LOS ANGELES – It’s a stretch to credit Nick Offerman’s ability to channel unflappable characters to his annual fishing trips to Minnesota. But they certainly don’t hurt.
“I’m lucky enough to do something for a living that never feels like a grind or being on a hamster wheel,” said the 49-year-old actor, best known for playing Scotch-sipping, woodworking Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation.” “Nonetheless, getting away, having that sense of solitude, helps empty the trash, if you will. You really get to enjoy a green phase before the next hand of cards is dealt. It’s so incredibly restorative.”
It’d be understandable if Offerman would break from tradition during this most hectic period of his career.
In addition to joining former “Parks” boss Amy Poehler to host TV’s craftiest reality-competition series, “Making It,” he’s playing a creepily contained CEO of a mysterious tech company in “Devs,” which starts streaming Thursday on Hulu. He’s also touring with his third one-man show, “All Rise,” which will be featured during the Minneapolis Comedy Festival in June.
But Offerman continues to make those sabbaticals to Long Lost Lake, 42 miles southwest of Bemidji, Minn., trips that date back to his childhood when his dad, a social studies teacher in suburban Chicago, would stuff his four kids into the Suburban and cover the miles between their home and the cabin owned by the school’s janitor in one day.
“If we hustled, we could pull in before the sun went down,” said Offerman at the Television Critics Association press tour this past January, sporting a green tie and perfectly tailored suit that made the other actors milling the hotel hallways look like they got fitted at a factory outlet.
The family would eventually purchase their own cabin three doors down and expand the invite list.
One of the newer members of the club is “Will & Grace” scene stealer Megan Mullally, who has earned two Emmys for her role as Karen Walker, a one-percenter whose idea of roughing it is drinking gin and tonics at a Holiday Inn bar.
In a 2018 interview with the Star Tribune, the actress recalled her first trek to northern Minnesota in 2000, when she and her then-boyfriend Offerman got stuck on the lake when the battery on their pontoon conked out. Offerman wound up spending four hours rowing them back to land.
When they made it to shore, Mullally realized she was in love. Three years later, they got married.
“At first, to see her with the little fishing pole was quite a culture shock, since she hadn’t grown up with it,” Offerman said. “She was a little confused as to why one would choose to vacation in a mosquito-ridden area, but in no time at all, she caught on to the warmth and joys of spending that simple time with family, no distractions. Nothing to do but eat, drink and make merry.”
Their weeklong getaways are about as far removed from a Hollywood soiree as you can get. A typical day consists of casting lines, elaborate card games, fish fries and beer. Signing autographs is usually not on the docket.
“The locals are either not the type to frequent NBC comedies or they just don’t bother turning their heads just because we’re around,” said Offerman, who also spent a month in the state four years ago during the filming of “The House of Tomorrow,” the critically acclaimed 2017 indie based on a novel by Macalester College professor Peter Bognanni. “Sometimes other travelers can get all excited. Megan seems to elicit more of a reaction than I do, which I’m grateful for.”
The recognition factor is certain to shoot up with the release of “Devs,” written and directed by “Ex Machina” mastermind Alex Garland. He plays Forest, a tech genius who initially comes across as a down-to-earth, sympathetic boss who eats salad with his hands and honors the memory of his deceased daughter by erecting a five-story-high doll of her on the company campus. But it doesn’t take long for audiences to discover his evil streak, one that allows him to casually order the assassination of an employee who has stumbled across the firm’s darkest secret. If Offerman’s signature mustache weren’t so bushy, he’d probably be twirling it.
Sinister traits don’t match up with the actor’s real-life personality.
“Anyone who has met him or interacted with him in any form knows he’s the kindest, gentlest person,” said Alison Pill, who portrays Felix’s head engineer, while hobnobbing at an L.A. cocktail party. “He’s not an anxious person, like so many people out here. He makes you believe in humanity.”
Bognanni got to experience that warmth firsthand when Offerman spent time in North Branch, Minn., shooting “Tomorrow,” taking on the role of a youth pastor who becomes intrigued with a sheltered teen who falls in love with punk rock and the minister’s daughter.
The novelist fondly remembers the day Offerman, who also served an executive producer, arranged for a food truck to drive in from Iowa to provide BBQ for the cast and crew. Even the neighbors were invited.
“He is simply the kindest, funniest guy ever,” Bognanni said. “He seems like a best friend you’ve had for years soon after you meet him, which was actually kind of tragic for me because the shoot was only a couple weeks long. Then he went away like Mary Poppins, off to some other set to make more people happy.”
Offerman is looking forward to bringing more spoonfuls of sugar to Long Lost Lake this summer.
“If you’ve never had the pleasure of getting out on a lake in Minnesota, you can’t quite understand when I call it God’s country,” he said. “Being out there, seeing the tree line and the water and the sky and — hopefully, it’s not unbearably hot and the mosquitoes are taking a break — there’s just nothing like it. We all take a deep inhalation and utter a huge sigh of pleasure.”