Michael Strassner, a Loyola Blakefield alum, moved out to LA three years ago to pursue his dream of being a comedic actor. And he had a pretty amazing moment last night, when he was featured on the series finale of Parks & Recreation.
From his first role as Snoopy in a Charlie Brown school play to being a theater major at University of Maryland to classes at Groundlings improv school, Strassner's path led him to play Ron Swanson's brother, Vaughn, on two episodes of Parks & Rec this season, including last night's series finale.
We talked to Strassner, 25, about interacting with the cast, his future in the business, and whether that bold mustache was, indeed, real.
What has your career been like so far?
The first thing I did when I moved out here was take classes at Groundlings. That's where I made most of my friendships in comedy and now I'm in a couple of improv and sketch groups, like one called Genuine Jerks. It's been a fun three years.
How did you land a gig on Parks & Rec?
My manager let me know they were casting for Ron's brother. I originally auditioned for the role of Don, but his real brother [Matt Offerman] ended up getting that part. Can't compete with that. In the final episode, sitting around the table, his actual parents were there, too. So I got to meet all of Nick Offerman's family.
Had you been a fan of the show before?
My favorite character was always Ron Swanson, which is crazy. I always liked how he's working in politics, but hates politics. He's just a loveable jerk.
You play Vaughn Swanson, who A.V. Club actually mentioned in its recap. How did you prepare for the role?
Did they really? That's awesome! Well, Vaughn is Ron's youngest brother, who doesn't get much respect—his name doesn't even have three letters like the others. Since I'm the baby of my family, I could relate to the annoying little brother thing. But it was fun. They actually let us improvise a couple lines there that unfortunately didn't make it onto the show. But Nick was just the nicest guy and he really is similar to Ron. If you make him laugh a little bit, that same high-pitched giggle comes out.
Your mustache: real or fake?
The mustache was real. I wanted people to think I was doing something out here, so I grew it out for three months. It got me a Japanese Hyundai commercial, where I play the teddy-bear dad. I've got to keep the mustache. It's not the greatest with women, but I'm getting gigs.
Which actor surprised you the most?
In the first scene I was in, I got to work with Christ Pratt, Adam Scott, and Nick. What's so cool about that cast is there are all very nice. I was in my makeup chair and Jim O'Heir [who plays Jerry Gergich] came up and introduced himself. Chris Pratt is literally blowing up right now in all these action movies and he's super down-to-earth. Seemed like he would love for Parks & Rec to continue for years.
Was it emotional being on set during the taping of finale?
They filmed the series finale in two weeks, the week before Thanksgiving and the week after it. In the beginning, people were having their moments here and there, tearing up. But, by the end, I think they were realizing it was coming to a close and they were really enjoying each other's company—that's when everyone started to get emotional.
I feel like the cast's comedic timing and dead-pan stuff is always so on point, so it was refreshing to see them break in the bloopers at the end.
During the first episode I was in, Herb [Russell, who played brother Lon Swanson] and I had no lines, so we kept on giving Nick weird looks and, a couple times, you'd hear him laugh and joke, 'These idiots are starting at me!' Chris Pratt, for a couple of scenes, he would play with random props and he'd really throw people off. So that was fun. Unfortunately, I didn't get chance to work with Amy or Aziz, but I assume they are fun, awesome, and amazing at improvising too.
What exciting projects do you have coming up next?
Nothing right now, just auditioning whenever I get a chance. I perform in a weekly improv group. The ultimate goal is to just get paid for doing comedy. Hopefully it snowballs after this, but you appreciate everything like it's the last one.
You're 25. Something tells me this won't be your last job.
[Laughs] I hope you're right!