In NBC’s Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman rocked one of the most iconic mustaches in pop-culture history as Ron Swanson, the red-tape-hating, red-meat-loving civil servant and reluctant friend to Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope. In case you haven’t noticed, that impressively groomed ‘stache has been MIA since the show’s teary 2015 finale, even as Offerman has become an increasingly prolific presence in TV and film.
“The mustache was so utilized and well received in Parks & Recreation that it’s gonna be on the bench for a while,” Offerman told Yahoo Movies at the Los Angeles press day for his latest movie, the poignant comedic drama The Hero starring Sam Elliott as an aging movie star coming to terms with his mortality. “It’s hard to see me with a mustache and not immediately think of that character, which is a disadvantage.”
Yes, facial hair is very much a matter of art for the 47-year-old actor and native of Minookia, Ill., and it always has been. “Even before Parks & Rec, that’s always kind of how I start with a director, whether it’s a play or film or TV. They say, ‘I want you to play this role,’ and I say, ‘OK, I’m thinking Fu Manchu and Mohawk,‘” Offerman explained. “I read the script and I envision knowing the tool box that I have visually… I then strategize. I say ‘OK, I see this guy wearing this kind of stuff and this kind of facial hair.'”
The hirsute approach dates all the way back to Offerman’s early days in the Chicago theater scene, manifested in the earliest stages through his first pair of muttonchops. It has continued in the days since he left Pawnee. He points to his five-episode arc in the FX hit Fargo in 2015: “I had the C. Everett Koop Amish beard also known as a Donegal beard. Just the cheek and jowls.” In films like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015) and The Little Hours, his other new indie movies out this summer, “I’ve been working some different beard lengths and whatnot, and it’s something I appreciate.”
And then there was last year’s The Founder, in which he had the gall to go clean-shaven. “I get a lot of angry reactions from Parks & Rec fans where they say, ‘Please don’t ever shave your mustache again.’ But in my head I say to them, ‘If I did that McDonald’s movie with a mustache everyone would’ve said, “Well that didn’t work because I just kept seeing Ron Swanson telling Michael Keaton that he wanted real milk in his milkshakes.”‘”
In The Hero, Elliott stars as Lee Hayden, a septuagenarian actor inextricably tied to his most famous role in a Western who now relies on voicing ads for barbeque sauce to pay the bills. When Lee is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he attempts to make things right with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), while also striking up a romance with a standup comedian around the same age (Laura Prepon). Offerman plays Jeremy Frost, a failed actor-turned-weed dealer and Lee’s closest confidant.
Jeremy, who wraps himself in the type of velvet sweatsuits Offerman refers to as “Ray Liotta Casual,” is content with a life of rolling joints, listening to reggae LPs, and watching Buster Keaton comedies. “I think I have a Jeremy, a potential Jeremy, within me that I have fortunately known better than to let out,” the actor said. “Prudence prohibited me from allowing my own life to atrophy that way, and I’m very grateful. When I met my wife [actress Megan Mullally], I knew pretty soon that I wanted to marry her… She’s 11 years older than me, and so she had quit smoking and she had cut down her drinking… So I was in my early 30s and I had to quit smoking. I had to start behaving more like a grown-up if I wanted to be responsible to my relationship. And in hindsight I realized that I was unwittingly saving my own life by getting into that relationship.”
It was actually a Parks and Rec connection that brought Offerman into The Hero. Elliott, you may recall, played a sort of Bizarro World Ron Swanson named Ron Dunn from Pawnee’s rival town of Eagleton. “When [Sam] came to work on Parks & Rec, we immediately hit it off and became close friends,” Offerman said. After directing Elliott in 2015’s I’ll See in My Dreams, filmmaker Brett Haley set out to craft a film specifically for the actor to star in, so he wrote The Hero. “And so Brett, I mean I think through watching Parks & Rec, he became aware of that affinity that we had for one another,” Offerman added.
Elliott, the 72-year-old character best known for Westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Tombstone, war films like Gettysburg and We Were Soldiers, and his memorable cameo as The Stranger in The Big Lebowski, is receiving the best reviews of his career for his nuanced turn in The Hero, in which he brings a vulnerability that’s endearingly antithetical to machismo image of his iconic gunslinger.
“It’s the only time that he’s really gotten to carry the main emotional arc of a film,” Offerman said. “He was a lead in that movie Lifeguard, but that’s not nearly as deep a cut as this film. Sam is so magnificent in his usual genre as the tough-as-nails, Harley rider, cowboy, military general, that it’s sort of understandable that he’s never been given the chance to be the emotional center of the film because he’s so good at filling his character slot… But here he delivers so powerfully.”
In The Hero, Elliott also achieves something as rare as a hug from Ron Swanson: With his own trademark thick white bristles, he out-‘staches Nick Offerman. “I happily sit on the bench of his mustache team,” Offerman laughs.
The Hero is now in select cities. Watch the trailer:
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