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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Neil Patrick Harris: "I like to be in lots of once in a lifetimes"

Media conference calls are usually all about the same. The person being interviewed goes through the motions as kindly as they can, answering question after question, no matter how bad the questions may be.

But today’s conference call that I participated in was like no other as the person we were interviewing was so busy cracking us all up that we could barely think of our questions.

That person was the awesome NPH, Neil Patrick Harris.

He was with us to talk about hosting the Tonys, but he also took questions about “How I Met Your Mother” and his other projects, including the upcoming “Harold and Kumar” Christmas movie.

And when I hung up the phone, I was a bigger NPH fan than ever. And if I find someone with one of those talking Barney bobbleheads one of the reporters said he had, I will fight them for it...

The first question was, of course, what kind of opening he has planned for the Tonys, but those of us who were expecting an NPH song and dance number are apparently going to be disappointed. “They have a big giant opening planned that is bigger than any they’ve done in Tony history. I probably won’t be included. When it’s done I’ll come out and start the show. I’m taking a page off of Mr. Jackman’s book the first year he hosted. He wasn’t on too much and didn’t do a lot of performing and kept things moving at a smooth clip,” he said.

“I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to compete with the performances. I’m spending a lot of time with the writers to come up with clever quips to introduce stuff. I don’t want to look like I’ve come out to read a teleprompter. I won’t be doing song and dance numbers, much to my chagrin. I’ll just keep it moving.”

So what show does he see winning big? “This year is all about ‘Billy Elliot’ and what kind of juggernaut it will be. ‘Next to Normal’ is the anti-juggernaut show. I can’t stop singing it and listening to it.” Harris predicted that there will be some surprise winners and he “would be thrilled if ‘Next to Normal’ was one of them.”

For those of you who only know Harris from television, he has a pretty extensive theater background, which he recapped for us today. “‘Proof’ was the first play I did and I was really grateful they didn’t just drop us into the pre-existing blocking (It had previously won a Tony.). ‘Cabaret’ was the most full-body thing I’ve ever done. It was almost Cirque de Soleil in its nature. ‘Assassins’ was the first one I did from start to finish. The theater bug when it bites you, it doesn’t seem to want to go away. It is discipline. I am so constantly impressed by what these performers give.”

Harris told us that he did watch the Tony Awards when he was a kid. “I grew up in a really small town in New Mexico. It was not really an arts town. I just loved that you could see live snippets and numbers from these large shows. It’s crazy the little baby steps that led me to this heading of the ship.” Harris said the Tonys put the stage in reach for people who live far from Broadway. “I think that’s what makes the Tonys special for most of America.”

So what was his reaction to being asked to host? “I’m a little surprised and not.
I would’ve thought they would’ve gone with more of an A-list film star to help the ratings, but I’m pleased that they chose me because I have an inside look. And I hope I can convey that to the audience. That viewers will not think it’s a stuffy evening but still be respectful. I’m angling to change the structure of the show a little bit. It will become obvious by the closing credits, so I encourage people to stay until the end. I’ll bemoan the fact that I won’t do too much singing or performing. Maybe next year.”

Broadway is enjoying a high right now and Harris admits that makes his job a lot easier. “The pendulum has shifted radically back and forth. I love that it’s at a high point now
It makes my enthusiasm more authentic. I think a lot of the numbers you’re going to see will be high energy and fun to watch. I think it’s a rock on season.”

Harris said he makes it to New York three or four times a year and sees four or five shows per visit. And he tries to take in shows when he can in LA. “I’m a big fan of just seeing things live.”

On Harris’ docket tonight is seeing Angela Lansbury in “Blithe Spirit.” I’m really anxious to see someone so gifted, at her age especially, still doing crazy characters.”

Harris shared his pre-show routine with us, which is to caffeinate himself a half-hour before, but he doesn’t eat anything, because he has “a weak stomach.” But then Harris admitted that the caffeine may be the cause of the weak stomach. However, he wasn’t going to change it now.

One reporter asked Harris the difference between hosting and being an actor on stage. “There is far less memorization as host. You’re preparing to create a vibe. You’re dealing with time issues all the time. If speeches are long because they’re awesome, they don’t cut them…You’re a personality and not an actor. You’re trying to stay spontaneous. I feel confident that I can represent myself. The challenge is coming up with material that doesn’t make me seem like host 75. If anything starts to get boring, you have to be aware of that and get things going. There will be some understandable lulls, but hopefully we can keep things moving at a fast clip.”

Harris admitted that he’s been studying Hugh Jackman’s stints as host. “He has great charisma. You sort of just want to watch him do stuff. If I can steal 10 percent of his magnetic magnetism, I’d be happy.”

Of course, I don’t think NPH lacks any in the magnetism department, and I’m sure the reporters on the call would agree with me as many of them were huge Barney fans who wanted to know about the future of Barney and Robin on “How I Met Your Mother.”

“I have no word yet. I’m a big fan of our writing staff. We don’t feel it necessary to complain about our characters. No one is looking to change the group dynamic, but that’s also an interesting wrinkle. I’m a big Cobie Smulders fan so the more time I get to spend with her the better.”

When a reporter asked Harris to comment on the couple name some people have christened Barney and Robin with, Robarney, Harris responded, “I think that’s a wonderful name for our daughter.”

It’s obvious that Harris is having a blast at what he’s doing. “I am grateful that I get to play the guy. I think we have a nice-back-and-forth. I like to take [the writers’] lines and trump them with physicality or a weird line reading.”

The subject of “Harold and Kumar” also came up within the half-hour as a reporter wanted to know if it was possible for Harris to appear in the upcoming Christmas movie since he died in “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.” After chastising the reporter for not staying tuned through the closing credits, Harris responded, “If you think two gunshots to the chest is going to keep NPH down, you’re crazy, yo.”

See why I love him? Harris said he hopes to be “naughty” again in the new movie.

And no surprise, one reporter asked about the possibilities of a sequel to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.” “Circumstances aren’t allowing it yet,” he responded, citing the pick-up of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” and Nathan Fillion’s “Castle.” But Harris was hopeful it could happen at some point.

There’s no doubt with “Mother,” “Dr. Horrible,” “Harold and Kumar” and his hosting gigs that Harris has carved out quite the diverse career for himself—especially in the last year-and-a-half. “I like to be in lots of once in a lifetimes. I think maybe the fact that I started so young, it changed my perspective. I just like doing gigs that I enjoy doing. It’s a tricky line. You still want to seem edgy enough that you can do ‘Harold and Kumar’ and still hop to New York and be taken seriously in a play. My demo hopping is akin to a plate spinner in the carnival.”

What plate would he like to spin next? An independent film. “It would be fun to do some actual work.”

The Tony Awards air Sunday, June 7th at 8 p.m. on CBS…

Photo Credits: Cliff Lipson/CBS and Ron P. Jaffe/FOX