Exclusive Interview: The Smurfs' Neil Patrick Harris
Who doesn’t love Neil Patrick Harris? Whether you know him as a child star on the Doogie Howser, M.D., the ridiculous drug addict in the Harold and Kumar movies, the womanizing and legen-wait for it-dary Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother or simply from his hosting duties at both the Emmys and the Tonys, the guy has proven to wide audiences time and time again that he is the epitome of awesome. Now he’s bringing his particular brand of amazing to the world of The Smurfs.
A couple weeks back I had the chance to sit down with Neil Patrick Harris one-on-one at the press junket for The Smurfs and ask him about his role in the film. Check out the interview below in which he discusses the challenges of working against a CGI character, the physical comedy in the film, and what he gets up to in A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas.
Obviously you have a long experience with voice over, I’m curious, what do you find more of a challenge: being in a recording booth and having to imagine everything around you or talking to an invisible blue smurf?
I think the on-camera is certainly more difficult, just because you have to be aware of so many other weird elements. Keeping your chin up or your chin down, or hitting a very specific mark. The voiceover thing is very selfless. You go in there and they’ve hired you for your voice, but they know exactly what they want, and the writer’s there and he knows exactly how it’s supposed to be said. So you can’t really argue with them, you just have to let them tell you what to do and then do it.
I guess, there is a lot of physical humor in this. At the same time, it does have to be orchestrated by strings and stuff, how much freedom in that physicality did you have?
A fair amount. We were the first step in the process, so they would animate to what we did as opposed to vice versa, which was very helpful. When it was just me whacking around an umbrella at things, the more I wanted to specify and play around, the happier they were. And yet there were other scenes that were so complicated, they really had to be very, very, very particular. That whole opening of the box and they were climbing over your body and stuff, a smurfette lands on your shoulder, you had to be real precious with certain things and then free with other things.
Were you given freedom to improvise the dialogue as well?
Not so much with a big movie like this. You can try different lines or alts, lots of different alts, but by the time we got to filming, I had my writers take passes at stuff and everyone sort of decided, let’s do this movie now.
That’s kind of what I’m curious about. Being on a television show, your schedule is kind of, it’s filled up. How do you go about choosing which programs you want to do during hiatus?
Well, it’s hard because now I’m looking toward next hiatus to see what I should do. If smurfs is hyper successful, then there might be a sequel, so I might have to do the next phase or not. I might do some theater, should I just take time off and hang out with the family? But then again I’m not a producer so I also have to wait and see what comes my way. You just take things as they come. I like to try to not do the same type of role too many times in a role, lest it seem like I’m stuck in a rut, so I can’t imagine that I would hop into another Stinson kind of role after.
So basically you’d look for, I mean Smurfs, you really kind of have...
Well there’s a little Stinson in there, he’s a little hyper physical, a little sardonic and stuff. So I feel like it was a step removed, or a couple of steps removed.
On the subject of How I Met Your Mother, I know that you and Jayma actually share a scene in one episode, she was the coat check girl.
We did. Barely.
You know actually, there are so many ridiculous rumors saying that she is the future wife. I’m curious, how did your relationship, what was your relationship with her both off set and on?
I’m a wild fan of hers both off set and on. I think she’s a great actor and for this kind of movie she’s able to have a really heartfelt scene with Clumsy and teach him about life, and yet be a little left of center in a way that makes her entirely watchable. She’s smart and funny and offstage, just everyone, the crew loved her and you want to sit and get to know her more. She’s a real special girl.
Also in terms of coworkers, you had Raja who had incredible experience with this, just between the two movies. What was it like working with him on this film, did you find that his experience really shone through in his style?
Yeah. I appreciated his confidence with how every shot worked technically. It’s very unique and weird skill to know to shoot close ups of something that doesn’t exist and get animals to perform. He’s done all of that. He treated us as actors really kind, he’s a very kind, gentle, soft-spoken man. Since a lot of my conflict in the movie was of a paternal one, it was nice to get his, “Everything’s going to be all right,” kind of attitude. He worked on this movie a long time, because when we finished he had another nine months of work to do with retooling and editing, post production stuff, all of the animatics. So he had a real even temperament which was nice.
Was that something that you kind of checked in on ever? Did you take an interest in the animation process?
No. I didn’t want to see a cut of the film until it was done. They kept asking me to come to screenings and I’d say, “How much is done?” and they’d say, you know, “We’re sixty percent done with all of the animation.” I’d say, “Oh, I gotta go to this thing, I can’t make it.” I didn’t want to see all of these weird little maquettes of what Brainy smurf does at this moment, I wanted to see it in 3D. Which I got to and I’m glad I waited.
I was actually thinking earlier, it would be kind of weird to see a version of the Smurfs with all of the CGI removed. It would kind of change the entire, and actually it kind of brings me to the whole thing. When you’re talking to a smurf on a counter and you’re saying the same line over and over again, how do you not actually feel psychotic?
I was better at it than Jayma. Jayma would get all, I don’t know what’s happening, I’m going crazy right now. I don’t know, I kind of enjoyed all of the technical weird, being a magician, feeling sort of part of a magic trick that we were doing.
The movie kind of actively tries to draw comparisons between bringing a child into the world and living with smurfs in your apartment. And being a, well your newborn just turned nine months old, congratulations on that, would you say that it is comparable having experienced both?
Um, not yet. I think once the tots start running around in circles and invading our space, I might feel smurfy. Right now they’re just figuring out that crawling might be an option, so they’re much slower moving. If there were smurf turtles I think it would be more appropriate.
I do want to talk about some of your other projects. For starters I’m incredible excited for the next Harold and Kumar movie, because I mean...
It’s dark. My stuff is dark.
How do you mean dark? You’re hosting a Christmas special, right?
Yeah, I’m hosting a Christmas show and I’m high on crack. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I think it’s really funny. It’s very stoner-centric. I think the 3D effects that they came up with were real specific, you know, you eat a brownie and go to see the film kind of stuff. But you know, I’m a rabbit in those movies. I don’t know what people are going to think.
It’s amazing. Honestly, what’s great about it, every time you watch the first film and you pop up in that car, you’re just like, “It’s Neil Patrick Harris!”
When you watch it, I don’t know how much you watch your own work, do you kind of feel a detachment in a way? Or do you recognize that part of you?
I’m more detached, I mean I’m aware of when we were filming it and it was all luck, all of the technical elements of it.
The scene still holds up. It’s really fantastic. It’s also just the editing the chair. Also just the kind of whole connection with Barney Stinson because I’ve read that’s how you landed the part.
I wouldn’t have gotten Barney without Harold and Kumar. But yeah, the writers and the directors and everyone, they just let me do, they want me to go full tilt and they don’t want to direct me much, so it’s up to me to just be kind of as messy and wrong as I can be, and I look at them afterwards and I think, “You’re not gonna really use that take are you?” “We loved it, it’s so crazy!” I think, “Oh no.”
Do you still have interactions with Harold and Kumar this time?
I know that there is an extended claymation sequence, are you involved in that at all?
No, I’m not in the claymation sequence. But it’s funny.
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NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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