Ron Swanson has a glue gun and he knows how to use it. Actor Nick Offerman talks to Kim Knight about craft, consumerism and the "dumb-dumbs" in charge of America.
Little known fact: Felt comes from the pelt of a beaver.
This is probably (definitely) not true. But Nick Offerman's proclamation that "around the globe there are beavers of every colour" is infinitely funnier than the reality (condensed fibres, blah blah).
Seven minutes into the new television show he's co-hosting with fellow Parks and Recreation alumni Amy Poehler and the banter is gold-sequinned. Literally.
Making It is Project Runway with a crochet hook and wood lathes. Yes, that is a woman with a PhD in clinical child psychology stuffing a wall-mounted unicorn's head. Yes, that was a papier-mache rabbit before the balloon exploded. This is television for our times. Who among us did not wish they'd refilled the glue gun before lockdown?
Right now, Offerman is supposed to be making a third season of the American reality competition. Instead, he's on the phone from Los Angeles, spruiking tonight's debut (on Three). Later, perhaps, he'll go to his "woodshop" - because the actor who is more recognisable here as bacon-loving bureaucrat Ron Swanson is a bona fide craftsman. Go on, ask him about swamp kauri.
"The ancient ones that are millennia old, discovered in bogs? In the woodworking world that was big news and there's a couple of lumber yards in the States who carry that kauri wood, so I've messed around with a couple of pieces . . . "
Current (non-kauri) projects include finishing 12 ukeleles, a set of shelves and three wooden funeral urns. Ron Swanson, he confirms, only became a woodworker when Parks and Recreation writers discovered Offerman's other talents.
"They said 'can we make Ron a woodworker? We think this is HILARIOUS.' Yes. Thank you. That is a fine compliment."
Offerman paddles his own canoe. It's made of western red cedar and the deck is carved walnut and ebony.
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"I come from a pragmatic family who all grew up on farms in the same neighbourhood in Illinois. There's an incredible value to a self-sufficient life," he says.
In LA, he and wife Megan Mullally (who plays Karen Walker on Will and Grace) are abiding by Covid-19 "shelter at home" orders. They do jigsaws, read, and make fortnightly grocery runs. By law, they must wear face masks outside. Offerman's mother is an avid seamstress and they have a "pretty cool" homemade collection. They are very okay with these rules.
"The problem is we're grappling with some dumb-dumbs and some of them, unfortunately, are running our country. So the dumb-dumbs and their supporters are more interested in politics and posturing and the economy, than listening to the people who know about the science and the virus," says Offerman.
"One of the things we know scientifically is that we can't know who has it - the fact that you can have it and be asymptomatic - which means anyone can be spreading it to anyone else, so that makes me feel perfectly good about wearing a mask anywhere I go. It seems to me, you're a complete arsehole if you feel any other way."
Offerman's resume is long and storied. From Parks and Recreation to four published books (he's currently writing a fifth). From Fargo to The Lego Movie. There's that 45-minute commercial where he does nothing more than sit by a fire and sip luxury Scotch. He's twice toured here with a live comedy show, jogged on West Auckland's black sand beaches, and caught up with Lucy Lawless, who once played his television wife.
"Her life seems to be much more like an action movie. She's such a heroic activist, an environmental activist aligned with Greenpeace, so when she's not, like, out in the middle of an ocean fighting off oil riggers and saving our planet, we touch base."
The Parks and Recreation cast maintain a tight bond via epically long text threads. Reuniting with Poehler on Making It is, he says, "wonderful. It's basically this month-long vacation." A holiday in which Offerman identifies wood-types by smell alone and Poehler, surely, plays her lack of craft knowledge for laughs?
"The glue and the scissors were not among the skills that she picked up," says Offerman, gravely.
The 49-year-old studied theatre at university where he also learned to build sets and props. His first real woodworking project was an enormous working watch, inspired by the lyrics of They Might Be Giants' song Particle Man.
Offerman agrees DIY bucks the stereotype of American consumerism but argues "there's a percentage of the population that never got swept away by the industrial revolution, by the idea that it's somehow better to purchase something than it is to make something . . . I understand growing produce in the garden and we baked bread every Sunday and in our extended family, some of whom are still farming, we fix our own vehicles, we build our own houses and, you know, it's a different mentality".
Anyone is susceptible to consumerism ("it's so easy to suddenly be shopping for a new pair of work boots") but says he's learned to resist with age.
"The sort of sheeplike American consumerism is the idea that you can never have too many work boots. Sure, maybe you have a nice pair of brown work boots, but wouldn't you like a pair in black and a pair in beige doeskin and glitter for the Saturday night project?"
If Offerman had to pick between work boots and public life?
"I would have to choose entertaining people. That was my calling, that's what I went to school for. I just started using my tools to make money while I was trying to get acting jobs. I never dreamed that the two would dovetail together and that my woodworking, that my carpentry, would become part of my show business.
"I feel like I bring more, you know, 'medicine' to people as an actor, than I do with a nice dining table."
WHO: Nick Offerman
WHAT: Co-host of reality competition series Making It
WHEN: Three, Thursdays, 7.30pm