After Decades in Showbiz, There's Still One Skill Neil Patrick Harris Hasn't Mastered

News   After Decades in Showbiz, There's Still One Skill Neil Patrick Harris Hasn't Mastered
 
At first glance, the multi-talented Neil Patrick Harris can seemingly do anything. He's starred in comedies and dramas (nine years as Barney Stinson on "How I Met Your Mother" and Desi Collings in dark thriller "Gone Girl" are just a few of his credits); played the glam rock and roller Hedwig in the Broadway bow of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, nabbing a Tony Award in the process; and hosted seemingly every award show in the entertainment industry (the Tonys and the Oscars are just two). But, Playbill.com learned recently, there is one skill Harris has not mastered yet.

"I need to learn how to tap dance," Harris told Playbill.com. "I've never taken a dance class in my life. Most kids, when they're in a big city, will take ballet and jazz and tap, just as rudimentary skills, but in New Mexico, they weren't as available to us."

Harris hosting the 2011 Tony Awards
Harris hosting the 2011 Tony Awards Photo by CBS

Harris' admission came as a surprise, as the actor is known for being a song-and-dance man and is currently hosting the music-filled variety show "Best Time Ever." The show, which premiered on NBC Sept. 15, is based on the U.K. series "Saturday Night Takeaway" and features the actor and a group of celebrity and audience members in various stunts, pranks and seemingly dangerous feats.

The first episode included Harris following a couple who was in the audience, photobombing their wedding pictures, serving as the bellhop at their honeymoon hotel and even asking for a kiss (in disguise) at a football game. He also invited people watching the show at home to participate in live karaoke with Gloria Gaynor, having activated cameras and microphones in their homes before the broadcast.

Harris is acquiring new skills by the hour, including backflipping off a pogo stick and trampoline stunts that he first saw Cirque du Soleil perform. (He admitted to experiencing some physical pain and whiplash.)

Harris on "Best Time Ever"
Harris on "Best Time Ever" Photo by Greg Endries/NBC

"I'm loving learning that stuff. I would pay good money to learn how to do that if they taught it as a class and then instead I'm getting to be able to do it."

Arranging and executing stunts and pranks has been an interest of Harris' since he was a child, when he would enjoy working with the tools and logistics of pulling a practical joke — "I would get the squirt ring and the whoopee cushion, but I would mainly just be fascinated by the mechanics behind it" — but, he insisted, the jokes were never mean-spirited, a sentiment that has carried over into the TV show.

"I want this show to be as good-natured as possible," he said. "That's an interesting concept because a big part of our show is pranking, and the conceit of a prank is one that puts someone in a position that they're not necessarily comfortable with. So we've been working really hard creatively to make sure that those ideas aren't ones that make the person feel bad or look bad. I think we've found ways to do that."

Filmed before a live audience, "Best Time Ever" is also aired live on TV, adding an additional element of suspense and excitement to an already action-packed hour. Harris is no stranger to performing in front of a live audience, having concluded his Broadway run in Hedwig in August 2014. But playing the "internationally ignored songstress" differs greatly from being a playful and congenial TV host.

"I've had so many people come up to me and said how rude I was to them!" Harris said, recalling his nightly trips into the audience to flirt with, dance on or even spit on theatregoers. His performance gave him a new kind of freedom in performing as well.

"Having done it so many times, it was kind of fun to conquer the fear of looking bad onstage," he recalled. "I think that was unique to Hedwig, because often times things go wrong in the theatre, but you're a character that wants to represent themselves well. And Hedwig, by design... when she represented herself poorly, it was almost more appropriate. That was weird as Neil, because I tend to want to say the joke or honor a bit, and instead I would let things fall flat and be uncomfortable. That was very hard for me in my core, but it was actually more successful in the show."

Hedwig and the Angry Inch featured movement by "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer Spencer Liff, whom Harris credited with choreographing to his strengths. But, he said, he hopes to add one more item to his resume soon.

"I should learn how to tap," he said. "I hope they give me more than three days to learn how to do it."

(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)

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