‘Parks and Recreation:’ The 1 Character Who is Based on a Real Person

The Parks and Recreation writers didn’t take the creation of characters lightly. Those responsible for bringing the show to life went through a surprising amount of research to establish the best, funniest version of a small-town government possible. And it turns out they even based one character on a real government official.

The 'Parks and Recreation' cast
The ‘Parks and Recreation’ cast | Alexandra Wyman/WireImage

The ‘Parks and Rec’ writers wrote characters based on some of the actors

When the producers were searching for the best actors to cast for the new show, they received more than they bargained for. Certain auditions actually warranted characters to be written into the show. Primarily, April Ludgate and Jerry Gergich were written into the show as a result of Aubrey Plaza and Jim O’Heir’s off-screen personalities.

The show’s creator, Mike Schur, noted that Plaza made him extremely “uncomfortable” but realized that she was someone who certainly had a place on the show. And O’Heir, who originally auditioned to play Ron Swanson, didn’t quite fit that role but was so loved by the producers that he was written in as someone else.

Ron Swanson was based on a real government official

Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, is arguably the most memorable character on the show. And he’s based on a real person. Co-creators Greg Daniels and Mike Schur wanted to get a true feel for small-town government prior to putting the show into production. With that, they actually visited local town and city hall buildings to better understand the small-town work environment.

Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) on 'Parks and Rec'
Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) on ‘Parks and Rec’ | Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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Daniels once revealed to the Los Angeles Times that he and Schur met a woman in Burbank who inspired the role of Ron Swanson. “We were talking to one official about wanting to make Leslie’s boss opposed to government,” Daniels told the newspaper. He went on to say that he and Schur thought it would be “funny” if Leslie Knope’s boss was someone “who doesn’t believe in the mission of the branch of government he’s supposed to be overseeing.”

The official they spoke to then replied that she was a libertarian who generally doesn’t believe in her job’s mission. “Yes, I’m aware of the irony,” the woman said. And from there, the creators knew who Ron Swanson would be.

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman’s characters shifted during writing

On the show, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) were friends, though they often butted heads from a political standpoint. And it turns out that when the show was initially thought up, Knope was supposed to represent democrats while Offerman represented republicans. 

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman)
Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) | Colleen Hayes/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

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“There’s an old adage… When people want a dad they vote Republican and when they want a mom they vote Democrat,” Amy Poehler once said in an interview, according to Insider. “At the beginning, the main conception of the show was that there would be a dad and a mom in the office, but the idea was like a stern, but loving dad and a loving mom.”