Traveller’s tales: Nick Offerman
The American actor, author and skilled woodworker opens up about kabuki bonfires, having a whisky named after him and Tasmania’s most ‘bonkers’ art museum…
Who are you and where you are right now?
My name is Nick Offerman and I am in Los Angeles, sitting on top of a hill looking out across the mountains.
When was your first trip abroad?
Gosh, I know it well, strangely. I am from Illinois, right in the middle of America, and the first commercial flight I took was so I could tour a kabuki show in Japan.
In the University of Illinois theatre department, we had this amazing kabuki teacher called Shōzō Satō, who would take Shakespeare and Greek dramas and translate them into a kabuki style. We were actually doing The Iliad as this sort of shogun piece – it was called Kabuki Achilles – and it was this wonderful anti-war play, and Shōzō was getting ready to retire from the university so it was like celebrating him on his retirement tour. We travelled all around Japan with a company of theatre students.
That was my very first flight: Chicago to Tokyo, non-stop. I believe it was 1991. I was 20 or 21 years old, and we stopped in London on the way back and I had my first pint and my first fish and chips… and it ruined me! I’ve been a terrible Anglophile ever since.
What an incredible culture change, going to Japan for your first trip abroad…
It was crazy. The Japanese people we met really loved getting us drunk on sake – which I was OK with! But with hindsight I wish I’d been conscious for more of the trip.
Have you ever accepted a job because of where it’s being shot?
Well, it’s definitely a huge reason why I’ve turned down roles – because of where they’re shooting. The one time I did take a role because of where it was shot was for both the place and the person. I had a small part in Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens for Amazon. We’re friends and we were shooting with the great director Douglas Mackinnon in South Africa and Neil said, “This part isn’t worth all that travel to South Africa but if you do want to come and hang out it would be really fun.” So I did this little role, just a couple of scenes, so I could go to incredible places like Cape Town, hike up Table Mountain, visit some wineries with Neil and have a little more ice cream than was advisable. It really was a wonderful trip.
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What’s been your favourite travel experience for work and why?
I’ve been to Scotland a great deal, but I first went there to shoot an episode for Parks and Recreation. We went to the Lagavulin distillery on Islay. I struck up a friendship with the Lagavulin folks, and ever since then, six or seven years now, I’ve been advertising for Lagavulin and it has gone so well that they’ve put out two iterations of an actual Offerman Lagavulin single malt! It’s an 11-year-old single malt and we actually won awards, which was super exciting. That relationship has afforded me several trips all over Scotland. Getting paid to work as an actor and having the day’s work be “Walk over along that ridge in the Highlands and we’re going to film you and you’ll be paid handsomely” is truly about as good as it gets.
What is it that you love so much about Scotland?
The air, the people, the food, the Scotch… It’s funny that working as an actor has caused me to live in cities most of my adult life but I really love the simple things: a comfortable place to sit and read a book, somewhere to have a wee dram or two… I can’t really see a way to improve that circumstance other than in Scotland. And I love the people, I really do. I feel a kinship.
Which destination has surprised you the most?
I’ve had the great fortune to travel a lot more than I ever thought I would, not only as an actor but also as a tourist – I’ve done a couple of pretty comprehensive tours of Australia, including Tasmania. When I was touring Hobart in Tasmania I visited the Museum of Old and New Art – aka MONA – and it is the most delightful and irreverent and bonkers art museum I have ever been to. Even the Australians talk about Tasmania like it’s this far-flung, red-headed stepchild down south of the continent. I have some friends there who are woodworkers, so getting to experience Hobart, to entertain the people there and getting to this museum – this bastion of thrilling, iconoclastic, original and bratty artworks – I just found it so moving. I felt as if I had travelled to the ends of the earth and found the best art museum I’d ever been to. I highly recommend it.
What one place should everyone visit in their lifetime?
That would be Gaudí’s Basílica de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. I love architecture and churches and marvelling at the things that women and men have built with their hands across civilisation, and I also love building things, so I am less impressed with a skyscraper than I am with the handmade stone of the Brooklyn Bridge, or older churches and cathedrals. The Sagrada Família is the only building I’ve walked into that brought me to tears. I was so astonished. So much of human artwork is an attempt to touch the part of us that is divine, or whatever people consider to be their higher power, and I feel that this building is by far the closest thing to that. I’ve been to some great mosques in Istanbul – and there are other beautiful buildings out there – but I’ve never seen anything come remotely as close to manifesting that part of us, the ‘god’, in all of us. Highly recommended! And also the jamón ibérico does not suck at all.
Even the Australians talk about Tasmania like it’s this far-flung, red-headed stepchild down south of the continent
What’s your favourite meal and where serves it best?
Oh boy! I’m going to double back to my fish and chips from earlier: that’s my number one favourite food. Only once have I ever had a proper fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, which was in Margate, in Kent. They’d opened their William Turner Museum (he used to go to Margate to paint the ocean and the light and the sky) and we had a friend who was working there so we took a day trip and got fish and chips from a little stall. We walked out and sat on the quay to eat it. That’s as close to heaven as I think my stomach has ever been.
Have you ever experienced a moment of true inspiration on a trip?
The thing that springs to mind is when I took that trip to Japan as a young man. At one point we stayed in this little mountain village called Damine, which holds a 300-year-old kabuki festival every year. We’d flown in from central Illinois and suddenly we’re in the middle of this opening ceremony with a huge bonfire, monks in masks dancing around, everyone’s drinking sake – and they’d run through this fire and kick the embers so the crowd would be showered in them, which would give you good health for the next year. It was just an incredible experience.
We stayed with different families in the village, and my friend Mike and I were staying with the main Shintō priest. Every morning he and his elderly mother would get up and make this huge sticky rice pancake in this massive bowl with this huge sledgehammer. They’d take it up and leave it on the altar of the Shintō temple up the mountain in the woods where there were incredible trees and a waterfall, and we got to help them do this! The moments in the woods that were the most exquisite were when there would be a white ribbon tied somewhere and it would denote to passers-by: ‘All of nature is part of god’. I am a great lover of nature and the outdoors and I found that so inspiring. I had gone to the other side of the world and this reverence with which they’d equated religion with nature is something I am really trying to promote in my part of Western civilisation. Maybe we ought to pay better attention to our trees and our rocks?
Original series Pam & Tommy will be available on Disney+ from 2 February. Nick’s book Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside is available now
As told to Ally Wybrew
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