“Theater is a mirror to society,” Nick Offerman says on the phone from what he calls a “conjugal visit” with wife Megan Mullally, who’s filming in Savannah. “It says to us, ‘Let’s do better, shall we?’”
Mullally and Offerman, who married 20 years ago, have a rule to never spend more than two weeks apart. They detail all of that and more in their 2018 book, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, though you’ll find them together on local movie screens in the raunchy A24 gay comedy DICKS: The Musical. You can also see him on the big screen right now in Dumb Money, where he plays a hedge-fund manager wrapped up in the GameStop stock debacle. Thanks to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, Offerman is barred from promoting either film.
This guy has so much more going on than the film and television work that most people know him for. Touring is his ongoing project.
“Of the plates spinning, it’s one of my favorites,” he says. “I show up with a guitar and a backpack.”
His current tour, Nick Offerman Live, stops at the Tanger Center in Greensboro this Saturday. It’s not a comedy tour — Offerman is a humorist. He speaks slowly, sings songs, tells stories. The laughter comes from his easy wit and his authentic connection with both his material and his audience. It’s the simplicity, the directness that makes it work.
Following his success as the unforgettable Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” Offerman kept getting asked to do standup at colleges. The problem : He’s an actor, not a comedian. When he finally said yes to Ohio State, he memorably told the students to carry a handkerchief. There’s something disarming about the way he cuts through the layers of our modern society to make us feel something.
His current tour riffs on themes in his most recent book, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside, just out in paperback. It’s about treasuring the natural world we live in, based on road trip stories from he and Mullally’s adventures.
Offerman is a storyteller at heart, in quips, anecdotes, and dulcet tones. A musician since his childhood days playing saxophone in his public school band program, where incidentally he was also a stand out on the football team, he relishes performing, even as he’s self-deprecating about his many talents.
“My music is perfectly competent,” he muses about his leading man turn with UNCSA alum, writer/director Brett Haley, on the 2018 music-centric film Hearts Beat Loud. “But that might be overegging the pudding by half.” Offerman plays a widowed record store owner who connects with his college-bound daughter through an accidentally viral jam session.
Haley wrote the film for him after he played a pot supplier in Haley’s Sam Elliot starring feature The Hero. When it came time to sign on, Elliot took Offerman out to lunch and told him, “Now let me tell you about Brett. He’s a lot, but he’s pretty good.”
Stepping into more dramatic and sometimes leading roles has been an evolutionary step for Offerman, who’s more known for his distinctive supporting characters than for his emotional chops. Any doubts about his acting ability were soundly put to rest with his career-defining performance as dystopian survivalist turned caregiver Bill in an episode of this year’s “The Last of Us.”
“It was pretty daunting insofar as I hadn’t had a dramatic role,” he says.
The show has touched people on a deep level.
“It’s funny that when they go, well ‘I’m sure you’re tired of having people say how your work meant something to them,’” he says of those who reach out about his turn as Bill. “It hasn’t even occurred to me to be unappreciative of it.”
The role broke boundaries for LGBTQ+ representation in a genre that’s not normally inclusive with an actor who is inextricable from his performance as an extreme right-wing caricature. Offerman brought a depth to a script that he says he knew would be important the minute he read it. The message according to Offerman? “Regardless of who you are, you love.”
He’s adamant that there is a path to a better society, though he maintains that he’s doing only a small part. Through his Offerman Woodworking Shop in LA, he partners with local social enterprise organization Would Works to support skill development for unhoused individuals. They train people in woodworking skills, building products like cutting boards and cheese boards, while also earning themselves a job reference. A month of steady work and sobriety can make a huge difference for people like now-employee Diane, who Offerman calls the “Han Solo of the shop.”
The shop started from a passion for making things. He asked himself,What’s going to give me a wholesome, rewarding life while I try to get on “Baywatch?” From there it grew organically, collecting people and leaning towards women and nonbinary individuals that he calls “the elves.” It’s all run by Lee, a powerful woman not in size, but who he says could outwork him or knock him out if the need arose.
Woodworking harkens back to the salt-of-the-earth realness that makes his stage presence so compelling. For a man of many hats, Offerman seems to relish each and every one. Somehow, he manages to be the center of attention while shifting the attention away from himself. Once he wraps the tour, he’ll swing back South for another matrimonial visitation in Savannah.
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