LOS ANGELES — From the moment they first met 13 years ago, Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman have been working together. Quite literally, they met while rehearsing a play, when Mullally was in the the first blush of her Will & Grace mega-fame, and Offerman was a struggling theater actor from Chicago. But when I spent some time last month talking with the 54-year-old Mullally and nearly 43-year-old Offerman about their professional relationship, it became clear quickly that this is a couple that just works.
In Hollywood, that’s about as rare as a photo of Offerman without a mustache. (We have one, by the way. Just you wait.) Mullally and Offerman have been sharing the screen a lot recently, between her frequent appearances on Offerman’s NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation and a recent trio of independent feature films: Smashed, Somebody Up There Likes Me, and the Sundance darling The Kings of Summer, hitting theaters this weekend.
In that film, Offerman and Mullally play the respective parents of two best friends (Melissa and Joey’s Nick Robinson and The Big C’s Gabriel Basso) who find themselves at odds when their sons run away to live in an elaborately ramshackle home they’ve built in the nearby woods. They’re also appearing on stage in L.A. in the two-person play Annapurna through June 9 — the first time they’ve had a chance to work one-on-one since they married right before the Emmys in Sept. 2003. “I’m so grateful that we finally are getting to have this moment together,” says Offerman. “We’re a couple that loves to work together, and getting to bring whatever skills we have to bear as a team is just the most gratifying.”
What do you guys remember about the first time you worked together?
Megan Mullally: It was in 2000, and we were doing a play with the Evidence Room Theatre Company called The Berlin Circle, and I think we were the only two non-company members. It was our first time working with that theater company. We had a lot of scenes together, and I started thinking, “Wait a minute, he’s funny.” And then I started thinking, “Wait a minute, is he cute? What’s happening?”
Nick Offerman: And I remember thinking, “Wait a minute, is she a fucking genius? Wait a minute, is she looking at me? Grrrrr! She good-lookin’.”
MM: Ah, I love it.
You’ve worked together many times since you’ve met. What was the first time you worked together when you were in a relationship?
MM: Will and Grace, I think, wasn’t it, honey?
NO: I think so, yeah.
MM: Yeah. So we did the play — that was after my second season of Will and Grace — and then I think we figured out that it was during that third season at some point that [the producers] had already taken a shine to Nick, and they offered him this little role of the manly, good-looking plumber that Karen sets her sights on.
NO: That’s generous. But you know, we also did that John McNaughton movie.
MM: Oh, god, right! So that was during the play.
NO: Yeah. It was right after the play, it must’ve been.
MM: No. It was during the play, and I had to leave for a few days to do this movie and I was like, “This is good timing because I’ve gotta get away from this guy who’s pursuing me in the play because I gotta hold him off a little bit longer.” And then Nick calls me. He’s like, “Guess what movie I got cast in?” It’s a complete fluke. He just happened to get cast in the same movie, and I was like, “Oh, great.” We had separate rooms in the hotel because I was trying to keep the puss-ay on reserve for as long as possible. And then he conveniently misses his flight on the last day. Do you remember that?
NO: Oh, yeah.
MM: So he had to stay in my room! Huh. Interesting.
NO: That was a crazy accident.
MM: But I still kept the, uh, you know, the gold under lock and key.
NO: She didn’t give it up for a long time.
MM: No, I really, really stretched that out. (Pauses.) Not in a way that…
NO: Yeah. I’m gonna let that go. That’s a hell of a tee-up.
MM: Yeah, don’t. Please have mercy.
So once the gold was given up, and you kept working together, were there any sort of ground rules or any sort of things that you wanted to keep in mind when you were on a set together?
MM: No, we never really talked about anything like that, did we? I don’t think.
NO: No. I mean, I think the reason we became good friends and ultimately attracted to each other partially was because we’re the same kind of actor. We both come from Chicago theater; we both have a combination of a very intense work ethic combined with a love of having fun and screwing around. And so the rules that we had already established in our lives as professionals just jibed with each other, and so we just continued holding hands and doing it together.
MM: Yeah, I think that that’s a really good point. Coming from a theater background, there’s a different etiquette that’s established. There is a theater etiquette, and there’s a discipline. I think that probably unconsciously came into play.
What was it like when you guys would go home, and you would both want to talk about your day, but you had had essentially the same day?
