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Inside Nick Offerman's Career From Theater Actor To The Last Of Us

Nick Offerman has established himself in popular culture as a memorable and dry-voiced comic with a solid and soothing presence, thanks to his multi-season run on the legendary sitcom "Parks and Recreation." His character on the show, Ron Swanson, is an ultra-serious, meat-loving, government-hating man with a secret love of jazz and a not-so-secret love of woodworking. At least one of those hobbies is shared by Nick Offerman himself. 

But Ron is far from the be-all, end-all of the actor's career, and the character isn't Offerman's only claim to fame. Offerman is a multifaceted person who's just as comfortable toting a toolbelt as he is acting in Shakespearian drama. A comic actor with roots in the Chicago improv scene, a real-life woodworker, a podcaster, a producer, and even an author — he's done a lot of amazingly diverse things with his life, as the years have gone on. The actor has also got a lot of roles behind him. 

Let's take a journey through Nick Offerman's life, from his humble beginnings to his earliest roles, and see how he evolved as a person before taking the role of Ron Swanson in "Parks and Recreation."

Nick Offerman grew up creative

Per Entertainment Weekly, Nick Offerman was born on June 26, 1970. Via Chicago Magazine, he's the second oldest child in his family of four and was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois. He often spent hours of his youth on his grandparent's farm, as his mother (a nurse) and his father (a teacher) both worked during the day. It appears he had something of a comic in him, even at a young age. As an altar boy, of all things, he quickly learned the value of humor, earning laughter from fellow congregants through comedic gestures while performing his duties. Meanwhile, he also developed an affinity with working with his hands from an early age, which would later help to provide him with a living after college graduation. 

Comedy proved to be a running theme throughout his life, however. He continued making comedy videos in his youth, and while his teenage interests ranged wide and far, it was this love of performance that eventually steered him toward studying acting at the University of Illinois after graduating high school. As Offerman wrote of the experience, "It was as though I had informed [my parents] that I wanted to study wizardry so that I might travel into alternate dimensions."

Offerman's theatrical career brought out his love of acting

Via the Offerman Workshop website, while studying at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Offerman both performed in the school's theatrical outings and worked at their scene shop under teacher Kenny Egan. Offerman eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1993, per Apple TV. He then co-founded an experimental theatre company called Defiant Theatre, but mainly plied his trade as a roofer and carpenter to make ends meet while working theatrical gigs. And those ends barely met. "When people ask, 'Do you like going back to your old haunts?' the answer is no. My old haunts were whoever had the cheapest burrito," he told Chicago Magazine.

Per the Offerman Woodshop website, while working as a carpenter and acting, Offerman also fabricated sets for various local Chicago theater productions. Via Broadway World, Offerman performed in plays for — and built sets and props for — the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, and Wisdom Bridge. After moving away from Chicago, the actor would return to the theater in various productions in multiple cities, including the Evidence Room Theatre Company in Los Angeles (via Buzzfeed). He performed in "Annapurna" with wife Megan Mullally off-Broadway in 2014 and appeared in "A Confederacy of Dunces" for Boston's Huntington Theater Company in 2015, per Broadway World. 

To this day, Offerman remains active on stage. At press time, his most recent theatrical venture was a 2020 Playhouse Live Production "Iceboy!" with Mullally for the Passadena Playhouse (Per Playbill).

He became a familiar face at the Upright Citizens Brigade

Offerman briefly performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade, a comedic improv company which also included and was co-founded by future "Parks and Recreation" star Amy Poehler (per The Village Voice) in New York City starting in 1997. Per an interview conducted by Offerman with fellow Upright Citizen's Brigade veteran Jason Mantzoukas published by Interview Magazine in 2014, Offerman performed in their long-running show "A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T." among other UCB outings. His rendition of monologue in which he discussed his world travels was well-known among the troupe's members.

Mantzoukas recalled watching Offerman read monologues before their friendship had officially begun for The Village Voice. "I remember the first time Nick Offerman came and told stories, this was before Parks and Rec. He was just an actor from Chicago. I remember being like [...] Who is that guy? This guy's amazing!" His stories were phenomenal, and so funny but kind of melancholy."

Offerman subsequently moved to Los Angeles a few months later after amassing some film credits in both Chicago and New York. Per an interview with The Believer, he'd planned on setting up housekeeping with a girlfriend who ended up moving back to Mexico alone.

His woodworking career continues to sustain him

After landing in Los Angeles, Offerman began pounding the pavement once again, looking for work as an actor and finding little success. Per the Offerman Woodshop Website, the actor began supplementing his income by once again picking his hammer up. He began building decks and cabins for various local clientele.

Offerman opened a shop and began collecting tools, working on projects between deck builds. Eventually he opened his own woodworking shop, which remains in operation to this day. Offerman Woodshop sells custom-made signs, beds, boats, chairs, benches, and other furniture and other assorted housewares and objects, even boats. They also sell passion projects by the company's employees, and fans of Offerman's may also purchase autographed copies of the actor's books, commemorative t-shirts, and various records and books created by Megan Mullally, the actor's wife. The workshop is a family affair for Offerman, as his father Ric and brother Matt also work there.

