Opening this week is director Rawson Marshall Thurber’s (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) R-rated comedy We’re the Millers. The film centers on a single, small-time pot dealer (Jason Sudeikis) who ends up in debt to his supplier (Ed Helms). In order to bring the next shipment of drugs up from Mexico, he puts together a fake family comprised of his stripper neighbor (Jennifer Aniston), an eager teen (Will Poulter) and a streetwise punk (Emma Roberts). The supporting cast also includes the hilarious Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn. For more on the film, watch seven clips or read Matt’s review.
The other day I landed a phone interview with Nick Offerman. Besides making me laugh a number of times, he also talked about what the last year has been like for him, making We’re the Millers, working with the great cast, how often he laughs during takes, the future of Parks and Recreation, filming the upcoming season premiere in London and how the locals treated Ron Swanson. In addition, Offerman talked about working with Terrence Malick on Knight of Cups, who he plays, and the way Malick filmed his scenes. Finally, he talked about his work on The Lego Movie and Lake Bell‘s In a World. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what he had to say.
Click here for the audio of this interview. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
Collider: What’s the last year or two been like for you, because you’ve really been bouncing back and forth. Obviously with Parks and Recreation, but you’ve been some solid work on so many other things. What’s it been like, being able to work on all these different projects?
NICK OFFERMAN: It’s been incredibly fun. It’s every guy’s dream to be able to do things like Parks and Rec and Axe Cop and I wrote a book and I get to take my shirt off and play mediocre songs for college students in my American Ham show. It’s just been a blast. It’s been somewhat exhausting, so I was just talking to my sister about how busy I’ve been, and I always make sure to point out that when I cry my tears, they are tears of the finest scotch.
I can only imagine. Jumping into We’re the Millers. I saw the film in New York: really, really funny; very, very dirty. It also has a lot of heart. When you first got the script, were you a little nervous that they maybe weren’t going to be able to find the right balance between the heart and the filth?
OFFERMAN: I never did have any fear of that. Rawson Thurber, our director, is a champion of just that: hilariously filthy, sort of off color humor. That’ll be the name of my second book, “Extremely Filthy with a Lot of Heart.” When we were working, the actors are so good — Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, and Kathryn Hahn, and Emma Roberts and Will Poulter as the kids — everybody is so good, that within in the space of a short scene, it could be equally filthy and heartbreaking at the same time. I had a lot of confidence going up to the plate.
You obviously are paired with Kathryn in the film. She is incredibly funny. Are you really good at keeping a straight face when she’s improv-ing or when people are improv-ing? Do you have a tough time? Do you break a lot?
OFFERMAN: No, I’m pretty good at it. I come by it honest. I learned to keep a straight face in the Catholic church, where the punishment is eternal damnation so a lot was riding on my ability not to crack a smile. However, Kathryn and Jason both had moments, and it’s like this on Parks and Rec too. Ninety percent of the time I keep a stoic, straight face, but then when somebody really gets me, it feels really good to cut loose and giggle. Kathryn Hahn is like a hurricane of comedy, if you can get through seven or eight takes without busting, I think that’s a fine score.
I did the press conference in New York with the whole cast but you, and the thing I discovered was I’ve always been a fan of Jason, but I didn’t realize how good he is on his feet with improv, because he had the entire room just laughing, almost on every question. I was blown away by his humor. What was he like to work with, in terms of sticking to the script, ad-libbing, and coming up with better stuff on the spot?
OFFERMAN: He was incredibly admirable to me. I’ve known Jason for a while, and I’ve always been a big fan of his. He’s obviously incredibly funny, and his work on SNL is really heroic. It was real exciting to work with him, and I was only surprised by kind of what you just said: that he’s even funnier than I could have imagined. He’s also incredibly smart. He has a great ability to step outside the acto side of himself and examine the script and the story, and achieve what we’re going for in a scene, but always be looking for a way to improve things with improv when he feels it’s appropriate. I came away with a great deal of admiration, and I kind of feel like I got an education from Jason working on this film. I had done a lot of studio-sized comedies, and the attention he paid to the role and the script was elucidating to me.
OFFERMAN: It was incredibly surreal. Three mornings ago, I was sitting on a bench with Amy Poehler at eight in the morning on the bank of the Thames, looking across the river at the houses of Parliament, and somebody called, “Action!” We’re doing a scene, a Ron and Leslie scene, and it was really hard not to giggle at what an incredible, fun time it was. Our producers, Mike Schur and Morgan Sackett, did heroic work taking our little show, and within our budget and within the scope of reality within our show, ended up taking us to the United Kingdom. It was an incredible joy.
Is it just the season premiere, or is it two episodes that you’re in London?
OFFERMAN: I think it’s just the premiere.
I’m not sure if Parks and Rec is popular in London, if people watch, but I would imagine that, with American tourists, how did people react seeing you over there, with the mustache, in London? Did anyone react to it, or were you able to anonymous?
OFFERMAN: Parks and Rec had been playing there for about a year, so they’re into season two on the BBC. There was a pretty good deal of recognition. Ron’s hair and mustache are so iconic. We have our fans there, and all the American tourists, it made for a lot of recognition on the streets. I think the rest of the population was strangely intimidated by Ron. They couldn’t understand why this man would look the way he does, and carrying himself the way he does, with his pockets full of bacon. It was really just a lot of fun, and the strange thing was we were shooting on location, and we had some German fans freak out. It was interesting to see fans from all over the world who watch the show online. A Japanese woman was flipping out and was taking pictures with me. She couldn’t even speak enough English — I was trying to get out of her, “How do you know the show, because you don’t even speak any English,” but she couldn’t even tell me. I can only assume she must see with subtitles or dubbing, but it was really neat to see that we have fans around the world with modern broadcast systems.
