Parks and Recreation's Chris Pratt on the Hilarious Third Season and the Surprise of Rob Lowe
It was good to be an American last week. After all, not only did Parks and Recreation return to NBC after eight months on the shelf, but people actually watched -- the season three premiere was Parks and Recreation's highest rated episode yet. That was great news for everyone, but especially Chris Pratt. As you may have noticed, the premiere featured an extended "previously on" clip package to open the show, highlighting the unrequited love between Pratt's Andy and Aubrey Plaza's April. He's rapidly becoming Pawnee's answer to Jim Halpert, with 100 percent more flannel.
Pratt rang up Movieline late last week to discuss the third season of Parks and Rec, why Rob Lowe might be the series secret weapon, and how to take an effective pratfall.
How nice does it feel to finally have Parks and Recreation back on the air?
I'm excited to have it back on the air. But it has been such a weird thing; now that we're not shooting -- because we finished up the third season already -- I feel like it's absent from my life. I'm just not there anymore, I'm not around the same people every day; I really miss it. Whereas, when we were shooting -- even though the show wasn't on the air -- it was very much a part of my life. So, it's strange. It's almost been the exact opposite for me than it has for the general public.
It's got to be especially weird since you shot these first six episodes all the way back in the spring of 2009.
We finished 24 episodes of season two and Amy was getting ready to give birth to her son Abel, so she said, "NBC, listen: You better tell us if we're going to come back, because by the time we'd typically come back, I'm going to have the baby and be on maternity leave." And they said, "Well, we do want to bring you back, so let's knock the first six episodes out," that way she could have the baby and have a healthy maternity leave, then come back. It was really very atypical of a shooting schedule, in terms of number of episodes and the order which we do them. It's all been very strange, but I don't think the audience can notice the difference.
If there was one benefit from being off the air for so long, it's that Parks and Recreation has seemed to grow in esteem among fans and critics alike. With that support -- plus the new, post-Office time slot -- it feels like this could be the show's big chance.
It's one of those interesting things -- we always wanted this time slot; we always thought, "Let's follow The Office" Then we didn't get it, and we were kind of bummed. But the thing is, as the show has evolved into what it is now -- and the audience has evolved into liking it more, and being able to catch up on Netflix and Hulu -- I don't think we were ready for this time slot until now. And I think we are really ready for it now; we're doing our best work and pumping out our best stuff, and continuing to do great episodes. Everyone has found their groove. With the additions of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, it really feels like a well-oiled comedy machine. If we had premiered at 9:30 originally, who knows? This is the true test now; we always wanted to air at 9:30, now we are, so we have to make sure the episodes are good. And we all think they are; they're the best we've ever done. It's perfect.
What amazes me is that Parks and Recreation has done a great job of developing your characters, seemingly on the fly.
We've got some pretty brilliant writers. It's pretty astounding to me. I admire them for their ability to foresee long term things. If it were up to me, I'd go to the funniest joke possible. They've done a really good job of bringing it home and making sure there is a lot of heart, and that people will empathize with these characters that are -- for all intents and purposes -- real characters. Despite the fact that there are very broad moments, it gets grounded in a sense of reality. They've done a really good job. And it is cool how quickly things have evolved between Andy and other characters. And things evolve even more this season.
You mentioned Rob Lowe before, who you wouldn't necessarily think of for this type of comedy. And yet there he is, killing it.
I couldn't agree more. Who knew Rob Lowe was funny? On Parks and Rec, we've got some of the funniest comedy writers, some of the funniest comedians in the world working there. And if anything, we don't just effuse to one another and be like, "Oh, Rob Lowe's really funny," if he wasn't. We wouldn't say that. But I've seen some of his stuff and he's legitimately funny. It's really surprising, and it's great; he's got a lot of fans and people really love him. I mean, sh*t, the guy has been around for three decades, and he's just a major star. But this is a version of him that people are not used to seeing, because it's not just straight man; he's playing a very peculiar and weird character. I think people are going to really like that.
You share a lot of scenes with him in the early portion of this season. How has he been to work with?
It's a little surreal to be on set with Rob Lowe and he's pushing me around in a shopping cart, and I'm like, "You've got to be f*cking kidding me? I'm at work right now."
And then there's Adam Scott, too, who just feels like the perfect addition to the cast.
I really attribute the fine balance to this season to the addition of Adam Scott. It's been really incredible. He's like Dean Martin. He's really great, he's really funny, he's deadpan. He says really hilarious stuff, but it's played really straight. I think he's a real star. He's got something really special that he does. He has the funniest one liners just in regular life, and he gets so much comedy out of the slightest little nuance. The tiniest line, the tiniest reaction. It's nice. It's really subtle, his humor. I just respect the crap out of it, because my humor is "fat guy on rollerblades falls down."
To be fair, you seem to excel at falling down. What makes for the perfect pratfall?
The key is just to ignore the pain. Because physical comedy only works if you see someone get hurt and they aren't actually hurt. If someone gets hit in the face with a bat, falls down, and gets back up, it's funny. If they stay down and their jaw is wired shut in the next scene, it's really tragic and weird. You have to pretend it doesn't hurt. I was an athlete growing up. I was a wrestler, I played football, so I can take a fall. I actually wanted to be a stuntman when I was kid, so I would practice falling down the stairs. It's just something I like to do.
The fact that Andy is so physical makes his relationship with April so much funnier and rewarding. It really feels like the polar opposite of Jim and Pam, even though it's no less adorable and heartwarming.
The Jim and Pam relationship was really a terrific relationship because it was so grounded and the heart of The Office. I think that if [Parks & Recreation executive producers] Greg Daniels and Mike Schur wanted to recreate that, they would have. But I think they thought it was important to not recreate that, which is why they have two larger-than-life characters getting together. There's still heart there, but it's also -- it's closer to the Dwight and Angela relationship on The Office.
Does being part of such a large group of talented actors and actresses take the pressure off you as a performer?
I think so. It definitely helps to be part of a giant ensemble. At the end of the day we're not competing against one another for laughs; we're all on the same team. We're making jokes, but we're also lobbing each other softballs. I think you still feel pressure to be as funny as you can. I'm sure every single person is narcissistic enough -- or at least I am -- to think every single scene is all about them. But then when you watch the episode and you're like, "Sh*t, that joke didn't work," you're also like, "Oh, wait. Amy's did, so did Adam's and Aziz Ansari's and Jim O'Heir's and Nick Offerman's." I probably shouldn't freak out if a joke doesn't work. There's giant safety net of insanely gifted comedians to pick up the slack. If it was just a single show -- well, if it was just a single show called Andy, it would be terrible. But this is a true ensemble. It's not just one funny person, surrounded by a bunch of straight people. It's a bunch of crazy, seriously different comedically talented people. It's kind of a neat thing.