Q&A with Neil Patrick Harris
In the late '80s, Neil—known as NPH to his fans—landed the starring role on Doogie Howser, M.D. After years of child stardom and teen heartthrob status, Neil left the small screen for the stage. He became a respected Broadway actor, starring in shows like Rent, Cabaret and Proof, before returning to television.
Now, millions know Neil as Barney Stinson, the womanizing, slap-happy sidekick on How I Met Your Mother, which begins its fifth season September 21.
Like Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson before him, this man-of-many-talents is also making his mark as an awards show host. On Sunday, September 20, Neil will host the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards. See what surprises he has in store! Also, Neil shares his thoughts on fate, finding balance and making out with his co-star.
Neil Patrick Harris: I'm just trying to make sure all the comedy host elements are in place. We'll have a good opening bit and a couple surprise things throughout. We want to balance respecting the show and the doling out of the awards with the sort of random things that will keep the audience's attention in other ways. So that's kind of been my job. You want to make it unique and, yet, classic. That's a tricky dynamic.
KF: I can imagine. How often are you rehearsing?
NPH: Well, it's sort of a litany of e-mails and phone calls all day with the producers. We had a great opening short film we are going to shoot, and it would be the first thing you shot. That was going to be with Alec Baldwin, and he withdrew at the last minute. So that got scrapped, and we're off to plan D, E or F. It's sort of like now you go: "That's fantastic, great. We've got that person," or "Oh, that person didn't work. Now what do we do?" A lot of "now what do we do?" questions.
NPH: Confirmed. I'm a big fan of live variety, especially live on stage. Award shows, you know, are big stage shows. And my mind goes to magic or circus or whatever, so some sort of movement element is effective if it's done right. Really, if it's done right, because it's sort of exactly like Shakespeare—if it's mediocre, it's almost worse. If you see a very boring and average version of Henry V, it makes you want to drive stakes through your eyes. But if you see something that's really great, it's revelatory. I think So You Think You Can Dance...those people are at the top of their game. [Hip-hop choreographers] Tabitha and Napoleon are on board.
KF: So will it be a circus/hip-hop number of sorts?
NPH: Honestly, I respect them so much that I'm not meddling, and I'm encouraging others not to. We gave them sort of an idea of what we want to do—a point of view that we wanted to have—and a sort of purpose to the...I won't even say dance number because it's not going to be that long. The whole show is really short versed, but I want it to be more on the intense and explosive side, than on the melancholy side of dance. I'm thinking more of like those dance crew shows, [those] kind of vibes. ... When they're done really well, it's almost like watching circus people. The things that they can do with their bodies are remarkable.
KF: Now at the Tony Awards, you sang a, may I say, legendary closing number. Will you be singing at the Emmys, or is dancing more the focus?
NPH: I suspect you won't see me dancing very much. That's not my forte. But yeah, I might throw some sort of singing into it. I haven't quite decided. I sort of feel like the Emmys are so classy and glamorous and black tie, the host really needs to respect his job title. I think too much "Look at me! Look at me!" as the host of a show that big is counterproductive. So long as I make you feel confident that you're in good hands with me as the host, then it's my real responsibility to introduce you to a lot of other people and elements—other presenters who are then going to talk to you or other introductions of next sections. That's my role. It's not really to be a song-and-dance man.
NPH: Very much. Steve Allen hosted the first televised awards, which was the 7th Annual Emmy Awards, in, I think, 1955, and he was great. That was sort of my inspiration for all of this. He just had such a dry wit, a commanding voice, a great presence. You knew when you were watching it that if something went wrong, you could look to him, and he would steer you through it. It was always with great dignity and a dry sense of humor, and he was sort of out there all the time. He was definitely the "host." He definitely helped the show, so I like that. Johnny Carson, too, was great.
KF: Hypothetically, what would you do if your name was called for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series this year?
NPH: Oh my, I would graciously accept, try to keep my speech to a minimum, and then quickly set it backstage, because I have a lot more to do for the next couple hours.
KF: Is the award given out early on in the show?
NPH: I think it will be within the first hour. It's a nice and refreshing win-win for me, because if I do happen to win, it will be awesome-tastic, and oddly, a bit of a distraction. And if I don't win, it just provides lots of comedy fodder for the rest of the show. So I'm pretty safe either way. It's a tough category, for sure.
NPH: They certainly take a stab at it. I know there will be lots of necking and making out. Lots of canoodling between Robin and I. My lips are chapped. They have strong physical chemistry, apparently.
