NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: S.C.!
STEPHEN COLBERT: So what’s going on N.P.H.?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: W.T.F.?
STEPHEN COLBERT: A-OK. How are you? Are you enjoying yourself?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I am. Hedwig is the most grueling show ever, because I never leave the stage.
STEPHEN COLBERT: But this isn’t any-thing new for you. What’s the longest thing you’ve ever run before?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I think I did Cabaret for like a good four and a half months.
STEPHEN COLBERT: But that’s so wonderful; because now you have both the challenge and the privilege of settling into a role and really discovering things and making a relationship with the audience, personally, night to night.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yes, it exposes me in a way that I’ve never been exposed before. I’m having to embrace a really hardcore femininity. A femininity that is highly aggressive with a really specific dynamic.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Have you ever done drag before?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Never.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Oh.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I never really had much interest. I’m a big fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race but just never wanted to be in it. I always thought my jaw was far too strong, oh my god. (starts laughing)
STEPHEN COLBERT: I think you make a very attractive Hedwig. In Cabaret, you rouged your nipples.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yeah, Cabaret was bit more Cirque Du Soleil, if I can put it in those kinds of terms. All of my body was dyed blue, black, and I could, you know, make it really dark. I looked very freakish in that world.
STEPHEN COLBERT: I want to talk about Hedwig, but first I want to ask you a question about yourself.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Awesome.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Everybody likes you. Is that a good feeling?
STEPHEN COLBERT: Is there a downside to that? Everyone likes Neil Patrick Harris.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: No downside. I feel like I have worked hard for a relationship with more than one faction of people. So I enjoy that. It feels precarious at times, like the piano that’s about to come crashing down on top of me.
STEPHEN COLBERT: When does Neil Patrick Harris backlash begin? Could it be this interview right now?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Could it be the transgender choices he’s making?
STEPHEN COLBERT: So let’s talk about Hedwig. Why did you want to do this? Because you said you’ve never done drag before, and you actually often play…well, Barney is not only straight but a particular type of bro-ish masculinity.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yeah, like crazy heterosexual drag, sure.
STEPHEN COLBERT: And, if you don’t mind the expression, Doogie had high-status, and even Carl from Starship Troopers is high-status. You’ve also played yourself with high-status, because you’re a celebrity. Is Hedwig a high-status character? This is someone who is part of marginalized community because of their sexuality.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Agreed. Maybe the highest-status character yet, and within that, the tragic-ness of being absolutely status-free. It’s kind of a great dynamic. That interested me in taking it on as the next move, because she thinks she is exquisite and is tormented by the conceit that she has no recognition, and that someone else who she raised and taught is becoming a big star and not acknowledging her existence. So it’s this hyper-desire, the hater of status with the dark underpinnings of the realization that that doesn’t really exist. That intrigued me.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you care about how people feel about you?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I do, deeply. Which is my struggle in previews right now.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Well that’s why I asked, “Everybody likes you, is that a good thing?” Because if you do care about how people feel about you, what’s it like to play someone who doesn’t give a shit?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: It’s actually freaking me out.
STEPHEN COLBERT: [Laughter] Why?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Well because…
STEPHEN COLBERT:…as an attractive Hedwig, you still have to be ugly at times.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yes, I have to embrace the idea that ugly is beautiful and that when things go wrong in the show, that that’s exciting, and yet I have to do this show as written and represent a character that people have seen, already know, or have maybe even played. So there’s a familiarity that exists and that you need to find and yet, all of that kind of blends together and at the moment is hard, because I pride myself on being polished…
STEPHEN COLBERT: Clean.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Clean and hope-fully making specific and yet impressive choices time and again on stage. That’s kind of the Tony award ideal, is you know, back to live, back from commercials, you got a witty, one-liner, a snappy little bit, a little song maybe and then you’re off, and so it’s all clean, and this is dirty, and that’s jarring to me. But I think that’s innately why I want to do it. They approached me a few years ago and I thought it was a great idea but didn’t have the time ‘cause of How I Met Your Mother. But they were willing to wait, and then, so all of a sudden, it seemed like this kind of perfectly fantastic left turn to go from Dolce & Gabbana to Ariana Phillips, which is like Madonna’s stylist designer who’s designed all of these rock and roll shows. So that seemed like a cool thing to do, to start a new big-ass chapter with a little tight ass.
STEPHEN COLBERT: The thing is, a lot of people know you from before this. Not only is your style of performance very clean, like you say, the crispness in which things are executed, but the characters are clean, no matter how dirty Barney may be, there’s a cleanliness to him There’s a little dirtiness to Hedwig that we haven’t seen you do before.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I know she’s filthy. She’s a filthy, nasty whore, and I love it. I feel like the quote un-quote, Neil Patrick Harris, who was in the Harold and Kumar movies was kind of a dirty, nasty whore hound. I think that even Barney in his cleanliness was kind of grossly overt in his kind of, sexuality. He was kind of the guy you didn’t want to bring home to mother because he’d try to bang your mother.
STEPHEN COLBERT: And she might enjoy it…
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: And she better enjoy it. [Laughter] I’ve always felt like I wasn’t really able to embrace a kind of nasty sexuality in that character, being a CBS sit-com, you couldn’t be gross. I love that now, the nastier the better. I want Hedwig to come to the stage, and like Trent Reznor, lean forward with her mouth wide open and have people spit in her mouth. It’s that kind of show. [Laughter]
STEPHEN COLBERT: I look forward to it. I’m trying to get a front row seat. Let me ask you more about precision. Have you read Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up?”
