Equally successful on stage and screen, Neil Patrick Harris became a household name when as a youngster he starred as the title character in TV’s Doogie Howser, MD. He’s can currently been seen as the womanizing Barney Stinson in the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
In his new movie The Smurfs, he portrays Patrick Winslow, a young marketing executive for a New York City based cosmetic company, who is a nervous wreck about his new job and his wife, Grace (Jayma Mays), who is 5 months pregnant. And just has he reaches his last nerve, the Smurfs, little blue people who have gone through a magical portal trying to escape the evil Gargamel (Hank Azaria), fall into his life.
The movie’s director, Raja Gosnell, talked about how he acted out the scenes of the Smurfs for you, did that help?
[Yes], and I was super impressed with the end result. It’s blind trust on our part, that the animators are effective and really talented. Our job, more than anything, was to be very specific with eye lines, points of focus, because anything else that we did they could animate around, but if we just did a blank gaze to the left it didn’t look right.
You had to really key in on one spot. So that was challenging and a little bit embarrassing because you had an ear-wig in your ear and the voice over actors were in another room.
The poor crew had no idea what was happening in that sense because we’re nodding a lot, and then staring at some blank spot for a while. It was a bit more embarrassing for Raja than us because with every single shot he was on his hands and knees like a seven-year-old, saying, ‘And then Smurfette says, ‘Oh, no. I can’t believe it,” and she goes over here.’
You and Jayma made such a cute couple. Did you hit if off immediately?
We really did. We finished each other’s sentences. I was super concerned about who was going to be Grace in the movie.
I just wanted it to be someone that made sense as a couple, and I wanted the dialogue and our relationship to feel like we still were in love with each other and that we amused each other even though we were in conflict in the film.
I felt like it would be more fun to have us find each other amusing within those conflicts. Jayma fits that bill perfectly. She’s able to have very earnest, lovely conversations with Clumsy Smurf and yet you’re enamored by her face and you like her wit. She can be quirky and fun at the same time.
Did you have a favorite scene that you shot?
I’m a big Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin guy, and so I like the physical comedy stuff best. I think in that first scene when they come bursting out of the box and I’m whacking stuff with an umbrella and crack myself in the head and fall over and dogs jumps on me and I get hogtied by the Smurfs.
That was really fun and weird to film, and I think equally amusing to watch.
In the film your wife is expecting. Weren’t you and your partner David Burtka expecting during the filming of this? Did that resonate for you?
It did. When we were filming the movie we were maybe five or six months pregnant and weren’t telling anybody. So, it was my little secret and it was certainly easy to play things like looking at an ultrasound photo and feeling what emotion that brings. That was nice and a little secret moment.
The day we shot the scene in Time Square where I sat and took out that card and read it, I leaned over to Raja and I said, ‘I’ve got a secret. We’re expecting twins in October.’ He kind of melted and was a little bit embarrassed that he had been so forthcoming in trying to explain to me what that felt like, not realizing that I already knew.
It was nice, when the script came my way we had just started that process, and so it seemed like good timing when I looked ahead into the future.
What was it about Raja that made you want to work with him?
I was very concerned and conscientious of it not being a lowest common denominator film and when I met Raja, he had such a cool, calm demeanor and has done this style of movie.
His experience with forced perspective stuff and invisible creatures that we’d be acting to, I think, made me confident that technically we were in good hands.
Are you signed on for sequels?
I am, yes, if we should be so lucky.
Was there a scene that was really heard to do, either from a technical standpoint or feeling ridiculous standpoint?
There was a scene in Patrick’s office when he drops the Smurfs all off. They’re all standing there, but switch places in the middle of the scene. So, I’m looking at all these different colored dots with an ear-wig in my ear, and someone is saying, ‘That white dot is now Poppa,’ but then it ends up that Poppa is over there.
You had six of them and so that was a little tricky because you really want it to be good. You want it to be that you whip over and you look right at this person even though they’re not there. So, technical elements are tricky.
Are you getting scripts in for the new season of How I Met Your Mother?
No. They don’t fill in the actors too much. They like to keep us in the dark a little bit with stuff. Most shows are like that.
With all the seasons you’ve down have you discovered a new side of Barney?
I think that Barney’s real journey is just to figure out how to bang the same girl over and over and get something out of it.
What would Barney say about the Smurfs in this film?
He’d probably ask for Smurfette’s number and call it a day.