Many kid and teen stars never work again when they outgrow the cutes, or at the very least have trouble transitioning to adult roles. Neil Patrick Harris sure ain’t one of them. The former teen doc of Doogie Howser, M.D. has turned into one of the most all-around talented and versatile stars in the business, scoring hits in TV (How I Met Your Mother, American Horror Story), movies (Gone Girl), Web series (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) and on Broadway (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, for which he won a Tony Award).
But it’s his stints hosting the Tonys (four times) the Emmys (twice) and Oscars this year that make him uniquely suited to emcee NBC’s Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris, a live variety/game/stunt/prank show that will run for eight consecutive Tuesdays at 10/9c, beginning this week. It’s based on the long-running British series Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway but with a few changes: Harris will host solo, with assistance from sidekick Nicole Scherzinger and seven-year-old mini-me Nathaniel Motulsky, a.k.a. Little NPH.
Hosting a live show with so many moving parts would scare off even the most intrepid showbiz veterans, but at 42, Harris welcomes the opportunity to challenge himself, multitask and think fast on his feet. He explains why—and reflects on his eclectic career and the joys of fatherhood—in this candid Q&A.
“I’ve had too many spells in my life where I wasn’t working at all and desperate for a job so I’m very grateful that I get to continue to work on random things that I think are fun.”
What was the draw of Best Time Ever?
I think it fits into my skill set pretty strongly right now because I’ve done the live stuff, I’ve done the hosting stuff. I enjoy the spontaneity of it, the challenge of it and seeing how it goes. I’m not in the business of saying no to pretty much anything. I went to the UK to observe that version of the show, and I found it fascinating. I’m a massive fan of showing people cool things. And it’s only eight weeks, not a huge time commitment. That also makes it more special. When the circus comes to town you’re a lot more excited to see it than if it’s there all year. I wanted a situation that allowed me to invest myself as hardcore as I could and then step away. Doing the same style of show week in and week out all year long, I would worry about the redundancy of it.
Are you intentionally looking to mix it up?
After I did [Doogie Howser] I had to sort of break out of that and I ended up doing a bunch of different things. I did a bunch of TV movies and theater and a movie and another TV show. I was doing multiple things. Even when I was younger I was the kid in the band that played a bunch of instruments. I’ve done this for like 27 years, confronting my fears—public speaking, award shows, coming out of the closet. Once you do something you realize it’s awesome and you want to do it again. I’ve learned to challenge myself and try things.
So what will we see each week?
We’re doing some elements in every show: a guest celebrity announcer, this ‘Neil vs.’ segment, I’ll be in a competition against somebody else—a random celebrity or my sidekick, and we’ll do some crazy challenge, like human bowling. A big game element called Win Stuff, where someone from the audience will answer trivia questions to win prizes. We’ll have people in the audience who don’t realize we’ve been secretly following them and we’ll bring them on stage. If they do what we want them to do, they’ll win money. We’ll always end with the End of the Show Show, a giant performance piece. It’s like seven or eight different shows happening simultaneously, but I got to do that in various hosting capacities.
Do you have a wish list of celebrity guests?
President Obama would be fun. Every time he’s on a talk show, he always seems willing and game to play along. He doesn’t seem so guarded which is what I love about him. But I doubt it will happen. He’s a pretty busy guy.
So are you. How are you juggling all of it?
The nice thing about doing this is it’s an eight-week gig. I have a little part in a movie coming up, Downsizing. I’ve had too many spells in my life where I wasn’t working at all and desperate for a job so I’m very grateful that I get to continue to work on random things that I think are fun. And I’ve gotten to do that in a very bizarre, disparate ways, from Gone Girl to The Tony Awards to How I Met Your Mother—it’s all over the place. I’m very fortunate. But it’s an interesting dynamic. By working so much, you have to figure out how to manage your personal life, so it doesn’t seem like you’re just being overwhelmed by work. But no one knows how long a show’s going to run and, no one knows where a career is going to take you. So the fact that I did all of these things is crazy, and I’m glad it worked out this way. I’m thrilled.
How do you unwind?
We have kids [twins Gideon Scott and Harper Grace, with husband David Burtka] who are almost five and spending time with them is super-important. I want to be able to step away and spend time with my kids, watch them grow up, go on vacations. I’ve never been to Asia. Tokyo Disney would be fun, Disney Sea. Our kids are of an age that they’re developing senses of humor, and they want to do stuff. And it’s fun to hang out with them. So every job I’m doing right now, it’s an important part of the equation that they have a place to come to and I have time to spend with them because I don’t want to look back when they’re 15 and feel like I didn’t get to experience any of that.
Do they have the actor gene?
Well they have two actor parents, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t.
How do you feel about that?
I want to raise kids that are able to be authentically passionate about something and not be stifled by that passion. It’s not my job to demand a future for them. It’s just my job to create a future that they can thrive in, and make sure that whatever they want to do, they’re enjoying it.
Looking back, what’s the proudest moment so far?
I guess I’m proudest of my longevity. I’m 11 years running with my husband, and 20,000 years running professionally. So I’m glad my 15-minute clock hasn’t run out just yet.
What’s your definition of the perfect gentleman?
Respect, class, couth, wit and a good vocabulary.
What one thing can a gentleman to do up his style game?
“Wear well-fitting pants. You don’t want to have baggy, sad pants. Stand tall. Have good posture.”
Portraits: Robert Trachtenberg/NBC
Neil, Nathaniel Motulsky, Nicole Scherzinger: Tyler Golden/NBC
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