Neil Patrick Harris on How Magic Influences His Acting

Harris appears on 'Popcorn With Peter Travers' to talk about his new role in Netflix's 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'
21:11 | 01/20/17

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Transcript for Neil Patrick Harris on How Magic Influences His Acting
You know what the question I'm asked most is you please leave the premises. Why do I do it I don't often ask me why are you an actual why not a market. Millionaire Playboy. Lie respond to the siren song but the Spanish called. Lou the F. Repeated fortune know the standing ovation. For the costumes. Where are about costumes. No. Costumes. State in the car. We must be revealed you know. Hello everybody I am Peter Travers in this is popcorn where we tell you what's happening in the pop culture. And my guest today Neil Patrick Harris this is his first time on shelves it is we brought him to a very very dark place. So that we can go. To what really is banking it can't you know he's Netflix has now in them and ethnic. A series of unfortunate events but we feel totally fortunate that you thank you love it you don't. It's just got paintings everything really behind those Kirk that. Real elected it's sad game show. Golf network. Says better. About we have our pop group would you that it animal it is. Would you what is that you knew it would get off to that kind. Really you know it used to be good shellac we haven't used it for a couple weeks I can. That's been holidays and things that hit but people should be happening all department want when they. Binge one. That's true. But bush don't think have been to watch you have binge watcher. It's sometimes you know because I'm too out in the world I'd love to just retreat to a place very much like that I enjoyed have been watching in. Concepts in theory beaten with our show officers unfortunate events I think. Weirdly that it's better to watch a couple and and step away. And then watch a couple later step away does that make sense. It does to me but Netflix will completely fire you from season to what it is available lots and big general write what they lied when the pin. Because you could forget. And be distracted and watch something. But also Netflix has that that auto place feature. So if you happen to a fallen asleep it'll just think you've been watching this one ends and says the tour started eleven seconds and second ninth that. So there's almost something more impressive about. Re watching it the next day because it clearly means your weight if you're awake and you may be bombs going off. The tape yet now I did I tell you what I've I've done. Let's start acting on television in nineteen be. 01991. Now 89 to 92 he Houser MD and so that was network TV and that I did nine years on comments from other. And in between I did it weird little chauffeur packed season with Tony Chiluba on NBC. And so I've been aware of the network. Zeit Geist and the what machinations with in native hi how it is the only to use the word and finish and that's. Ray I think it if we really mr. waters. And so and so to be a part of something that is creatively. Freeing. Meaning that Netflix let's brings on the best people that they can weather it be buried Sonnenfeld as executive producer. Or Bo Welch's production designers won an Oscar and then they give them the money the resources and walks away. For real and what system the entire season without Natalie without. The network involvement be advertising involvement. Is really refreshing. Legitimately refreshing that wouldn't refreshing it's almost on her I heard well it's the new thing right it's starting that he's that way you're getting great people to be able to do great content and therefore make it been towards me. And so I'm really proud of the essence it's like nothing that I've ever done. CI. Super happy accidents are some miserable what you said. But in the disguises and if you can't say this but I can when they made the movie version of this. It wasn't really very good. You can I can't say that it was even the whole Jim Carey was playing count awfully polite. And the on the way over rated Merrill Streep wasn't just. So. Oh they had a great cast the end it was you know I'm I'm aware of the movie only from the perspective of of this next chapter. So I had never seen the movie I'd actually read the books and Barry Sonnenfeld Cain sat down with me and wanted me to be a part of this Olaf he showed me. Set renderings of what he had intended and then. And then regale me with a long story about his history with to show that he was slated to direct the movie. Even as they were building sets he was still part of the parent fired him. Daniel Handler who wrote the books and in the pen name let me sneak it had written the screenplay and about halfway through before they started filming fired him as well. Both of those key players are. Our parts of the Netflix theories so and its interest in ways that redemption story for them because they ID they want to be able to tell the story the way they wanted to. And when you get Jim Carrey in the mix and when you get. A giants. Budget. The giant budget. Informs how they who they want to see the movie and so it and the movie ended up I think playing more for young girl lack years that we years. Design. And so it's really awesome to be able to. Thirteen years after the facts be able to do. The vision that the version that they intended which is darker and more Edward glory he Maurer. Sardonic. Ironic. And and kind of pass their version of the story which I think still is palatable for children and still is is is it is. Catchy enough for adults to be able to he would do you have six year old twins yeah they watch. They have watched all of them why likely finish them this weekends. And and they loved them I mean it's it's that I think there'll Hamels is on five. They're a little that might be geared up high for me to do the you know 10987605. And six are directed by dairy he directed the first risk to the middle to. And those are I think fires are my favorites because I play captain shampoos. I wanted to do sort of a drunk Sean Connery if his dentures