Harris has another hit - and new identity

November 21, 2005|By MARIA E. FERNANDEZ | MARIA E. FERNANDEZ,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Neil Patrick Harris had been longing for the days when "Doogie" - as in Doogie Howser, M.D. - would not be attached to his name.

And now that those days are here, Harris can't help but wonder: "Going from Doogie to Barney" - as in the irreverent character he plays in CBS' How I Met Your Mother - "is that a step up? It's more of a horizontal step, isn't it?"

The moniker may not be a winner, but the role is proving to be. Harris' portrayal of suit-wearing sidekick Barney is one of the fall season's breakouts. The fast-talking, seemingly rich, who-knows-what-he-does-for-a-living player is already being quoted in conversation, and the Internet is filled with his Barneyisms, including: "Suit up," "What up" and "Have you met Ted?" He's the kind of guy you'd love to pal around with, but would never recommend to your sister for a date. After all, he is the originator of the "Lemon Law for Dating."

"You can't be a single person living in a major city without knowing a Barney," co-creator Carter Bays said.

"He swoops in like a superhero in the superhero costume," Craig Thomas, the other co-creator, said. "We're gonna learn more about him - how did Barney become Barney? Right now, I kind of like that he's this Batman sort of enigmatic presence that swoops into stories and takes them into crazy directions. It would be funny if it turns out he works at Kinko's."

The Barney that best friends Bays and Thomas had imagined for their pilot script was nothing like the tall, lean, blond Harris. But they had watched Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and couldn't get Harris out of their heads. "He just comes into the movie and hijacks it when he's there," Thomas said.

"We called our casting director and told her she had to get Neil Patrick Harris in here," he said. "The next thing you know he was in there auditioning and he was so head-and-shoulders funnier than anyone else we had seen. We didn't have to change much of the dialogue. He's so funny that he just comes in and makes the dialogue his own."

Even funnier was that Harris was running fast from all sitcoms. The last one hadn't gone well - NBC's Stark Raving Mad was canceled after 13 episodes, a victim of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire madness - and the actor who had been focusing on theater (Rent and Assassins) and films said he preferred a dramatic role.

"But then I got this crazy-[Barney-like expletive] script and I found it funny, and I thought the part was so extreme," Harris said. "I don't often get to play someone so extreme, I jumped at the opportunity. I didn't have much fear going into the audition because I didn't think I was going to get it."

Maria E. Fernandez writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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