Sadly, Neil Patrick Harris didn’t show up for his Rolling Stone interviews tripping on mushrooms, Harold and Kumar-style. But senior writer Brian Hiatt’s interviews with NPH, conducted just before opening night of the actor’s Tony-nominated Broadway run on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, still had their moments. Hiatt followed Harris through rehearsals, watched him get fitted for new bespoke Samuelsohn suits (he lost so much weight to play Hedwig that he can’t suit up in his old ones) and saw him transform into Hedwig on his dressing room’s make-up chair. Hours of chats with Harris plus his family and collaborators, yielded far more material than could fit in a 5,000-word cover story – so here’s the best of the rest:
1. The whole NPH-replacing-Letterman idea was probably more than just idle Internet chatter.
“I was flattered that I was kind of being considered,” he says. “How exciting to be considered for something like that.” But wait: Was he actually in talks with CBS before Stephen Colbert took the job? He pauses for 20 seconds, than says, “I will respectfully not answer that to not sound at all disrespectful to anyone.”
2. Harris and his fiancé, David Burtka, want to get married, but their schedules – and Harris’ high expectations – are making it hard to set a date.
“I love that everyone already thinks we’re married – everyone calls him my husband, which makes me happy,” Harris says. “I wouldn’t want to give that little moment short shrift. And there are so many things happening in in our lives right now, with moves and with work and with kids, so I think we’ll wait until we’re both settled and able to really do it with intention as opposed to, ‘We have this weekend free! Quick! Let’s go upstate!’ [Laughs] I want it to be impactful. I don’t really care if it’s a dozen people on a beach, or if it’s 300 people at someone’s backyard estate. I just want everyone that’s there to have meaning to me. It’s a big deal. We are lucky that we are together at a time when something like that can happen, and I feel like it demands importance, you know? It’s not something that either one of us are nagging each other to do. We have kids, so I think we both know we’re not going anywhere. And everything is great, and we live in two states, both of which have great laws that protect us if anything were to happen.”
3. Harris, who blew everyone away hosting the Tonys and Emmys, would still like to host his own TV show: he has a weekly variety program in mind.
“I’m very keen on it being an Ed Sullivan kind of show. Something that would be more events-driven, with a lot more acts, a totally different structure. But nightly – ooh – there’s too much competition. It is just so much work. And I really would worry that the repetition would gnaw at me – I get bored easily. If anyone deserves a chance to shine and really be himself, it’s Stephen Colbert: he’s the loveliest guy, and really does terrific interviews. “
4. Harris is a huge Howard Stern fan.
“I love Stern so much,” he says, adding that one of his biggest fears about coming out was “being asked really pointed and specific sexual questions on Howard Stern.” But his first Stern encounter as an openly gay man went well: “I was told by a friend of Howard’s to look him in the eyes and not really avert your eyes,” he says. “Like, really answer his questions honestly, ’cause as soon as you start fumbling and evading, he zeroes in like an amazing shark. I think they do a lot for gay rights, ’cause Howard is super vocal in a real alpha male way about his opinions which are of utter acceptance on almost all fronts.” He does admit to exaggerating when he told Stern that he’d been with 14 women as a younger man. “Maybe it was 10, or less than that,” he says. “I was probably trying to impress Howard.”
5. Though he was always a strong singer, Harris never considered pursuing pop stardom in his pre-Doogie years.
“I think that’s a crappy gig,” he says. “I’m amazed at that life. ‘Cause that’s hard, you either write songs or you team up with someone to write songs with a very specific headspace, a very specific energy. And then if it’s a success, you have to go around and tour and sing these same exact songs that you wrote a year and a half ago, with complete passion over and over and over. You’re in a different place and you probably don’t want to be singing these songs about how much you hate your loved one, and yet you have to go at like at seven in the morning and sing on the Today show. I need a bit of a narrative structure to my singing. I’m not a karaoke guy. I hate it. I’m not a cabaret guy, where I sing my favorite songs out of context. I can’t do it. That’s not my thing.”
6. That said, he does have an album he might like to make.
“I’d want to do like a fictionalized closing night at the Sands Hotel, where it’s actually me, but I have the orchestra and I have like an Andrews Sisters trio kind of thing. I love that big band sound, man, I think it’s great.”
7. He compares How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney to a character on his old show.
“One drawback of the Doogie Howser chapter, of which there were a thousand amazing things, was that he was the steadfast regular nucleus of the show, and all of the fun characters, the Vinnies and the Wandas and Janines all happened around him. So he didn’t get to do that much. But I always thought, oh, it’d be fun to be the Vinnie, you know? Oftentimes Barney got a lot of fun stuff to do while Ted had to pine for a lost love.”
8. Harris had to school himself on punk rock to play Hedwig – he’s reading the oral history Please Kill Me, and watched videos suggested by Stephen Trask, who wrote the show’s music.
“I loved the B-52s when I was growing up,” Harris says. “Billy Joel I listened to a ton, Elton John, the ballad-y stuff is good. The punk kind of stuff I didn’t know very well. I watched this video of Iggy Pop performing, and he’s so fucked up that he has to be picked up by two guys, and then he keeps singing, and he sits on the end of the stage and his eyes are really wide like he’s on something. Knowing that he was needing the opiate of the audience interaction in order to keep him buoyant, I thought was a really cool idea. I never had the opportunity before to do grotesque movements and have them be embraced.”
9. He thinks HIMYIM‘s producers wrote the Barney-has-a-baby scene into the final episode because they know he has kids in real life.
“I love that they wrote that. That was a sweet little scene to film. I think they knew that I could probably channel what it was actually like to hold a one-minute-old. I just love. I love the end of that story for Barney.”
10. And he strongly defends the final episode’s biggest twist.
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that Barney didn’t end up with Robin. They said throughout the nine seasons that they were not supposed to be together. They said it through the entirety of season nine. The wedding itself… cornflower blue, Ted! Cornflower blue! Clearly they were trying to accomplish something that was not meant to be. And then it wasn’t meant to be, and they had a great run at it. Barney is Barney. But he’s bested by one woman, his daughter. I convinced them that the last words that Barney Stinson said on that show should be. “Daddy’s home,” When he sees Robin later and she says “How are you?” And she says “How are you, daddy?” And he goes, “Oh, I don’t think of you that way anymore.” And she goes, “No, dork, you’re a dad.” And he said, “Oh, yeah.” And I looked at her and said, “Daddy’s home.” In a different way. And I like that those were the last two words that he spoke. I think that’s great.
11. The rest of the cast of Paul Verhoeven’s cult-classic 1997 sci-fi satire Starship Troopers didn’t understand the “satire” part – and NPH won’t quite admit to being in on the joke.
“We filmed that movie with no intention of it being funny,” he says. “Casper [Van Dien] and Denise [Richards], they all thought that it was a big, franchise action movie they were doing. Which I think was necessary, because had they known that there was an element of … not parody, but, stilted reality? I think they would have played into that. I was just excited to be on a big movie!”