Daddy will not dictate

Any number of Hollywood's mothers and fathers say that they like to make family movies so that their young children can enjoy their professional output.

Not actor Neil Patrick Harris.

The 40-year-old star of hit television show How I Met Your Mother has a twin son and daughter, but they are not why he did The Smurfs 2.

"I don't know that I want to tell my kids what things to watch, so I would not necessarily make movies for them," he says.

"Certain actors don't make sense in certain movies just because of the stuff they have done in the past or how they are thought of in the present.

"So since I am a father with young kids, it seems logical that I am able to be in these kinds of movies that are for families. If James Franco, for example, played a dad in a family movie, it might seem odd, but I am a father myself so that plays into it."

He is one of few openly gay Hollywood stars, confirming the fact to People magazine in 2006. He and his partner David Burtka have twins, Gideon and Harper, conceived through a surrogate and born in 2010.

Harris says: "When we were promoting the first movie, I got all these plastic Smurf dolls, which have been on their shelf, so they knew what a Smurf was and what the image was like, but they had never seen the movie. Recently, they watched the whole movie in rapt attention."

Like children all over the world, the twins were probably delighted by the computer-animated Smurfs more than their live-action father, who stars in the film as Patrick Winslow, one member of a couple who find their lives intertwined with those of the little blue men. The original 2011 film took US$560 million (S$713 million) at the international box office.

"It was easier the second time around," Harris says of making the two Smurfs films (a third is on the way). "It felt a bit strange the first time because, while you had confidence that everyone would be able to create these little Smurfs, you had no idea at the time what they would look like.

"You could see pictures but you weren't sure how they would move, but once we had done the first movie, it was certainly a lot easier to interact with them. I think my performance benefits the second time around."

In Mexico, where the cast is beginning its press tour, he concedes that the film-makers were surprised at the first film's success.

"I have had a weird track record of being involved in movies that were supposed to do really well and then didn't do very well," he says, referring to Starship Troopers (1997) and Undercover Brother (2002).

"So when The Smurfs happened, my expectations were quite low. I know that they were hoping it would be good. I think there are formulas to these family-specific genre movies, but I wasn't aware of the formula. Yet they played the formula really well. I also think it speaks for how much people really like Smurfs."

Also returning from the first film is his close friend, pop star Katy Perry, who voices the solitary female Smurf, Smurfette.

"David is very good friends with one of Katy's best friends," Harris explains, "and so we just ended up seeing each other and hanging out and becoming good friends.

"She is like one of those giant superstar people that when you hang out with her, she is so nice and you are very close chums and then, all of a sudden, you are like, 'You want to hang out on Saturday?' And she is like, 'Oh, no, I am in Brazil.'

"She couldn't be nicer to our kids and us. She has a very dry, hilarious sense of humour, which always makes me want to hang out with her even more."

After playing a live action role in The Smurfs 2, he will return to cinemas in a voice-role, playing the popular character Steve the monkey in Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2, a sequel to the 2009 film, an adaptation of a popular children's book, that earned US$243 million at the worldwide box office.

"I thought that the original Cloudy was one of the funniest movies of that year," says Harris. "As regards to my role, honestly, it could have been the editor's assistant or some guy they picked up off the streets, because by the time they put it through a voice-changing thing, it was hardly the same sound.

"But it makes me laugh and I get to go into the sound stage and, for 45 minutes, I rattle off 30 different words in varying inflections and then go home. That's my collaboration. It's great."

Harris, who first broke out as the titular star of the 1989-1993 TV series Doogie Howser, M.D, is thriving in other fields too. An established stage actor, he has also moved into theatre directing, taking on a version of Rent at the Hollywood Bowl in 2010 and then directing The Expert At The Card Table in Santa Monica, California, the following year.

"I hope to direct a lot more theatre in my life," he says. "I got to do Rent at the Hollywood Bowl, and I also directed some magicians in one-man shows and I'm taking a show to New York.

"It is probably the purest process, creatively, because when you're making a movie, there's a line producer looking over your shoulder and everything costs money. In theatre, you get a few weeks in a rehearsal space and it's very organic and very real and you can try things out."

While he would like to direct in both theatre and film, he says: "I don't know when I'll have time to do all these things."

He may have some time freed up when How I Met Your Mother takes its final bow.

The show, in which he plays incorrigible skirt-chaser Barney, is entering its ninth and last season next month. "It's the longest job I've ever had, but I think that it has managed to retain its integrity and be a little bit mysterious," says Harris.

"It's extreme enough that it is ridiculous, but cool enough that you feel as though it has some integrity. You get to wear fancy suits, make out with chicks and get to be 'the man' and say funny lines. I've been very lucky.

"There's a nice structure to the last season of the show. We wanted one final season to wrap things up in a poetic way."

 

stlife@sph.com.sg


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