Just because Nick Offerman plays a dad whose son (Melissa & Joey‘s Nick Robinson) chooses to run away from home and build a makeshift house in the woods with two friends (Super 8‘s Gabriel Basso and Hannah Montana‘s Moises Arias) in The Kings of Summer, in theaters today, doesn’t mean the Parks and Recreation actor didn’t bond with his onscreen offspring. “It’s important to me to let young people know that I’m just as big of a jackass, if not more, than they are,” says Offerman. “Because I often play an intimidating or stentorian figure, I like to let everyone know that I’m not really that way, that they shouldn’t be scared that I’m the high school principal who’s going to give them a detention if they misbehave. So instead, we just get involved in a lot of grab-ass and tomfoolery.”
“If you say to me, ‘Name an idyllic setting from your teen years,’ the thing that pops to mind is a beautiful quarry that’s overgrown with forest that is now a swimming hole where young people can jump off a cliff into the water,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s from the movie Breaking Away or what, but that to me is the most romantic image of teenage freedom. And so on the day that we were shooting the three young guys jumping into the quarry, [costar Marc Evan Jackson] and I were up the road shooting a scene where we’re out fishing in a boat at the other end of that same body of water. And the timing was such that I was able to go out and do a bunch of jumping off that cliff with those guys, and of course,” he continues, with a laugh, “they were so acrobatic and athletic. I just was such a big fan of their youth, and in my head, my dives were commensurate with their own in terms of grace and élan. But I saw a couple of photographs of my dives, and they were hilariously nothing of the sort. I looked like a manatee that somehow had been thrown off of the cliff. But I felt free nonetheless. I may be a sea cow, but I know my liberty.”
Below, we talk more about the film (which also costars his wife, Megan Mullally), his summer goals for the Offerman Woodshop, the play he and Mullally are currently doing in L.A., his role in the Jennifer Aniston-Jason Sudeikis comedy We’re the Millers, and the naming of Baby Swanson.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Kings of Summer is a coming-of-age movie. Is that what drew you to it, and is there a film in that genre that you yourself hold dear?
NICK OFFERMAN: People mention Stand By Me as the go-to coming-of-age movie for young fellas. But there’s another movie from the early ‘80s that I loved called Explorers that doesn’t get as much play as Stand By Me, but I think it’s sooo great. It’s got a young River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke, and instead of building a house in the woods, they build a spaceship out of a Tilt-A-Whirl car and end up having a great adventure. It’s very similarly about coming-of-age and understanding we all have foibles — even the grownups that we think are so impeccable and infallible, they’re just grownup versions of all of us, and we all wet our pants once in a while. And that’s something that we don’t have to be ashamed of. And yeah, when I read the [Kings of Summer] script by Chris Galletta, I was really taken with the emotional throughline of the kids wanting to come-of-age by running away from their overbearing parents and building. I’m all for kids building anything, let alone a supercool two-story house in the woods. But I was also really taken with his hilarious sense of humor. I thought the script was so funny, and to bolster it, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who did such a magnificent job directing his first feature, brought out literally the most hilarious people working today to do these one-scene cameos. Kumail Nanjiani as the wonton delivery guy, Thomas Middleditch and Mary Lynn Rajskub as the cops, Hannibal Buress as the bus driver, and Tony Hale as an irate bus passenger. Normally in a low-budget film, you just cast a local yahoo for these scenes, but he got top-notch talent, and I think that it takes the comedy up three notches. It’s really a smart move on his part.
You mention you’re pro-building. What are the goals this summer for the Offerman Woodshop? You’ve been tweeting some pics.
