INTERVIEW: Neil Patrick Harris

INTERVIEW: Neil Patrick Harris

31 Jul 2013

Neil Patrick Harris talks to Ahlan! about playing family man Patrick Winslow in The Smurfs 2, his co-star actor Brendan Gleeson and his close friendship with Katy Perry

The 2010 box office smash hit The Smurfs is back! Bigger and better than ever before. Directed by Raja Gosnell and interlinks humans and Smurfs, tells two parallell stories. Smurfette is kidnapped by the evil wizard Gargamel  who created her and she is left wondering whether she belongs to him because he created her or whether she belongs to the Smurfs because they love her. Patrick Winslow is  wondering whether his dad who created him is really his dad and does he belong to him, or does he belong to stepfather Victor who has loved his mother and who actually loved him as well? Neil Patrick Harris tells us all!

You must have been delighted with the success of the first The Smurfs movie?
I have had a weird track record of being involved in movies that were supposed to do really well and then didn’t do very well, from Starship Troopers to Undercover Brother to a Madonna movie.I have had a lot of high expectations met with low realisations! So when The Smurfs happened my expectations were quite low. I know that they were hoping that it would be good. I think there are formulas to these family-specific genre movies but I wasn’t aware of the formula. Yet they played the formula really well. I think it’s speaks for how much people really like Smurfs.

Why do you think that The Smurfs films are such good family movies?
We worked really hard on the script-revision of the movie before we started filming. We worked really hard to make sure that it wasn’t just a kid’s movie, that there was content in it for adults, or at least something in there that was amusing enough that they would find it so upon multiple viewings on a DVD months later. We wanted adults to still find it palatable when re-watching it with their kids and not want to kill themselves. So we worked super hard to make it funny, clever and to make it multi-demographic. I think that helped. But, honestly, I didn’t realise just how loved the Smurfs are. I think that more than anything was amazing. I knew that Belgium and France would respond to it. I figured that the US wouldrespond to it because they liked Hanna-Barbera (The original Smurf creators)  before and they liked those kinds of movies. But I didn’t know that it would be such a big Asian hit and I didn’t know that a lot of these other countries really liked Smurfs. So I think they were curious to see what it really was, just because they had grown up with the franchise themselves.

How does the family dynamic with the Winslows play out in The Smurfs 2, especially with the introduction of your character’s stepfather?
That’s a smart move that they made,  that they don’t make it a singularstoryline. They always have a Smurf story line and a human storyline and Patrick gets to be involved usually more in the human storyline because Hank [Azaria] as Gargamel is mostly involved in the Smurf storyline. In the first movie Patrick was worried about being a good man, being a good parent, being a good businessman and how he could combine the two. I think he was having an internal struggle and Papa Smurf helped him realise that he was going to be a good dad. In the second film he is now a good dad and has a son that he loves and isstill married, but he finds his stepfather an utter, utter annoyance. He is always messing things up. He is a complete screw up. 

What is it about his stepfather that irritates Patrick so much?
It is his flaws. He is very loud and he interjects himself into conversation without really contemplating the consequences. I think it touches more upon that Patrick’s own dad left when he was young and so that has become an open wound with Victor, his stepfather— that he didn’t want to ever allow him to take on the role of his dad. So those two story lines — Smurfette wondering about Gargamel who created her and whether she belongs to him because he created her or whether she belongs to the Smurfs because they love her, is a nice parallel to Patrick wondering whether his dad who created him is really hisdad and does he belong to him, or does he belong to Victor who has loved his mother and who actually loved him as well? So that’s the journey theyboth have and I think they are nice topics to broach for everyone. They are universal and global topics of kids who might wonder why they might have more than one dad or why people who aren’t their parents raise them. And I think that adults can go through that same thing so it was a smart move by the writers to have such global ideas and kind of complicated ideas for a family movie too.

You have a lot of dramatic scenes with Victor,  did you enjoy playing opposite someone as impressive as Brendan Gleeson?
The role of Victor was the one I was most vocally concerned about because most of Patrick's scenes are with Victor. And they play off each other, both comedically and emotionally. I had heard the list of actors that were in contention to play it and it was a motley crew of people. Some were just comedians, some were not Americans because of the global value of the movie, and I really, really wanted to make sure that it wasn't a two-dimensional performance — being a buffoon and being the butt of the joke and just screwing things up because then you have nowhere to go with it, because then every scene Patrick is mad and cranky and every scene Victor is just an idiot. So when Brendan's name came around I lit up because I don't think he is capable of doing anything without it being grounded in some sense of reality. It just isn't in his DNA. I also had the confidence in him from having played 'Mad-Eye' Moody in the Harry Potter movies. It is crazy what he is able to do and he has children of his own. I don't think he was going to do this movie except his kids said he should do this. So there are a lot of reasons why this casting was so effective.And then, when we got to sit down and work on dialogue, he wanted to keep his same vocal inflections, his sort of Irishisms, so that skewed the character in a lot of other ways. It was just a great experience. He is a really great guy!

Describe a standout scene that you shot on The Smurfs 2?
There is a climatic scene at the end where Patrick has just had it with Victor and he is talking with his wife and doesn’t know that Victor is within earshot. He really lays into him and says that he is not his father and then Victor steps forward and says, ‘It is true I am not your father and I see we need to grow up’ and he scolds him a little bit. On page it could have been such an intense and pointed and shouting-at–each-other scene and instead Brendan played this real quiet, sad and honest approach to the scene, which I wouldn’t have expected and which I think was incrediblyeffective. It kind of guts Patrick in a way that it wouldn’t have had if he’d just been screamed at by this other guy. The vulnerability that he broughtto that one scene was very effective. It was absolutely right and something I never would have thought of so it was nice to be able to watch this process for all of us.

Have you become close to Katy Perry after working together on The Smurfs films and her appearance on your TV show?
She did do How I Met Your Mother. And David Burtka, is very good friends with one of Katy’s best friends and so we have just ended upseeing each other and hanging out and become good friends socially. She is so busy. She is like one of those giant superstar people that when youhang out with her she is so nice and you are very close chums and thenall of a sudden you are like, ‘You want to hang out Saturday?’ And she islike, ‘Oh, no, I am in Brazil.’ So when we do get a chance to see her it’s great and she couldn’t be nicer to our kids and us. She has a very dry, hilarious sense of humour, which always makes me want to hang out with her more.

Do you suspect that becoming a father might influence some of your professional choices going forward — you might want to dofilms that the kids can enjoy?
I suppose. I don’t know that I want to tell my kids what things to watch so I would not necessarily make movies for them, but I do think thatcertain actors don’t make sense in certain movies just because of the stuff they have done in the past or how they are thought of in the present. So since I am a father with young kids it seems logical that I am able to be in these kind of movies that are for families, because I am a father myself so that plays into it.

Click here to view The Smurfs 2 Official Trailer