Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan – How I Met Your Mother Goes Home
by Jay S. Jacobs
McGee’s Pub, a famous old watering hole in New York, is not the type of place that you expect to have a glamorous Hollywood screening party. However, on June 3, 2008, McGee’s was the site of an old fashioned Hollywood red carpet.
This wasn’t just a normal show biz event, though. It makes a certain amount of sense that the producers of the popular sitcom How I Met Your Mother would choose McGee’s. You see, when creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were creating their series, McGee’s – which they frequented when they were writers on The Late Show with David Letterman – was the inspiration behind the characters’ favorite bar, McLaren’s.
Therefore, soon after the series was renewed for a fourth season, the producers thought that their old hangout would be the ideal place to have an Academy screening to suggest an episode for Emmy consideration – as well give participants the opportunity to have a Q&A session with creator Bays, series director Pamela Fryman and four stars of the show: Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan. (Co-star Jason Segel couldn’t make the event because he was working on a film project).
The series had a dramatic and turbulent season. Main character Ted Mosby (Radnor) has apparently found the love of his life (who may eventually become the mother in the title), played by Sarah Chalke of Scrubs. Newlyweds Lily (Hannigan) and Marshall (Segel) get used to married life while having to deal with Lily’s spending compulsion and their new money-pit condo. As all this was happening, the single friends Robin (Smulders) and Barney (Harris) stumbled into a probably ill-advised affair.
Add to this a series of high profile guest stars – including Chalke, James van der Beek, Danica McKellar, Mandy Moore, Busy Phillipps and a certain well-known pop star named Britney – and the sky is the limit for season four.
Before the Academy screening, Radnor, Smulders, Harris and Hannigan were kind enough to share a booth with us at McGee’s and chat about the show and their part in it.
I’m glad to see you suited up for this.
Neil Patrick Harris: Of course. How could I not? I’m glad to s… (stops in the middle of the word and looks me up and down, wearing a button-down shirt but no tie or jacket.).
I did not suit up. I apologize.
Neil Patrick Harris: Thanks for, umm, not suiting up. An awkward way to start the interview…
I know. I know. It was too hot.
Neil Patrick Harris: I feel you.
I’m sure you won’t remember this Josh, but I interviewed you during the first season.
Josh Radnor: Really? (I hand him a print out.) You know, I think I do remember this. Was it a good interview? Was this the first year?
Josh Radnor: I did this in my car on the way to work.
Alyson Hannigan: (looks at the sign on the table) PopEntertainment? What’s that?
We’re an entertainment magazine on the internet.
Alyson Hannigan: Really?
We’re based out of Philadelphia. In fact, I believe I read you stayed at a hotel there last year with your husband.
Alyson Hannigan: Yeah! Yeah, yeah! For Thankgiving. We had Thanksgiving in Philadelphia. It’s awesome.
Well, we’re in Chestnut Hill, right down the street from the hotel you stayed at.
Alyson Hannigan: Oh, it’s so amazing. Cute little area. I loved it.
Congratulations on the fourth season.
Cobie Smulders: Thank you. We’re really excited about it.
Josh, I remember the last time we were talking about whether or not you would come back for a second. So how cool is it that you’ve made it this far?
Josh Radnor: It’s pretty great. I mean, I sometimes maybe don’t appreciate our good fortune because so few shows work. Very few comedies are working. Sometimes I just step back and go: wow, this is pretty great. I wish I could be more articulate than that.
What’s it like to be back in New York for real – after playing being in New York for so long?
Cobie Smulders: This is one of my favorite cities on the planet. Every time I come here I try to see as much theater as humanly possible. I went to four shows this weekend.
What did you see?
Cobie Smulders: I saw Gypsy, Mary Poppins, August: Osage County and In the Heights.
