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Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt on How to Make It in Acting: ‘Get a Van, Move to Maui, and Get a Bunch of Pot’

Thirty-year-old Chris Pratt is a small-screen vet, with stints on The O.C. and Everwood under his belt, but he’s broken out thanks to his scene-stealing work as Parks and Recreation's charmingly hapless Andy Dwyer. Don’t worry about it going to his head: Even though he holds his own against Amy Poehler, he’s still got an endearing “just happy to be here” vibe about him. Pratt spoke to Vulture via Skype from the New Zealand set of Yogi Bear, in his wife Anna Faris’s trailer.

Parks's first season got mixed reviews, but the critics really love the second season. Do you think the show has actually gotten funnier?
The scripts have always been funny. I do think the final product has gotten funnier. It’s a matter of nailing the executions. And certain elements of the characters you can’t just think up, you have to allow them to grow from who the actors are. I don’t know how many times I’ll sit down for a table read, and I’ll think to myself, That's something that I said to the one of the writers a few weeks ago.Just having us around and getting to know the actors more, they’ve been able to cater the scripts to our abilities as actors and comics. It’s a testament to our show-runners; they’re really great.

Was your part always meant to be as big as it is?
That would be more of a question for [creators] Greg [Daniels] and Mike [Schur], I don’t know exactly. I was a guest star to start out with, but when the episodes started coming out, I just saw that I was getting more and more air time, and from time to time getting laughs, and maybe they wanted to keep that going. I think they’re the kind of guys where even if they had one thing that they originally intended, if something else comes up that’s going to be funnier, they’re willing to switch, and make choices on the fly.

How much does the cast improv?
They encourage you to improv if you’re funny. There have been times when I’ve improv’d and they say, “You know, let’s just do it as it’s scripted.” We’re allowed to do five or six takes the way it’s written, and then a couple more where we get to make things up and have fun. I think the writers get frustrated with the question. “Yeah, the whole show is improv, huh?” And the writers are like, “What the fuck”?

Do you do your own stunts?
I’ve done a lot of my own stunts. There’s one major stunt that I definitely did not do — I’ve got a great stuntman, he’s remarkable, the things that he can do, and the diving into the pit, it was definitely a stuntman. I’ve done things. I dove over the hedge.

You and Nick Offerman have managed to become fan favorites. Have you bonded?
You know, the unique bond I have with Nick comes down to this … it was under some really brilliant advice from my friend and acting coach Ben Davis, who said, "Always pick someone to watch who you think you can learn from." On this show, Nick Offerman is that for me. I just want to watch him work. And we have a unique bond in that we’re both definitely dudes. Sort of men’s men.

Have you been getting recognized more off the show?
I get recognized sometimes from the show and people say, "Oh, it’s crazy, I can’t believe you live in the pit." It’s not insane; I don’t have people camping out in the backyard. All the fans that have come up to me have been really cool. I think it says something about our show that we attract cool fans. Nothing too crazy, no stalkers. I haven’t had to punch anybody.

Do you keep your facial hair from the show in daily life?
I’m dying to shave. I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to shaving my face, and so is my wife. I don’t have Ron Swanson facial hair. That guy has the most amazing mustache I’ve ever seen in my life.

I saw you explain that the awesome RZA audition bit was set up by Rashida Jones.
Well, she knows everyone, especially in the music industry. One of the producers on Yogi Bear was talking about how he got to sit down and have shots with Dave Grohl and he’s like, "You’re never going to believe who hooked me up? Rashida Jones." Of course. Of course she knows Dave Grohl. And of course she’s like, "Listen, you gotta hang out with my buddy Dave Grohl."

Going back a bit further, your IMDb.com profile says you were discovered while working at Bubbagump Shrimp Co. in Hawaii?
That’s true. My first in, my first break, was I met a director and got to talking with her, and she happened to be casting this movie that she had written. That was ten years ago. That got me to Hollywood. I got paid $700 bucks.

So you have fond memories of Bubbagump?
Oh my God, yeah, it was fucking awesome. Like, 19 years old, I lived in a van with a bunch of my friends and I worked at a restaurant twenty hours a week and partied in Maui the other however many hours. It was awesome. It’s funny now, 'cause people say, “Hey, my daughter is considering getting into acting. What advice do you have for her?” Just get a van, move to Maui, get a bunch of pot, and uh, just kind of cross your fingers.

Photo: Patrick McMullan