The TV icon talks about reprising his hard-partying role in Harold & Kumar 2.
If you're a Gen X-er like me, the name Neil Patrick Harris conjures one image and one image only: that of the fresh-faced, impossibly youthful teen doctor Doogie Howser. The show, which ran on ABC from 1989 to 1993, is a veritable cultural icon for Americans of my cohort, and it seemed almost impossible for Harris to avoid being plagued with the association for the rest of his acting career.
Then in 2004 Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle came out, building a modest buzz at the box office that translated into a veritable sonic boom once it hit DVD. Harris plays an impossibly hyperbolic version of himself, a hard-partying, rough-living ladies man that Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) encounter on their desperate attempt to fulfill their fast food craving. And with that, things altered for Harris.
"It radically changed my career, I think," he says. "I was actively seeking out smaller interesting plays and dramatic movies, and sort of leaning towards a Philip Seymour Hoffman-y kind of vibe for my career. And the comedy was so forceful in [Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle] that I think it spun my trajectory into a more mainstream comedic way that I wasn't looking at, and I'm incredibly grateful for. I don't think How I Met Your Mother would have happened had the first movie not come out."
Not only does Harris like the comedic avenues Harold & Kumar opened up for him, but he finds them challenging, as well. "Comedy I find way more difficult than drama," explains Harris. "Comedy is much more subjective. What I might find funny, the audience might not find funny. Or, even once removed, what I find funny the editor might not find funny. And they might choose the reaction shot from Take 4 with my line from Take 1 with my next line from Take 7, and then all of a sudden the timing that I was trying to do does not come across. You have to be really conscientious of how you're playing it and give them good moments and trust that they will use them."
As for the sequel, A.K.A. Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Harris (whose character is as ridiculously outlandish as ever) predicts a happy audience. "We did the world premiere at South by Southwest in Austin and I have never heard in my life more response. It was just gale force wind of laughter, constantly," he happily reports.
The sequel focuses a bit more on the political humor than the stoner humor, per se, but that's not the only difference Harris says you'll be seeing. "It's branded as, like, a stoner genre film, and I think less than the first one, drugs are involved, but A. it runs the drug spectrum and B. It's really just big belly laughs, I find, in this one," he explains. "The first one I thought was a little more hit or miss. I thought they were throwing a lot of jokes at you and some things worked. Some people found the battle sh**s hilarious and some people thought, 'What are you people doing?' But then another wave of jokes would come along, and then some people would think the cheetah was dumb, but some people would think the cheetah was funny. And so they're just sort of throwing sense of humor at you. I think they found what they found funny and they honed in on their dark sense of humor for the sequel."
"I think it's very funny. I think it's the sort of movie you should see in the theater with a lot of people," he continues. "I wouldn't see a matinee of it in Sherman Oaks, or something. I would try and go at nine o'clock at night to some sort of ghetto movie theater where you're going to get a lot of response because that's half of the movie to me, is hearing people going crazy in certain parts."
"In fact," he ends, "I will sneak into a movie or three when this one comes out because that's the audience. I want to hear their response to that."
We'll keep an eye out for you, Mr. Harris.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay hits theaters nationwide on Friday, April 25, 2008.