Ron Swanson is the guy you played. I saw a piece in Chicago magazine that described him as a dyspeptic, government-hating Luddite with a heart of gold. Let's give listeners a taste of him. This is a scene where you, as Ron Swanson, are getting some medical treatment. And the nurse, who's Ann, played by Rashida Jones, is trying to get you to provide some basic health information. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PARKS AND RECREATION")
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) I would like to object, again, to being brought here against my will.
RASHIDA JONES: (As Ann Perkins) OK, I'm going to double-check your form here. Ron, you redacted all the information.
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) I answered some of them.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) For date of birth, you wrote springtime.
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Which is true.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) Everything you write down is confidential. We need you to give real answers.
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Fine.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) How many drinks of alcohol do you consume a week?
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) One.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) That's it? One drink?
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) One shelf.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) Do you exercise?
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Yes, lovemaking and woodworking.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) Do you have any history of mental illness in your family?
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) I have an uncle who does yoga.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) Allergies?
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Cowardice and weak-willed men - and hazelnuts.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) Sexual history.
OFFERMAN: (As Ron Swanson) Epic and private.
JONES: (As Ann Perkins) OK. I'm going to go get your doctor. He's a rude, brash jerk. You'll love him.
DAVIES: That's our guest, Nick Offerman, with Rashida Jones in "Parks And Recreation."
OFFERMAN: The great joy of that job and that role was receiving the pages from these incredibly brilliant comedy writers week after week.
DAVIES: How did you get this part?
OFFERMAN: Oh, gosh. It's quite an epic tale. I'll try and nutshell it.
DAVIES: Like your love life, yeah?
OFFERMAN: Yes. I had auditioned a handful of times for roles on "The Office." And Greg Daniels, who'd created the American "Office," and Mike Schur, sort of his star writer - they created "Parks And Recreation." And I guess Mike Schur had taken a shine to me at this one specific "Office" audition unbeknownst to me. And he wrote my name on a Post-It and put it on his computer monitor. And, like, three years later, when "Parks And Rec" was starting up, he took that Post-It and said, oh, yeah - I want to get this guy on my show. And so they tried to put me in one role, and it didn't work out. Coincidentally, it was supposed to end up a love interest for Rashida, a notion which, at the time, NBC scoffed at. They said, quote, "you told us someone like Aaron Eckhart, and you hand us Nick Offerman?" close quote.
OFFERMAN: And so - within - one trip to the sporting goods store - I was at the sporting goods store, and they called me to say it's over. And I went in, and I was buying some equipment. And by the time I came back out to the parking lot, they called again and said, OK - Greg and Mike Schur really want you on the show. So they're going to put you in this role of Amy's boss - supposed to be an older guy, but they're standing by it. They're being very stubborn. And I, you know, stood there and felt tears welling up and said, that sounds fine. Thank you.
And from that point, I believe it was five more months that NBC made them audition every other guy under the sun. For whatever reason, they weren't down with that decision until finally they had me do some improvising with Amy as Ron and Leslie, and they taped it and turned that in. And I finally got the job five months later. I cried very hard and openly on the phone with Mike Schur because I'd sort of been down that road enough, and I never got the job. And finally, this job was clearly already so much better than all the other jobs I hadn't gotten. And so it had this incredible feeling of justice that, you know, I didn't get those jobs because, you know, the - Dionysus was saving me for this particular mustache.
DAVIES: Ah, the mustache - there's a look to Ron Swanson. I mean, Ron Swanson is a character, but you've really become identified with it. And do fans want you to be that guy? Do people expect you to be the hardcore libertarian that you are on the show?
OFFERMAN: Well, there's a bit of that. I'd say the majority of the fans understand the irony with which libertarianism was treated. I think it was always presented as - you know, and it is - on paper, it's a wonderful notion. But pretty quickly, when put into practice, it falls apart, you know, unless we plan to live in anarchy, which would not be my personal vote. But I'm certainly all for, you know, the idea that everything - anything anybody wants to do on their property is fine as long as they're not hurting others or the property of others.
There is a small percentage of sad libertarians who were so thrilled to finally see themselves represented in a heroic light on television. And when they find out that it was meant to be funny, they sometimes are very angry. And I feel apologetic, but I would reassure them that I'm likely to still come down on their side even though I think some regulation is healthy.
DAVIES: You grew up in Minooka, Ill. What was your childhood like? What kind of kid were you?