It was recently announced that Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe are leaving the show. While I’m really sad to see them go, I’ve often found that introducing new characters or having the ability to introduce new characters can add life to a show. You have new character dynamics and new situations you can play with. Can you sort of talk about them leaving and your thoughts on the future?
OFFERMAN: We’re all sad too. I think it’s incredible that we’ve managed to keep this ridiculously talented ensemble together for as long as we have. People like Rashida and Rob and a bunch of the rest of the cast are exploding. They’ve got all kinds of opportunities going on, and so while we’re all sad that those two are moving on, I’m very grateful that we kept them around as long as we did because they have so much big other opportunities facing them. I really just credit Mike Schur, our show’s creator, with just the ability to create this world that when the sands shift beneath us, we’re always able to, as you said, find a new dynamic and find new pairings and new combinations and therefore new alchemy between the characters. My selfish reaction when I heard the news was that I moved up two spots on the good looking list on the show. I also said to the cast, “Our show just got a whole lot more homely.”
You got to work, at least a little bit, with Terrence Malick on Knight of Cups, if I’m not mistaken.
OFFERMAN: I did, yes. Just one glorious day.
With Malick, considering he can edit anyone out of anything, were you sort of like, “I’m gonna go do this, but there’s a chance no one’s going to see this work?”
OFFERMAN: Oh yeah, absolutely. He famously will cut his lead out of the movie. The guy who came in and played for one day, the chance is very slim that we’ll ever see any of it, but I’m an incredibly big fan of his work, and getting to meet with him and work with him was such a joy and a treat. By now, you go in knowing you’re rolling the dice in terms of whether or not you’re going to appear in the final cut. If it had come as a surprise, you can get angry about it, but I knew that going in. I just had a lot of fun. He directs like a painter: he looks around at all of the ingredients and colors that he has and just starts painting, and I think that continued into the editing room, where he just keeps working on the painting. He may find that he has that horse-drawn wagon in the lower left of his painting, and eventually he paints over it because it doesn’t work in the final cut. Being one small color in his brush stroke was quite a treat.
One of the things about Malick is the unorthodox places he’ll put a camera. I’m curious about you working with him that one day, you noticed the camera might have been aimed at your feet, or it might have been aimed at a window with you delivering dialogue. Was that what he was doing, or was it more conventional narrative with your character?
OFFERMAN: No, no, it was very much like that. It was kind of fun. I was playing the role, that in the space of one day, I was an agent, and Christian Bale’s over-sharing in a lobby, and then he said, “Okay, maybe now you’re a ghost.” We sort of continued to improvise and play off the same material we had been doing. Then I went into a sound van, and recorded all of my material, because he said, “Maybe I’ll just have him hear your voice as he’s in this lobby.” Then he came up with a whole other scenario where we had a writers’ room, and Christian Bale is playing one of the writers, and we just did a huge session of an improved scene. It’s really fun. He has a real train of thought filmmaking, but it’s very creative. It’s really.
I have to say, that’s such a different way of making a movie than other people can get away with it. It has to be interesting, for all actors involved, because you don’t know what the hell he made until you see the finished movie.
OFFERMAN: That’s for sure. You have to be a master on the level of Terrence Malick to get funding and say, “Oh, I don’t know what we’re going to end up with, but we’re just going to roll the footage. I have a general idea.” His work has been so beautiful and moving, that everyone is just happy to get a chance. Terrence makes such a high-end product.
I recently saw In a World…, really great movie. Love that it touches on a world that you never really sort of see. You obviously have a memorable part in it. Can you talk about what it was like to work on it, to work with Lake Bell, and what it was like to make that film?
OFFERMAN: I was really proud that she asked to be in that. My wife and I are good buddies with Lake, mainly from working on Children’s Hospital. We’re such big fans of hers, she’s such an amazing lady, and all of a sudden, she turns around and she made this really funny short that she wrote and directed, and suddenly she’s making a feature. We’re like, “Oh!” She literally tore her top off and had a Superwoman costume on underneath. I’m just thrilled that I got to be a small part in it. The cast is so amazing. I was really excited to meet Demetri Martin, I’m a big fan of his, and Lake was so good on set. She knew exactly what she wanted and had a lot of fun. I was thrilled to work with my friend Tig Notaro, who I think is one of the funniest ladies happening on the planet these days. I’m such a lucky son of a bitch that for my job, I get to hang out with these incredibly smart and funny people. I think we’ll see even bigger and better things coming from Lake. She’s a dynamo.
She really impressed me with it, sincerely. Last time I spoke to you, we talked a little bit about The Lego Movie. Since then, I’ve spoken to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and seen some footage, and I’m more and more convinced that it’s going to be one of the great films of next year. Have you done any more voice work for it? Have you seen any of the footage? What can you tease people?
OFFERMAN: I too am incredibly excited to see it. My best friend was just here, and his wife works at Warner Bros., and he saw an early screening. They’re considering it about half done because there’s so much animation to do, but he said it’s just looking incredible. I think Chris Miller and Phil Lord are really exciting and smart guys, and the thing I love about them is they lace their work with love. There’s a lot of people who work in the business and there’s a lot of cynicism in this age of information. This movie — it’s very hopeful and optimistic. For a movie that’s for kids, I think this is going to be very inspiring for adults, and I think it’s going to look amazing. Again, I feel so lucky and grateful that they gave me the nod as the weird pirate.