Nick Offerman is still best known for playing Pawnee’s favorite son, meat-loving libertarian Ron Swanson, on the beloved NBC series “Parks and Recreation.” But in real life, the actor’s just as impressive a renaissance man as that mustachioed, near-mythic character.
Aside from acting on stage and screen, Offerman’s an author, comedian, musician, and woodworker, who for the past 15 years has had his own woodshop in East Los Angeles. It’s that last skill set that brought him back together with “Parks” costar Amy Poehler for “Making It,” a crafting competition show returning for its second season this Monday (at 10 p.m., on NBC).
In the series, contestants work in mediums as varied as felt and food, striving to impress judges Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys New York, and Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s in-house trend expert. Poehler and Offerman cohost; they were Emmy-nominated in this capacity after the first season of “Making It,” and Offerman says by phone that coming back for another season was an easy decision.
“While Amy and I clumsily try to navigate real life as adults,” he explains, “it’s a wonderful respite to go do this job a couple of times a year.
“It’s such a great break from real life, too,” adds the actor, 49. “Nobody cares if we’re funny at reciting dialogue when we’re at the DMV or trying to get through LA traffic. Nobody says, ‘It’s Ron Swanson. Let’s clear the freeway.’”
Q. How did you first come to “Making It” as a series?
A. Amy has a production company called Paper Kite, and its smart, powerful ladies came up with the idea, along with our producer Nicolle Yaron, who’s a genius of reality television. They decided Amy would host it, but that she should probably have a sidekick. Amy can be kind of overpowering. Her light is very bright. They wanted a dulling quality in her counterpart, and they thought it’d be nice if somebody could be a lampshade over her brilliance. And if he or she was handy with a pair of scissors and a rivet gun, that couldn’t hurt.
Q. Your rapport with Amy Poehler is essential to “Making It," much like it was to “Parks and Recreation." How would you characterize that dynamic?
A. I met Amy in the early ’90s in Chicago. From the get-go, we had a sibling affinity for one another. We recognized a mischief in each other, and we’re both lucky enough to get to entertain people with what we do at our jobs. “Parks and Recreation” was a wonderful surprise, that a show that smart, thoughtful, and optimistic could be successful in this age of cynicism and darkness. And then, as a spinoff catapulting off that initial relationship, “Making It” feels. . . Well, Amy feels like somebody I went to high school with, who called me up and said, ‘Hey, a bunch of the gang is getting together to do some really excellent crocheting.’ It’s such a good-hearted effort.
Q. You’re being a little modest about your qualifications for “Making It.” You own a woodshop, where you’re currently prototyping a ukulele. But you’re also an actor, author, musician, and comedian. How do you find enough balance to pursue your passion for craftsmanship?
A. Finding a balance is the right phrase. I’m lucky enough to keep a few different plates spinning in the circus act of my professional career. For example: I felt a need to get out and make people laugh, so I booked this comedy tour that I’m on right now, for the last four months of this year. That takes up that time. In the new year, I’m contracted to write a new book with my publisher, Dutton. I’ll use that period of some months so, when any acting or entertainment jobs come up, I’ll tell them, ‘No, thank you.’ That clears up some daylight on the calendar, so I can go spend some time at my woodshop.
Q. It seems like a grounding presence in your life.
A. Whenever I feel I’ve been away for too long, I find a way to make a life choice that requires me to be domestic, stay home, and not be getting off around the world to dance for the people. Instead, I get into the shop and collaborate with the elves that work year-round at my shop. I’m looking forward to that. But yeah, it’s an always-evolving, organic formula.
Q. What object that you’ve crafted are you most proud of?
A. My favorite answer to that question is, ‘The next project is always my favorite.’ It’s the one I’ve screwed up the least. Over the years, I’ve made a heart-shaped walnut box that housed the ring with which I proposed to [comedian] Megan [Mullally]. And since that proposal seems to have been fulsomely effective, I guess that was a pretty good piece of woodworking.
I’m exceedingly proud of my first canoe, 18-foot and cedar. Paddling that canoe down a river — with a paddle I also made — it feels like a superpower. Making bespeaks a self-sufficiency I learned from my family growing up. When I’m making anything, I feel like I’m being a better citizen than if I’m just being a lazy consumer, cruising through life, purchasing everything I need, and depending on all the luxuries of our first-world society. That lazy, blinkered existence is how we’ve gotten ourselves in the trouble we’re in with climate change.
Q. I love the finale of “Parks & Recreation," with Ron becoming superintendent of the Pawnee National Park and Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knope, ascending through ranks of government. It would seem to me, at some point, there might be a monument constructed to Leslie in her hometown. If you were asked to do the honors, what material would you use to complete this task?
A. That’s a very thoughtful question. My gut reaction is to go with my medium, which is wood, but I would want any such statue to last longer than wood is prone to do. I could take steps to protect the wood, so that it might last in a museum setting, but I’d rather go more impervious. Perhaps I would construct the statue out of wood, I would sculpt it, and then I would cast it from my sculpture in bronze. I believe the Statue of Liberty is bronze — or is it copper?
Q. It has that blue-green color due to oxidation, so I think you’re right that it’s copper.
A. Yes, it’s that patina that copper develops. Leslie would like to be immortalized in the same material as the Statue of Liberty. So: sculpted in wood then cast, a massive, heroic statue in copper. And once the statue developed that patina, I believe Leslie’s Nordic ancestry would shine through, with the bright teal of patinated copper.
Q. Do you and Amy often find yourselves discussing “Parks” while working together on other projects?
A. Generally in life, we’ll talk more about what’s going on in the present, and what we’re working on in the future, than what we were up to seven or eight years ago. That’s just true of everybody. But Amy and I do continue to collaborate whenever we can with a lot of the people who made “Parks,” whether behind or in front of the camera, so that comes up a lot. And when we’re spending 10- or 12-hour days together, we’ll be reminded of things. If we’re required to be eating churros on camera, we’ll say, ‘Remember when Chris Pratt consumed 16 slabs of ribs in one sitting?’ It’s nice to have that well to draw from.