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I have not. I have it on my shelf.
STEPHEN COLBERT: It’s a quick read, and it’s wonderful. He expressed a certain way of creating comedy, and he said that -I’m paraphrasing him- that the comedian and the magician both require precision and that a well turned joke turns with the timing and precision of a card trick. And you’re a magician, how has that influenced the way you perform, because you can look at a dancer, and it influences the way they move on stage, even if they’re not dancing. How has magic influenced what you do?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Well firstly, that’s a very profound thing to say and makes me want to read that book even more so now. That’s exactly my technique, precision, because that’s what, from a young age, was required to play someone who had a wealth of knowledge that I didn’t possess and do a lot of physical things that required precision. And so that went hand in hand with magic – being able to sequence things and knowing exactly how they were done.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Which came first? Were you doing that precision first as Doogie, or were you doing magic first?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: No, magic first. Like, I’d go to some magic shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico when we’d visit my grandparents, and on the trip back would learn the secrets and practice the packet of tricks I acquired on my set. So precision is required of magic and something that I’m actively drawn towards. In fact I’m really turned on by performances where I can smell the precision but can’t quite see it. When you see a performance, when you’re not sure if that was an adlib or if it was scripted. And weirdly Hedwig and I haven’t quite felt it yet. But there’s multiple levels to the precision department that I haven’t experienced before. Because I’m having to be physical, I’m having to sing…on pitch hopefully…with breath control and yet, not Broadway style, but kind of rock and roll style, which is it’s own precision. And I’m having to do dialogue as if it’s been written by Hedwig, but also improvised as needed. And have it be at another level responding to audiences who will laugh hysterically at some stuff or shout things out and…how to manage that? It’s an interesting thing that you say about precision because I feel like you’re my therapist right now because that’s what I’m wrestling with most at the moment.
STEPHEN COLBERT: There’s a tension for a performer I think between precision and looseness, and it’s the tension between invention and discovery. And when you run for a long period of time, you have to be open for discovery or it does feel tight.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I worry about feeling that way because I’ve been on a sitcom long enough that I know if I hold that facial expression…
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes-
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: for three beats instead of two, I’ll get a big laugh-
STEPHEN COLBERT: Sure.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: But as Hedwig, I’m not after a laugh. I should be holding because I’m thinking about my next thought, and if it elicits a laugh, fantastic. And if it doesn’t, it’s still intriguing. And that’s the dynamic that I’m working really hard towards because I’m such a fan of the material and its density… lyrically, the songs, and also just the conceit and the emotion that she’s describing, I want to do it justice.
STEPHEN COLBERT: So, now you’ve done theatre, done TV, done single camera. Do you like shooting single camera? There’s no audience, and a lot of it is mechanical – people are measuring the distance from the lens to you…
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I’ll tell you how I’ve liked it. I liked it most in the last single camera thing that I did. Which was Gillian Flynn and David Fincher’s new movie “Gone Girl” with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. The repetition and specificity that he demanded take after take after take- and you cut and you reset, and you do it again, and you cut and reset, and you do it again.
STEPHEN COLBERT: And you do the whole scene?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Pretty much, yeah, and there’s multiple camera’s going, and you had to be on your game and you couldn’t be checking your phone, there was no time, so it became this almost yoga flow, where you were just the character and you were just in it and it felt like watching a sculptor create some sort of amazing piece of art.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you like being the clay?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I certainly like being his clay…The next big thing I want to do is a big variety show, I want to be the next Ed Sullivan. That’s my game plan.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you speak any other languages?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: (Laughs) I speak a little Spanish. And a tiny bit of French and Italian just ‘cause I lived over there and had to learn quickly at the age of five.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you have a favorite book?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Yes, three: my favorite childhood book was book called “Bridge to Terabithia.”
STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes, I know it.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: My favorite comedy book would be a “Confederacy of Dunces,” and my favorite “make me feel part of the world” book is probably “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Do you cook?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I shacked up with an amazing chef… so barely.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Alright…do you engage in any sports?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I enjoy Tennis and watching professional football.
STEPHEN COLBERT: How’s David?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: David is just magnificent. We’re back east now…he’s been a slave to California for nine years. We just had our tenth anniversary yesterday.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Congratulations!
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Thanks, man!
STEPHEN COLBERT: And the kids, they’re three and half now, right?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: They are, yeah.
STEPHEN COLBERT: That’s old enough to start having some conversations.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Oh yeah.
STEPHEN COLBERT: What do you want them to know that you have loved in your life? What would you like most to share with them? Putting aside that you love them or that you love David. What are the things that you think, “I hope that they notice this about life.”
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Well, I’ll tell you what I hope is that I can maintain a relationship where they want to share things with me. I get the most joy from them asking me questions – confiding in me. I don’t love feeling that I’m the disciplinary, stern parent of the two of us. I don’t like feeling like the cop. But I’ve managed to live a life where, what I wanted to do, I was able to do. I hope that as they grow, they realize that whatever they’re drawn toward will be embraced by us, and I have no predetermined ideals about what college they’ll go to or what line of work they may choose. So if they follow their path then I’ll be a very happy parent.
STEPHEN COLBERT: Well Neil, thanks for talking.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Thanks boss; thanks for doing this.