Before Nick Offerman became Ron Swanson--rugged individualist, breakfast food aficionado and instant fan favorite on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation--he was just another Chicago actor looking for his big break. Offerman's Midwestern roots obviously influenced the no-nonsense character of Ron; but in real life, he is a jack of all trades: writer, producer, husband, carpenter, one-time fight choreographer and die-hard Cubs fan.
This weekend, Offerman returns to the city where he cut his acting chops for multiple advanced screenings of his new film Somebody Up There Likes Me at the Music Box Theatre. To prepare for his arrival, brush up on these Offerman "Illinois-ims" that might serve you well during an after-show Q&A or a chance encounter over bratwurst:
The Early Years
Offerman was born and raised in Minooka, Ill., a small town just outside of Joliet. His father taught social studies at a junior high in nearby Channahon, and instilled the value of skilled craftsmenship in his son from a very young age. Offerman built theatrical in high school, which inspired him to open his own woodshop later in life:
"My family is made up of farmers and, generally, like great Americans, we all grew up with a great set of skills and used tools," Offerman told the Huffington Post. "I spent many years building scenery as a large part of my income and that allowed me to really develop my shop skills.When I got to Los Angeles, I started building cabins in peoples' yards...The woodworking spell really got a hold of me and has not let go."
Offerman received a Bachelors of Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a decision spurred by driving his then-girlfriend to a dance audition and running into some random theater kids in the hall:
"I was in the hallway of the performing arts building--a beautful facility-- and met some theater students," Offerman says, "I said, 'What do you mean, you’re theater students?' And they said, 'We study acting and plays.' I said, 'You can do that for a job?' I was completely blown away. I went home and told my parents: 'You can get a job acting in plays and make money doing that.'”
In 1993, Offerman and a group of fellow University of Illinois graduates founded the Defiant Theatre in Chicago. He continued living in the city through the mid-1990s, performing in plays at Steppenwolf, the Goodman and the Red Orchid Theatre. While acting in the company of Steppenwolf, Offerman also worked as a fight choreographer and master carpenter. In an interview with Believer magazine, Offerman recalled "cutting his teeth" in the Chicago theatre scene alongside some of the greats:
"Michael Shannon [of Boardwalk Empire] was a contemporary of mine, " says Offerman. "I did Sam Sheperd's Buried Child at Steppenwolf. Gary Sinise directed it. John Malkovich came and did The Libertine. Laurie Metcalf did a play while we were there...Ethan Hawke was in Buried Child, and Keanu [Reeves] came to see him. We all went out for a beer. It's when I realized that movie stars were normal people."
When asked to describe his "ideal day" in Chicago by RedEye's Scott Bolohan, Offerman's made sure to include a Cubs game on the agenda:
"I would walk over to the lake and walk with a couple friends and my wife down the shore to Wrigleyville and make my way to the Cubby Bear and drop in for a Cubs game," he said. "It would be a day game, so then we could finish up, take a nap and recover from all the beer we drank and then head over to Steppenwolf and see what they were playing in their studio theater."
Meeting Amy Poehler
Poehler, who plays perky city councilwoman Leslie Knope opposite Offerman's surly Ron on Parks and Rec, was heavily involved in the Chicago improv scene when she and Offermen were first introduced circa 1994:
"We each had a mutual friend living together in a house and met at a party there," says Offerman. "I was engaged in a production of A Clockwork Orange at Steppenwolf at the time and, in a nutshell, I looked like a droog. I looked really scary with a big beard and my hair was dyed orange. Amy hasn't changed a great deal since then, so she was a very charismatic firecracker and I was immeditately taken with what a great point guard she could make. And I think she thought that I was really scary."
"For me, a dream date in Chicago [with wife Megan Mullally] is having a brat at the Berghoff and then walking over to the Art Institute," says Offerman. His other favorite Chicago restaurants include Gino's East and Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park. When asked by Bon Appetit magazine if he preferred his pizza New York-style or Chicago-style, Offerman's response proved where his loyalties truly lie:
"If properly dried and trimmed, New York-style pizza could be used to make a box for Chicago-style pizza. I love a slice when I'm in NYC, but it's like eating a Slim Jim compared with a filet mignon."
Check out the trailer for Somebody Up There Likes Me, which screens tonight (7:30 and 9:45 p.m.) and tomorrow night (also 7:30 and 9:45 p.m.) with Nick Offerman live in-person at the Music Box Theatre: