'Parks and Recreation' star Nick Offerman shares his love of 'Slacker' and Texas
Nick Offerman sits at a small table inside the Italian restaurant Sagra sipping coffee and marveling at the dialogue he just volleyed back and forth with friend Kevin Corrigan.
"We're curious how much of it is improvised because there's no way it's written," said Offerman, best known as the dry, subtly sensitive and devastatingly funny Ron Swanson on NBC's comedy "Parks and Recreation." "Because some of the logic doesn't quite follow grammatically, which makes it really challenging to memorize but then kind of a real pleasure to perform because it's like a jazz riff that you feel you never quite nailed. So I could do it all day."
He needn't worry about committing to a full day's work. Offerman and Corrigan were on hand to perform one scene for "Slacker 2011," the group-project remake of Richard Linklater's breakout film that makes its world premiere at the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday. Sagra stands in for Café Les Amis in the remade scene in which Offerman and Corrigan discuss cartoons as allegory for sociopolitical constructs.
The two actors spent part of the summer filming Austinite Bob Byington's upcoming feature "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Their shooting schedule for that movie coincided with the "Slacker 2011" scene, which Byington also shot, allowing Offerman to take part in remaking the movie he describes as a seminal influence.
"I was in college at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," Offerman said. "I was fresh off the farm, and so 'Slacker' and Douglas Coupland's book ('Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture') and 'Twin Peaks,' they all sort of formed our artistic identity. Personally, having experienced 'Slacker' as a young man who, I didn't even know you could get to Texas from where I was at the time, I'm very honored to be a part of it. Linklater's body of work in general - it's something of a hero's work to me. And so to get to slightly rub elbows in this way, I'm thrilled about it."
Though Texas might have seemed like an utterly foreign place to a college-age Offerman, the actor would eventually be drawn repeatedly to the state thanks to his relationship with Byington, whom he met while working on Scott King's 1999 film "Treasure Island." "Somebody Up There Likes Me" will mark the third Byington film in which Offerman has appeared, and the actor says his repeated visits to Austin and his work with Byington remind him of his time in Chicago, where he spent much of the '90s performing with the Defiant Theatre.
"I would compare (Chicago and Austin) very closely," Offerman said. "I would say the reason Chicago's community — which is what I know most intimately — is so much better than Los Angeles and even New York is that there's no Hollywood or Broadway. So there's no ulterior motive. Nobody in Chicago is doing a play because their girlfriend got a boob job and they're trying to get her a new agent and get her on 'Baywatch.' You're doing a play (in Chicago) because you love the material and you want to communicate this artistic message to an audience. What that translates to simply is everyone is working for cheap in Austin and Chicago by-in-large so that makes for a wonderful collaboration."
When Offerman speaks warmly about his work in independent film and the pleasure it gives him, it's obvious that he is not exhibiting false modesty. After 18 years plugging away in film and TV roles, the actor who guest stars in the remake of Linklater's cult hit has become something of a cult phenomenon himself.
His portrayal of Ron Swanson has made Offerman one of TV's most compelling comedic actors. It seems inevitable that Offerman will eventually be nominated for an Emmy for his this role and there is little doubt that he could have spent his summer cashing bigger paychecks for less interesting work.
The opportunity to work with Byington on both films and return to the state that is starting to feel like something of a home-away-from-home for Offerman proved a natural fit for the actor.
"I keep coming back (to Austin to work with Byington) because it's a wonderful collaboration and it feels like the theater company I had in Chicago," Offerman said. "I could really see Austin being a place I could call home, if my wife (actress Megan Mullally) could stand the heat, which I don't think she can. I love Austin. I love canoeing here. It's got everything I need. It's got ribs. It's got film and theater and music and food."