Shooting Star

Shooting Star Chatting with Assassins' Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris

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Yes, he was Doogie Howser, M.D., on television, but that was more than a decade ago, and Neil Patrick Harris is here to talk about theatre.

"As long as I can remember, I've wanted to be onstage," Harris says. "Performing live forces me to be more of an athlete. I like the challenge of having to actually work for an audience's approval."

These days the tall, good-looking, 30-year-old Harris is working for that approval at Studio 54, starring as both the balladeer and Lee Harvey Oswald in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival — and Broadway premiere — of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Assassins.

Although Harris made his Broadway debut in 2002, taking over as Hal, the graduate math student, in Proof, and last year assumed the part of the emcee in the revival of Cabaret, Assassins marks the first time he has landed a Broadway role for a production's opening. "It's something I've always wanted," he says. "Doing Proof and Cabaret were great for getting my feet wet. But they were pre-existing shows." Being there at the beginning, he says, "is great. I like meeting people for the first time and getting to know the dynamics - finding a group dynamic and seeing what we can create. What excites me is the alchemy." Assassins takes a powerful look at the mental makeup of nine presidential assassins and would-be assassins, from John Wilkes Booth to Oswald to John Hinckley Jr., who shot Ronald Reagan. The cast includes Michael Cerveris, Denis O'Hare, James Barbour, Jeffrey Kuhn, Mario Cantone, Mary Catherine Garrison, Becky Ann Baker and Alexander Gemignani. The director is Joe Mantello, whose recent credits include Wicked and a Tony Award as Best Director last year for Take Me Out.

Harris says that in prepping to play Oswald, "I've done a lot of research on his childhood and his relationship with his mother — into his emotional psyche, what led him to be an individual who could do something like that."

The balladeer, who connects and comments on the show's segments, "is the only voice of reason to the eyes of the audience. He's the one who tells the assassins, 'You tried hard, you did your deed, it didn't work — America moves on. You can try all you like to change history, but history keeps on going.'"

Harris says he isn't sure what he would like to do next. "I've managed to parlay my 15 minutes into 15 years," he says. "And I'm so grateful I've been able to continue to work that I don't have a great drive for recognition or fame. I'm more interested in content — in good material. If that turns out to be another Broadway play, I'd love that. If it's a movie or two with an amazing director, I'd love that."

And if it meant going back to L.A. to do a quality one-hour television series? "How could I say no?"