ShortList sit down and pick the sizeable brain of the carpenter, actor and writer.
Hi Nick. Are you in LA?
I’m in London. Old London town.
Ah yes. I noticed on Twitter that you posted a photo of you with some of the mysterious floating Yodas in Trafalgar Square.
Yeah. It’s an incredible illusion. I can’t imagine how they pull it off but it must truly be The Force at play. They must be using magnets. Or some sort of downward expression of gases.
I like asking people about their worst auditions. Have you had any particularly ghastly ones?Most of them are generally pretty ghastly. It’s a brutal business. But before Parks and Recreation, Megan [wife Megan Mullally] was getting ready to go to Broadway to do the musical of Young Frankenstein. And I was planning to go live with her in New York during that time and I got word that they were gonna be doing a production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. And Pinter is one of my absolute favourite playwrights. So I got myself an audition – and it took some doing because I was unknown – and I flew myself to New York. I went in and I was all excited. I started to read this scene and the producer laid his head down, face-down on his arms, and proceeded to stay in that position through a three-page scene. And I gamely just trotted out my Cockney, and finished. And it was almost like I had to say, “OK, I’m done. OK, thanks.” I immediately went to a pub and got shit-faced.
How impervious a skin do you develop?
Pretty immediately, if you’re gonna survive in the business you learn that it’s mostly not a merit-based system. So you can go in and immediately sense that they agree with you – which is one or two times out of 100 – and the other 98 times you can just tell that you don’t have exactly the right kind of tits that they were looking for. The more you love the project, the more screwed you are in the audition. I’m such an intense fan of the Lord of the Rings books and I managed to harangue an audition for Gimli the Dwarf. I wrote letters to Peter Jackson and I would have sold my family to land a role in that. So of course I hadn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell. I auditioned for that before I met my wife and I’m kind of glad I didn’t get it.
But you have to convey at least some enthusiasm for the part in the first place.
It’s a real particular alchemy. It’s kind of a bifurcated brain technique: part of you is completely professional and enthusiastic and then your heart has to be completely armoured against the superficiality of the transaction.
If you’d been Gimli, your life would have panned out quite differently.
It would have indeed. And I wouldn’t trade my circumstance even for Samwise Gamji.
You’re asked about your carpentry a great deal. We’re going to put up a new desk in our house. Any advice, as a seasoned carpenter?
The bread and butter of my shop in Los Angeles is making tables of all shapes and sizes out of one slab of a tree. To my way of thinking, the beauty and artistry of Mother Nature is far beyond anything that we mere mortals can achieve. So I try to get out of her way and a desktop is a great opportunity to find one slab of wood. In England and Scotland there’s some incredible oak I might look at.
Varnishing: worthwhile, or a foolish amateur frill?
I encourage everyone to try everything themselves. It says to the onlooker, “This was made by a human being.” A desktop can just be finished with an oil finish that is just brushed on and left to soak and then rubbed off with rags. One word of warning: whenever using an oil finish, always make sure you lay out your rags so that all the solvents can evaporate. If you ball those up in the rubbish they can spontaneously combust.
Would you recommend carpentry to men as a way of looking more attractive?
I would break it down and make it less gender-specific because half the woodworkers in my shop are really badass women. Sure, there’s an element of virility that goes along with that, but I think, much more importantly, when you figure out what it is that you love to do, when you engage in that activity you are then your most attractive self. That, I think, is much more alluring than any perfume or flashy haircut. I would argue that a woman seeing a man do the dishes or bake an incredible tray of scones is equally sexy.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
When you make a theatre full of a few thousand people laugh uproariously that’s the greatest pay cheque I’ve ever come across. And it’s a fascinating source of self-reflection that says, “Well, I feel just as ignorant as the next person – if not more so – but somehow I’ve lucked into this occupation where I’m being rewarded for sharing my ignorance.” I understand that of all the donkeys I’m the one that’s being put in front of the microphone and so I’d like to be invited back again.
The Founder is available on digital download and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand from 12 June.