Interview: Neil Patrick Harris Talks 'The Smurfs' & Geek-Love

Sony's live-action adaptation of Peyo's little blue creation The Smurfs, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria, Katy Perry and Jonathan Winters, opens in theaters this Friday. We had the chance to sit down with Harris and talk about the film, his most beloved roles, and being the object of unabashed geek-love.

SR: You've had quite a varied career, but this is a bit of a departure from what people know of you and the characters you have tended to portray in recent years. Was that one of the appeals of taking on the role?

"I think so. I like that Patrick’s sort of an everyman. I’ve been playing kind of the wacky friend for a little while, so I think it’s nice to kind of ground it in a bit of normalcy. And yet it doesn’t seem like too big a leap, because it does such physically comedic stuff throughout with the Smurfs. There’s still an element of sort of the hyper-physical, but it’s grounded in kind of a nicer reality."

SR: I was looking at the physical comedy a lot and I was wondering if it was challenging working in 3D and then with the CG to incorporate your comedy.

"It was a mix of the two. It was very challenging because you had to do very specific things, but they loved it when within the confines of that you were able to do improvisational wacky things. Because the animators love to animate very specifically, so if I get slapped, a triple-fast slap on the face, they love that, because then they can have the smurf do a funnier movement than just one whack."

SR: Were you a fan of the Smurfs, either the Peyo comic-strip or the cartoon?

The Smurfs, Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Debuts Trailer

SR: There is some measure of fan expectation with this, because some people really were fans of the cartoon here [in the U.S.] and then there are the Peyo fans in Europe. Do you feel pressure to satisfy them and bring in the new generation as well?

"I felt pressure more when we were filming it. I just wanted to make absolutely sure that there were moments, and that there were reasons, for people who were my age to still want to go and see the movie even if they didn’t have kids. Because of what you say. A lot of people are die-hard Smurf fans and I wanted to make sure we were still winking to them and being smart and not trying to just pander. But now the film is out and I see that it does that, I’m just very excited by it. And it’s also weirdly sweet and sentimental, the movie, which I wasn’t expecting, to be kind of moved a couple of times by the adult sweetness of it. Which felt authentic and not too sugary."

Harris' twins turned nine-months old on the day that we conducted the interview. The babies are, clearly, far too young to enjoy the film but the actor has neices and nephews that are excited to see him in the film. When we asked him if he would begin to pay more attention to doing children's films now that he is a father, Harris responded:

"Maybe. I did the "Sesame Street" episode a couple of years back and I've done voice over for "Phineas and Ferb" and weird stuff -- it’s often times just more silly and fun to do. But yes, I think when the kids are old enough to start watching TV, I will get hyper-aware of what limited content there is for them to enjoy."

Harris was catapulted to geek-God status when he starred in Joss Whedon's stand-alone musical web video Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog during the writer's strike in 2008. Since that time he has become one of geek fandom's favorite celebrities.

SR: What is it like to be the recipient of the level of geek love that you are—I mean is it just so bizarre?

"It is a little bizarre. And it’s kind of current, you know, it’s mainly from "Dr. Horrible" I think. But it’s nice. I mean, "Starship Troopers" maybe, a little bit. But that was not the sort of the geek love of like a "Buffy", where you have these rabid fans that follow you to Cons and that, you know, stand in line while you sign a picture. I’m just, I’m a wild fan of "Dr. Horrible." I just thought it turned out so well."

SR: It really is just so incredibly well conceived and executed.

"I just think it’s so clever."

We agree.

SR: You know I put it out on twitter that I was coming to speak with you today and asked your fans what they would want to know -- and the overwhelming response was 'When will we see a Dr. Horrible 2?' Clearly Joss Whedon is just a bit busy at the moment with The Avengers, but is that something you guys have talked about moving forward on at some point?

"I think that [in the Whedons’] free time they bandy about song ideas and write things, and I know they have an idea for a sequel, but Joss is just so busy with "The Avengers" right now, and that’s going to take on its own life. And by the time he’s free, we’re all still working on our shows. I can’t imagine it would happen any time soon, I say with super honesty."

SR: Speaking of your show -- the other top question was, of course, when will the identity of "the mother" be revealed on How I Met Your Mother. Now I know you aren't going to tell us...but do you even know?

"I legitimately don’t know at all. There’s been twice that Carter Bays said that he would tell me. He’s like ‘oh yeah, I’ll tell you,’ because I don’t even know how it ends. He’s like ‘I’ll tell you’ and then he’s started to and then someone walked up and we’d change the subject. And then another time he said, 'I’ll tell you' and then I never got around to asking him again. So part of me doesn’t really want to know. I feel like part of me doesn’t need to know because it’ll inform how I’m behaving in specific scenes. But I feel the same way about the Barney/Robin romance. Like I don’t know—if I knew who he was choosing or how it was going to play itself out, then I think it would affect how I was playing specific scenes.

So being kept in the dark in that sense is really good. I do wish that people would just stop caring so much about it being some kind of like treasure hunt. Because at the end of the series we’re going to say who the mother is and that’s going to be the show, and we’re going to say good night everybody, and that’s going to be it, I think. And so I don’t know that there’s anything to be gained by trying to piece that puzzle together. Yes, we go out of our way to give little hints and keep fuzzy about it, but it’s a much bigger story of how Ted processes relationships through the eyes of all his friends and how he then, you know, winds up with this person, but winds up is the key, you know. There are a lot of critics saying everyone’s just sick of waiting and they want to know who the mother is already—it’s like...that’s our show."

We tend to agree that the crux of what makes How I Met Your Mother engaging and fun to watch has very little to do with "the mystery" and far more to do with the dynamics between that characters and the actors that portray them.

One of Harris' great passions is magic. He is the President of the Academy of Magical Arts Board of Directors at The Magic Castle here in Los Angeles, which is amoung other things, "a nightclub for magicians and magic enthusiasts, as well as the clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts. It bills itself as 'the most unusual private club in the world.'" The Magic Castle is the sort of place Angelino's consistently talk about, the times they have gone, wanting to go, and how genuinely unique and wonderful of an experience it is to attend. Harris isn't resting on the Castle's laurels, however. When we spoke to the actor about his plans for the club, he described additions that would elevate the other-worldy atmosphere of the venue even further.

"Magic’s always kind of thought of as a dying art form and it’s our responsibility to make sure that the quality of the food is as good as it can be, that the quality of the acts are as good as they can be, and that we’re honoring the members. We don’t want it to feel like—like a restaurant/ bar that does magic. Because it’s a private club for the magicians, so you want the magician members to feel included and unique and you’ve just got to make sure that there’s a lot of great magic to be seen. But we’re accomplishing that. My next thing that I want to do there is champion a sort of mixologist vibe. So that when you go there, there’s lots of bars and they’re very ornate and awesome, but I think then there needs to be specialty drinks and part of the experience is a perfectly made Manhattan and ice that’s chiseled from. I love that stuff, the speakeasy vibe is coming back, so I think I might try, I might see if I can do a little more of that there. But you must go, it’s great fun."

We would absolutely love to.

You will be able to see Papa Smurf and Gragamel magically battle it out with Neil Patrick Harris fighting on team blue when The Smurfs opens this Friday, July 29th.

Follow me on twitter @jrothc

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