Amy Poehler (played Leslie Knope)
Mike Schur and I worked together at Saturday Night Live; he wrote Leslie with me in mind. She was this optimistic, determined person with very little power but big aspirations. She evolved over time, but the idea of this person who was motivated by the hopeful spirit of the government employee, and how one can stay inspired when they keep getting knocked around – that was there from minute one.
It was like wearing a suit: after a while, you stretch it out or alter it to fit you. I’m not as consistently enthusiastic as Leslie, but I really related to the energy she got from trying to make others succeed. She was fun to play because every day you got to show up, tell everybody what to do and how much you loved them. The cast was that very rare instance of everybody really liking each other and hanging out. We bonded very quickly, and still see each other. We text each other and stay in each other’s lives.
The female friendship on the show is one of the things I’m most proud of, and it certainly came naturally because Rashida Jones and I had been friends for a long time. My female friendships are very important to me, and it was nice to play a consistent relationship.
Nick Offerman and I are very similar in real life – we like to laugh and work but we’re strong willed and strong minded. Leslie and Ron are complete opposites. Nick talked very slowly and grew this giant moustache to hide behind for seven years. It was fun to bounce around that energy.
It’s wonderful that Leslie means a lot of things to so many people. It’s so cool to see her used as a representation of community, hard work and taking care of each other. And it’s one of my proudest achievements that we were able to end the show eloquently, on our own terms. It’s certainly ruined my experience in television for ever – because nothing will quite compare!
Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson)
I’ve been very blessed with hair all over my body. For an actor it’s a great toolbox – I can give you any iteration of facial hair. When Mike and I started developing Ron, we said: “Let’s give him that kick-ass midwestern moustache.” We had no idea it would become such a sensation.
I’d auditioned for the American version of The Office, specifically for Mike Schur who, unbeknownst to me, wrote my name on a Post-it and stuck it to his computer. A few years later, he remembered the Post-it and said: “I want this guy on my new show.” NBC looked at me for one role and said: “This guy is going to have to kiss Rashida Jones at some point, and we don’t think Nick is visually in that category.” Mike said: “OK, let’s cast him as Leslie Knope’s boss.”
It started with a pretty simple idea: a libertarian who hated government, working as director of parks and recreation. Ron was based on a real person the writers had met. They thought it was really funny that the head of department was trying to bring down the government by keeping things inactive. That also served as a wonderful foil to the ebullience of Leslie. It developed into Ron’s love of old-fashioned American tropes such as red meat, the great outdoors, hunting, fishing and woodwork; combined with his strange relationships with his ex-wives. They created a great deal of fodder.
With the exception of Amy, we were all generally unknown, a bunch of misfit toys finally able to shine with all of our idiosyncrasies. We were all immediately trying to protect ourselves from Aubrey Plaza, who played intern April. It was clear from the get-go that she was treacherous.
From start to finish I was in hog heaven. Mike is an incredible brain with a compassionate heart – and being on a team with Amy Poehler as its co-captain, it was Christmas every week.
Mike Schur, co-creator
Greg Daniels had adapted The Office for US TV and NBC wanted him to create a new show – whatever he wanted. He asked me to work with him and I agreed because I’m not a moron. We were thinking of Parks and Recreation as a comedic West Wing. If the stakes of that show were Russia and the US facing off, this was going to be about the boys and girls soccer teams booking the same field and having to negotiate a truce.
Steve Carell was The Office; we knew our main character had to be someone with the same prowess. I’d worked with Amy on Saturday Night Live and knew she was one of those people. NBC said they’d launch the show after the Superbowl, but Amy was due to give birth the week we had to shoot the pilot. It became clear no one else could do it, so we made the crazy decision to give up the post-Superbowl spot. We felt Amy gave us the best chance for the show to work. Looking back, it was the right move.
With Leslie Knope we had a vision of an incredibly smart, optimistic and forward-thinking woman who believed in her soul that the mission of local government was to help people. We didn’t do a great job at first. Instead of coming off as a smart, driven person with no political acumen, Leslie came off as a buffoon. Amy would improvise and was so funny that it inspired the other characters. We were blowing it because we were writing her as a stuffy politician and not a three-dimensional human being.
At the beginning it was rough. I had a recurring stress nightmare that I was going to ruin Amy’s career. My happiness was based on whether the actors were better or worse off than if they had never done the show. There was a moment late in season two when I felt like everyone was now better off. I could finally relax.