His Other Self
The Out and Proud Neil Patrick Harris Loves Playing Comedy's Favorite Pussy Hound
In the four years since Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was released, the movie's fans have all asked themselves the question at least once: What would NPH do? Neil Patrick Harris, the one-time child-star from television's Doogie Howser, M.D., drifted from the spotlight after it was canceled in 1993 after more than four years on the air. And while he never stopped working, shifting between the Broadway stage and small and big screens--remember his Gestapo-dressed mind reader in laughable bug-fest Starship Troopers?--it wasn't until writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg wrote the actor himself into their first produced screenplay, Harold and Kumar, that people began to weigh decisions based on how the hyper-reality version of Neil Patrick Harris might handle the situation. In Hurwitz and Schlossberg's universe, he'd probably pop a few mushrooms and then race 50 miles to the state line with the hood down, a naked stripper straddling him, and four more in the backseat doing lines off of each other's tits.
"See, I love that element of it," Harris exclaims while discussing the new Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, in which his sex-addicted, always-tripping NPH alter ego reappears. Sitting in a Beverly Hills hotel suite, the 34-year-old who recently came out of the closet can't hide how much he enjoys playing the ultimate alpha-male version of himself. "Because I'm playing a part that's me, but it's not me, but it might be--I love blurring those lines.
"I think the goal of a good actor is to maintain a level of privacy that allows people to not know much about them, who they are as real people--so you're able to morph into the villain, or morph into the dad, or morph into the cop, or whatever," he continues. "If there's too much revealed about you, then that's what people think you are and, when you play opposite that type, people don't accept it. It's sort of the magician mentality, which is why this is crazy. It blurs those lines, and I like it."
Writers Hurwitz and Schlossberg, who also directed Escape From Guantanamo Bay, opted keep those lines as fuzzy as possible after Harris' 2006 revelation about his sexuality, too, despite the opportunity for some self-aware jibing. "I'm glad these movies don't have the sense-of-humor level that just takes current jokes and throws them in," Harris says. "That just dates the movie."
The result of Harris' willingness to poke a little fun at himself is a new Cult of NPH, with T-shirts and even a (New Line-run) What Would NPH Do? web site that Harris says confuses him more than flatters him--though he admits, with a smirk, to visiting it more than he probably should. New Line even opted to feature Harris prominently in its Escape From Guantanamo Bay marketing campaign. You may have spotted the hilarious posters of Harris astride a rainbow-glowing unicorn with the now-familiar question splashed across the one-sheet: what would NPH do?
NPH even gave birth to a new renaissance in Harris' career, directly leading to him being cast as another alpha male, Barney, on the CBS TV series How I Met Your Mother. After more than a decade out of the spotlight, Harris was back in it and earning award nominations again (Emmys 2007). "I'm a big fan of the process of work, I like working," he says. "But it was a strange period and a necessary period to wait before sets of waves and know--or at least assume--more waves will come your way. To be willing to tread water for a while. I'm very conscientious of trying to craft a career out of this. As an actor, you can't so much, because there are many steps I would've loved to have taken and jobs I would've liked to have got. So instead you take the ones you can get and hope they have good content or a heightened level of quality--and see where that takes you. I think I owe a lot of that to the theater. [The stage] teaches you a lot about patience because you fail as much as you succeed, night after night."
That's why Harris can now enjoy those around him making fun of his role in Starship Troopers, which gets its fair share of ribbing from Escape From Guantanamo Bay's deputy head of Homeland Security, played by Rob Corddry. "Well, he was very reverential of it," Harris says coyly, smiling a bit too boyishly.
"Listen, I'm an adult now," he goes on. "It was a little tougher when I was younger because I didn't want to sound like the spilled-milk guy, willing to make jokes about my past so I looked like this new guy in the future. But I've worked long enough now that I think I can comment on my past without seeming like an asshole. I'd never talk disparagingly about Doogie Howser . . . because that was a phenomenal chapter for me. That fact that the name stuck with me was, for a time, an annoyance, but I was also trying to figure out who I was, and that didn't help. But now that I'm grown up, it's part of who I was. So if [Hurwitz] and [Schlossberg] want to talk about Starship Troopers . . . "
Harris laughs, all too aware of how bad a career move that was.
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