Neil Patrick Harris Steps Into The Spotlight In case hosting the 61st Emmy Awards on Sunday weren't enough, Neil Patrick Harris is nominated for one, too. On stage, on sitcoms and on the big screen, the versatile actor has left his Doogie Howser days behind him and is shining in this act of his career.
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Neil Patrick Harris Steps Into The Spotlight

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Neil Patrick Harris Steps Into The Spotlight

Neil Patrick Harris Steps Into The Spotlight

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Houston.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West in California. At the Emmys on Sunday, Neil Patrick Harris is competing for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. He's also hosting the awards. Maybe he'll do one of his magic tricks or show off his Broadway song and dance skills. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this profile of a man of many talents.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Remember Doogie Howser?

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: That wholesome teenage doctor?

(Soundbite of TV show "Doogie Howser, M.D.")

Mr. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: (as Doogie Howser) We'll know more after the x-rays. Why don't you take a seat in the waiting room while I take him to radiology?

BLAIR: Neil Patrick Harris wants you to move on. In 2004, Harris showed up in the stoner movie "Harold and Kumar" playing a drugged-out guy named Neil Patrick Harris.

(Soundbite of movie "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle")

Mr. HARRIS: (as himself) Come on, dudes. Let's pick up some trim at a strip club. The Doogie line always works on strippers.

BLAIR: For a while he left Hollywood for Broadway. He was Lee Harvey Oswald in the dark musical "The Assassins."

(Soundbite of song "Ballad of Czolgosz")

Mr. HARRIS: (as Lee Harvey Oswald) (Singing) Wrapped him a handkerchief around his gun. Said, Nothing wrong about what I done. Some men have everything and some have none.

BLAIR: And starred in the very risqué Broadway version of "Cabaret."

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: Neil Patrick Harris says "Cabaret" is the most provocative thing he's done yet.

Mr. HARRIS: My hair was bleached blue-black, as were my eyebrows, my armpits, my happy trail. Can you say that, MORNING EDITION? Happy trail?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLAIR: I can imagine it was rather jarring if people came to see you thinking they were coming to see a Doogie, you know, they're Doogie Howser fans.

Mr. HARRIS: Yes, I certainly changed their mind. They probably hated me when they left.

BLAIR: The anti-Doogie character Neil Patrick Harris is playing these days is the shameless egomaniac horndog Barney Stinson on the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother."

(Soundbite of TV show "How I Met Your Mother")

Mr. HARRIS: (as Barney Stinson) Suits are for the living. That's why when it's my time to R.I.P., I'm going out of this world the same way I came into it -buck naked. Yeah. It's going to be awesome. Open bar for the guys. Open casket for the ladies. What up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARTER BAYS (Co-creator, "How I Met Your Mother"): He has just added so much dimension to a character that on paper was really just a joke delivery system.

BLAIR: Carter Bays is the co-creator "How I Met Your Mother."

Mr. BAYS: You can tell when he's on the set, he's really studied the script and really put thought into how to make it funny.

BLAIR: Barney's got a handful of catchphrases: What up. Awesome. Legendary. Suit up. Barney always wears a suit.

(Soundbite of TV show "How I Met Your Mother")

Mr. HARRIS: (as Barney Stinson) Marshall Eriksen, suit up! I'm birthday suiting up. Lawsuit up!

BLAIR: Barney Stinson is a skirt-chaser. Neil Patrick Harris is gay. Carter Bays...

Mr. BAYS: There was the worry that we're presenting him as such a lothario and such a womanizer that, you know, if he came out and the world finds out that Neil Patrick Harris is gay, that that would somehow make it less funny. And I just - none of us ever thought that could be possible, because, you know, it's Neil.

(Soundbite of TV show "How I Met Your Mother")

Mr. HARRIS: (as Barney Stinson) Now, I like how you captured Marshall's essence - goofy and unburdened with wit. But me, I want something more regal. Something my progeny can look at and say, there stands Barnabus Stinson. He was wise and strong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALYSON HANNIGAN: (as Lily Aldrin) I don't think your sword will fit.

Mr. HARRIS: (as Barney Stinson) I get that a lot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HARRIS: Barney's a hoot. I'm not a big strip club guy and he loves the strip clubs. So we probably wouldn't hang out at night much.

BLAIR: Even if they wouldn't hang out together, Neil Patrick Harris loves Barney Stinson and he brings everything he's learned about performing to the role. He grew up with music. He says his parents were innately musical. Today they run a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he grew up.

Mr. HARRIS: And so they kind of 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. And that was sort of the end of it, you know? They sort of liked the quick give-and-take in the restaurant world.

BLAIR: The quick-step timing and the people-pleasing it takes to run a restaurant is a little like showbiz itself. And Harris is definitely a gracious host.

Mr. HARRIS: Our next presenter has done pretty much everything there is to do in entertainment - movies, Broadway, me. Please welcome two-time Academy Award winner...

BLAIR: Neil Patrick Harris is adding awards show host to his resume. He's hosted a ton of them: The TV Land Awards, the Writers Guild Awards, the International Magic Awards. He says it's fun, but tricky.

Mr. HARRIS: Oftentimes someone will give a rambling, weird speech, and then you wonder, Okay, do I go out and sort of poke fun and reference to that weird speech that someone gave? But then again, it is like their night and they just won and maybe they were nervous. A lot of second-guessing goes on in the hosting world, at least in mine.

BLAIR: Neil Patrick Harris unexpectedly knocked it out of the ballpark when he hosted the Tonys this year, especially his closing number. As the show was happening, he and two writers were backstage coming up with lyrics summarizing who got what award, like the three young stars who won for the musical "Billy Elliott."

Mr. HARRIS: And then right when the last award was announced, I ran through it a couple times. And they threw me out on stage and I looked at some teleprompters and crossed my fingers.

(Soundbite of song "11 O'Clock Number")

Mr. HARRIS (Singer): (Singing) With heels as sore as poor Achilles, three tutu-wearing Billys were such a winning sight, tonight, all three won Tony, plus they hit puberty.

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

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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