More than eight years after ending his run as legendary straight cad Barney Stinson on CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother,” Emmy-winning actor Neil Patrick Harris returned to the sitcom format in “Uncoupled.” Netflix, playing a gay man who is unwittingly pushed back into the New York dating scene after being dumped unceremoniously by his 17-year-old partner.
Created by Darren Star (“Sex and the City”) and Jeffrey Richman (“Frasier,” “Modern Family”), “Uncoupled” — which premieres Friday — follows Michael Lawson (Harris), a successful realtor from New York whose perfect life is thrown into disarray when her longtime partner, Colin (Tuc Watkins), unexpectedly moves out on the eve of his 50th birthday. Overnight, Michael must face two nightmares: losing the man he thought was his soulmate and being forced to navigate the digital and generational dating divide as a newly single gay man in his 40s.
Harris — who shot to fame as a medical prodigy in ‘Doogie Howser, MD,’ but won critical acclaim for his dramatic roles in ‘Gone Girl,’ ‘It’s a Sin’ and ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ — has always been open to tackling projects that vary in genre and scope. Last summer, he received a text from his agent asking him to read a romantic comedy pilot script that Star and Richman originally wrote with no particular actor in mind.
“Once we finished the pilot, we knew Neil Patrick Harris was the only actor we wanted,” Richman wrote in an email. “He challenged us in a very positive way by asking really intelligent questions about [the] character and story to which we had to find answers. It only made the writing better.
After admiring Star’s extensive body of work and working with Richman on the short-lived NBC sitcom “Stark Raving Mad” around the turn of the century, Harris jumped at the chance to team up with the seasoned television writers in a modern show that would shoot in New York, where he lives with his husband, David Burtka, and their two young children.
The script he read “was contemporary, laid back and fun, and yet it brought me to tears,” Harris told NBC News in a recent video interview. For the 49-year-old actor, who has a “very long-term relationship” with Burtka, the show’s immediate appeal, beyond the creators, was the opportunity to explore an alternate version of his own life: ” It’s almost a “what if my life took a drastic turn? story,” he mused.
As he grapples with the grief and denial of being “uncoupled,” Harris’ character Michael grapples with the politics of gay dating in today’s society — the transactional nature of hookups, the unwritten rules of etiquette on various applications.
The shocking experience of being thrown into “a whole other world” and forced to learn on his feet was something the creative team really wanted to convey, according to Harris, who compared Michael’s struggles to adapt to the ever-changing dating world to its own struggles with the evolution of texting.
“When you’re dating people who are decidedly younger than you, who’ve been doing it for a long time, it’s a learning curve, and I think the comedy learning curve is always pretty universal,” a- he declared.
Having started courtship with Burtka in 2004, long before the prevalence of dating apps, Harris joked that he was both “impressed” and “horrified” by contemporary courting concerns, adding that he is felt lucky to have “come out before”. all the distractions” that shortened attention span.
“I find it very sexy and exciting that very specific flaws and desires can be openly exchanged and discussed and matched,” Harris said. “A lot of times when you just went on a date with someone, it was very uncomfortable to reveal what turns you on, and it wasn’t a first or second date conversation. It was like, ‘We really need to get to know each other, and now we’re kind of going to talk about ‘Oh, I wish you didn’t do that’ or ‘I really like it when that happens.’ But now that’s it, right? … It’s exciting.”
But, he added, “I also feel like we are karmic people; you will meet the right person at the right time. If you’re too hard trying to find it, you’re not going to find it. But people associate when they’re supposed to, like they’re supposed to. Life works well that way.
While Michael worries about the viability of a middle-aged gay man in a dating market of mostly younger men, Harris said he has learned to age over time, although he live in a culture and work in an industry that continues to value youthful appearances. .
“I think aging is a very personal thing that probably has to do with how you were raised, what your parents thought, what your friends thought,” said Harris, who “always felt more younger” than he was as a leading child actor. known for its childlike beauty.
“My decades-long struggle was to feel comfortable in my own body, because I would be in my mid-twenties, late-twenties, and I would still go to the gym and feel like to be a sophomore in high school and everyone was better than me, and I felt awkward and awkward and I didn’t know my posture,” he said. “But now that I’m almost 50, I feel healthier and fitter and frankly more comfortable in my own skin than before. I feel like it’s kind of a life goal – an achievable life goal is to want to take off your shirt more when you get older, because it doesn’t mean as much to you.
Part of becoming more comfortable in her own skin came when Harris decided to come out publicly in 2006, in a statement to People. More than 15 years later, the actor thinks “we’re entering this new world” where advances in LGBTQ representation on screen mean “there’s less fear of negative repercussions for being proud, open and honest. on who you want to date” – to the point that he is now able to lead his own Netflix show as an openly gay man.
“Certainly now, more than ever, people are encouraged to be honest with everyone about who they are, and that takes different forms for different people,” he said. “But I can definitely speak to the fact that once I was openly out there and still working…I was less concerned about maybe ‘said’ or people thinking things about me because I was just who I was, and I think there’s an innate freedom and breath and just posture with just existing.
But Harris warned that ultimately actors are meant to act, explaining that he chooses to look beyond the labels of gay or straight when breaking down his own characters.
“Straight people are all very different and gay people are all very different. There are a lot of feminine assignments that can come into play, there are a lot of masculine assignments that can come into play, regardless of sexuality,” did he declare.
“I was playing a straight guy on ‘Gone Girl’, but I didn’t really screw it up, because the character I was playing was kind of weirdly goofy and kinda creepy and androgynous psycho. [like] Norman Bates… so I didn’t have to be straight to play against him. I just played it singularly,” he continued. “And if I was playing an over-the-top flight attendant in a big comedy, I’d probably swing into a very different interpretation — not gay versus straight, but from what the writers and directors were hoping for.”
Harris said he thinks an actor’s sexuality is very different from how he chooses to play his characters.
“You just want to have that many acting arrows in your quiver,” he said with a smile. “I want to be able to be a baller in a Guy Ritchie heist movie with an accent and everything and be a bare-knuckle fighter…but I also want to be camp and live my best life on a dance floor. So I want to be able to have the opportunity to do both, but they’re very different skills – and that’s kind of what my job is.
“Uncoupled” is now streaming on Netflix.
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