Offerman plays with love in ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

LOS ANGELES — Music always has been part of Nick Offerman’s life. The star of the new feature film “Hearts Beat Loud” played the saxophone in his junior high and high school jazz bands while growing up in Illinois. The music in his life now primarily comes from his wife, Megan Mullally, whom he calls an astonishing singing talent.

“For years, I would be noodling around on the guitar daydreaming that one day I would be able to perform with Megan. Organically, I started working as a humorist during ‘Parks and Recreation,’ playing at colleges as if I were a comedian,” Offerman says. “Part of that act was I would play dumb, funny songs on the guitar to make people laugh.

“That really took my bravery up a notch as to performing in front of an audience.”

He used that bravery to take on the role of musician-turned-record store owner Frank Fisher in “Hearts Beat Loud.” Not only has music been a large part of Frank’s life through performing and his current business, but it has been a way for the single dad to stay connected with his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons). As Sam prepares to leave home for college, Frank convinces her to perform one last original song together that ends up being so good it gets attention through online services.

Frank wants to use the notoriety to convince his daughter to join him in more recording sessions and taking their act on the road. The realities he faces with his daughter and his failing business finally show Frank that in a musical world, there are often sour notes.

Even with his journeyman past through the world of music, Offerman knew he needed to do extra work to be ready to play Frank. His plan was to practice enough before filming started that he would be competent enough to not take focus away from his acting. Leaping into the world of music wasn’t a big jump for Offerman as he’s continuously in a musical place because of his wife, but he still faced some tough moments during the filming.

“The scenes where we are performing the songs in front of an audience were the most difficult scenes because (I) would have to play the songs while acting. It’s a lot to think about,” Offerman says.

He had to spend extra time preparing for the music, but that wasn’t the case with the acting. Offerman has been performing either on stage, screen or TV since the mid-1990s. His versatility has helped him land roles both in dramas and comedies with roles as widespread as “Fargo,” “The Founder,” “24,” “Will & Grace,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Monk” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

The role that gets him the most attention, playing the deadpan Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” came in 2009. That work earned him the Individual Achievement in Comedy award from the Television Critics association in 2011.

The diversity of Offerman’s credits is, in his words, “organic by choice.” He had no definitive plan when he started in theater of where he wanted his career to go.

“Instead of chasing anything, I take what comes my way,” Offerman says. “I follow my gut and it has worked very well for 25 years. I am happy with my method. Megan and I have developed a couple of rules. We have to think it is great writing that is either incredibly funny or somehow is progressive in helping us evolve.

“Also, if possible, we try to work with people we like. If you hear someone is a jerk, why spend three months with a jerk?”

The attraction of “Hearts Beat Loud” for Offerman was it gave him the chance to play a character who has two major loves in his life — his daughter and his music. Fisher’s already had to deal with the loss of the other great love in his life — his wife — and now there’s a real possibility he will be losing the others.

Director/writer Brett Haley has written Offerman’s character in such a way that dealing with this impending situation doesn’t take predictable avenues.

“One thing I love about the film is that it’s not a spoon-fed Hollywood plotline. It has all of the complexities of human life,” Offerman says. “Frank is afraid of losing his daughter but, at the same time, it becomes clear by the end that in order to be a good parent, he has to lose his daughter to thousands of miles’ distance so she can go to the college that she wants. By giving her up that way, it is really the only way he can keep his relationship healthy with her.

“And, as far as his second love of music success, Frank realizes he can’t make his daughter want to be in a rock band but by floating on the river of life rather than fighting the current, it takes him to a place where he and his daughter are still writing songs together.”

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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