Neil Patrick Harris: Oh, I love New York. We film the series in LA, so we’re there seven and a half months out of the year – with a few breaks, but we’re pretty much there the whole time. So, we have an apartment here in New York, and as soon as we’re done the wrap we head east and spend as much time as we can. I just love it. I mean, even… I was seeing a play called Boeing Boeing yesterday – a matinee and the night before we’d seen a musical. When the curtain goes up and it’s ten after eight and I’m watching the show and I’m in this world that I don’t know. All these people are in costume and they are really committing to this unique world. All of these thousand people are watching. I thought – this is happening in 50-75 places… all at the same time. That happens every night in New York. Sometimes it’s Ibsen or Shakespeare or Legally Blonde. It’s all over the place. There’s something that’s wonderful about the creativity. The authenticity of that I think is remarkable.
Alyson Hannigan: It’s fantastic. I adore New York. It’s such a great city. It’s a wonderful place to be. It’s one of my top three favorite cities in the world.
Josh Radnor: The real thing looks better, as good as our set and props department are. The real thing is great. We keep having this fantasy that we’ll be here doing exterior shooting. But we’ll see.
What have you been doing while you’re here in New York?
Alyson Hannigan: Well, I did some shopping yesterday. You know, to make sure that I know what Lily experiences when she’s in New York.
Did you put it all on credit?
Alyson Hannigan: Yes. Yes. I put it all on Lily’s credit card. (laughs) I wish. No, it’s just a short trip. I have family here. We got to see them last night. We spent the weekend in New Hampshire. My husband had his high school reunion, so we did that. So we only have like two days in New York.
Have you ever visited McGee’s before?
Cobie Smulders: I have. We came here actually right when we got picked up for our first thirteen episodes. We were in New York for the up fronts and then we came here afterwards. The bar that inspired our creator.
Alyson Hannigan: I haven’t. This is my first time. I’ve heard a lot about it! Very excited.
Neil Patrick Harris: I have never been to McGee’s. But Josh Radnor got hammered here one night. You ought to ask him about that.
Josh, I heard that you got really drunk here once.
Josh Radnor: (mock indignation) Who said that? Lies! Lies! Oh, yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
So, do you remember the place at all?
Josh Radnor: I remember this place. Totally, yeah. It’s funny. This is McLaren’s.
So whose idea was it to hold the screening at McGee’s?
Cobie Smulders: I think it was probably Fox’s, but… I’m sure that their publicity department is aware of this bar and they thought it would be a really cool site.
So where is Jason, anyway? Home slacking?
Josh Radnor: He’s filming a movie.
Alyson Hannigan: Jason is filming a movie, so he is in LA. And I’m sure he’s drinking somewhere.
Do you get recognized on the street?
Cobie Smulders: No, no, I’ve never had that. I usually skate right on by. I hardly get recognized. I never wear makeup. I tend to stay in my Venice neighborhood, which is all surfers and artists. (laughs) I haven’t had anyone… I mean I get recognized but not in that way.
Is there anything you are looking for your character to deal with in the new season?
Josh Radnor: Well, it’s interesting, the thing is that they are trying the two sides of Ted right now. There’s the romantic, sensitive side. Then there is this – he’s still got some dog in him and ready to party and everything. So it was really fun to play that this season. It seems like, he seems pretty serious about Stella, but he’s got a major little devil on his shoulder, also.
Alyson Hannigan: I don’t know. I’d like to see what’s going to happen with their apartment. I just love when they really deal with the relationship. They’re just such a great couple. I love when they explore that and celebrate it. And there’s more stress involved with their relationship now because of the debt and the crappy apartment. So it’ll be interesting to see where that goes.
Neil Patrick Harris: I want more physical comedy. I’m hoping to be slapped quantifiably more times than I was this season.
Well you still have a few slaps left coming from Marshall.
Neil Patrick Harris: I have three slaps left. (Ed. note: Actually, two.) This last season at the end I had two episodes where girls slapped me silly all the time and I couldn’t have been happier. And that was off set. That was between takes.
Cobie Smulders: I would never turn down another music video. I have so much fun shooting them. I always love anything involving her as a reporter. I love doing all the fake news – the silly news stories. Yeah, I mean I think that probably in the next season or the one after probably she’ll be in a relationship again.
Do you have any favorite episodes?
