Nick Offerman on His Simpsons Sea Captain, Skinny Chris Pratt, and the End of Parks & Rec

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Nick Offerman Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty

This Sunday, Nick Offerman guest-stars on The Simpsons as Captain Bowditch, the captain of the Relation Ship, an oceanbound vessel that helps bickering fathers and their sons — like Homer and Bart — resolve their conflicts at sea. It’s a fitting role for the longtime Simpsons fan, who has a well-documented love of boats (his memoir, newly in paperback, is titled Paddle Your Own Canoe) — and a decidedly captainlike demeanor. Vulture spoke to Offerman on the phone to discuss boating, skinny Chris Pratt, and the upcoming final season of Parks and Recreation. But first, here is an exclusive preview of Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons.

You’ve got an exciting episode airing on Sunday.
Holy cow. At least I’m excited, and I think my mother is also.

You’re a longtime Simpsons fan.
I am, yeah. Since the beginning, I have been performing all kinds of theater for people, but a great deal of it humorous, and there’s no greater Ph.D. program than The Simpsons.

You're playing a sea captain who helps Bart and Homer resolve their issues on your Relation Ship. As an avid boater, have you ever had to deal with a conflict at sea?
I’ve never had a domestic squabble of any sort on my watch. Most of the conflict that I’ve been party to has just involved running out of gasoline or choosing the wrong wind and tacking for the wrong shore.

Have you ever been in a boating accident?
I’ve sailed a few times, but the majority of my boating has been either in a canoe or fishing in lakes in Minnesota with my family. I go with them every year, and just a couple years ago my dad and I were out on the big pontoon with my mom and a couple of sisters, and a storm blew in that was like a monsoon. It was driving rain, so thick that you couldn’t see ten feet. And we had to try and get back into shore sort of by sense of direction. Fortunately we’re good livestock, so between my dad and I, we were able to pull it off, but we were pretty nervous.

Do you tend to keep a calm head in situations like that?
I am, generally — it’s hard to get a rise out of me.

Probably a good attribute for a captain.
Yes, exactly. If you figure you’re going to go down with the ship, there’s no reason to panic when things go sour.

Would you ever consider a life at sea?
You know, I think I like reading about it a lot more than I would enjoy living it. There’s sort of a hobo lifestyle one can achieve by traveling on freighters or crewing different kinds of cargo ships or old sailing vessels that are maintained for education and tourism. But everybody says the same thing — that is, it’s very romantic to read about sitting up in the crow's nest with the wind in your face, watching the dolphins leap to the horizon. But the reality is you have no privacy, and you’re always wet [laughs]. You have like, 18 inches by six feet of private space.

And you’d get nauseous.
Yeah, my Achilles heel is that I get motion sickness pretty violently. That’s my kryptonite. So I don’t think I’ll have any lengthy sailing voyages in my future.

Did you and the Simpsons team come up with the character together, or did they write it with you in mind?
I believe one of their veteran writers, Mike Scully, who has written for Parks and Rec a great deal over the years, I think they came up with the part and Scully suggested me for it, for which I’m greatly indebted to him. And so I guess there’s enough Parks and Rec goodwill over at The Simpsons that they let me come in and befoul their studio. It couldn’t have been more dreamy of a role for me because I’m a total sap for the whole sailing ships and all the terminology. I don’t want to sail around the world, but I’d love to do a movie where I sail around the world [laughs].

Who did you model your the sea captain after? I assume you're not related to the other sea captain at all.
No, I’d like to consider myself younger and more robust than the sea captain. I guess I didn’t particularly model him on anyone, I suppose it was probably an amalgamation of all the hedonistic authority figures in my head. Perhaps Ernest Borgnine, combined with Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore and Danny Devito on Taxi.

Do you have a favorite pop-culture captain?
Well, the Captain and Tennille springs to mind, I always liked the cut of his jib. And I used to be a big fan of Captain America before he got so handsome. And I’m a big fan of the handsomeness of Chris Evans, but I would prefer Captain America ... I feel like in the comic books he was more of an average, well-endowed middle-linebacker.

Your Parks co-star Chris Pratt recently got all buff to become a superhero — is there a difference between regular Chris Pratt and skinny, superhero Chris Pratt?
Well, besides the obvious waistline, not really. I mean, Chris has been roller-coastering his weight for the entire life of the show. This was just the most extreme version if it. But he got in incredible shape when he did Moneyball, four, five years ago. And it’s really apropos of the conversation because Chris to me seems like he has superpowers, and that’s one of them. Even though he’s a guy who loves to eat and drink, he has the ability to switch on this superhuman willpower where he’s like: Alright, I got a job, I’ve gotta lose 60 pounds in the next 17 days, here we go. And he does. And then earlier, when he was younger, then he would come back to the show and say: Okay, now let’s see how fast I can get fat again.

He’s had such monumental success with this movie. Is that something you expected?
Yeah, I think everybody that knows Chris saw the potential for what has happened to him this year, because you’ve got a foundation of [the] sweetest guy you ever met, incredibly smart and funny, super friendly and generous, and then combine all that with crazy, superhero good looks. And Hollywood is a very fickle whorehouse, but if the chips fall in the proper array, then something like Chris will happen. It’s really nice when the good guys get to wear the cape.

Did you see Vulture did a little mockup where we put the cast of Parks onto the Guardians poster?
Gosh, was I Drax?

I think you were Groot, actually.
Oh, yeah, I did see that. Sorry, there’s been a handful of stuff like that. Somebody did me as Drax. I do remember seeing Groot, which to me makes a little more sense, being such a tree freak.

Plus, he’s a man of few words.
Yes.

Parks’ final season is coming up. What would you like to see happen for Ron as his arc concludes?
Everything I could have ever hoped for Ron happened by season two, so it’s all been a ridiculous dream from there on out. So I’d like to see Ron eat some more meat items. I never mind seeing him share a little romantic love. And I hope he gets to spend some time perhaps in his wood shop and/or his canoe.

Is there anything you’re planning to take as a memento from set when you leave?
There’s a couple things. There was a poster for a few years in Ron’s office of a pretty brunette lady holding a plate of breakfast food. I think that poster would look awfully at home at Offerman wood shop. Other than that, I’m going to keep a lid on it so nobody knew that it was me that took it.

Fair enough. I heard Diane Keaton was talking about how she really wanted to guest-star, did you guys ever work anything out with her?
Well, I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this between us, but we have a legal situation, Diane and I. I’m not allowed within a certain distance of her person and so we’re pitching ideas where we could have her on the show and still keep me at least 50 yards from her, but we’re not sure we can afford the lenses that it would require.

That seems like a big expense.
It’s a hassle.