Profile in Excellence: Neil Patrick Harris

When Neil Patrick Harris decided to come out to the world in 2006 and reveal that he is gay, and in a long-term relationship with fellow actor David Burtka, many wondered what effect it would have on his career — and on the way people perceive him both among the public and within the industry.

As his manager Booh Schut tells it, the revelation was the best thing Harris has ever done.

“His coming out publicly really expanded him in all ways, because he then allowed himself to be, and came to the realization of, really who he was,” she says.

The act was also instrumental in getting Time magazine to put Harris on the 2010 edition of its annual Time 100 issue, which names “the people who most affect our world.”

“The public’s perception of gay men is shifting because of this guy, and they’ll be too entertained to notice,” wrote Joss Whedon, who penned the entry on Harris.

As a young person, Harris hadn’t yet fully realized who he was, adds Schut, so when he came out “it freed him in so many ways. It has really caused an extraordinary growth in his personal life and his public life and his professional life. It was just a great thing. A hard thing to do and a great thing to do.”

The popular actor didn’t seem to lose a single fan in the process, and has continued to play the straight, womanizing character of Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother,” a role he began in 2005. And he’s been thriving ever since, booking vocal work in hit films like “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and live-action gigs as well, most recently in “Beastly” and “The Smurfs,” and hosting both the Tony and Emmy awards.

“I think the world has changed and everybody has realized that is it a real ‘who cares?’ It’s a real non-issue,” declares Pamela Fryman, the exec producer of “Mother.” “I mean, who is a more positive role model than Neil Patrick Harris? He’s always been who he is. He lives this great life, he’s incredibly generous and thoughtful and hardworking. He’s got a spectacular family, he is just a spectacular man in every area of his life.”

And his first boss concurs.

“I think it was important for Neil, because it is him, and it is his life. And nobody is happy when they are living a secret or a bifurcated life,” says producer Steven Bochco. “And so at the point at which Neil finally made it a life choice, which was to be a fully integrated man, he did what he needed to do and I think that took real courage and a very strong sense of self, which he has.”

Bochco adds that being gay and coming out “is rapidly becoming a non-issue. You can see it in this whole evolution of gay marriage and in the context of how the public response to that concept has changed, and over a relatively very short period of time. The world is changing, as it should. And Neil’s a part of that. The great antidote to bigotry is loss of fear. For when you love these characters, and by extension the actors who play them, you lose your fear of them.”

Harris himself agrees, too.

“I think hearing the news doesn’t rattle people nearly as much as it used to; most people know someone these days who is gay or lesbian. It’s people’s private business, frankly. But I think because I grew up in front of cameras, on a show like ‘Doogie Howser, M.D.,’ people have a familiarity with me in a positive way,” he says. “I’ve managed to live my life as openly and honestly as I am choosing to, and have people be rather indifferent about it, which I think is probably the greatest view that people could have.”

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