Devs star Nick Offerman previews his unique 'genius coder' character
Nick Offerman discusses his genius Devs character and the pitfalls of determinism.
How to describe Devs, the new miniseries from FX, Hulu, and Annihilation writer/director Alex Garland? When Garland and the cast stopped by EW’s New York Comic Con video studio last fall, they were pretty tight-lipped about details. Thankfully, they’re more open to talking about it now that the first two episodes are set to premiere on Hulu this week (with subsequent episodes following one at a time over subsequent weeks). Devs centers on a specialized division of the same name at a tech company called Amaya. But while real-life Silicon Valley behemoths like Facebook and Twitter put their geniuses and their resources to use discovering new ways to make the internet even more addictive, the characters of Devs are actually exploring the mysteries of quantum mechanics.
The mad scientist at the center of Amaya is Forest, a long-haired genius played by Nick Offerman. The wizard-like flowing beard really does make a marked difference from Offerman’s iconic role as Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation. Though Forest is recognizably a successful tech mogul, he does not come off like a stereotypical parody of real-life figures such as Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.
“We got to create this guy from full cloth, which is invariably more fun,” Offerman tells EW. “So I was never called upon to do any of the things that we see those characters do, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Elon Musk: I didn’t have to give a TED Talk in the series, I didn’t have to reveal the latest iPod. Instead, I just had to deal with these more personal and semi-domestic scenarios. Alex and I collaborated on coming up with what this guy looks like, and the stasis that his life is in since he suffered a trauma a few years earlier. It sort of put his life on hold, into this paused stasis. That was where a lot of our conversation came in: Here are the parts of his life that he is now completely unconcerned with, because he now has a singular focus on resolving this trauma that has befallen him. That was kind of the source for answering a lot of those personal questions.”
You’ll have to wait a little further into Devs to find out the nature of Forest’s driving trauma, but for now, suffice to say it has driven him to quite a determinist philosophy. Amaya's exploration of quantum science is meant to confirm Forest’s belief that everything that happens in the universe was meant to happen and is in fact the only way that things could have gone. Even as his employees delight in new discoveries, Forest has his eyes on the prize of demonstrating that reality.
“Giving himself wholly over to determinism allows him to appear rather unfeeling when it comes to making these decisions that seem like they would be hard for a human to make and cause people pain. He’s just able to shrug,” Offerman says. “From my point of view as a simple actor in real life, that seems pretty insane. Even if it turns out that he’s right, it still is not the sense of conscience that I was brought up with. It may be coldly correct, but it doesn’t jive with the sense of morality that I pursue. But I think he’s so driven. He’s a man obsessed with this objective, and we learn what the objective is by the end of the series. He’s several steps ahead of almost everybody on his team. I don’t want to say it’s a benign dictatorship, but there’s a sort of cloaked mastery. It makes absolute sense that the others get excited about these advances and achievements that they’re making; they just don’t know that he already made them. If he was a normal human being living in a world with emotion and healthy communication, he would share that. But he’s put all of his empathy eggs into one specific basket. So he doesn’t have time to say, ‘yes, nice job, isn’t this wonderful?’ He says ‘yes, great, next, keep going. We’re not gonna have a party until I get what I want.’”
The first two episodes of Devs hit Hulu on March 5. In Offerman’s words, “I’m excited for people to see ‘oh, he can talk with different kinds of facial hair.’”