Josh Radnor: (points to monitor, which is showing the screening). That’s one of my favorite episodes this year. I loved it.
I haven’t even had a chance to notice which one it was.
Josh Radnor: With Blah Blah. (Ed. note: The episode was called “How I Met Everyone Else.”) Great show. I like this one a lot. I like the first one that Sarah was on. I thought that was great. I liked “Arrivederci Fiero” – the one where we say goodbye to Marshall’s car. People don’t really talk about that episode, but I thought it was really funny. There are some that are really funny but culminate in something triumphant or heartwarming – that kind of shift at the end, where they do something unexpected.
Are we ever going to have a Robin Sparkles tour?
Cobie Smulders: Oh, God, no. I wouldn’t do that to the general public. I mean, there is a possibility about doing another video or doing another song, but it’s like done with at present. But we’ll see. I don’t know anything definitively.But there is always a possibility.
How did they produce the idea that Lily and Marshall’s apartment that was crooked? It’s such an interesting idea.
Alyson Hannigan: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Actually I have an area in my basement where it is like that against the wall…
Alyson Hannigan: Yeah, but not the entire floor. I don’t know if that was based on anyone’s experience at all, but it’s a great idea. (Ed. note: Later in the public Q&A session, series creator Carter Bays acknowledged it was based on an old apartment he had.) That’s one of the worst mistakes she ever made, so the apartment had to be really bad.
So do you think we’ll be seeing more of Ted’s office life, too?
Josh Radnor: I don’t know. That was a second season inspiration. We saw him work more. We’ll see. That would be nice.
I interviewed Jason during the second season, and I asked him at the time if he thought Marshall would be able to stay sort of an idealistic left-leaning lawyer while working for Barney. And now things have gotten even worse. Do you think with the debt and the apartment and everything that Marshall and Lily will be able to keep their innocence?
Alyson Hannigan: I know. You know, it’ll be an interesting journey, that’s for sure. I don’t know. He’s basically out in the real world now, so he’s going to learn a lot, but hopefully they will address that this season. But I think that their love is always going to have that innocence, because it is so pure and magic.
Neil, a friend of mine is a member of the Magic Castle (a world-famous magician’s club in Hollywood.)
Neil Patrick Harris: No way! Fantastic!
He says you’re very involved with the castle and a big magic person.
Neil Patrick Harris: I’m on the board of directors of the Magic Castle.
Are you always trying to get some more magic into the stories for Barney to do? I know he has done it in some episodes…
Neil Patrick Harris: We’ve had quite a few. There was a full magic-themed episode and then they use his magic to impress the chicks. A lot of fire. They like fireballs. They will write things in the script. “Barney shoots a fireball and catches it in his hand.” Then they leave it up to me to figure out how to make that happen.
So have you gotten to the point where you have an idea who the mother is going to be yet?
Josh Radnor: No. I stay away from those theories. It’s a weird thing to speculate on, because even if we knew, it’s kind of the “will they or won’t they” of the show. You don’t want it to happen too soon.
Alyson Hannigan: (laughs) I have no idea. I mean, I don’t know, I hope it’s Stella. I love her. I love Sarah Chalke. She’s fantastic. I do hope it’s her, mainly so that people will know. We can stop going, “I don’t know who the mom is.”
I was thinking it might be her, but then I heard that Scrubs was coming back after all, and I thought it may be hard for her to play both roles.
Alyson Hannigan: Oh, well I think it may be done by the time we start. So, fingers crossed…
Cobie Smulders: I think they have no idea what they want to do. I think it’s one of those things like the show came out. There are so many shows where there is a mystery. You’re trying to find out what’s going on. You’re always at the edge of your seat. I think when they started to do the pilot that happened. I think now the show has become more about these five people and their relationship and their experiences and their stories. I know we are going to get to who the mother is, but I also feel they are going to find out who the mother is, and we’ll be on our way out. You know what I mean?
Yeah, maybe that would be the last reveal for the series, hopefully years in the future…
Josh Radnor: Yeah, then you’re really wanting to find somebody.