OFFERMAN: Well, my childhood was incredibly idyllic, made so much more so by living in modern urban life. I mean, at the time, I was part of a big family. I still am. You know, there are over 30 of them. And they all live within an 8-mile radius in this small town. The nucleus of the family was my mom's side - a corn and soybean farm that also had pigs through my high school years. And so growing up around that family and working on the farm with them and learning to use tools from my dad and learning to cook and, you know, basically live in a '70s and '80s version of "Little House On The Prairie" with a terrific mom and dad. There was a lot of sports.
It was an incredibly good time. And it instilled in me a work ethic. It gave me the ability to have a good time even if the weather is lousy or we don't have enough - we don't have enough ingredients to make everybody a sandwich. My family taught me to still figure out how to get a laugh out of it. And that has served me incredibly well in all walks of life. But my town was very small and white and conservative. And so as soon as I got to theater school, I said, oh, OK. The world is vast and multicolored. And I get it now. You know, America and the world are made up of all these different colors and creeds and so forth of people. And I just - I want to be part of this.
DAVIES: I know you got into acting at college, at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Is that where it was?
DAVIES: Right. And you built sets at the same time for some of the production. Was that a way to get parts before you'd sort of developed your acting chops?
OFFERMAN: It was. I mean, in the four years of theater school, it became clear that I was not going to be cast well. And it was well-deserved. I was trying too hard. I hadn't figured out the sort of foundational secret of acting, which is - I think Ringo sings just act naturally. I think I unwittingly thought that my sort of country rube persona would not be interesting, you know, to an audience. I needed to be much more cooler and hip and urbane. And so I just tried way too hard, which made me bad.
Meanwhile, one of the classes we had to take as freshmen was scene shop. We took costume shop and lighting. And in the scene shop - that was my first real woodshop. And I - it might as well have been the land of Oz. I mean, I just was immediately smitten. I knew how to use tools. I had worked framing houses. I'd built a lot of stuff with my dad, including a small barn. And I picked up the tools, and I hammered them together. And the rest of the class stood there staring at me with their jaws dropped. And they said, where in the world did you learn to use that thing? And of course I was astonished that all these kids had never swung a hammer before.
But the guy running the shop said, hey, you can make wages in here. You know, in your off time, you can come in, and I'll pay you to use these tools. And I'll teach you to use the shop. And so that organically became my formula where everybody saw that, and they said, hey, let's not give Nick too many lines because of the bad acting. But let's give him a - let's throw him a bone because then he'll build the whole damn set. And so I exploited that circumstance for years. And it really paid off. They kept me around. And, you know, five lines became six. One year, I had nine lines. That was a big year for me. And then eventually, you know, the penny dropped. And I said, oh, I should just talk like me (laughter). And then things began to pick up.
DAVIES: Nick Offerman stars with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." After a break, he'll tell us about how he learned what not to do in Hollywood auditions and why he still runs a woodshop in LA. Also, Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new collection of duet recordings featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARTS BEAT LOUD")
CLEMONS: (Singing) We ride and the lights are out, city bright and the rain falls down outside. I don't want to go home. I miss you when you're not around. Not so simple just to say out loud all those words I feel when I'm alone. I won't hear you calling. Don't leave me here alone.
(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTIN HURWITZ'S "SURPRISE")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We're speaking with actor Nick Offerman. He's best known as Ron Swanson in the NBC sitcom "Parks And Recreation." He stars with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud."
I know you went to Chicago and spent a lot of time in theater there and worked with some really talented and creative people and got a reputation for doing good work. And then you decided to move to LA where you kind of left your Chicago theater reputation behind and had to go to auditions where people didn't necessarily know or care about that. In your book "Paddle Your Own Canoe," you have a great chapter about auditions. How did you learn, you know - I don't know - how to market yourself, what casting directors were looking for, what not to do in an audition?
OFFERMAN: Boy, that's a big question. It was absolutely a leap of faith. And I say this - this is not false modesty. I had a very healthy amount of ignorance that allowed me to safely make leaps like this. And so it took me a while to figure out in auditions - you know, my work generally is merit-based. I'm not the kind of guy to come into your office and you say, wow, this - the panache on this guy - we'd better sign him up before he goes down the street and Paramount gets him.
But the thing that's hard to conquer is you're a broke actor, every single job - you know, it can be a guest star job on some terrible TV show. But it will change your life. Like, if you get it, it will pay for six months of rent. And so that lends a desperation to your audition. And that's - the secret to the whole thing is learning to conquer that sensibility. And I could never fake it. I did my best to, you know, be nonchalant and shrug and say hi, you know, my name's Nick. Who cares? Let's take a swing at this thing. I didn't know this was the formula.
But I decided to quit auditioning for commercials. That was one thing. I just added the hours that I'd spent auditioning for commercials versus if I had been paid as a carpenter for those hours. And I was like, oh, that was really stupid. I would have made, you know, another several thousand dollars. And so I quit doing commercials and focused on my working with my tools and my hands.
