Neil Patrick Harris Steps Into The Spotlight

Neil Patrick Harris i i

Multi-Talented Multitasking: Actor Neil Patrick Harris will host the 61st Emmy Awards on Sunday. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Neil Patrick Harris

Multi-Talented Multitasking: Actor Neil Patrick Harris will host the 61st Emmy Awards on Sunday.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser i i

Most people were introduced to Harris in his teenage role as a (very) youthful doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D. 20th Century Fox Television/The Kobal Collection hide caption

itoggle caption 20th Century Fox Television/The Kobal Collection
Neil Patrick Harris as Doogie Howser

Most people were introduced to Harris in his teenage role as a (very) youthful doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D.

20th Century Fox Television/The Kobal Collection

In case hosting the Emmy Awards on Sunday weren't enough, Neil Patrick Harris is nominated for one, too. Harris is up for Best Supporting Actor in a comedy, but he might as well be nominated for hardest working man in showbiz.

Whatever Harris pulls out of his hat at the 61st Emmy Awards — One of his magic tricks? His Broadway song-and-dance skills? — it's a long way from Doogie Howser, M.D. That's where most people first heard of him, when he played an underage prodigy doctor back when he was a teenager.

Harris says the most provocative thing he's done — the farthest away from Doogie — is when he played the MC in a risque Broadway revival of Cabaret.

"My hair was bleached blue-black, as were my eyebrows, my armpits, my happy trail," he describes. It was jarring for Doogie Howser fans. "I certainly changed their minds," he smiles.

The anti-Doogie character Harris is playing these days is the shameless, egomaniac horn dog Barney Stinson on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

"He has just added so much dimension to a character that was, on paper, just a joke delivery system," says series co-creator Carter Bays. "He's a guy who does his homework. You can tell when he's on the set that he's really studied the script and put thought into how to make it funny."

Barney has a wardrobe full of catchphrases: "What up?" "Awesome!" "Legendary." And "Suit up!" (Barney always wears a suit.)

Harris, who is gay, convincingly pulls off the role of Barney, a womanizing skirt-chaser. Bays says that some people worried Barney wouldn't be as funny if the audience knew Harris was gay. Bays wasn't worried, though — he had complete faith in Harris' ability as a performer. He says with a shrug, "It's Neil."

Harris says he doesn't have a lot in common with Barney. He notes, over-seriously, "I'm not a big strip-club guy, and he likes strip clubs, so we probably wouldn't hang out at night much."

Neil Patrick Harris plays Barney on the CBS sitcom 'How I Met Your Mother' i i

Harris plays skirt-chasing womanizer Barney Stinson on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Monty Brinton/CBS hide caption

itoggle caption Monty Brinton/CBS
Neil Patrick Harris plays Barney on the CBS sitcom 'How I Met Your Mother'

Harris plays skirt-chasing womanizer Barney Stinson on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

Monty Brinton/CBS

Harris brings everything he's learned in 23 years of performing to the role of Barney. He even takes a lesson or two from his parents' restaurant in Albuquerque, N.M., where he grew up.

"They liked the idea that they would open up a place where people would come, they would serve them food with love, and people would eat it and enjoy it," he says. "They liked the quick give-and-take of the restaurant world."

The quick-step timing and the people-pleasing it takes to run a restaurant is a little like showbiz itself. And Harris has proven himself a gracious host, as he's suited up to host a slew of award shows: The TV Land Awards, the Writers Guild Awards, the International Magic Awards. He says it's fun, but tricky.

"Oftentimes someone will give a rambling, weird speech, and you wonder, 'OK, do I go out and poke fun and reference that weird speech?' But then again, it's their night, they just won, and maybe they were nervous. A lot of second-guessing goes on in hosting world, at least in mine."

Harris unexpectedly knocked it out of the ballpark with his closing number when he hosted the Tony Awards this year. As the show was in progress, he and two writers were backstage coming up with song lyrics summarizing who got which award, set to the tune of "Tonight" from West Side Story and "Luck Be a Lady" from Guys and Dolls.

Neil Patrick Harris performs during the 63rd Annual Tony Awards, which he hosted in in June 2009. i i

Harris performed a relatively impromptu closing number as the host of the 63rd Tony Awards in June 2009. Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Neil Patrick Harris performs during the 63rd Annual Tony Awards, which he hosted in in June 2009.

Harris performed a relatively impromptu closing number as the host of the 63rd Tony Awards in June 2009.

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

"And then, right when the last award was announced, I ran through it a couple of times," Harris explains. "Then they threw me out on stage, and I looked at teleprompters and crossed my fingers."

It was a bravura performance. He brought down a house full of Broadway professionals with a song that hadn't even existed an hour earlier.

Neil Patrick Harris says for the Emmys this Sunday, he doesn't want to repeat what he did at the Tonys. But, he promises, there will be plenty of singing and dancing.

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