If ever there were a man deserving of all the eggs and bacon you have, it’s Ron Swanson. The Parks Department director of Pawnee, Indiana, is perhaps the manliest man on television, complete with what is indisputably the manliest mustache on TV today. There’s something else you should know about Mr. Swanson too: He’s the best television character of 2011!
Swanson won the highest honor in our Top 50 TV Characters of 2011 countdown over the likes of cancer-stricken chemistry teacher-turned-murderous meth cook Walter White of “Breaking Bad” and our very own “Jersey Shore” favorite Snooki. All three could have easily earned that top prize, but in the end, there’s just no resisting the raw, hilarious awesome that is Ron Swanson.
But Ron would be nothing without Nick Offerman, the actor, comedian and professional woodworker who has played the staunch anti-government government employee for four seasons of “Parks and Recreation.” Offerman spoke with MTV News about his status as 2011’s top television character, why Ron is such an appealing figure, his battle with the terrible Tammys and much, much more.
MTV: Congratulations! Ron Swanson is our #1 pick for the best TV character of the year. It goes without saying that we’re all very big fans over here!
Nick Offerman: Well, thank you. I’m over the moon. I’m so flattered. It’s crazy!
MTV: When did it dawn on you that Ron was such a big hit? We’ve seen countless Internet memes about him, and he’s always the topic of conversation after a “Parks and Rec” episode airs. When did it hit you that Ron had really arrived?
Offerman: It sort of came out of the blue around the holidays two years ago. It was the fall of our season two. My wife [Megan Mullally, who plays Tammy Two] and I don’t really cotton to the Internet too much, so people started saying to me, “You’re getting a lot of attention on the Internet. You might want to think about getting a publicist. I think you might have something here.” I said, “OK, that sounds like hogwash to me, but I’ll go along with it.” And I haven’t looked back. It’s been incredibly gratifying and astonishing.
MTV: You spend so much time playing this character, four seasons deep now. For you, what’s the appeal of Ron? What is it about this character that you love playing so much?
Offerman: Well, I guess I spent so many years of my career utilizing a sense of humor that we see in Ron and being rejected for it. For so many years, people have been telling me to talk faster. “Try not to be so scary.” [Laughs.] To finally find writers that have such simpatico with me and my sense of humor has got to be my favorite thing about Ron. They write me a scene where the most important thing I can do is remain silent and immobile, and that’s the hilarious part. [Laughs.] It kind of feels like coming home after all these years.
MTV: It’s been a big year for the character. Right out the gate in season four, we got to meet the other two Tammys in Ron’s life, Tammy One and Tammy Zero. What was it like finally getting to interact with all these legendary women in Ron’s life?
Offerman: For me the actor, it’s such an embarrassment of riches to do an episode with Megan, Patricia Clarkson and Paula Pell. It’s like being told that you’re going to play in the World Series with the most incredible all-star team assembled as your teammates. I was really traumatized by the effects all these women had on Ron. His face was denuded of his mustache, much like Samson having his locks snipped off by Delilah, as well as his family jewels. It really felt like I was being simultaneously raped and fed a delicious meal. [Laughs.]
MTV: Do you think we’ve seen the last of the Tammys? As in, are there any other Tammys lurking about out there in Ron’s life?
Offerman: I can’t imagine. I think the power of this triumvirate is so all-encompassing. I think we have more than enough fuel for many more seasons with the Tammys we’ve established.
MTV: You brought up something that I was going to touch on: Ron losing his mustache really was a Samson moment. Could Ron ever truly be Ron Swanson without that mustache, or is it critical to who he is?
Offerman: I think if, God forbid, Ron was in some sort of disfiguring accident that disallowed him to grow whiskers anymore, I don’t think he could bounce back. I think Ron is an accessory to the mustache, or the mustache is an accessory to Ron. My friend is this genius artist named Pat Roberts, and he has a painting of a wimpy-looking sheriff with a sheriff’s badge on, and there’s a balloon with this mean look on its face, hanging next to the sheriff. It says: “For obvious reasons, Staticky Pete wore the badge, but everyone knew the balloon was the sheriff.” I think everyone knows that the mustache carries the thunder for Ron.
MTV: One of the reasons we love Ron so much is that he gets away with things that we only wish we could get away with in our life. For example, when he discovers how much personal information can be learned about him through Google — that you can see a satellite image of his property — his response is to throw his computer in the trash. I can certainly relate to that. Do you relate to Ron’s view of the world?
Offerman: Absolutely. I’m very much a Luddite by choice. I grew up on a farm out in the middle of a cornfield. You’d go for days without being reached by people. Now, in the information age, you have everyone at your beck and call — or, more to the point, to be at the beck and call of the world — on a device in your pocket, and it’s incredibly distasteful. I often fantasize about throwing the whole thing in the ocean. Unfortunately, I’m in a business where my agent tells me I have a meeting with Patricia Roberts next week.
MTV: You’re hooked in, sir. There’s very little you can do.
Offerman: There is, but look, what my wife and I do is eschew as much as we can. We don’t do Twitter, we don’t do Facebook. It’s all we can do to answer our e-mails; that already takes up too much time, so we don’t do much [Web] surfing.
MTV: On the flipside, is there anything about Ron that you can’t relate to? Are there things he does that you just can’t see yourself pulling off in your life?
Offerman: In principle, no. I generally get behind everything Ron does, no matter how extreme. But when Ron exhibits superhuman abilities, that’s when it crosses the line. We shot an episode recently where I have to jam an entire hamburger into my mouth. We did a take and it was obviously really hard — bun and all, I had to shove the whole thing into my mouth! We did a take, and the director said to the prop lady, “Was that the small, medium or large burger?” It was the small. “Can we get another one?” And I go, “Hey! I understand that Ron could get the whole slab of a cow in his mouth and pull out a bone like Fred Flintstone, but I’m an actor in the physical world!” [Laughs.] There’s only so much grub I can cram into my mouth!
People will also ask me … there’s this one episode where Ron makes an Irish harp in one night after drinking an enormous amount of whiskey. People will say to me — and this is the power of TV — did you really do that? [Laughs.] No! No one can really do that! That’s ridiculous! It’s a hilarious comedy! Even my brother who works in my shop with me, there’s one episode where I’m carving a chunk of wood, and in the next scene there’s a big, wooden swan that I’ve ostensibly carved in about 40 minutes. And my brother said, “Did you really carve that?” [Laughs.] He’s familiar with my work! He’s familiar with my method! It would take me a day and a half if I hustled. For shame!
MTV: “Parks and Rec” is one of the funniest shows on TV. I think a lot of that owes to the fact that, obviously, the writing is incredible, but the cast is so strong. These characters play off each other so well. What’s that dynamic like on set, four seasons into the game?
Offerman: It’s so fun. We never stop talking about how lucky we are that we get to do this for pay. We’re shooting an episode this week where the whole cast is in a recording studio recording a song for Andy Dwyer. That situation is so goddamn enjoyable, and everybody gets to add their flavor to this incredibly steamy goulash that we’re serving. It’s so fun to look around and watch one person after another hit a home run.Don’t miss our Top 10 Characters of 2011, including a “Jersey Shore” guidette and a real daughter of New Jersey.
MTV: Final question for you: We know what Ron’s capacity is … but what is the most bacon and eggs you’ve ever eaten?
Offerman: Gosh … I’d have to go back to my youth when my dad and I would have bacon and eggs every morning. I’d say five eggs, and I take those over medium, and close to a pound of bacon.
Offerman: I can pack it away, but my capacity pales in comparison to Mr. Swanson. Only Ron Swanson could stomach all of the eggs and bacon you have.
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