MM: I think usually when we work together, we kind of are in the moment together when we’re doing it, and then when we’re done, we talk about other stuff or we dish a little about certain people on the set. But I don’t think we rehash the actual work as much. Right now, maybe — we’re doing this two-person play, so I think we talk about the play a little bit more than we normally would talk about [a project we’re doing together], you know. Well, we always say, Can you believe how lucky we are? Especially after the Ron and Tammy episode we did on Parks. That was so extraordinary, because they cut us loose in a diner filled with atmosphere people and Nick ripped a table out of the wall. We were throwing shit at people. It was so much fun. I took my bra off and threw it out the window of the car and then I pulled my shirt off as we ran into the motel, and it was just mayhem. We just did whatever we wanted. I think we probably talked about that a lot. It was just really fun. We didn’t have to learn any lines.
NO: Yeah, I’ve started to hope that maybe, if we keep doing well, we’ll get to create a project specifically for us to get to do stuff like that together, because —
MM: We have some ideas. We have a movie idea that we’re pretty fond of, and we haven’t pitched it to anybody yet, but —
NO: We’re like the Wonder Twins. We do things well on our own, but when we combine our powers, we can save the planet.
MM: So modest.
You guys have recently worked together in several independent films. There was Smashed, and Somebody Up There Likes Me, and now The Kings of Summer. For Kings, were you guys approached together, or did it come to you separately?
MM: I think Nick got offered the part. He’s a lead in the movie, and I have a supporting role. I think Nick was offered this large, important part, and then someone said, “What about the wife? Is she around?”
NO: As often happens, especially in an indie movie, if one of us gets cast, the production will often say, “Do you think we could get your amazing”— well, in Megan’s case — “your amazing spouse?” It’s that funny misconception where [the producers of the movie] are like, “I don’t know if we can get her.” But Megan and I both really want to work on good scripts, so we’re always like, “I hope they’ll let me play the lumberjack.”
And Megan is the one playing the lumberjack?
MM: I’ve always dreamed.
NO: One of these days, honey.
So what would you say, Megan, is your favorite thing about working with Nick?
MM: Gosh. You know, I think the trust level, probably. We have complete trust in each other, and we have a similar approach to work. We’ve only had four performances of this play so far, but a few people have remarked that — whether this is true or not — we’re not self-indulgent actors. We don’t take every opportunity to just chew up the scenery and eat every ounce of whatever we can out of it. I think we have a similar style in addition to our incredibly supportive, loving, care-taking kind of relationship. Maybe that’s a good recipe for success.
And Nick, what is your favorite part about working with Megan?
NO: Well —
MM: My boobs.
NO: Yeah. Her tits. Pretty much.
MM: I mean, that’s sort of an easy one.
NO: The bush, when I get it. That’s one-in-ten projects. But the tits are always on display. I love when I get to look at her in profile. Honey, I hadn’t heard, was that a lobby talk, when people said we weren’t self-indulgent?
NO: It’s interesting because in this play, both roles are showy, in a way. It’s two people onstage for 90 minutes, so it’s a lot of monologues, and like, “Now it’s my turn to have a big thing!” I think the thing is — hopefully I can say this about us — that we bring our tools to bear on what the scene calls for, which sometimes is big and showy, but we do it in service of the story, not in service of our own agendas.
MM: Yeah, I think for both of us, yes, it’s all about telling the story, and I think we both consider it more of a service industry where we’re providing the service of — hopefully — adequately providing an entertainment of one sort or another for an audience. Neither one of us ascribes to the Hollywood aspect of it all. I think it’s just our job.
NO: I also want to give a little more legitimate answer than “Megan’s tits.”
MM: Is there a more legitimate answer?
NO: A less legitimate answer than “Megan’s tits.” My B answer would be: One of the great things about our relationship is Megan’s 11 years older than me, and so I’ve happily considered myself her student for our 13 years together, and with good reason. She’s often been a hero to me, and so getting to work with her as a peer in any way is like — I feel like Luke Skywalker getting to go into lightsaber battle standing next to Obi-Wan Kenobi. I’m like, “All right, me and you. Let’s take ‘em on.” I have the best seat in the house in our play, to watch Megan, and she’s amazing. Getting to watch her — she has a couple speeches that it’s hard for me to stay in character in the moment because I’m like, “Man, I wish Meryl Streep was seeing this because she’d be taking notes.”
Finally, I know you shot The Kings of Summer in northern Ohio, near Cleveland. As a native Ohioan myself, I’m just wondering if you got out much to see the sights?
NO: Our roles were sort of shoehorned into two weeks of the shoot, and so there wasn’t, unfortunately, a lot of downtime. But we did take one day and just toured all of downtown Cleveland and the lakefront, and went near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but did not enter into it because we were more interested in kissing in front of the sunset.
NO: Out by the lake.
MM: Yeah…It was really fun.
This interview has been edited and condensed.