06.03.09

Tony's Reluctant Host

As he prepares to preside over Broadway’s biggest night, Neil Patrick Harris tells The Daily Beast why playing the ultimate straight guy is villainous, and what he’ll be wearing—or not wearing—Sunday night.

When Neil Patrick Harris came out of the closet two years ago, he essentially just quelled any rumors to the contrary and moved on. “I am a very content gay man living my life,” he said—then returned to his regularly scheduled programming as scene-stealing man’s man Barney on the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother. On Sunday night, the former face of teen prodigy Doogie Howser, M.D. will make his debut as host of the Tony Awards, following in the not-so-small shoes of Hugh Jackman and Whoopi Goldberg. Harris has already hosted both SNL and the TV Land Awards this year, so you would think— you’d think—he’s a total bubbling extrovert. But in real life Harris is shy and humble, reluctant to give away details about his love life or toot his own horn in any way.

He’d much rather talk about the glass of Champagne he plans to enjoy after the Tonys are all said and done, and how excited he is “to wear an all-access badge and stand in the wings watching everyone perform.” Harris took a few minutes between rehearsals to tell The Daily Beast while you’ll never catch him in Harold and Kumar: The Musical, why playing the ultimate straight guy is such a villainous thing to do, and whether he’d rather win a Tony or an Emmy.

How do you plan to outdo Hugh and Whoopi?

Maybe no shirt. Maybe just the tux and the tie. Maybe not.

You play the straightest guy on television. How does that make you feel?

It’s almost as fun as playing a villain. I was sort of middle-American “aw, shucks” guy for a big part of my career, so the extrovert is always fun.

If Barney took a date to a Broadway show, which one would it be?

I don’t think Barney’s attention span would allow him to sit in a chair more than an hour and a half. But Nicole Kidman did full frontal last year, so I’m sure he scalped a ticket to that show. He’s known to be a karaoke fan, so maybe Rock of Ages would be up his alley. Plus you can drink in the theater, which is a big plus for Barney. But I think taking a girl to a Broadway musical is a slow play and he tends to work a little quicker than that.

Anything you can share about the opening medley Sunday night?

It’s going to be a pretty spectacular opening, but doesn’t involve the host. I’ll definitely be more of a master of ceremonies than a performing monkey. But we’ll see. I might bitch and moan about not getting the chance to sing and dance.

You can only win an Emmy, an Oscar, or a Tony. Go.

Really, only one? I’ve been around television long enough that an Emmy has great resonance to me. But I’m such a fan of how hard people work in the theater and the quality of work is so strong that I think if you were to win a Tony, it would mean that you were really bringing it every day, so I guess I would say the Tony.

Would you ever do Harold and Kumar: The Musical?

That seems awfully sellout, doesn’t it? What comes after that—a stint on The Surreal Life or something? I’ll try and head in a different direction.

It must be nice to be fetishized though.

It makes me randy. They’re fun movies to do in a sort of a way.

How do you feel coming out changed your life?

I thought we were talking about the Tonys. It hasn’t really, not much. I’m still an actor working on a sitcom.

Do you hope to get married, have kids one day?

Eventually that would be awesome. But I’m not rushing to the altar right now. I just think it would be a lovely option.

This has been a very strange year for Broadway—first with all the closings, and then everything seemed to turn around all at once. Where do you think it’s all going?

If there were some sort of equation I think producers would be all over it. I think as ticket prices rise, it does force people to weigh their options more than just, “Hey, let’s go see a random show.” So you have to have an angle with your show and I think that, in turn, makes the content of the shows better. Because if it’s poorly reviewed and inconsequential, there’s nothing to promote.

Miriam Datskovsky is assistant editor at The Daily Beast. Her work has also appeared in Condé Nast Portfolio, New York magazine, and nymag.com.