After wrapping nine seasons as womanizer Barney Stinson on the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," Neil Patrick Harris has swapped three-piece suits for makeup and miniskirts. With preview performances beginning March 29, the 40-year-old family man is readying to rock the roof off the Belasco Theatre in the Broadway premiere of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's 1998 cult musical about a fictional band fronted by Hedwig, an endearingly tragic East German singer making the most of a botched gender-reassignment operation.
On a very light lunch break from rehearsals, Harris was a perfect gentleman while detailing his transformation into an imperfect lady.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch officially opens April 22, exactly 10 years to the date after the opening of Assassins, your last Broadway outing. That's a good omen, eh?
Neil Patrick Harris: Wow, I didn't even realize that. Well, Assassins closed early, but I hope you're right!
During the run of "How I Met Your Mother," you starred in the New York Philharmonic's concert staging of Company, and you recently directed Nothing to Hide Off-Broadway. You also hosted the Tony Awards four times. No time for a big Broadway return until now?
NPH: Mike Nichols wasn't exactly banging down my door. [Laughs] There were opportunities to step into something that was already running, which is great, but there was never enough time to have this experience of creating something from the ground up. I was actually approached three years ago to do a limited run of Hedwig during a "How I Met Your Mother" hiatus, but I would've been exhausted. My partner [David Burtka] and I have kids, and I do have a personal life. When Michael Mayer, our director, came aboard, he said, "We have to wait for Neil." They waited, and here we are.
You didn't get a break between the two gigs.
NPH: I was looking to do more theatre, but yeah, I assumed that there would be a longer period of time between finishing the TV show and starting my next project. I thought, you know, we'd move to New York, see what happens, and maybe within the first year an audition would come up and I'd get the job. Plans change.
Were you familiar with Hedwig?
NPH: I had seen John Cameron Mitchell in the show twice, but I never, ever saw Hedwig as a role I needed to tackle. A gender-bending part just isn't in my comfort zone. Now, at 40, I'm more comfortable in my skin than I was while watching John 15 years ago — or even two, three years ago. I was always seeking strength and masculinity earlier in my adult life, and I don't care about that as much anymore. Hedwig's rough around the edges, and I have no problem looking awkward, ugly, and spastic.
As bittersweet as it must be to say goodbye to Barney Stinson, is it also a relief to put that character behind you and focus on Hedwig?
NPH: Sure. When early Hedwig rehearsals overlapped with us shooting our final episodes, it was strange to be in a bra and a wig that a drag queen friend gave me and then have to run to put on a three-piece suit, lower my voice, and make out with my costar, Cobie Smulders. But that's the fun of acting.
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