Talkin' BroadwayV.J.

Interview with
Neil Patrick Harris

by Jonathan Frank

Neil Patrick Harris, currently on the silver screen in Undercover Brother (and, of course, the star of that '90s medical drama) is making his Broadway debut opposite Anne Heche in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama, Proof. Jonathan Frank talked to Neil about his experiences on and off stage shortly after Harris stepped into the part of Hal in the show.

Jonathan:  Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Neil. You just started your run in Proof, correct?

Neil Patrick Harris:  Yes; our first show was last night [July 2nd].

JF:  Is Proof your Broadway debut?

NPH:  It is. I did Rent in La Jolla and Los Angeles, but not here.

JF:  Well, congratulations on your debut.

NPH:  Thanks. I enjoy trodding the boards and am thrilled to be playing in New York.

JF:  Are you thrilled and/or surprised that you are making your Broadway debut in a drama instead of a musical?

NPH:  I'm thrilled: it's nice to establish yourself as an actor first and a singer second. Proof is such a tremendous piece of work, and I'm incredibly lucky to be a part of it. I'm sure that the musicals will happen in the future, though.

JF:  You were supposed to have made your debut in Assassins last fall ...

NPH:   That is correct.

JF:  I'm so depressed that it fell through. I hear that there is talk of it happening in 2003 ...

NPH:   I wonder about the certainty of that. I'm not counting on it, since I haven't heard anything about it for certain. I know that Wicked is scheduled for October of 2003, and Joe Mantello [who was to have directed Assassins last year] is directing that. Assassins is a phenomenal show and [Lee Harvey Oswald] is a great role, so I hope it happens eventually.

JF:  I was surprised they didn't include Assassins in the Kennedy Center Sondheim celebration this summer, as it's one of the few shows not represented there.

NPH:  That's true; I hadn't thought about that. Maybe it's because there are still plans to do it at some point on Broadway. Although we're in such a volatile climate right now politically ... I think they didn't want Assassins to not succeed due to popular opinion and politics, versus on its own merits. I can respect that.

JF:  Agreed. it just wasn't the ideal time for the show.

How long did you do Rent in La Jolla?

NPH:  I did it in La Jolla for three months and then in LA for about four months.

JF:  Were you given a chance to do it on Broadway?

NPH:   There were a couple of times when it could have happened, but I think the dates conflicted with other projects.

JF:  Probably a film or three ...

NPH:  That's probably accurate!

JF:  I saw you play Tobias in the Reprise! concert production of Sweeney Todd in 1999, and I must say you were wonderful in it. Please take it the right way when I say I was very impressed and surprised; I knew you could sing, since you did Rent, but that requires a completely different singing style from Sweeney.

NPH:  Oh, thanks! When I did Rent at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, Calvin Remsberg [the director of Sweeney Todd] saw me and thought I would be right for Tobias, which has provided the impetus for all of the Sweeney Todd performances I have done since.

JF:  Were you offered the chance to reprise the part at the Kennedy Center production this summer?

NPH:   There was talk of my being a part of it. But I thought four times was plenty.

JF:  Where else have you done it?

NPH:  I did it in LA, then at Lincoln Center, which we took to San Francisco, where it was recorded for PBS. Then we did it at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago. I'm glad I didn't agree to do it this summer, because then I wouldn't have been able to do Proof.

JF:  How long is your commitment for Proof?

NPH:  Fourteen weeks through mid-October. At least that's Anne's commitment - I piggybacked her contract. I suppose I could go on longer if it's deemed necessary. It's a great part.

JF:  Did Daniel Sullivan, who must be the busiest director in New York if not in America, come back to direct you?

NPH:  Yes. We had four weeks of rehearsals with him. He gave us notes last night, and then I think he went right back to directing I'm Not Rappaport today, and he'll come back tomorrow to give us more notes. He's an amazing individual and it's a pleasure working with him.

JF:  I noticed you were in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego ...

NPH:  Correct. And Daniel Sullivan directed that as well.

JF:  What part did you play?

NPH:  I was Romeo.

JF:  I had you pegged as a Mercutio, personally!

NPH:  (laughs) No ... I got the big ol' part! Emily Bergl was Juliet, Richard Easton was Friar Lawrence, and Katherine McGrath from the recent Music Man revival was the Nurse. It was a great production. Dan set it before the time period that Shakespeare set it in, so instead of using foils in the battles we used these large two-handed broadswords and wreaked carnage everywhere. It was a very dark production and my first Shakespearian play.

JF:  How did it feel doing it?

NPH:  It felt great! I felt a little green, because Shakespeare writes the thought process within the text; it was tricky not to think of what to say and then say it, and instead just deliver the lines. That's tricky, especially if one hasn't done it before. But I'm a 'games and theory' kind of guy. I love puzzles so it was fun dissecting Shakespeare's prose.

JF:  What are your other theater credits?

NPH:  I was in the pre-Broadway workshop of Thou Shalt Not playing Emile, the role Norbert Leo Butz played on Broadway. I was in The End of the Day, directed by David Warren, at The Coast Theater. I did James Lapine's Luck, Pluck and Virtue at the Atlantic Theater Off-Broadway and in La Jolla ... So I've done my fair share of theater. I have also been very fortunate in that I've been able to come to New York two or three times a year just to see as many shows as possible. I think the live theater culture here is incredible.

JF:  I read that you are signed on to provide the voice of Spider-Man in a CGI animated series being produced by MTV. When does that air?

NPH:  Probably not until the end of the year, due to the turn around time needed for the animation. We recorded two episodes and I'm going to have to start patching in other episodes from New York ... the episodes are recorded in Los Angeles. I think I record the next one on the 10th.

JF:  That's funny - I thought one of the perks of Proof would be that you would be near the MTV studios to record the show.

NPH:  No ... it's an LA based show. The nice thing about voice-over work is that they can be in LA and you can do the recording in New York. The animation for the show is going to be absolutely amazing, and having MTV attached to the project means the music is going to be fierce.

JF:  Do you have any other projects in the works?

NPH:  I just can't please you! I'm in a play on Broadway, I have an animated TV show coming up, I have a few movies that just came out ... but it's not enough for you, is it? (Laughs)

JF:  Nope. We need more Neil Patrick Harris.

NPH:  Well, come see Proof then!

JF:  I will definitely do so. Have a great run.

NPH:  Thanks!

Proof, starring Anne Heche, Neil Patrick Harris, Kate Jennings Grant, and Len Cariou, is at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street Tickets and schedule available online at Tele-Charge.

Photo by David Stoltz

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