Neil Patrick Harris: “I always operate with a fair amount of self-loathing when I’m performing”

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It might be hard to believe, but when Neil Patrick Harris takes the stage in Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the spring it will be the first time in nearly a decade that Harris has been in a Broadway musical. Sure, in the meantime we’ve seen Harris sing, dance, host the Tonys (four times) and direct the Off-Broadway play Nothing to Hide, but Harris hasn’t been in a Broadway musical since Assassins had a brief run in 2004.

Yet as he tells The New York Times, performing as the titular transgender woman from East Berlin in the Broadway debut of the 1998 Off-Broadway hit is the exact opposite of taking it easy.

One of the ways Harris is preparing for the role is by over-doing it in his personal life. While most actors might choose to rest before during a lengthy run on Broadway, Harris hopes that by running himself a little ragged he will give his on-stage performance, “a sense of desperation that helps me be on point more often,” though he adds, “My therapist doesn’t think that’s the best way to process all of this.”The schedule is quite daunting for Harris — he will perform the 100 minute musical seven times a week, including twice in quick succession on Saturdays (a 7 PM performance and a 10 PM performance), and without having an understudy in case it gets too much for him. Even if it does get too much, Harris suggests, “I’m trying inappropriate things that might hurt my voice, to see what I can do.”

Still, one can’t blame Harris for making the most of his current popularity. After starring as a brilliant teenage doctor on Doogie Howser, M.D. from 1989 to 1993, Harris struggled a bit to find substantial roles. While he always was working, most of the roles he had weren’t high profile. But after a hilarious turn playing a fictional version of himself in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and landing the role of Barney Stinson on the television sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Harris hasn’t stopped working since. Still, when he reflects on the lean times he admits, “Skipping college wasn’t the right decision, at the end of the day. But it was a weird time. I was a little anxious to show I wasn’t a one-trick pony — that I wouldn’t do one series and then never work again. I was auditioning a lot but wasn’t getting many jobs. I was just recognized as Doogie for a while.”

Despite his recent success Harris confesses that his Hedwig role is a little daunting, particularly when it comes to singing like a rock star. He explains, “I always operate with a fair amount of self-loathing when I’m performing. The minute I think, ‘You’re killing, Neil, you are aces,’ it’s when I misspeak or stammer or get something wrong. And look, I don’t have the rock ’n’ roll scream. I’ll have to mark that out vocally. If I go crazy and start screaming, I’ll blow my voice.”

But after Hedwig he intends to slow down somewhat — especially if he manages to land a role in a very successful movie. He points out, “If either of my next movies is financially successful, it puts you on a markedly shorter list for other larger-scale movies. So I want to wait and see, and maybe not be so voracious. A busy week like this isn’t my favorite speed, you know. One of my New Year’s resolutions was contemplation. I wanted to spend a little more time thinking about what I’d just done, and not being so mindful about what I will be doing. I’ve spent years looking ahead, overly conscious of needing people to approve of me in order to feel that I succeeded. Hedwig feels that way about herself, too. And like her, I’m anxious, but my fearless quotient is higher than it’s ever been.”

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