Per an interview with Fatherly, Offerman's woodworking path was autodidactic, though he did receive guidance from his uncles, grandfathers, and father. He encourages neophyte woodworkers to do their homework. "Once you get into woodworking and start reading about it, you read the words and techniques from much more experienced and wise teachers than this [...] actor who has made some tables," the actor wryly noted on the website.

A series of small roles led him to Parks and Rec

Before "Parks and Recreation," Offerman's acting resume was a bit sparse and he attended a number of fruitless casting calls. The actor's first credited TV role (per IMDb) was on an episode of the hit NBC drama "ER." He subsequently appeared in a number of procedurals, dramas and westerns in single-episode supporting roles, often playing the heavy. 

Among the meatier parts Offerman took before hitting it big was Marcus in Fox's thriller "24." Here, he was a criminal who holds Kate Warner (Sarah Wynter) hostage in the hope of snagging the microchip she holds which proves that some vital recordings were falsified. Naturally, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) comes to rescue Kate, precipitating Marcus' blood exit. The gig lasted for three episodes and helped springboard Offerman toward his first regular television role. 

He was also memorable in the role of Randy McGee, coworker of George Lopez (George Lopez) and boyfriend of George's mom Benny Lopez (Belita Moreno) in the ABC sitcom "George Lopez." It's here that Offerman got a chance to show a wider audience his signature deadpan comedic timing. For eight episodes, Randy is a thorn in George's side as he dated Benny, causing discomfort and chaos in the Lopez household. Randy and Benny's relationship was frenetic and often an on-again, off-again thing. In the Season 3 episode "Benny and Randy," the twosome become engaged. But a happy ending isn't in the cards for the couple, as eventually they break up in Season 4 because, as Benny tells her family, she was "bored" by Randy.

He also appeared in "Sin City," "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," "CSI: New York," and "Gilmore Girls."

Offerman's marriage to Megan Mullally changed his life

In 2000, Offerman met "Will and Grace" star Megan Mullally while performing in the play "The Berlin Circle" with her for the Evidence Room Theatre Company (per Buzzfeed). The two actors were immediately attracted to one another, though according to Parade, Mullally initially tried to keep things on a more professional level. "She gave me a stern talking to about how yes, there might be 'some interest' in me but she wasn't about to 'get involved' with somebody she was doing a play with. So it would have to wait until the play closed," Offerman said. On the night the play closed, the twosome kissed in her car, repeatedly replaying the Beck song "Beautiful Way" as they did.

Soon enough, the twosome were married on September 20, 2003 (per Vulture). Throwing a party for a small group of friends, the couple sprung a surprise wedding on them instead. They've remained together in the decades since. And since that day, the pair has shared the small screen several times — Mullally essayed the role of the nightmarish Tammy II, Ron's ex-wife, on "Parks and Recreation," while Offerman appeared on "Will and Grace" as a plumber, and they acted together often in the Adult Swim program "Children's Hospital." Offerman also frequently appeared on "The Megan Mullally Show," a short-lived talk show. They have shared the stage in numerous plays and in films such as "The Kings of Summer."

The couple has also appeared in multiple live stage productions together, including their own live show, "Summer of 69: No Apostrophe" (per IMDb) They co-wrote a book entitled "The Greatest Love Story Ever Told" and they also co-host a podcast, "In Bed with Nick and Megan."

He has become a writer and producer

Over the years, Nick Offerman also has spent time in yet another creative field — he's a writer. Aside from "The Greatest Love Story Ever Told," Offerman has written four others books: "Good Clean Fun," which focusses on life in his workshop, "Gumption," which gives an up-close-and-personal look at 21 of Offerman's heroes and how they've inspired his development as a person, a memoir tiled "Paddle Your Own Canoe", and "Where the Deer and the Antelope Play,"  which is about his love of travel and hiking in the American wilderness. All four books are available to be autographed, direct from the author. Via IMDb, he's also created works for the small screen. He's credited with co-writing three episodes of the short-lived animated program "Axe Cop," as well as "Nick Offerman: American Ham" — a TV special focusing on the actor — and a single episode of "Parks and Recreation," titled "Lucky," which aired during Season 4. He's also credited with writing the lyrics for songs which were included in 12 different College Humor original productions.

Also via IMDb, yet another interest of the actor's lies on the production side of the entertainment industry. He co-produced "Axe Cop" for Fox. He also co-produced the films  "Somebody Up There Likes Me," "Infinity Baby," "The House of Tomorrow" and "Hearts Beat Loud," and the reality crafting series he co-hosted with Amy Poehler on NBC, "Making It."

A memorable audition landed him the role of Ron

Per Chicago Magazine, Offerman auditioned for the role of Michael Scott — which, obviously, later went to Steve Carell — in the American reboot of "The Office." While he didn't land that part, he impressed everyone who saw him. Producer Michael Schur wrote Offerman's name on a sticky note, determined to use Offerman somehow, in some role, at some point, in a future production.

As Schur told Chicago Magazine, "He stood perfectly still and said the words as succinctly and straightforwardly as they could be said — they were like missiles coming out of his mouth. Often, actors think they need to be 'memorable' in auditions for guest roles by putting a ton of spin on the lines. Nick was memorable because there was no spin at all."

