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Calling from his dressing room on the Fox lot, where he was about to don glasses and mustache for the taping of what he jokingly called “a very dramatic, subtle episode” of his CBS sitcom, Neil Patrick Harris, 38, took some time to speak with THR about working to the brink of “oversaturating” and receiving his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Thursday, September 15.
The Hollywood Reporter: Is being funny innate or is it something that can be learned?
Neil Patrick Harris: Timing is innate, but one can learn to be funny. It’s not difficult to make someone laugh. What’s trickier is to keep people laughing.
THR: You sing, you act, you host, you direct. What can’t you do?
Harris: I’m not the best writer. I’m a very good rewriter and a good fixer, but when it comes to sitting at a blank computer screen with Final Draft in front of me, I can’t seem to purge much content.
THR: How did your love of musical theater develop?
Harris: I was a kid living in a tiny New Mexico town when cassette tapes were turning into CDs. With cast albums came these booklets that showed pictures of the productions and the librettos of the musicals. They gave me a window into what that world must be like. I memorized the songs and imagined seeing the shows. They sparked a creative escapism that I wasn’t afforded back in football-centric New Mexico.
THR: And you weren’t into football.
Harris: I was a little small for linebacker.
THR: Who are your comedy idols?
Harris: Christopher Guest, Tim Conway, Buster Keaton, Vince Vaughn, John Ritter.
THR: You like physical comedy, then.
Harris: I do! It’s so quote-unquote easy and base — but it requires agility. You have to be a couple of steps ahead in your mind when you’re doing it. Body awareness is key.
THR: What’s more of a challenge: Drama or comedy?
Harris: Comedy. What people find funny is so subjective. You have to — at least on our show — hit as many different types of funny at the same time as you can. If you’re just goofball funny, that will turn off intellectual types. If you’re just highbrow, wordplay funny, then you’ll shut out the workers who come home to sit and guffaw at the fat guy and the hot wife.
THR: What genre of acting have you not yet tackled that you’d like to?
Harris: Something hyper-dramatic like a Chris Nolan movie. My stuff tends to be more glib and comfortable casual acting. I don’t do a lot of intense things.
THR: This TV development season has been chock full of reboots. If you could remake and star in any past series, which would it be?
Harris: There’s an old show called The Magician that Bill Bixby starred in on NBC back in the ’60s. To revive that would be kick-ass.
THR: You directed a pilot for CBS this past pilot season and were attached to direct a feature film called Aaron & Sarah. Do you have plans to do more?
Harris: Yes, but I only have three and a half months a year to do it during my hiatus from Mother. Aaron & Sarah didn’t happen because of scheduling.
THR: What was the appeal of doing The Smurfs and The Muppets?
Harris: It’s important as an actor to be as broad in your demographics as you can. I’m grateful that I get to do Mother, which honors one big audience, but I’m also allowed the Harold & Kumar films and Smurfs all at the same time. That’s the career I’ve been angling for — trying to hit on as many cylinders as I can without oversaturating my market. Plus, I’m a huge fan of the Muppets, and I just begged [Mother co-star and Muppets writer and star] Jason [Segel] to have a cameo in it.
THR: What do you think about the Walk of Fame honor?
Harris: It’s flattering. I used to wander the streets of Hollywood looking at the stars when I was a kid — though that makes it sound like I was homeless, which I wasn’t … for long.
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