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Hilary Duff didn’t expect to be here. Nearly two decades after wrapping up her lead role in Lizzie McGuire, the Disney Channel series that ran for two seasons and helped make her a relatable presence for a generation of women, the star is back at the top of the call sheet of a TV project with Hulu’s How I Met Your Father. But although the show, premiering Jan. 18, carries plenty of fan excitement and behind-the-scenes pedigree, Duff makes it clear she initially had serious hesitations.
Back in December 2020, she dealt with what was clearly a tough blow. At that time, the star took to social media to announce that the Lizzie McGuire revival series, in which she was set to reprise her signature character as Lizzie navigates her 30s, had been scrapped after shooting two episodes. Duff, who had previously shared a public plea for Disney+ to move the series to the more adult-skewing Hulu, told Good Morning America in March 2021 that Disney’s decision not to air the show was “a big disappointment.”
But by early 2021, Duff had also moved on. She was filming her final episodes of Younger in New York and about to welcome her second daughter with husband Matthew Koma, creating the stressful situation of having to be away from her L.A.-based family while pregnant and also worrying about COVID-19 exposure. For seven seasons, she co-starred on the enduring TV Land comedy as book editor Kelsey Peters, colleague and friend to lead character Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), and she was set to reprise the role in a Kelsey-focused spinoff. Then, she returned to SoCal and got a surprising call.
“I got home, and they’re like, ‘We’ve been wanting to ask about this project. It’s How I Met Your Father,’” Duff recalls to The Hollywood Reporter. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t do that. I’ve been down the reboot kind of lane, and tried. And I don’t think I can hold up to that.’ And they’re like, ‘No, it’s not like a reboot in that sense.’” As for what happened with the Younger spinoff, she says, “I was very interested in that because I love Kelsey, and she connected with so many people. But there was nothing really set in stone or in the works.”
How I Met Your Father stars Duff as Sophie, a woman who shares all of her dating-app exploits with her close pals (the ensemble cast includes Christopher Lowell and Francia Raisa) along the path to finding the person of her dreams. This is not unlike the similar dedication of Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) to land eternal love on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Duff calls the original series “perfection,” although she’s proud of some changes to the formula, including highlighting “different sexualities and genders and races.”
One key way the new series differs from its predecessor is that viewers will watch scenes of future Sophie, played by Kim Cattrall, as she addresses her off-camera son, unlike when the older off-screen Ted, voiced by Bob Saget, addressed his visible kids. (Duff fondly recalls having once met Saget 10 years ago and calls his recent passing “just so awful.”) As Duff points out, not committing to showing the son means he could have any racial heritage, unlike the first show’s apparent assumption from the start that the mother would be white.
Cattrall’s casting was announced in November, roughly two months before the launch of HBO Max’s And Just Like That, which reintroduced viewers to the core Sex and the City cast — except, of course, for Cattrall’s Samantha, as the actress had distanced herself from the show in recent years. “It was a huge win for us to get to attach her name to this. She is absolutely an icon, and then to think that she’s playing the older version of me, I’m honored,” says Duff, whose executive producer title is a first in her TV career. “[Her Sophie is] very different than Samantha, that’s for sure. She’s an open book in this, and she’s very warm and inviting, and her timing is just always impeccable.”
The success of How I Met Your Mother, which ran for nine seasons and won 10 Emmys, meant that this isn’t the first time that the reboot-minded TV world would try to dust off its concept. Months after the season finale aired in May 2013, it was announced that CBS and producer 20th Television were working on spinoff called How I Met Your Dad, which would later add Greta Gerwig as the star and Meg Ryan as the voice of her older self. The high-profile project went to pilot and generated buzz, but CBS ultimately passed.
Duff says she hadn’t even been fully aware of the previous version before signing on to play Sophie and hasn’t spoken to Gerwig about it. And although she says she’s seen a lot of episodes of the original show, she admits to never having watched the polarizing HIMYM finale (“I didn’t, but I know what happened,” she shares) that left some fans feeling misled when Ted and “Aunt Robin” (Cobie Smulders) actually got together after all. As for her own onscreen spouse reveal, she claims to have no idea where things are heading but assumes it won’t be answered until the very end. When asked if she has spoken to the HIMYM castmembers, it’s clear she’s as adept as her show’s writers at keeping secrets. Indeed, Duff teases, “There might be a cameo this season, but I can’t say too much.”
Even if the star doesn’t remember, say, every time Marshall (Jason Segel) slapped Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), she has the benefit of living with a diehard fan, as husband Koma answers any questions she might have about the original. She and the musician tied the knot in December 2019 and share two daughters, Banks, 3, and Mae, the 9-month-old who arrived amid the lead-up to Younger’s final episodes. Duff also shares son Luca, 9, with ex-husband Mike Comrie, and so the reality of explaining to her kids about her romantic past, some of which has unfolded in the limelight, is one she’s learned to embrace.
“I got divorced from Luca’s dad when he was like 2,” Duff recalls. “And then I would never introduce him to someone I was dating unless I was exclusively only dating them for like six months or more. So he got the opportunity to meet a few of my boyfriends, but he doesn’t really remember. I’ll tell some stories here and there, and he always thinks it’s funny.” Reflecting on the plight of her character, she points out, “I never had to date online, thank God.”
As for the show, Duff is hopeful that it takes off but remains grateful that she ultimately ended up where she is today and that she can still count on the support of her fans. This continuing connection was underscored by the thrilled response from contestants on this season of ABC’s The Bachelor when Duff made a recent guest appearance. “I truly feel like I have the best fans in the world,” she says. She adds about her show, “This just came at the right time, and it was one of those things where you’re like, ‘Oh, yes, of course. This is right, and this is supposed to be.’” It sounds like both Duff and Sophie appreciate the clarity of a little hindsight.
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