As any fan of “Parks and Recreation” can attest, Nick Offerman, aka Ron Swanson, aka Duke Silver, can hold his own on the saxophone.
In his new film, “Hearts Beat Loud,” coming out Friday, the 47-year-old actor — who reunites with “The Hero” director Brett Haley — gives a tender, nuanced performance as Frank Fisher, the owner of a record store in Red Hook with dreams of being a rock star. Those dreams inch closer to reality thanks to his college-bound daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). The single father and daughter bond over music, with rock-out sessions.
From there, it evolves to songwriting and then recording, and before long, an indie-rock duo is born. Sort of. Offerman’s Frank plays guitar, bass and drums in the film, which are skills derived from lessons from his younger days.
“My parents sent us to piano lessons, that’s where it all started,” Offerman says. “To this day, I’m still so grateful for the superpower of being able to read music. It served me very well.”
Piano led to saxophone, both tenor and baritone — as the mighty Duke Silver can attest. He also played drums in a marching band and pit orchestra. In theater school, the brass made way for guitar, which Offerman says he’s still improving on.
“I tour with a guitar so that’s my greatest confidence, if I have one,” he says. “I wouldn’t equip myself very well if I were asked to like perform an entire rock show . . . but for our purposes, I was able to keep time for a good three or four bars. I had never played an electric guitar and I had never played bass. And those were — the electric guitar took some hard work, but it was really satisfying. But, man, the bass was really fun. That was probably my favorite thing to play in the movie.”
With his dynamic co-star Clemons, the twosome perform the title track (among others) and they are legitimately strong songs, thanks in part to the dynamic connection between the two actors.
“I’ll tell you how we bonded on set,” Offerman offers. “Kiersey walked in on the first day and the entire room lit up — she [has] such an incredible star quality. She sort of enters a room like a small tsunami. And it’s immediately delightful, terrifying and in our case comforting because when she waltzed in, we said, ‘Oh, our movie is going to have some incredible X-factor in this young lady.’ And this was all before she started singing.”
Offerman recounts that right off the bat, as he says he’s prone to doing, he was “trying to convince her that I was cool.”
“I still have yet to make any progress in that arena,” he says. “But that went a long way toward establishing our father/daughter vibe. I had her rolling her eyes within minutes.”
Eye rolling is also a trait you’d expect from any veteran record store owner, and Offerman’s Frank is no exception, with the film opening with a display of snark directed at a customer in his Red Hook store.
Offerman felt right at home in the Brooklyn neighborhood, having spent considerable time there in the past.
“I love Red Hook,” Offerman says. Both Haley and Marc Basch, who co-wrote the film him, live in the borough, and the actor says that they “really wanted to write a love letter to Brooklyn.”
“What they didn’t realize is that about 10 or 12 years ago, I had a shop in Red Hook,” Offerman says. “I built my first canoe there while my wife (“Will and Grace” star Megan Mullally) was doing ‘Young Frankenstein’ on Broadway.”
Offerman would bike from the Upper West Side out to his Red Hook wood work shop every day, he says. Spots seen in the film, like the coffee shop Baked (259 Van Brunt St.) and the bar Sunny’s (253 Conover St.) were old haunts for the actor.
“I’d get over to Sunny’s after work for a beer with the guys,” Offerman says. “It was incredible — it was like I had already done all this incredible research. So I’m crazy about Red Hook. And I hope the subway never gets there because at least one charismatic [neighborhood] should retain its slow pace and lack of gentrification, by God.”
A crafty reunion
Nick Offerman is a busy man. Besides this new film hitting theaters, he also has a book he co-wrote with wife Mullally, “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told,” coming out in October. He also has a wood shop — he’s just finished up a batch of nine ukuleles — and the couple are working on a film of George Saunders’ novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.”
If that’s not enough, Offerman also has a new competition show, “Making It,” coming to NBC on July 31, which he co-hosts and shares executive producer duties with “Parks and Recreation” pal Amy Poehler.
Speaking of “Parks and Rec” — will we ever see Ron Swanson again?
“That’s a great question,” Offerman says. “It really all comes down to Mike Schur, the main creator and writer. If he has a good idea for what to do, then the whole rest of the platoon will sign on immediately. We love doing it more than anything. The greatest time of our lives. If the brains behind the outfit say, ‘Show up tomorrow at 6,’ we’ll be there.”
OK, so that’s promising. But back to “Making it.” Much like Swanson, Offerman is a master craftsman as a woodworker, and he calls this new series “an incredibly heartwarming show celebrating everyday people making things with their hands.”
He admits that it might sound a little mundane, watching people pasting things together.
“Actually, if you sit down with your kids or your parents, there are so many things that you can make that are either fun or decorative or actually practical for around the house,” he says. “[It] feels like a human superpower to me.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he gets to hang out with Poehler again.
“Doing that with Amy it was such a fun,” he says. “We’re not the judges, we’re the hosts. And so we’re just kind of cheerleaders. I’ve had to work for a living in the past. I’ve shoveled blacktop and I’ve framed houses. While those have their attractions, there’s something about standing next to Amy and dancing in a goofy fashion that I found more appealing.”
Big projects, small spaces
As for Offerman’s craft expertise, while small New York City apartments generally aren’t conducive to woodworking, the star does have some tips, beginning with checking out his book “Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop,” which touches on that very topic in more detail.
For people ready to get started right now, he has two suggestions. He recommends looking for a maker space.
“Most big cities in the country have them now,” he says. “Really cool spaces where you can make all kinds of stuff, where there is sort of a collective of tools and you sign for time and for table space.”
There, you get the benefit of having other craftspeople around, where you can learn and watch other people working.
Another tip he has is to keep things compact.
“You can get a small lathe and turn things as small as pens, or cute handles or Christmas ornaments,” he says. “There’s all kinds of small scale things that you can do until you figure out what fits the space you have or doesn’t make too much of a mess.
“And woodworking is a great one because if you go old-school, a lot of great techniques don’t use any electricity,” Offerman continues. “With a set of chisels and a hand drill and a block plane and a nice saw, you can make all kinds of stuff up to like a small chest or cabinet or jewelry box, without having to upset your landlord.”