As a group, we’ve got a lot going on. We’re finishing up two canoes as we speak. I don’t know if I’ll ever create anything as beautiful and simple as a canoe. A couple of my woodworkers, Michele and Mike, have been spearheading these two canoes, and I’m so jealous of them while today, I’m going in to do some ADR for Childrens Hospital, and then I’m furiously trying to finish writing this book that I’ve got coming out in October from Dutton Books, called Paddle Your Own Canoe, coincidentally. So we have the canoes. We have a really beefy walnut dining table for my brother and his family. We have our usual potpourri of kazoos, mustache combs, pencil holders, and cutting boards. One of our woodworkers, Matt Micucci, who is the creator of [our] kazoo — we call him the Kazoo Tycoon — he is helping me prototype the Offerman Woodshop ukulele. I think that’s gonna be happening across the summer so that by the fall, we’ll have some ukulele available, which is really exciting. I’m making the ukulele because they’re really fun and I think people will love them, but also as a stepping stone to then try my hand at some acoustic guitars. I play guitar, and I am learning the ukulele. It’s sort of like learning to ride a bicycle and then learning to ride a tricycle.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I’m wearing an apron and slippers. This play with my wife has been the greatest gift of my career to date and might quite possibly be impossible to top. I hope we’ll get some chances to try, but to get to perform a piece of writing this good by Sharr White — every night when we drive home from the play, we say, “This meal is so much more satisfying and resplendent than any TV or film work we ever get to do.” And I think the reason is simple: You are telling the entire story to the audience in-person. The combination of taking an audience through the entire arc of these characters’ lives in-person, literally delivering the medicine to them by your own spoon, is just so much more gratifying and I’m incredibly grateful to return to our roots. Megan and I both come from small Chicago theaters. And to get to do something like this together, in roles that are really well-suited to both of us, and it’s just the two of us — it’s incredibly special. I get to have the best seat in the house to watch my wife just tear it up every night.
You’re also costarring in the bigscreen comedy We’re the Millers, released Aug. 9.
Kathryn Hahn and I play a very conservative married couple who become sort of sidekicks to Jen and Jason for some of the movie. And it was so much fun to shoot. It was directed by a Rawson Marshall Thurber, who made Dodgeball, and from what I can tell, he’s put together a real humdinger.
What scene was the toughest to get through?
Any time Kathryn Hahn opens her mouth, everybody kinda holds on to their cup of coffee like hurricane winds are about to strike, because she just has a comic force inside of her that literally is like a full force gale of chuckles. She made my job really easy: All I had to do was stand next to her and nod a lot, and hopefully, some of my nodding will be pleasing to the audience. [Laughs] She’s somethin’ else. And working with Jen and Jason…Megan came to visit the set for a while in Wilmington, N.C., and she was watching a scene with the four of us in a tent. Megan and I had a conversation later about how Jennifer reminded us, in a way, of Sandra Bullock, who I’ve worked with a few times. They both make it look so easy, but they’re such incredible movie stars. Not in a cheesy way, but in an incredibly professional way. For somebody like me, I’m screwing around, I’m casting this way and that, trying to find my footing, so that hopefully out of 10 takes, you’ll get two or three that are solid. When Jennifer’s at work, every single take looks like the movie. But she’s so understated and real, that you don’t notice. Me and Hahn are falling all over each other, and doing everything we can to make fools of our ourselves, and Jennifer is completely maintaining her cool as a comedic leading lady in such an impressive way. And then of course, Mr. Sudeikis is just ridiculous. I mean, he steps into the batter’s box of comedy leading man and just hits everything all over the field — triples, doubles, grand slams, and a couple of impeccably-placed drag bunts that will have the audience rolling in the aisles. I’d say between those three, I had a helluva hard time holding my milk.
Last question: The Parks and Recreation Twitter recently asked followers what they’d name Baby Swanson. What’s your pick?
Gosh, baby names for Baby Swanson… I don’t know. John Wayne Swanson?
It’s gotta be a boy, right?
As soon as you say that, that means that it’ll be twin girls. That’s how a writers’ room is: whatever the obvious solution is, they do their best to turn it on its head. I think they’re planning for us to be pregnant for a while, so I don’t know that we’ll need to worry about things like baby names and diaper color for some time. I’ve learned that it’s silly to start taking guesses. Though I’m sure at some juncture, I’ll send them a list of my eight favorite names for a boy or a girl. But they always think of something so much better than I ever could.