'Parks and Recreation': Showrunner Michael Schur on Leslie's decision, Patricia Clarkson and more

amy-poehler-parks-s4.jpgAs Zap2it began a conversation with "Parks and Recreation" co-creator Michael Schur Monday night (Aug. 1), one of his stars, Aziz Ansari, pulled out a digital recorder too to ask if, in fact, it's true that Michael Clarke Duncan will guest-star as Tom's new love interest this season.

It's not -- but it did lead to Schur revealing to us this most minor of spoilers: You'll see former NBA player Detlef Schrempf in at least one episode this season as we check in with Entertainment 720, Tom's new business venture with Jean-Ralphio ( Ben Schwartz). We also talked about a lot more, including what Schur's excited about so far, the decision facing Leslie ( Amy Poehler) and the casting of Patricia Clarkson as Tammy I.

Zap2it: When we talked recently, you said the actress playing Tammy I "can't be a diminutive, blonde-haired lady, probably." Yet you cast Patricia Clarkson.
Michael Schur: We were in negotiations and looking at pictures to try to find a good look for her wardrobe-wise. And in every picture we looked at, she had blonde hair. In my memory, she has brown hair. ... So I was thinking this makes sense, because in my mind, she has dark hair. We're still trying to figure it out ... but I believe we're going to try to make her hair dark. When we were sitting around thinking of pretty, dark-haired women, it was, "Oh -- Patricia Clarkson."

It seems like pretty great casting.
I am such a huge fan of hers. She was the model for the character, and then we actively pursued her.

So was it a case of, "We should get someone like Patricia Clarkson"?
This has happened many times with us now. We've been incredibly fortunate. When we were designing Ben, it was like, "If we could cast anybody, it would be Adam Scott -- that's literally the way we were talking about it in the [writers] room. Then we found out a week later he was potentially available because "Party Down" might not come back. So it was, "Let's try to get him." The same thing with this character: "Oh, it's like Patricia Clarkson," and then we went and tried to get her, and got her. So it couldn't have worked out better.

Her character is still set to appear in the second episode of the season?
Definitely the second one, and probably a small appearance in the first one too, as a teaser. That's the plan.

We hear you're doing a Christmas episode this year?
The current plan, subject to change, is that the season is roughly broken in half in terms of the arcs, and the Christmas episode will be the one where the whole thing kind of changes.

What other stories have you broken so far?
The arc of the first chunk for Tom is his company and really trying to make it work. We get to see how he and Jean-Ralphio have spent a tremendous amount of money in a relatively short amount of time. And it's a long arc -- it's not like at the end of the first episode, he's back in the office. We really play it out and give it its run.

Part of the April-Andy [ Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt] is at the end of last year, April was going to become the manager for his band, and the arc we're playing with them is she sort of becomes his life manager as well. There are certain things about the way he's conducted himself and gotten to the age of almost 30 without being too much of a grownup, and she starts to help him do that.

So she took Ben's advice from "Jerry's Painting" a little more to heart?
Exactly. And it's not about, like, buying china. It's more like, If you want to do certain things in your life, here are better ways to try and do them than you've been doing.

Are Leslie and Ben still trying to keep their romance quiet?
The biggest question in the premiere, and in the first chunk of episodes, really, is what does she do? Does she go down path A or path B, when A and B are mutually exclusive? She has a guy she really likes, she has a job opportunity that's been her dream since she was a kid, and she can't really do both of them. So the whole premiere is really about her trying to figure out what it is she's going to do. She makes a decision at the end of the episode.

If Tom is out trying to make his company happen, does that mean there's a temp or someone new in the parks department?
That's a good question. I don't want to spoil anything, but there's some office shifting, some job-position shifting in the premiere.

And Ann (Rashida Jones) is fully integrated at City Hall now, correct?
She is. She's another member of the team. She's not a member of the parks department, but now we no longer have to explain why she's in the office. The premiere might be my favorite Ann story we've ever done.

What else are you excited about in the episodes you've broken so far?
We do a few topical stories, sort of satirical stories about various aspects of our culture. It's not the debt ceiling, so don't worry -- they're more fun than that. The premiere and also the third episode and the sixth episode are all big stories about real-life events that have transpired over the last few months. 
Photo/Video credit: NBC
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