The other thing was I said, I don't care if it's not a theater town. I've got to do a play. That's my - my manhood is founded upon creating theater. And so I looked all around. And some great friends of mine, these casting directors, put me in a play. They hooked me up with this play, the lead of which was Megan Mullally. And I mean, I was low. I was drinking too much bourbon. I was having a real tough time. And I got into this play because I had a feeling. And sure enough, it saved my life.
I met my wife. And she had just finished two seasons of "Will & Grace," so she was flying high. She was on top.
DAVIES: And you didn't know. Right? (Laughter).
OFFERMAN: Well - I didn't. I was living in an unfinished basement. I didn't have a TV. So I knew of "Will & Grace" because you have to know what's going on in case you get an audition for it. But I had never seen it. And so within the space of that play, my life changed. Our relationship began, and I focused on working as a carpenter and this incredible new love relationship. And suddenly, going into these auditions, because my life was happy, that's where I found the nonchalance. And like, you know, I couldn't have - you can't plan it. You can't go searching for that because you won't find the right spouse or you won't find that Zen place. Or at least I didn't have the faculties to do so. But by backing into it accidentally, I suddenly realized that my auditions were so much more confident because it wasn't a matter of life or death (laughter). I could still...
DAVIES: You weren't desperate anymore.
OFFERMAN: No, I knew I was going to go home and get kissed either way.
DAVIES: So you got better at doing auditions, and you did a lot of them. And in your book, "Paddle Your Own Canoe," you have this fascinating kind of description of how TV pilots are more likely to pick a relatively unknown talent because that can be good for a TV pilot in a way that it isn't for a film. And then you go through this long process - if you get through the first cut, you get a callback and eventually get to the point where the writers and creator and directors love you.
But before the deal is done, they have to get the business folks involved in the process. And this was interesting to me. Before the final audition with the business folks, your contract actually has to negotiate a price. And you sign a contract before the final audition. Right?
OFFERMAN: That's correct.
DAVIES: How does that affect what happens?
OFFERMAN: Well, again, you know, that desperation I referred to earlier comes into full effect. Those are the most miserable days and the most sought-after circumstances. You know, if you're an out-of-work actor, pilot season is a season of lottery tickets, where you hope you get to the store and you hope you buy your ticket. You've auditioned for all these pilots. And you just hope that your chemistry is right with a certain role, with the tone of a certain show. And it could be anything - could be a comedy. You know, it could be another "CSI" offshoot. Whatever it is, you're just looking for a spot, you know.
And so when that happens and you find a slot into which you fit, there are usually three to five of you. And if you're lucky enough to have this happen repeatedly, it's often the same three to five of you. You keep running into the same gang. There's a great actor named Michael Cudlitz who had a great run on that zombie show "The Walking Dead." We read against each other for two dozen things. I called him the blonde me, and I was the brunette Michael Cudlitz.
And so - you know, you go through the trenches and these auditions. And that's exactly right. You get to the point where, OK - you've read for the creatives, you've done the callbacks, maybe they've read you with some of the other actors to see your chemistry or look at your heights next to one another. And then finally they say, OK, you know, we're going to put three of you in front of the network. And it's called the network test. And so before you do that, your agents negotiate your deal. And the boilerplate deal is seven years. So if this show goes. This show's called "Friends." If this goes, you're locked in for seven years. So if you don't like your cast members or if, you know, anything - if your wife wants you to move back to North Carolina, it doesn't matter. Your lot - we have you for seven years. So that's one thing.
And then the other thing is the money is already figured out. And the reason for this is then you go in for the final audition for the networks and the suits and the bankers. And as you referred to, it's a very cold room because they're no longer interested in being an audience. That's not the relationship. They're looking at you in a completely analytical fashion. And they're literally looking down at, like, a chart in Maxim magazine where they're like, OK, here's what kind of plumbers are hot this year. OK, this one's got a mustache. This one's wearing overalls. Overalls are a seven. The mustache is an 8.3, so he's tipping towards the mustache. So you go through this cold, analytical thing, and they pick somebody. Now, if they pick you and they call you and say we're crazy about you, they don't want you to be able to say, OK, I want a bunch more money. That's why you have to make your deal before you go into that room - so you can't negotiate.
DAVIES: Wow. And then, of course, the suits, as you describe them - they have a different perspective. And you could sink or swim on something that may seem arbitrary.
