Neil Patrick Harris: A Man of Adventure
Hot off one of the best years of his long career, the charming actor released his choose-your-own autobiography and prepares to host the 87th Academy Awards.In the telling of any good story, one must start at the beginning. But that’s not how the new memoir from Neil Patrick Harris begins. Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography begins instead with a warning: “This self-serving celebrity autobiography is different from other self-serving celebrity autobiographies.” So we caught up with the actor during his book tour to ask him what gives.
“I didn’t want to write a linear autobiography,” Harris says. “Looking back on my life, I saw that so many things happened to me which were so random and weird that nothing fit into any natural evolution or pattern.”
He did find, however, a lot of memorable and life-altering events over his forty-one-and-counting years on this earth, and he thought—rightfully so, as it turns out—that could be turned into different paths for the reader to take. Thus the creation of the offbeat telling of Harris’s life story, in which the reader is the star.
The book allows you to move quickly from one particular area of Harris’s life to another. It’s a very novel approach to the traditional biography format, and it has helped turn it into a best seller. Throughout the book, readers are presented with “choices,” and the experience is much like Harris’s persona—quirky, funny, and sprinkled with moments of poignancy. Take, for example, this anecdote: “You come in weighing a very average, very sexy, seven pounds seven ounces, the exact weight of an Emmy Award. Coincidence? Yes. But true fact? No.”
Harris explains: “If you only want to read hard-core, frat-guy stories, you can take that path. If you’d rather learn about my interests growing up and how I came to be, you can follow that path. If you’d really just rather learn how to make pasta and bolognese sauce and a nice cocktail and have a lovely evening by yourself, you can do that too.”It’s been a very good year in the life of Neil Patrick Harris, master showman and star of stage and screen. There’s the aforementioned best seller, sure, but there’s also his wedding to his long-time partner David Burtka, in September 2014, just a month before that runaway hit film Gone Girl garnered the actor rave reviews for his supporting role. And that’s all just a prelude to his starring role as the host of the 2015 Academy Awards.
But first, back to his wedding, which, he says, is still a bit of a blur in his mind. “We didn’t want to make a big thing of it,” he says. Harris’s version of “not making a big thing” is actually a pretty big thing indeed. The long-time couple exchanged vows at a castle near Perugia, Italy, where they had taken their first trip together. “Elton John came over and performed at this castle that a friend of a friend arranged for the ceremony,” he shrugs. Just another day in the legendary life of Neil Patrick Harris.
Over the course of his career, Harris has been the star of two highly successful TV series (Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother), he’s headlined several Broadway productions, and he’s hosted both the Emmys and the Tonys award shows. He has the kind of remarkable success that few performers ever achieve, let alone one of the handful of openly gay actors working in the business. But for a former child prodigy who grew up in New Mexico and went on to become a teenaged television star, then a successful Broadway performer, and ultimately a gay icon, Harris is only just starting to come into his own as one of the most versatile and engaging showbiz stars.
He is perhaps most well known for his portrayal of one of television’s most iconic womanizers: Barney Stinson, on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. The series wrapped in 2014 after its ninth season. It’s surprising to hear Harris say that Barney is the character who has resonated with him the most. “Some people might find that strange because I’m not really like his brand of alpha-male guy,” he explains. “But Barney was an adventurous and daring kind of guy—someone who led an exciting life and was always ready to buy the next round of drinks. He had an attitude towards life that I can identify with and appreciate. I like to think that I have an enterprising nature.”
This is the kind of plain-spoken wisdom that Harris brings to his work and to our world. In the past, Harris has likened himself to a plate spinner in a circus. He prefers to have a lot going on, and when you look at his list of projects and accolades, circus performer is an accurate comparison—especially the performer part. Harris was born to entertain, and he feels most comfortable in roles that challenge him. You can see that in his Broadway performance as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. To portray the energetic transgender character, the already-trim actor had to slim way down, which took some coaching and a strict body-shaping regimen for Harris to achieve. When the show premiered, he looked downright gaunt. His oversized efforts didn’t go unnoticed—Harris took home a Tony in 2014 for his performance.
While working on Broadway, Harris fell in love with New York, and his family—he and Burtka have two children—recently relocated to the city from Los Angeles. “I love the weather in LA but I love the energy in New York, the kind of cultural life the city offers,” he explains. “I also wanted our kids to grow up in a city where you can walk a lot, experience a very rich cultural mosaic—and also enjoy having four seasons, going through the cold winters and looking forward to spring.” Harris is enjoying his time in the new city and taking advantage of the newfound flexibility his schedule offers in the post-How I Met Your Mother world.But don’t let that fool you into thinking that his schedule has a lot of free time, what with the whole book tour, movie filming, and major-award-show hosting he has going on. Not that you’ll hear the actor complain about it for a second.
“Hosting the Oscars has been a dream of mine,” he says. “I’ve been able to prepare for this a long time by hosting the Emmys and Tonys, so at least I have a good idea of how to handle it. The preparations are a lot more elaborate, though, and it’s an immense honor and responsibility.” The way he describes it, preparing to host a show is sort of like an exercise in improv. “You need to have this alert sensibility where you need to be ready to comment or deal with the unexpected, and that’s part of the expectations that come with the Oscars-—it’s a live event, and a billion people are watching you,” he concludes.
Harris is eminently personable and charming, which undoubtedly helped ease his acceptance into mainstream pop culture after he came out in 2006 via an interview in People magazine. He has a knack for shattering stereotypes and pushing himself to take a wide variety of roles on and off screen. In reading his adventurous tales, you get a sense of how much he appreciates where he is—and how far he’s come, and, of course, you get a sense of his signature humor.
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