NPH: I don't know that anyone will be able to ever tame Barney Stinson, or at least make him appreciate the concept that one should only have eyes for one. I think that will play into multiple episodes, but I'm the luckiest actor alive to be locking lips with Cobie Smulders every day.
KF: Recently, Cobie and your other co-star, Alyson Hannigan, became new moms, right? Both gave birth to baby girls.
NPH: Which means when [Cobie and I] make out, she lactates, which I think is a compliment. If this wasn't for Oprah.com, I could make a "she keeps telling me how wet she is" joke.
KF: Moms who read Oprah.com can appreciate that.
NPH: She's like, "I'm so wet." And I'm like, "Wow. Thank you." And she's like, "No, no, no from my breast milk." There's a lot of pumping going on.
No, they've been really good. I have no idea how a new mom would multitask in such a full-body way that both Aly and Cobie do. Now we have a nursery near our dressing rooms that's lovely. There are nannies and daddies, and awake/asleep signs all over the place. They're part of the family.
NPH: I don't know what to make of fate. I certainly don't think you can predetermine things. It feels like if you go out of your way to try to make something happen, it rarely does. But if you allow for good things to happen, they seem to. I think a lot of that is more perception, you know? A lot of people would take getting rear-ended in their car as an example of why their life continues to be one road block after another, and I think a different person can see that same fender bender and be grateful it wasn't worse. That allows them an opportunity to learn something from it—sort of take some sort of positive elements from that. I think if you try to angle your life in those ways, then fate, destiny, karma opens itself up to you and allows for more growth.
KF: I'm curious, how did your father meet your mother?
NPH: They were college, fraternity and sorority sweethearts. This was in Albuquerque. She was in Alpha Chi Omega. And he was in, something Pi? They did the whole, you know, he gave her his pin. She was pinned, and they were a couple. Then, they were married, and they've only been with each other. I'm very extraordinarily lucky with my parents. ... We didn't have a lot of money growing up, but we were never made to feel poor. They had amazing senses of humor, senses of music and really treated us like regular people when we were kids. So I lucked out.
KF: Did your parents help you survive child stardom?
NPH: They were definitely grounding forces during years in my life that were very tumultuous. They're remarkably grounded and were not at all blinded by the light of stardom and fame. Their main concern was just my well-being and my brother's well-being during all of our crazy times, whether they be intimate or very public. They're remarkable people.
NPH: Order and organization are the things that I feel myself constantly seeking or hoping for. There's a bit of chaos in my world. I'm always thinking, "I'd love to read a book called How to Organize Your Garage. The Best Way to Organize Your Files." If I could have a person on salary that just went around organizing my things, I'd be the happiest guy ever. There was probably a very special Oprah about that.
KF: Oh, his name's Peter Walsh. He's our clutter expert.
NPH: No! There's a clutter expert, really?
KF: We do have a clutter expert.
NPH: Oh, man. I don't have clutter. I just wish I knew when I printed out that e-mail and was going to save it, where exactly it should go? ... But how do I balance things? I don't know. I think having so many thing that I'm passionate about, I have a lot of things I can choose to dabble in. When I need my magic fix, I can go to the Magic Castle. When I just need to not think about anything, I can watch some Big Brother. If I'm feeling very physical, I can go swing on a trapeze. I have a very tangential life.
KF: When you get stressed out, what do you do?
NPH: When I get stressed, I try to exercise, because I find that sweating it out not only gets rid of the toxins and calories, but it also just puts your head in a good mind space...or puts your mind in a good head space, either way. If I'm really, really burnt out, I tend to watch mindless reality television. Wipeout is my current favorite.
NPH: Joss and I talk about it a lot. All of us do, really. It was one of those very fortuitous weeks. It was during the writer's strike, so none of us could work, and we were all angling and jonesing to work. We all wanted to work with each other, and then, it just happened. They wrote it, we did it five days, and it was done. It was one of the few things I've ever worked on that, from conception to completion, was so positive. We really enjoyed working with each other; we loved the end product. We were blown away by the response, though it will be tough to top that with some sort of future life for Dr. Horrible, and yet, it's this opiate that we can't not smoke. So I'm sure we'll have some future when we're all not so multitasked.
KF: Have you all talked about taking Dr. Horrible to the stage, or will it stay online?
NPH: I think it could certainly be a fun thing to do live onstage, but I suspect it would be another Internet thing or something that we'd be able to play with all the mediums together, because a lot of the funny jokes can come from quick edits and low-rent looking production values. That's sort of what makes it.
If you do it on a Broadway stage, you can't let it look that cheap. ... Someone just sent us an e-mail that a theater company has put out a casting notice for their version of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the stage version. That makes us all very happy.