OFFERMAN: Oh, absolutely. A guy - I think it's in that book, too, a great "Will & Grace" writer named Greg Malins wrote me a role in a sitcom pilot. He wrote the role for me. It was a slow talking, dead pan, funny, weird guy. And the audition process was a cakewalk. And I - you know, I was like, this is great. You know, how can I not get this? It's written for me. And I went all the way to the network test. And the head of the network, I was told later that day, he said, yeah, no, that guy was pretty good. I didn't like the mustache. Let's keep looking. And so it can really just be that arbitrary. Or sometimes it's just a feeling. Or they're like, I don't know, did he have freckles? Yeah. I don't think so.
DAVIES: Our guest is Nick Offerman. He stars in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CURE SONG, "IN BETWEEN DAYS")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with actor Nick Offerman. He stars with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." In your book, you write about - after going through that process and doing auditions and then suddenly being just - it all falling apart because of some whim on the part of an executive, you write - do not get into this business if you can help it. The scenario I've just described is not only quite par for the course but is considered - one is considered incredibly lucky just to have the opportunity to have one's guts ripped out. So (laughter).
OFFERMAN: It's true. There's a grande dame - I forget if it was Uta Hagen or Irene Ryan. There's a grand dame of the American stage said don't go into theater if you can help it. Discourage - anyone who says they want to, just discourage them because then if they persist, it's because they have to. Like, only do this if you just can't help it.
DAVIES: We've mentioned that, you know, you've done woodworking, but you have a commercial woodshop with a staff of, you know - what? - half a dozen people. The website says you focus on handcrafted traditional joinery and sustainable slab rescue, working with fallen trees from throughout Northern California and our urban LA environment. Acquiring spoons, chainsaw stumps, plank canoes - we keep our chisels sharp with stones, build pinball machines and fine furniture. This is a real thing. You really spend time there.
OFFERMAN: Oh, yes. I started my shop - I actually rented the real estate 18 years ago. And at first, I was alone. You know, I made commission furniture pieces on my own. I'm very self-taught so I would try to learn something new with each commission to the point where, you know, I became pretty decent at particularly slab tables in the style of George Nakashima. And so when "Parks And Rec" began, we were - I was on the phone with the writers when we were developing the character. And I kept saying, sorry, I'm at the shop. Let me turn off the table saw or what have you. And the third time they said, hang on, now what is this shop? And I said, oh, my wood shop, et cetera.
And they all piled on a bus and came over and looked at it. And they said, what if we make Ron a woodworker? I mean, they looked at my life and said, we think we can wring great comedy out of what you take so seriously. And I said, that would be fine. And so when that happened, I knew from living with Megan that if this show went - and I had a feeling it was going to go - that I'd have a lot less shop time. And so that's when I began to populate Offerman Woodshop and turned it into a bit of a collective. And now it's a full-blown outfit where, you know, four or five or six young people are making a living. And we make a variety of gift items. We make a lot of custom furniture. And it's really fun.
And, you know, it's - for me, it always gets a laugh but when people say, wow, your shop is really neat or I love your woodworking, my knee-jerk response is it keeps me out of the pub. And they laugh. And I say, it's a charming thing to say but it's the absolute truth. I mean, I'm very human. And left to my own devices, I'm a hedonist. And, you know, if somebody says, hey, you know, no school today. I say, well, let's go to the bar. There's a Cubs game on or, you know, whatever.
And so I've learned - I'm so grateful - I learned a long time ago that by making things with my hands, the obsession and satisfaction in that act creates a much healthier but commensurate amount of dopamine and pleasurable sensation as drinking three pints. And it's much better for my waistline.
DAVIES: Yeah. And it provides some balance in your life I'm sure too.
OFFERMAN: When I talk about it, I - in reference to auditioning for network testing for pilots, you know, again, I was lucky enough to do this several times. And that became my antidote. When I would go test for a pilot, as soon as I got done, I would speed to my woodshop and just sand something or run a bunch of lumber through the planer because in an hour's time I could tangibly feel and see and hold and smell my work. And no studio or no network executives could give me any notes on it. And so it is a perfect complement. Making anything with your hands that requires no boss but yourself goes wonderfully hand-in-hand with whatever, you know, whatever in your life you would consider your grind.
DAVIES: Nick Offerman, it's been fun. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
OFFERMAN: I'm such a big fan of your show. Thanks so much for having me.
DAVIES: Nick Offerman stars with Kiersey Clemons in the new film "Hearts Beat Loud." He and Amy Poehler will host a six-episode craft competition TV series featuring people who paint, draw and work in fabric, metal and wood. It's called "Making It," and it premieres July 31 on NBC. Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new collection of duet recordings featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF QUINCY JONES SONG, "MONTY, IS THAT YOU?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.