When "Parks and Recreation" rolled around, Schur still had Offerman's name ready, and specifically requested that Offerman be included in the new program. Per The Guardian, Offerman was actually considered for a different role at first, but he was rejected by NBC executives because they couldn't envision him romancing Rashida Jones (who portrayed Ann Perkins). They decided to try him in his now-iconic role of Ron. Surely enough, Offerman nailed the correct energy, became the show's Ron, and the rest is history.

Offerman is quite the dancer

Though Offerman's best-known talent — outside of acting, of course — is woodworking, he's a bit of a jack of all trades. Much of this comes from his time working with a stage theater group, as he had to pick up a number of different skills to play the various characters that came his way. However, his interest in one of the skills he mastered in stage theatre actually began long before all that — dancing.

Offerman was born in 1970, so he was the perfect age to fall in love with breakdancing. As a child in Minooka, Illinois, Offerman would practice his moves and show off what he's learned. You can read about it in a few of his books, and he's even demonstrated his skills on some late-night talk shows.

It isn't just dance trends that have drawn Offerman's attention, either. When studying to become an actor, he took multiple semesters of ballet. He told Wired, "I still got it" when discussing his history with ballet — though he's also claimed he occasionally took the classes to meet women.

He's a prolific voice actor

With a voice as silky-smooth as Nick Offerman's, it should come as no surprise to anyone that he's often been recruited to do voice acting. Even if you don't always recognize that it's him, you've almost assuredly seen a movie or series that features Offerman's vocal talents.

One of Offerman's first notable voice acting roles was as the pirate character Metal Beard in "The LEGO Movie." He would go on to reprise the role in multiple sequels and spinoffs. Offerman starred as the title character on the delightfully oddball Adult Swim series "Axe Cop," and he pops up in plenty of big-name franchises. He's Grandpa Mike in "Hotel Transylvania 2," Norman in "Sing," Gavin in "Ice Age: Collision Course," Agent Powers in "Gravity Falls," and more. Offerman's most recent voice acting role comes as Beef Tobin on the "Bob's Burgers" adjacent series "The Great North."

If that wasn't enough, Offerman's voice is perfect even for non-acting roles. He's narrated a few films over his career, and he's even the guy who says the company name "Fremulon" at the end of the credits on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."

He's a multi-talented musician

When it comes to a Renaissance man like Nick Offerman, the question isn't "Does he play a musical instrument?" Instead, it's "How many instruments can he play?" It turns out the man's got some serious skill on multiple instruments.

First up, the musical skill Offerman seems best at — singing. He's displayed his vocal abilities on several shows, including a superb performance of the forlorn Linda Ronstadt song "Long, Long Time" in "The Last of Us." There are a number of videos showcasing Offerman's singing abilities — for example, check out this little studio session.

When you start exploring videos of Offerman singing, you get an idea of just how many instruments he is proficient with. Obviously, he's got some skill with the guitar, and he's played the instrument in several roles and in his personal life. As a kid, he learned the piano, which he showed off as Bill on his episode of "The Last of Us." Beyond that, if you watched "Parks and Recreation," you were introduced to Duke Silver — Offerman played a lot of saxophone as a child, and he still plays, although he claims he's not anywhere near as good as Ron Swanson's alter ego.

Neither Offerman nor Murray Bartlett had played The Last of Us before shooting

When actors take on a character who has already been developed, there are two different ways to approach things. Some actors learn everything they can about the character, incorporating the best bits into their performance. Other actors go in relatively blind, preferring to learn the basics but otherwise play their take on the role. For their performances as Bill and Frank on the third episode of "The Last of Us," Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett took the latter approach.

Judging from the critical response to the episode, that tactic paid off.

In an interview with GQ, the duo discussed their approach to their roles on the episode "Long, Long Time," which was the biggest departure viewers had yet from the source material, the video game series from Naughty Dog of the same name. Bartlett claimed to be passingly familiar with "The Last of Us" from friends who played the games, but Offerman claimed to have zero familiarity with the games. He told GQ, "I kind of loved being completely fresh and not having to worry about any colouration from previous knowledge."

Offerman's episode of The Last of Us was shot over a month and (mostly) chronologically

Offerman's critically-acclaimed episode of "The Last of Us" took us through a nearly two decade relationship between two people, and being able to create believability in that long of a relationship is a challenging role for any actor. Luckily, the pair had some help in adding some realism to the evolution of Bill and Frank.

During a joint interview with GQ, Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett discuss how the shoot took them about a month to film. However, according to Bartlett, it felt longer "in a great way." Offerman explained that the compound that Bill set up and Frank later added some flair to was actually created and worked on over the course of the shoot, and they filmed as chronologically as they could. Even though there's still a lot of heavy lifting with the acting, makeup, and costuming, shooting chronologically helped Offerman "plug in all those puzzle pieces." 

Shooting chronologically helped the actors find that extended sense of companionship that a long-term relationship like Bill and Frank's creates. Beyond that, it allowed the actors to create something beautiful in what both GQ and Esquire describe as the best TV episode of 2023.