Cobie Smulders: Yeah. So it probably, you know, I just can’t see it happening [the writers not telling who it was.].
I still think it’s going to be the slutty pumpkin.
Josh Radnor: That was her theory.
Cobie Smulders: Right. Right, yeah. I’m sure there are so many options it could be.
This season you had a lot of big guest stars on the show. Is it gratifying that the show is so well thought of that they would want to be on it?
Josh Radnor: Are you thinking about anyone in particular?
Well, of course Britney, then there was Sarah and James Van der Beek, and Mandy Moore.
Josh Radnor: Sure. Sure. A lot of pop stars.
Exactly, now you just have to get Jessica Simpson and Christina Aguilera.
Josh Radnor: Yeah, that would be cool.
Cobie Smulders: It’s always fun. I mean I love it when we are able to get really cool actors. But I also like it when they give new people a chance when they are trying to get their SAG card, or they are just starting out in the business, and they get an anything role – or they get a really cool guest star role. I kind of prefer that, but I also understand why they hire a Britney Spears.
Neil Patrick Harris: I’m pleased to know that the show is becoming popular enough in the cultural zeitgeist that celebrities think it’s a good move to be guesting on our show. So, if it entices viewership, I’m all for it. That being said, our show isn’t… uh, we have a story to tell. We actually have things that happen within the show. So as long as they are used in roles that are written for the show, I’m all for it. Carter and Craig and our casting department are very savvy about who they cast and why. Britney Spears is a perfect example of that. She was great, but her camp came to us and said, “We see in the breakdown that there is a role for a receptionist. What would you think of Britney Spears?” That was nice that it happened in that order, because it shows that people are kind of keen on our show.
How is it to deal with bringing them in and making them work in the show without it being too distracting?
Josh Radnor: Well, you know, the Britney thing was this whole strange universe that we got thrown into. I didn’t quite realize the level of media attention that… I mean I did, obviously, but then when there are helicopters circling over the stage you get a different impression of what that girl’s life is like. But she did a great job. Mandy did a great job, too. She’s done a lot of acting. It was great fun.
Cobie, have you ever talked to Carter and Craig about their irrational hatred of all things Canadian?
Cobie Smulders: The interesting thing is they approached me, and they said that they were thinking of making Robin a Canadian. I said, yeah, that’s cool. That would be great. We could talk about Canada’s… how they have universal health care, and the other social services are much better than in America. How the politics are much cleaner. To shed light on our American government and where we’re lacking. Now it’s all igloos and moose and “eh”s and making fun of our accent. But it is a sitcom, so you know, what do you expect?
I loved the line that Springsteen was the American Bryan Adams…
Cobie Smulders: It’s true. It’s true.
Alyson, have you gotten over your big break up with funk legend George Clinton yet?
Alyson Hannigan: (laughs) You know, he’ll have a special place in my heart always.
Not just any man will give you a ferret.
Alyson Hannigan: I know. That’s a good man.
They hinted at the end of the season that Robin may be moving into Ted’s apartment. Can you see that working out? It should be interesting with comedic tension.
Josh Radnor: Yeah. It would be funny, yeah.
… particularly because they have started doing the possibility of Barney and Robin together…
Josh Radnor: I know. That could be rough. We may have some controversy with that.
When I first saw the first episode, I misunderstood when the narrator was talking about “Uncle Barney” and “Aunt Robin” and thought that you two ended up together. In fact it was Josh who set me straight on that. Now, two seasons later, you and Robin do get involved. Was that sort of a surprise that they went in that direction?
Neil Patrick Harris: That was just an improv that I did on set. I just thought at the time I’d take it to the next level, and they followed through with it. No, I’m kidding. No, I think that I have been leading up to that. Leaving it dangling for that to happen. It’s a tricky thing. You don’t want to enter a land in your show where everyone is coupling up with everyone else. You have to be really cautious about how you do that and how long it takes for it to happen. How long it remains that way. I suspect we won’t be a couple for ages because it changes Barney a lot and it would probably rub salt into Ted’s wound if she says yes after all. I think it will be an interesting way to start the fourth season.
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