Neil Patrick Harris stars in The Smurfs live-action movie, as the human. He plays Patrick, an ad exec visited by the magical blue creatures. Patrick is fretting over his job and his wife’s impending pregnancy, becoming a first time dad. The film opens July 29.
In real life, Harris is the father of nine-month-old twins, about whom he tweets regularly. While promoting The Smurfs, Harris joked about Smurf love and opened up about his own family. However, this interview is not appropriate for kids. Harris gets downright Smurfy in here.
Q: After cultivating the NPH/Barney Stinson party animal persona, what was it like to shift gears to a family movie?
NPH: I spend six and a half/seven months a year playing chewing the scenery Barney Stinson. So I look for a role that’s different in some way from him during my off time. Smurfs just seemed like a great way to represent a young father to be, guy in a marriage, work in conflict and I was really interested in the technical CG side of things. I’d never done a movie that I thought would be so physical and yet so precise. So I was intrigued by all of that.
Q: You’ve done a lot of voice work. Was it interesting to be on the other side as the live actor reacting?
Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah, very. By the time we were actually acting in it, they had done all of their homework. They spent a year and a half figuring out exactly what the smurf would look like, what the skin tone would look like, whether it was shiny or matte and exactly how tall and round, and the eyes. They had these little gelatinous puppet things that would sit there. So we would act alongside those and there were two voiceover actors in another room who did voices. So they would switch off and do the voices in our earwigs that were in our ears. So it was wildly awkward for the crew to watch us film, because they’d take the puppets away and we’d have to look at little dots that were our eyelines. There were dots all over the place and they’d only hear half of a scene. We’d be reacting, “That’s outrageous, Smurfette” and look over here. It was fun and daunting.
Q: What would you do if Smurfs actually invaded your house?
NPH: Probably taze them and keep them in a small box and quickly find a reality show or some way to profit from it. Travel around like the Warner Brothers cartoon with the frog, “Hello my baby, hello my honey…” Perform, Smurfs! I’d be Gargamel, apparently.
Q: Who’s better at magic, you or Gargamel?
NPH: Gargamel. He’s got a wand for f***’s sake.
Q: Do you have any burning Smurf questions that the movie didn’t answer?
NPH: Who’s shagging Smurfette really? They always kind of all got [woozy] and passed out, but I want to know what’s going on late at night in Smurf village? Does she get passed from Smurf to Smurf? Is she a one Smurf girl? Is Papa involved? That doesn’t seem right at all.
Q: If you were a Smurf, what would be your Smurf name?
NPH: I’d be Snuff Smurf and I’d end the suffering of all the dying Smurfs everywhere. That was a dark answer. Let’s say Magical Smurf because I like magic.
Q: If you gave your twins Smurf names, what would they be?
NPH: Oh, good question. I think Gideon would be Stout Smurf because he’s always rarr rarr rarr. He’s like a tank. Maybe Tanker Smurf. Harper’s just Beautiful Smurf. She’s an eye batter right now. She wants to hug and smile and get a smile back, so she’s very girly.
Q: What’s been your favorite part about being a father?
NPH: The constant change. Before babies, I worked very hard to make sure I understood my surroundings and figured out where I fit in the world, whether it was at work or in a social situation. With kids the rule is that you can’t really do that because they dictate and they change so much. You just have to go with the flow more and be present, not have big expectations and be amused all the time.
Q: Have they had any major firsts recently?
NPH: No, not yet. We’re waiting for them to crawl. They’re pretty great but no big announcements.
Q: Were you a fan of the Smurfs in the ‘80s cartoon?
NPH: I was. I wasn’t a rabid collector of figurines or what not but Saturday morning cartoons with overly sugared cereals was kind of the norm back in the ‘80s.
Q: Did you end up standing in empty frames with the camera pointed at your feet, where the Smurfs would be added in later?
NPH: We had to stand or sit around for hours and hours at a time for every single shot because it’s all highly technical. Even if it was your hand or shoulder or a foot, that was all part of the deal.
Q: Was it awkward to interact when hugging a Smurf?
NPH: Yeah, it made you feel a little insecure because you were just trusting the animators, but I watched a lot of the other types of movies that were similar to this in style. It seems that the more you committed to it, the better the result was. So certain scenes were no doubt very strange. That group hug was weird but we filmed our stuff first, then they would animate later, then they would add the voices later. We were the first pass so nothing had been set yet. If one take I decided that one of them was crawling up and I brought them back down, I could just play around if I wanted to and the animators would animate towards it. It was weirdly freeing in that sense.
Q: Do you have any funny stories about Sofia Vergara, who plays your boss?
NPH: Sofia’s hilarious. My only concern since it’s a family movie and not only will adults be amused by it, and certainly be amused by her, but that kids are going to be watching it. I had no idea if they were going to be able to understand a word she was saying while we were filming, because we’re doing our scenes and she’s walking and she’s talking and always going like this and saying, “Wehavetogooverthelounge!” What? I’m in the scene and I don’t know what you just said. It worked out. She’s just her own force of nature. That was the only thing I kept laughing at. How are kids going to know what you’re saying? But I’m a big fan. She’s really good with the improv because of Modern Family, the last year and a half of that. If we screwed up or if something to bumped or if we wanted to ad lib, she was right on track all the time with that which is always fun to play against.
Q: When do you go back to work on How I Met Your Mother, and how much longer do we have to wait to find out who it is?
NPH: We go back August 8. I can’t answer the latter question. I don’t know. I didn’t know I was the groom until three episodes before. I keep prying them for information but they fear that I’ll someday be sitting at a big rectangular table around a bunch of people asking the same questions and say something that I’m not supposed to. I suspect they won’t answer those questions for a little while seeing how we got a two season pickup instead of one, so I think they’re writing for a 44 episode arc. We’ve been on the show for six years already and the point of the show isn’t really to answer specific questions so much as to see how the whole story plays out.
Q: To us it seems like you made a seamless transition from young actor to adult actor. How did you navigate that transition to appear so seamless?
NPH: Wow, thank you. I don’t know. I don’t really have an answer to that. I’ve been very fortunate to go from interesting chapter to interesting chapter. I’ve always enjoyed the process and always enjoyed working really more than the end result, what it achieves. I’m more interested in doing the work. I guess maybe that’s a difference. I don’t really know, I’ve been very fortunate and I guess I’ve done more different types of things. I did theater for a while and then went and did TV for some time and then went and did awkward television movies for a while. Maybe the diversification is good. I don’t know, it’s a hard question for me to answer.
Q: What makes the Smurfs endure for decades, and how does it feel to be part of something your kids may see one day?
NPH: There’s a lot of rabid Smurf fans out there who are anxious to see the movie. I was most concerned to make sure it wasn’t just a kids movie. I really wanted to make sure that if we were going to be a part of it, that the dialogue was smarter and the lessons learned were appropriate and not just a pandery children’s flick. So we worked hard scriptwise and in our dialogue scenes to make sure it didn’t feel cut and pasted, that it made sense not only for families that watch it but for people who loved The Smurfs in the ‘80s and are now on a date and think it would be a cool movie to see or parents to kids themselves would enjoy it on another level. The irreverence of the song being annoying and I think Hank [Azaria]’s comedy allows a different demographic to appreciate it at the same time.