Interview: We Talk to Ethan Nicolle & Nick Offerman of ‘Axe Cop’

ANIMATION DOMINATION HIGH-DEF: Axe Cop on FOX.

If you missed the memo, last night was the season two premiere of FXX’s Animation Domination series Axe Cop. The show, based on a successful webcomic of the same name, finished a 12-episode run at the end of 2013 back when AD was still on FOX, but has been recently airing reruns on FXX alongside Lucas Bros. Moving Co., Stone Quackers, Golan the Insatiable, and High School USA. It stars Nick Offerman (who is also an executive producer) as the axe-wielding titular police officer, along with his partner, Flute Cop (Ken Marino). Their superhero friends: Gray Diamond (Rob Huebel), Sockarang (Patton Oswalt), and Liborg (Tyler, the Creator). Megan Mullally regularly plays a host of characters as well. Axe Cop pursues bad guys in both his day job and nighttime vigilante work, punishing offenders at every level of severity with a swift axe to the neck.

As the show’s introduction states, Axe Cop was created by Ethan Nicolle and his little brother (five years old at the time), Malachai. We had a chance to talk to Ethan and Axe Cop himself, Mr. Nick Offerman, and the former was quick to give his brother all the creation credit. “It all started just with my brother saying, ‘Can we play Axe Cop?’” Nicolle said. And not only did little Malachai come up with the character, but his imagination inspired most of the plotlines. If Ethan has trouble writing, he still calls up or brings in his brother, now 11, for input and inspiration.

“One of the first times we called Malachai [was] when we were at ADHD working on the show, actually in Season 1,” Ethan explained. “He got on the phone and … he was helping us come up with an ending, and he got going and you could hear him – like, there was no interrupting him – you could hear him running around the room talking on the phone and the entire office. Like everybody from all the different rooms at ADHD had come into the conference room, and they were listening to him on speaker. He had no idea he was gathering this massive audience. So, by the time he got done (he probably went on for 20 minutes) just going: ‘And then he chops at them, and he jumps up here and he goes, I have the power to make all the bad guys escape from prison and attack you.’ Just on and on and on and on, and finally super-dramatic Axe Cop wins, and then he gets this standing ovation because he doesn’t realize that now there’s a crowd around the phone listening to him. So that was really funny.”

“Generally, when Malachai gives us his ideas for the show, it’s a whole bunch of stuff that we have to sift through, and it’s way more complicated than you could put on the show,” Ethan explained. “It always helps spark something and often generates new episode ideas, too, like the Grey Diamond origin,” which is an episode that’s coming up.

“The kid’s a God damn gold mine. He’s something else,” Offerman added.

Apparently “something else” includes the tendency to show his age at times, firing staff members at will, for offenses such as being female.

“I am a girl and according to Axe Cop, which is really Malachai, girls are on the dumb list, and very stupid,” Executive Producer Hend Baghdady told us (referring to a line from last year’s season finale) when she dropped into the interview unannounced. “We were working out of the house at that point. It was in the very, very early stages, and we were all having lunch on a picnic table in the back, and I can’t remember what question was asked, but somebody asked him a question. And, he said, ‘It’s a secret.’ And I think Nick was like, ‘Well, this is a safe place, these are all of the people that work on the show.’ And, he goes, ‘I will whisper it to you, but she has to leave, she is fired.’ And, I had to get up and leave the picnic table.

“And, then there was another time where we were actually watching the show at a conference, and he was on the panel and he gave us notes on the final cut to change it back because we had rewritten part of the story that he pitched us on the phone,” Baghdady added. “And then when I said that this is the final one if it’s airing … he fired me and quit the show.”

However, don’t mistake Malachai for some kind of brat. “He’s not,” she reassured us. “I think it’s just because I’m a girl. I’m a dumb girl.”

The main character’s appearance, however, came from Ethan, who just started by drawing an axe and then went with a stereotypical cop look. “They always have that mustache, aviator glasses, the hat. A Burt-Reynolds-70’s-cop was just kind of what I was going for.”

Since it seems Nicolle prefers featuring characters that act based on righteousness or morality (see his other comic, Chumble Spuzz) we asked for the reasoning behind it.

“I think it makes for good comedy – a character that’s very black and white, but they have a mission. They’re very eager to accomplish it and reckless,” he said. “It’s pretty classic for a comedy. I think that that’s like Chumble Spuzz; they go to kill the devil, and they’ve never heard of him, they don’t even know anything about him. They don’t do much research after that, they just hear about him, they’re like this guy: why has nobody tried to kill this guy? So they go to kill him. I do find it funny when a character is maybe not fully informed on what they’re fighting, but they’re just so gung-ho, they’re going to do it. So I think it’s just a good way to start a story.”

Nick chimed in here as well. “I agree that, in general, for my money, playing a character that is standing for justice, and wants righteous indignation before he has comprised all the facts always makes for good hijinks,” he said.

Now that Axe Cop has found a new home (“FOX couldn’t handle us,” Offerman cracked) and has kicked off its second season, we made sure to ask for any upcoming plot and guest actor teases. “I think that these episodes are the best ones they’ve made so far,” Ethan said. “They’re really good.

