It’s not often you sit down with a cup of coffee and have an hour long conversation with a complete stranger and feel like you’ve known them for years. Unless that complete stranger is Jim O’Heir, who is among the most genuinely nice people in the entertainment industry. Many know Jim for his role as ‘Jerry Gergich’ on the hit TV show Parks and Recreation, which just aired its series finale on February 24th. What many don’t know is that Jim has a lot more to offer than what was showcased during his sitcom success, and he isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
On Parks and Recreation
After twenty years playing on stage in Chicago and much smaller roles on a variety of television shows from ER and 3rd Rock from the Sun to Curb Your Enthusiasm, Parks and Recreation was Jim’s breakout role. He initially auditioned for the role of ‘Ron Swanson’, however Jim was picked up for the role of ‘Jerry Gergich’ instead. For anyone who’s seen the show, you know that ‘Jerry’ was the under-appreciated, ultra-talented family man that also happened to be the office clutz and everyone’s whipping post when something went wrong. It was hard not to laugh at the character, but you also felt bad for him — a perfect one-two punch to pull audiences in.
Jim performed flawlessly over the Parks’ seven seasons, which started off with him and many of the supporting cast being relatively unknown. “Amy (Poehler) took Aubrey (Plaza) under her wing, and if you’re going to have a mentor to guide you through that kind of craziness, Amy is the one to have.” By series end, all of them were stars that almost anyone would recognize on the street. Jim has adjusted well to the newfound fame though, “It can be a little scary, but it’s also fun because everyone’s so excited and I never deal with any assholes. No one’s ever an asshole, they are all just so nice.”
The best part of all this success? The rest of the cast and Jim remained friends and professionals, never letting ego or hubris get in the way of a good show or their personal friendships. “When a show goes on for a while, things get weird. One actor gets jealous of another because one is doing more appearances on Leno than him or her. It can get very weird. That never happened on Parks.”
As a long time fan of Parks and Recreation, and having watched the first season in Afghanistan, I must admit I grew a bit attached to the show. Watching the season finale was bittersweet. As you might imagine, it was hard for the cast and crew as well. That was never more evident than when they all went on Late Night with Seth Meyers immediately following the series finale. “We always knew this (Late Night) was coming up, and we’d see each other again. But this would be the last big group thing for a while. So, it was all very surreal.”
Despite the fact that such stars as Chris Pratt and Amy Poehler shared the stage, Jim still found a way to steal the show. Between Chris and him exchanging a heartfelt dialogue, as well as the impromptu make out session with Aubrey Plaza at the end — it was hard to be anything but impressed. “Aubrey comes over to me during the final break, and she says, ‘do you wanna make out during the final song?’ It took me literally half a second to say yes. Nothing to even think about. What I love, if you really watch it, is that you can tell the other people didn’t know it was gonna happen, because they were losing their shit. Pratt had no idea what was happening behind him!”
The Man Behind ‘Jerry Gergich’
Jim, a Los Angeles import, was raised in Chicago as a proud Midwesterner. He doesn’t mind L.A., but misses the four seasons and —gasp — even the snow that living in Chicago provided. “What I miss about Chicago, and your gonna think this is crazy, but I love the seasons. I want four seasons. I want the fall, and as much as the weather here is always pleasant, I miss the landscape of having four seasons. And also, there’s just something about mid-west people. We’re just a different breed. And I’ll say it: We’re just nicer people.”
Chicago is also where his acting career started, spending most of the 80’s and 90’s on stage as a member of the theatre group White Noise. “The thing about the stage is you tend to be bigger because there’s an audience. You don’t know if your audience is two feet in front of ya, or fifty feet behind ya. There are different styles.” Although the stage will always hold a special place in his heart, his passions lay in front of the camera. “You want it all. I just got back from New York two days ago and I saw a bunch of (Broadway) shows. When you sit in that audience as an actor, you’re just like, ‘ah hell, I wanna be up there now!’ God, we’re crazy people . . . ”
Parks and Recreation was obviously a big part of his path to stardom, but there is more to him than the humorous, yet clumsy ‘Jerry Gergich’. With that part of his career over, he’s not pausing for even a minute to take a break, “I love working, I love being on sets, whether television or film . . . so I’m ready to get right back in it. There have already been certain TV shows that I’ve auditioned for, and we’ll see what happens with all that. If someone said to me tomorrow, ‘here’s another show,’ I would be there immediately.” But, with the success of a show like Parks, it has allowed him the luxury of being selective with his rolls. “Maybe eight years ago, I would have said ‘Hell yeah, I’ll take whatever I can get.’ But that’s the only difference work-wise, I still want to be right back out there.” Continued on page 2.