She was the sassy, martini-swilling, polymorphously perverse society lady Karen Walker on Will & Grace. He plays Ron Swanson, the breakfast-loving, mustachioed head of the parks department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana, on Parks and Recreation. You might have noticed Megan Mullally’s and Nick Offerman’s delightfully deranged chemistry on a recent episode of Parks, in which Mullally guested as Swanson’s ex-wife, a sinister library administrator named Tammy—Sid and Nancy, if they were small-town bureaucrats whose drug of choice is sex in no-tell motels and local diners. That spark is real: Mullally and Offerman have been married since 2003.
When we meet, they are holding hands—sweetly, not smarmily. What’s noticeable at once: The porcelain-skinned Mullally, 51, speaks in a voice softer and lower than Karen Walker’s. And Offerman, 39—a handsome lumberjack of a guy (and, as it turns out, an accomplished woodworker)—sports a more flow-motion hairstyle than Ron Swanson’s Lego-man ’do. Mullally points out that she is having a sweet hair hangover from yesterday’s photo shoot, as seen above. Speaking of which …
Megan Mullally: Neither of us are paragons of physical perfection. That’s why I pitched that nude-photo idea: It’s as if we were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but of course we’re not. Yet before we met with you, Nick told me how beautiful I looked in my pajamas in the hotel. I didn’t really, by somebody else’s standards, but it’s very nice to hear that, especially as an actress in Hollywood. Nick has said he would divorce me if I got Botox.
Nick Offerman: I’m very hairy, and men in film and TV are no longer allowed to be hairy. If you’re going to be topless you have to wax everything. My uncles, who are farmers in Minooka, Illinois—I grew up with them and their pickup trucks and mustaches, and to me that was masculinity: big hairy sweaty guys who could pick up a bus.
Tammy and Ron had one of the best hate-sex scenes in modern history. That throwdown in the restaurant—was that hard to pull off?
N.O.: It was really good therapy, because in any relationship you have love times and you have who-didn’t-do-the-dishes times. We’ve worked together before in different ways, but we’ve never had the opportunity to be a team, and in that episode we were like a two-fisted weapon, battering comedy in the audience’s face.
M.M.: We basically destroyed the diner. We ran the gamut of wild, crazy, exhibitionist sex acts and screaming at the other patrons, throwing things, berating the manager and …
N.O.: We actually tore the table off the wall.
M.M.: That was kind of an accident. [Laughs.] When we screech into the motel parking lot, that was the first shot on the first day, six o’clock on Monday morning. We’re in that car and I was like, “I’m going to throw my bra out the window and take my top off as we run in.” I didn’t care. I didn’t know anybody. It’s not my set.
How did you meet?
M.M.: We did a play together in L.A., in 2000—The Berlin Circle, by Charles Mee. It’s kind of a deconstruction of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
N.O.: I had just moved from Chicago. I was a theater snob. Megan was the lead and was on a successful show, and I was like, “This fancy TV chick thinks she’s so great.” By the end of the first read-through, her comedy had melted my wall of ice.
M.M.: He hadn’t seen Will & Grace, by the way.
N.O.: I didn’t have a TV. So I introduced myself and said, “I think you’re really funny even though you’re on TV.” It was a funny actor prejudice, because once [the whole cast] got to know her, everyone said, “I can’t believe how down-to-earth you are.” Which means you’re expected to be some huge asshole if you’ve had success.
Theater actors do seem to be more grounded.
M.M.: During Will & Grace, we had so many things we had to go to where you get all dolled up. It’s like pulling teeth for me. People who have theater or sketch-comedy backgrounds seem to be more, you know, our speed. Like Amy Poehler and Will Arnett—we double date.
N.O.: We’re very boring. We never know what the good restaurants are in L.A. because we like to stay home and read books and hang out with our poodles. [At my request,Nick pulls out his iPhone and shows me a picture of two small poodles, Willa and Elmo, both wearing sweaters.] When I met Megan, we were both very staunchly single. But becoming friends with somebody backstage at a play is one of the greatest friendships ever: It’s like making each other laugh in church. But Megan made me work for it.
How long before you closed the deal?
N.O.: We might have two different versions of this.
M.M.: I doubt we do. He called me and left a message on my fax number asking me—
N.O.: [Interrupting] Which means she had given me her fax number.
M.M.: [Laughs] He’d left a message for me a week before, asking me to go hear this country band, and I hadn’t gotten it, so we’d been rehearsing the play and he thought I was just dissing him completely.
N.O.: You were icing me.
M.M.: Yeah, but we were getting to know each other and flirting. Shortly before opening night, we went out to dinner and he held my hand and I had butterflies, and I thought, Oh! A couple of nights later, we kissed. After the previews, we made out. We saw a lot of coyotes at that time, so we took it as some kind of magical symbol.
N.O.: [Adopting one of Ron Swanson’s wistful smirks] We were in tune with Gaia; the forces of lust and nature were flowing strong in us.
M.M.: [Laughs] Opening night, somebody saw us making out and then the cat was out of the bag. And then we were dating. Then I wouldn’t let him come to my apartment. Then I would let him come in, but he had to sleep on the couch. And then he could sleep on the bed but we still hadn’t had sex yet. By the time we did, it was long anticipated and well worth the wait. There was a Glen Campbell concert at the Hollywood Bowl that put us in a very lustful mood apparently. We’re both big Glen Campbell fans—it’s one of the things that united us in eternal love.
I would never have guessed.
M.M.: Neither would we have, till it happened. It got serious and we were never apart from then on. He proposed, in London, in 2002. We got married [a year later] in our backyard in L.A. with twenty people.
N.O.: We made a deal that any job that’s going to keep us apart for more than a couple of weeks, we discuss.
Megan’s going to star in Lips Together, Teeth Apart on Broadway, in April. Nick, what will you do?
N.O.: Three years ago, I came [to New York] when Megan was doing Young Frankenstein. I found a shop space in Red Hook and built a canoe. We were living on the Upper West Side, and I was riding my bicycle to Red Hook every day. It was the only time in my adult life I’ve been trim, because it was like eleven miles one way and I could eat and drink like a New Yorker and still be in shape.
M.M.: He also started doing a bunch of things with Upright Citizens Brigade and got a movie with Ryan Gosling [All Good Things]. Cool things happened because he took a leap of faith with me.
You both got your big TV breaks in your late thirties, though ten years apart. How did you negotiate the disparity between your careers before Nick landed Parks and Recreation?
M.M.: We’re very supportive of each other. I don’t know when I’ve been happier than when he got Parks. That was one of the most exciting things that ever happened.
N.O.: One great benefit of our relationship is that Megan has gone through everything a couple of chapters ahead of me, so there’s an easy student-master quality to it. When your wife is a legend of comedy, you have to be a huge jackass not to assume the student role.