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“Teeny projects shooting in the middle of nowhere are my bread and butter,” Nick Offerman says. “They really are, which is why The Kings of Summer was so perfect.”
Offerman isn’t kidding. He and his wife, actress Megan Mullally, both come from the Chicago theater world, where Offerman used to have his own small company called the Defiant Theater. As a standup comic he’s a master of deadpan delivery, something that often carries over to his film and television work, which includes the offbeat Childrens Hospital (2008-2012) and especially his current run as surly Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation.
“I’ve been in the business for 20 years now, and it’s pretty easy to understand that, with smaller-budget projects, things that don’t have any corporate influence, your artistic vision is going to be much more deliciously realized,” says Offerman, who also is a carpenter and owns his own business, Offerman Woodshop. “So, once I made the move from Chicago theater to Los Angeles, I found that the world of independent film sort of supplanted a lot of my theater life.
“It’s still 20 or 30 people making a piece of art together,” he says. “Nobody is going to get rich off of it in any way, except for the reward of creating and telling a story the way we want it told.”
The Kings of Summer will open in limited release on Friday. The film, which was shot in Cleveland, centers on two teenage pals, Joe and Patrick (Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso), who are joined by a third boy, Biaggio (Moises Arias), in a quest to build a house in the woods, reside there independently, and live off the land. Offerman plays Frank Toy, Joe’s cranky widower dad, with Alison Brie as Frank’s daughter. Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson co-star as Patrick’s smothering parents.
The film, written by Chris Galletta and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a quirky coming-of-age tale. Offerman says he immediately connected with Galletta’s story and characters. “I got the script and I was thrilled with Chris’ writing,” the actor recalls, “because the film has really finely wrought humor, and I knew that I could achieve some chuckles with this part. That, coupled with Frank’s emotional arc, I wanted to do it.
“It’s rare, so far, that I’ve gotten to play parts of this nice size with actually somewhere to go emotionally,” he says. “I loved the turmoil between Frank and Joe, and I knew that the sort of stentorian wall of pain that Frank was hiding behind, after the loss of his wife and Joe’s mother, was something that I had in my toolkit.”
Originally entitled Toy’s House, the picture earned raves during film-festival screenings, and CBS Films picked it up for release. Even though The Kings of Summer will need to carve its niche in a market crowded by Star Trek Into Darkness and other blockbusters, Offerman believes that both kids and adults will find and appreciate it.
“I think this will appeal to everyone,” he says. “This film has a lot of bad language, but basically, from 12 and up, kids know a lot more dirty words than I do — and that’s saying something, because I aspire to be a sailor one day."
, recently wrapped its fifth season. Though the ensemble comedy never has been a ratings smash and, accordingly, always has been on the bubble and in danger of cancelation, earlier this month NBC picked up the show for a sixth season.Parks and RecreationOfferman’s other current gig,
“When we come back every fall, we feel so lucky,” Offerman says. “We’re in this interesting time when we’re experiencing the conundrum of the death of the Nielsen rating system. One of the reasons we stick around, which doesn’t get a lot of publicity, is that the television business doesn’t want the world to find out that ratings no longer have any accuracy at all.
“We have this huge, rabid audience of young people,” he says. “Really everybody from age 30 down is watching the show on their computer, and the networks have not yet figured out how to monetize that. They get paid from the Nielsen number, that’s where the advertising money comes from, but Parks and Recreation seems to be the most popular show among intelligent college students and teenagers, which I find incredibly gratifying because I think that’s the hardest audience to get one by.
“I have to say that, though I’m relieved every fall when we come back for another season, I’m not surprised because Mike Shur, Amy Poehler, and Greg Daniels have created a show with such heart,” Offerman continues. “I think a great part of the world’s population is desperate for something more like Cheers (1982-1993) and less like a show that’s all boobs and beer-swilling.”
Offerman hopes that Mullally will reprise her recurring role as Ron’s ex-wife. He and Mullally have been married since 2003 and often work together. They both appear in The Kings of Summer, and he guest-starred on her old series, Will & Grace (1998-2006).
“We’re thinking about including a rider in our contracts [saying that they must always work together],” Offerman jokes, “but so far we’re just lucky. We love working together and often, when one of us gets signed onto something, thankfully the production will say, ‘Hey, do you think we can get your spouse in this other part?’”