Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor.
He still looks like the kid doctor he played on Doogie Howser, M.D. for four years (1989-93), but in fact, Neil Patrick Harris just turned 40 in June. He’s old enough to have a couple of long-running TV series behind him—currently, his Emmy-nominated role of Barney Stinson on the CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother is in its ninth and final season. But perhaps Harris’ most identifiable character is that of awards-show host extraordinaire. He’s fronted the Tonys four times, earning him a pair of Emmys, and on September 22, he takes his second turn hosting the Primetime Emmys ceremony. He spoke with AwardsLine about what it’s like to suddenly be Hollywood’s emcee du jour.
AwardsLine: You make hosting awards shows seem both fun and effortless, particularly the Tonys. But it can’t be either that easy or that enjoyable—is it?
Neil Patrick Harris: No, it isn’t that easy. But, well, that’s the job, which is to make everyone watching both in the theater and at home feel welcome and in good hands. Even if everything is falling apart behind the scenes, you need to convey that it’s all just terrific. As for having fun, yeah, I love hosting while I’m doing it. I’m glad that comes across.
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AwardsLine: You’ve become so identified with the Tonys from hosting it four times that it’s grown tough to imagine anyone else getting that call for years to come.
Harris: Well, it’s fortunate that I’ve been in the cast of a series that airs on the Tony network (CBS). The Tonys also happen to be a great fit because I grew up going to see Broadway shows. It’s always kind of been in my blood, and I love crowing about the awesomeness of legitimate theater. With that show, it’s also pretty easy to just jump around and sing and be theatrical, because that’s what you’re honoring.
AwardsLine: The Emmys would seem a much greater hosting challenge for a number of reasons, but chiefly because there are so many housekeeping duties.
Harris: First off, there are a ton of awards, like 26 or so, that need to get handed out. And there are all of these odd elements to be pulled together. You’ve got the cast of Mad Men still waiting to win performer awards, sitting beside the cast of Downton Abbey—which won a bunch of awards but aren’t from this country—sitting next to The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, who want to be seen in every shot. You want to make sure all of those people feel comfortable, which has its own dynamic and set of challenges.
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AwardsLine: What did you learn from your previous Emmy hosting gig four years ago?
Harris: That you need to try to organize things so it doesn’t all come across as a confusing hodgepodge. Keep it entertaining, but also make sure it’s educational and smooth. And there’s no need to complicate it by adding in dance numbers or extras. Don’t bring out a ventriloquist and shortchange the miniseries people. Keep it simple.
AwardsLine: It would also seem to make sense to have you out there as much as possible, lovable dude that you are.
Harris: I appreciate that, and you’ll get no argument from me. I like to be out on stage as much as I’m able. I’ve never been a fan of the host vanishing for a good part of an hour. It’s not about me taking center stage, but if I’m there a fair amount as host, I feel like the audience can look toward me as someone to comment on things and move them along. You’re basically trying to emulate a good butler.
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AwardsLine: Switching gears a bit, what do you see yourself doing after How I Met Your Mother ends its run next spring?
Harris: I’m not anxious to jump into another (television series). I’ve loved this experience, but it’s been difficult to try to jam other stuff in during such a finite hiatus period. It’s prevented me from doing an original show on stage, for example. After the show wraps, I’m going to spend a lot of time being a dad and let (longtime partner) David (Burtka) do some heavy lifting in the acting world for a spell. We’re going to be taking the family and moving to New York City. And I’ll look forward to keeping my options open.
AwardsLine: Do you feel like you’ve finally reached a point in your career where your sexual orientation is no longer even raised as an issue—except perhaps just now?
Harris: I certainly think so. I’m actively pleased that I’m asked to play parts that belie my personal experience. As an actor, that’s all we can hope for. Actually, I’ve never won an Emmy for playing Barney, so I guess it’s not working too well.
AwardsLine: Sadly, you aren’t going to win this year, either, since you aren’t nominated. Can I get you to say something nasty about the TV Academy and the whole voting process?
Harris: Indeed, I will. What is up with my never having won? These Modern Family actors all decide to enter for supporting. And let me tell you, they’re all lead actors, my friend. They’ve ruined it for the Pivens, the Harrises, the Greenfields. The voters have fallen for their little scheme, I’m afraid.
AwardsLine: I’ll note that your tongue was firmly planted in your cheek during that rant. But let me ask you one final uncomfortable question: When will you be hosting the Oscars?
Harris: I get asked that a lot, and I worry that it might make it seem like I’m prompting the conversation. It’s difficult to answer, because yes, I would love to be involved in that show in a larger capacity at some point. But again, I’m not the one who makes those decisions, so I don’t want to make it sound like I’m angling for it. Nor do I want to appear disinterested and then have it pass me by.
AwardsLine: So should I just write that nothing is going to stop you from hosting the Oscars?
Harris: Yes, please.