Profile in Excellence: Neil Patrick Harris
When actor Neil Patrick Harris accepts his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today, there’s a little part of him that will have a regret. Not about the getting honor, for it’s something he’s “very appreciative of,” but about its placement.
“I did, when I was younger, fantasize about one day having a star on the Walk of Fame, and I always wanted it in front of Hollywood Magic. That was a magic shop, and there was one star that was never filled in, that was blank, right in front of the shop — which last year shuttered, and doesn’t exist anymore,” the 38-year-old entertainer says sadly.
As an amateur magician and magic devotee, Harris serves as the president of the Academy of Magical Arts and as the host of the org’s annual awards gala. It’s just one of the myriad entertainment-related gigs that fill Harris’ plate, for he’s the man that can do everything, from starring on stage and screen in comedy, drama and musicals, to hosting such high-profile awards shows as the Emmys and the Tonys, doing clever voiceover work and even cleaning up as a “Jeopardy” contestant.
“He really covers the whole gamut in terms of entertaining,” says his longtime manager Booh Schut. “I think the most difficult thing in terms of career for Neil is figuring out the time to work in all the areas where he excels. Because he is so good, literally, at everything.”
She’s known Harris since he was a green teen, booking “Clara’s Heart” as his first film and then “Doogie Howser, M.D.” — the ABC series created by Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley that spanned four seasons and 97 episodes from 1989 to 1993 — television show and which launched his trajectory straight to the Walk of Fame.
“Neil has always been the same, going back to that age. His abilities, his talent, how smart he is, what a nice man he is, all reflect what a terrific boy he was,” she says. “And Neil has never been a Hollywoodite. He’s always been just a regular guy, despite all his success. And he’s never been attracted to any kind of glitzy life. He’s a rather normal, regular guy in his private life. That never changed as he grew up.”
Harris credits some of that to “my wonderful parents,” and also admits that part of that came from Bochco, his boss on “Doogie Howser,” and the man he considers one of his early mentors in the business.
“Steven Bochco was very, very helpful with regulating the swollen size of my head,” Harris says with a laugh. “He was very clear on the fact that everyone was hoping that there would be great success with the show, but … then the success would inevitably vanish. And oftentimes people will simultaneously be disdainful of that success and will want to kind of tear you down. So he was very aware that a Hollywood career is not just a single, uphill trajectory all the time. That was a great lesson for me.”
Bochco recalls how Harris successfully navigated the often-rocky transition from child star to adult performer, with a little bit of the producer-director’s help along the way.
“After ‘Doogie,’ Neil was still a very, very young guy. He did a really smart thing then, because he was in that sort of awkward developmental period in his early 20s and he was still so associated with ‘Doogie’ that he kind of walked away from TV and started doing theater.
“That was really smart; he was developing other skills. And he also developed at that time a real interest in directing, so I used to have him come and spend time with us as we were doing our shows. He was such an avid student of the business and of the art of it. I just always knew that he would mature into a multi-talented star.”
And then there was the 2004 sleeper hit “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” in which Harris (credited as Neil Patrick Harris) played off his Doogie character and built up the womanizing player that would feed into the CBS TV sitcom that would follow.
Harris’ current boss, “How I Met Your Mother” executive producer Pamela Fryman, adds another element to the Neil Patrick Harris success story.
“He works harder than anybody I know. And every single thing that he is asked to do, he doesn’t just try it, he works on it, he thinks about it, he perfects it and he does it,” she says. “He doesn’t take anything lightly. He has this gift where he makes it all look so easy. He has this crazy work ethic, I mean, here we are in our seventh season, where you could really phone it in, but that’s just not an option for him.”
Harris admits that he’s always felt a need to succeed, especially after he hit it big with “Doogie” while still in his teens. “I’ve always marveled at longevity in a career and that’s my concern. Probably because of having been on a relatively successful television show at such a young age, especially having that name, I wanted to make sure that it didn’t hold me back from ever working again,” he says. “I didn’t want it to be that it was my 15 minutes and I was out. So there’s been a bit of drive in me to outlive a singular moment. It wasn’t easy to do, especially back then.”
He’s carved out his place in the Hollywood pantheon with the help of his agent Chris Schmidt and manager Schut, but all agree that creating a Neil Patrick Harris image or brand has never been part of their strategy.
“I have to honestly say that I leave it up to the stars,” Harris says. “I know I don’t want to spend too much time in one medium. I get a little antsy and I think, hey, I want to do theater. But I haven’t been very ferocious in my, say, ‘Now I demand to do this. And I’m going to make it happen come hell or high water.’
“What I do have is a fantastic manager and a fantastic agency that actively works on quality control, so that I don’t just say yes to every single thing that comes my way. Oversaturation, I think, is a terrible place to be, so everyone is trying to make decisions on my behalf that are high-quality — or that have a good kitsch factor!”
Plus, since Harris and his partner, actor David Burtka, welcomed twins to their family in October 2010, Harris is trying to cut back a bit on his work.
“The idea now is to try to clear his plate a little, so that he has more family time,” Schut says. “His babies are small and he really is making the effort to a great extent to spend time with his children while they are little. We really don’t know what he’ll do coming up. ”
One gig that is certain is Harris’ date with the Hollywood Walk of Fame, when his star will be placed, as he says, “right outside the Frolic Room, right next to the Pantages Theater.” The actor likes that spot, although he’s a bit bemused by getting the honor at this point in his career.
“Getting a star seems like something to honor a lifetime, and at 38 I hope I am not retiring soon!” he laughs.
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