Emmys: Host Neil Patrick Harris Says 'I Don't Want to Be Too Vanilla' (Q&A)

Issue 33 FEA Neil Patrick Harris - P 2013
Austin Hargrave

Issue 33 FEA Neil Patrick Harris - P 2013

The 40-year-old star of "How I Met Your Mother" and now four-time Emmy winner reveals his secrets for a killer performance (wait for it … baby juggling!)

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

With the big show just days away, how are rehearsals going? Are you getting nervous?

We've started to rehearse the choreography numbers, which apparently I have to dance in, and that's freaking me out a little. We're also fine-tuning the lineup and shaving time off the show. It's running a little long, as we're trying to jam as much as we can into three hours. I hope the winners practice brevity! It will make my life so much easier.

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Your good friend Elton John is slated to perform a musical tribute to Liberace. Did you have a hand in recruiting him for the telecast?

A little bit. It's definitely easier for him to say yes when he knows one of his friends is onstage for most of the show. He's exactly the right level of sophistication the show needs, and without question, the Liberace connection is a great bonus. It's also wonderfully convenient that he has an album to promote.

You've just won your fourth Emmy, this one as producer/host of the Tony Awards, which you've famously emceed four times. What are the biggest differences between the two telecasts?

The Tonys is a much smaller audience, and it's assumed that everyone knows all the nominated shows. The Emmys are much larger, so the show needs to be more informational. You're dealing with a handful of miniseries that a lot of people haven't seen, and some of the content this year isn't even on TV. So we have to spend more time informing people about the year in television. Thankfully this year has been amazing, with House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad … and exciting things like Don Draper's pants.

Don't you mean Jon Hamm's pants? Those are actually two different things.

Are they?

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It's just been announced that you are going to play Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway next year. At this point in your career, do you ever get stage fright?

To me, stage fright is about the unknown. Thankfully I've done this before, and I'm not afraid of forgetting what to say. My biggest fears are more self-loathing, that what we've come up with isn't going to land. Also, God bless the teleprompter!

You didn't have kids the first time you hosted the Emmys four years ago. Has becoming a dad made you softer about whom you poke fun at during the show?

My sense of humor has never been about jabbing at people. I've never understood that logic. We're celebrating a special occasion, and the host is openly mocking someone in front of peers? That's what roasts are for! I like for things to be inclusive and fun. But I don't want to be too vanilla, and the dad part is good because I'll be juggling my kids in the opener. A chain saw and two kids. We stopped feeding them six weeks ago, so they've each lost about 8 pounds in preparation for it.

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Between filming the final season of How I Met Your Mother and prepping for the Emmys, do you have time to watch TV? If so, what are your can't-miss shows?

We do end up with a fair amount of time in the evening after the kids are in bed. We're just now into House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, but I can't watch them without my partner, David [Burtka]. If I'm being totally honest, the thing I watch the most is Big Brother. I think the Chen-bot [host Julie Chen] is subliminally, in some robot language, forcing me to watch. How else can it be explained that I care about Judd's reaction to being evicted?

What is your overall hope for Emmy night?

My plan is to not try to out-trick myself. I just want it to be a classy event; like two-fingers-of-neat-scotch, rather than Tiki-drink-with-an-umbrella classy. That's all any of us really wants out of the Emmy experience. And a few really nice gifting suites.