that it's. Flourish shark. He talks a little bit like the bush punish Iraq opened miles required you know annie's he's flirting with Alfre Woodard the entire time. An opera Woodard played the same hard and Josephine. Street. And I. I don't like to call her over rated by the way nobody is that's the president elect's binders. I didn't go. I know you didn't you stopped completely well not wanting to dived into trouble when you don't wells. And and what I like about how afterwards performances and Josephine if you're familiar with the books at all is there's a nother level going on that these children the bottler children have been. At that lost their parents in a mysterious fire. Tan and there are being sent from guardian to guardian act like Olaf who in various disguises tries to you served there. Guardianship. Take advantage of them and take their fortune but underneath that there's this organization called the ethnicity. That we learn more about as the book's got lot. And we're not quite sure what yet Steve means and this is that Iran and their parents were apparently members of the yet he. Aloft was number of them yet to Ian that's larger story. Josephine. Is supposed to have been a fierce and formidable. Member of the the FDA and is now we timid in the once you're watching she separated everything that's the doorknob to follow. Don't touch the stole cold soup everything it can't going. And when Merrill Streep was doing it it was. I I understood that the timid. Version of her but I didn't quite see a fierce and formidable version of her and with Alfie Woodard. You can see it underneath. Roach sees now was once a fierce and formidable member of the via the which to me. Amplifies this detail because it makes it seem more James Bond more. Physical and exciting so I loved doing scenes of there. I didn't love having a pact lag. You've given yourself in every single role you play enough count all off to Walters discusses. You'll look horrible thank you yes and Embree. It's it's a bit and I'm I got a big winners Neil you know in the in the past half a decade I've taken on the eggs. The challenge me physically as well as as an actor and I'm not sure. I'm in therapy twice weekly well that's not that's not the main thing we talk about but it certainly at how a topic of conversation. Because I enjoy I don't maybe maybe I love I'm a magician. And I love juggling and I'd walk a tightrope since trapeze and stuff so I like sort of dangerous circus arts so maybe financially challenging myself physically. But I did this variety show called best time ever for a year on NBC and every week. I would do some other new weird physical thing agreed Fieger I did back flips off the pogo sticks. Why did all kinds of randomness and then it went from Hedwig. On Broadway. Four but he the regardless it was heels and singing and one woman show with no intermission and the rate or gracious kind of intensity and now I'm doing this where two episodes them if a person in prosthetics. We're with us with random physical things to trans dot got to stop me Peter we should you shoot your therapy sessions I think it would be asked. Sounds like there's a a death which involved in the magic. And Andy I'll let me I honestly wonder what witnesses. What that is I'm nuts as a child in Toronto no it wasn't really a I think I'm more of a technical actor then then sort of that the ish kind of actor and so are in jewelry I really enjoy. Knowing where the camera is knowing how it fits and I. And I've always thought why would I let a stunt men come in and do the stunt. Forces the camera to have to cut to a weird wide shot with a guy that sort of looks like me but not really to do the start why can't I do this right. I don't know why I've always just enjoyed. Sometimes it's insurance companies is an and they saying look we just. Page you I'm sure you view it's thirty million for you when you do something like go of the snake at the very yet because you know. Spoke what they have to protect. Yeah but I admit that speaks to the other side to people who are described under heads that don't have any sort of physical document and mortgages and jump off a building and other neck like I know how to Larry. And I'm excited to do it. But I I don't know I like that I like physical someday hope to do. One of those big exciting matrix the Star Wars he kind of things that in law that requires a lot of physical. Dexterity and an awareness and that may be one of the reasons why to confiscate. Well because it does give you a lot of to and mean when you. I mean you were great head on that was thank you have a talent show it to you keep your words with you know I don't travel. It's a sad because it's so it's that little pedestal that's hard to keep and bear arms you have six as pets welcome. But see I even feel weird like hosting the show in the presence of view who posted every. And yet the hosting king around so randomly. That that way I didn't study. I didn't that wasn't money. Goal I started acting is acting like time I have great respect for the Johnny Carson's and have great respect for. The PT Barnum and so I very much like. Again within the structure of it I like that the host has a job in in the host and shows is to showcase. What's being honored rate in an awards show year. Welcoming everybody and showing them all these people who have done amazing work in films aren't you here in theater she did not what you don't want him that well yet to come. But that's kind of that gay is you you show up and you want wow them with an opening number something that keeps them there. And makes them so confident okay. Kneels in charge they did a really good opening numbers are now we'll stay put and set them down and watch the show so I I wanna make sure that I don't whine knows start with. Tepid comedy about movies that seems weird and you and you go and change the channel. You know that from doing the Emmys the Oscars Tonys those are different rooms through and if you don't have the temperature of the room I think the Oscars on the most of a two to deal out everybody can in the movie business is very serious about what they dip it a matter how much