He was especially eager to discuss one in particular. “There’s one episode I really like,” he said. “We’ve been trying since the beginning to write a Moon Warriors episode, and every time we write one, it changes into a different episode that’s not the Moon Warriors. So, once again to try to fix the story, I called my brother to get an origin story for the Vampire-Man-Baby-Kid, who’s the bad guy in the Moon Warriors story; this crazy vampire thing that’s like a man on one side, and a baby on the other side, and it kind of fades from baby to man. He is very scary looking. And then he got such a rich back story that we ended up ditching the Moon Warriors again because they just didn’t fit into it, and it’s just this Vampire-Man-Baby-Kid story about his origins on the moon, and so that one’s awesome.”

“Every episode is such a bag of surprises,” Offerman added. “We will visit some new planets, as well as some locations of legend, like Heaven and Hell. Also, heads will be chopped.”

Baghdady let us in on some on the famous names lending their voices this time around. “We have so many guest stars, because honestly, people come to us and flock to want to participate in the show,” she said. “This season we have people like Sam Elliott playing Axe Cop’s dad, and Kristen Schaal – I’ll surprise you with who she plays – and Clancy Brown, Jack McBrayer, Maria Bamford, Lake Bell, Richard Riehle, June Squibb … and, Jonathan Banks, and Michael Chiklis, James Adomian, Alfred Molina, and many, many more have joined us to make this run of ten [episodes].

“One thing I love about the show, and it reminds me of Childrens Hospital as well,” Offerman said, “is that when people in our business respond to a show, it is unadulterated fun. No holds barred silliness, with no apparent rules. Actors really respond to that.”

However, the actors usually don’t get opportunities to work with one another when recording. “Only in very rare instances do a couple people get together,” Offerman revealed. “It’s a luxury if people’s schedules permit it. The great thing is when you get in the room together, then you start screwing around, and you end up with an extra level of tomfoolery.”

Speaking of silliness, Nick volunteered his own guest voice leak. Kind of. “I’ll give you one small piece of information, and that is Harry Styles, to my knowledge, does not appear in Season 2,” he joked. “But, if he did, he’d be an incredibly cute, furry-nosed wombat with a penchant for snack cakes. By God, we’ll make that wombat sing.”

Sarcastic answers like this were commonplace during the interview when Nick Offerman was answering, and some of them were gems. Because he shared similarities with previous characters he has played, like Ron Swanson of Parks and Recreation sharing his love of woodworking, we asked if Offerman had anything in common with Axe Cop. “I think once Ethan and I got together, he began to draw from my own life,” he said. “I often wear a cat suit at night in the house. Mine is not black. I’m more of an autumn, so I go with earth tones. I’m ape-shit about birthday cake, and I’m really handy with an axe. My dad taught me to use an axe, and keep it sharp and maintained; never let a spot of rust get on your axe head.”

Offerman was also asked various vaguely-show-related questions, like the best non-axe tool for law enforcement (a small chisel or a length of sharply-toothed chain that you can coil … although “many tools in a woodworker’s tool box can be used to bludgeon bad guys quickly to death,”), his advice for growing a good mustache (there’s one important tip: don’t shave,”), and whether he prefers live action acting or animation.

“If I had to pick one form of acting, it would be live theater,” he said. “That’s where I started. There’s no greater recompense than the live audience telling you that you’re delivering the medicine, and then their response is my medicine, and for me that’s the greatest. But, between being seen in my performance or just having my voice work, they’re pretty different. Doing voice work is more like recording music that people are going to listen to. You’re creating an oral experience using whatever bells and whistles you have in your voice, and you’re intending – you can shut your eyes and use your imagination and nobody’s going to see if the faces you make don’t match the voices you make. So that’s a lot of fun. And, there’s an element of make believe to it, and so in The Lego Movie, for example, I was really happy to get to do this Metalbeard voice that was really strange and somewhat Anglican,” he said, mimicking the voice. “I was comforted that they let me not sound like Ron Swanson or Axe Cop, so that’s a lot of fun. But, I’m a very pretty 12-year-old girl inside like anybody else, so I want people to see my cute haircut, as well.”

And why not ask Nick as much as possible? The guy is clearly a real character. He looks, acts, and speaks like a true man’s man, using words like cudgel and shillelagh, while referencing movies like 1973’s Walking Tall. If you didn’t already want to hang out with Offerman based on his characters, you’d definitely want to after speaking with him for a bit.

In fact, in a hilariously fitting ending, Offerman stayed on the phone line after we were told to disconnect, waiting even past the closing message that told us the call was over and thanked us for our time.

“Thank you,” he said, before pausing, clearly confused. “Was that a robot or a person?”

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New Axe Cop episodes air Thursdays during FXX’s Animation Domination block at midnight ET.

Gonzo Green

@Gonzo_Green is a chronic sufferer of Pre-life Crisis Syndrome. He drinks frequently, and wears hats sometimes, with these events occasionally occurring concurrently. Gonzo also likes watching baseball, and putting ketchup on foods that ketchup has no business being on. He enjoys rock’n’roll from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, when rock was rock, and meaningless repetitive phrases were frowned upon. But it is what it is.

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