they smile on. We're here for the fun of it I don't think they really want to be that teams. Agreed. Yeah I didn't do a lot of teen comedy and I did it and and in fact I opened with an opening number calls that obvious though present and Kristen Lopez wrote. That was honoring movies and I wanted to be an opening number that was as cinematic as possible so it. An ability crystalline put myself in shots from different movies in a where's Waldo kind of way. And I danced with my shadow analysts do bunch of a bunch of cinematic things as opposed to a big rats as jazz hands he song and dance numbers beginning. What's before. And I get an opening number I thought oh well. And my sense of humor during the Oscars for me was more dad humor puns. Because I think it's fun when the hosts. Is. Funny but not by eating them but adds it's counted it wasn't that didn't. I read the room. Here at I read the bigger rooms wrong. The bigger room is entirely toll Billy Crystal and let's hope they say here's the here's my advice about the Oscars as the night goes on in the Oscars. The room fills up with people who did not win. Because for every five. People nominated in the category one wins so the vast majority is that Michael is on is the room was full of people who just want this all. Because the winners go away to think outside and they're losers are stunned everyone this sort of stuck there and so as the night goes on do last comedy. Do last bits. Get it going to. Very Smart buys. And so as the nights going to show an in the commercial break some sort of looking around assuming that that's going to be the case. And with how great. A great time. Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban and they stood up. And thumbs up to me and Oprah saluted the and this is the rally top I would push us over thing. Oh really I think you kind of doing really great right now. My only gauge would be that has otherwise I'm back with the writers are. And then we finished it and and the feedback was not good after all is said and done so you just never know. They're so much and do and it's almost schizophrenic. You know how many different things that you do. I'm incredibly grateful that I have weird careers that allows me to be myself as a host. And then I can go you had was on Broadway which is very high pollutants and then go and do. A Netflix series where I'm playing someone that's not like me and and in a perfect world the audience. Is able to sort of see each of those individually it's it's it's rare for an actor and I appreciate it I do love to win it because you're kind of the notorious and PH to some people from your house and Kumar movies. Where you basically playing you as a violent. Homophobic cracked you know totally very few people he killed 68. This is what I'm going to. Especially somebody day they don't usually do its report it clearly trying to disabuse you of of wanting to. Play with the orange. I think I think world I'm kinda opened for business as long as the work is good right and I thought. I'm I'm all about. In a magical way rate in the magicians. Will make something here and then do something that you're not expecting and at the same time to be missed directing you to look over here what they're doing something there so I like that my career isn't just. That same dramatic. Roll over and over or the same. Thing once and again I like that there's always. Each is wondering what's happened and religious that's it but that's been my panel hearing gone girl yeah we David Fincher you know. The vast. Well that's the keys and whether you won a movie career you know I don't. I don't I don't ask for that I didn't say it in my agent's a lot of work on an island to a dramatic move with David Fincher. I got call from David Fincher. Who said you know. Would you meet with me because I have this part movie. And that's one of those. Drop everything go meet with them sweat and hope that the conversation goes well it happens this is this is it really creepy guy. This copy purely its. And put in a much mortal subtle way than anything that I had done till it's doing time at your mother is prepping for had with all league grand performances. And he won it does it really really. He was he was a bit of the red Herring character and yet he didn't want to be nefarious and anyways so that was challenged that I was. So excited I have this image of David Fincher watching How I Met Your Mother and the -- of Barney and saying you need to be in my movie that doesn't really compute in my head I think I don't wanna speak for him but from what I from what he has said in previous interviews I think he. Saw that a lot of people seemed tell like me. And he looked he acknowledged and appreciated. That with Desi being dark he didn't want him to be eaten. Who how hard. And so he like that within the darkness he knew that there was. That there was a like ability factor and he liked the duality of the like ability that comes with. Mean and the darkness that I'm bring to the table so I think that was what he that in exchange yeah that they and now Alexander Payne. Downsizing good on you an omen he has great have a small part in that movie in. And we feel it in Toronto and I was I was there for very short time and and I hope I get to work with him again and a larger capacity because he's great he's such a another truth. A man who seeks out truth. And on all of his. Movies show that and you can release the and depth of truth to the shots terrific performances. So everything's good for you things are really really your marriage is going well marriage as well kids are healthy art. A show and always in song. OK with guns as it showed every bit as every show option we're here we're just robberies right now. So why don't I end it as captain sham saying I love to see. Two Alfre Woodard and Joseph. I say the guy a guy the are. A EU. This she. The reason why the air must say learn cause. There's the old are you me. And you. The reason and I gave us a our callers here's. The old. Anywhere and. So of and. So great certainty if what. Oh.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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