“Undercover Brother”: Neil Patrick Harris Interview

You would hardly recognize Neil Patrick Harris from his days as Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989-1993). He is 29 now, 6 feet tall, with a grown-up face and a brush of blond hair that doesn’t need combing.

Harris remained busy since his teenage doc years, appearing in TV movies and series (Stark Raving Mad, Cold Sassy Tree), films (Starship Troopers, The Next Best Thing) and the theater (Romeo and Juliet, Rent).

Harris talked to Hollywood.com about his new movie, Undercover Brother, his friendship with co-star Denise Richards, learning to do back flips, and he even sang for us.

OK, I promised my wife to bring this up ’cause she loved your show, so bear with me. You still must get recognized as Doogie Howser. What did you take from Doogie Howser, M.D.?

Neil Patrick Harris: I do still get a lot of recognition from that show. It was great at that time. I was granted an incredible education, because it was Steven Bochco, high quality, one camera…had a great time and made some money to boot.

What’s the movie Undercover Brother about, and what’s your character like?

Harris: It’s based on a John Ridley animated web series. It has an Austin Powers-like quality. Eddie Griffin stars in it as Undercover Brother. He’s joined The Brotherhood to fight The Man who’s trying to re-enact slavery in his subtle ways. I play Lance, The Brotherhood’s office intern, hired by affirmative action, required to be there. So I’m quite ignorant to race relations; I say token white guy things, but help The Brotherhood defeat The Man.

Did you get an education in soul? Or are you soul-challenged?

Harris: [Sounding mighty white] I’m “fresh” and “phat,” “down with the 1-8” and “all up in that piece.”

Is Eddie Griffin really that funny?

Harris: The whole cast is really funny. Eddie had us in stitches; Dave Chappelle is also in the movie and he is just nonstop with the comedy. Which made
for an interesting

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shoot, as there were a lot ad-libs thrown in.…you just had to go along and not laugh. Chris Kattan is in the film–a Tasmanian devil, that one. He demands the comic oxygen in the room! [Laughs] He’s just out of control. He’s just like you would imagine Chris Kattan to be.

And Denise Richards is Chris Kattan’s secret weapon…

Harris: Yes, White She-Devil.

How did she fit in with all these guys?

Harris: She did great. Denise and I have worked together now three times, so we’ve become very fast friends. And she’s a wonderfully humble, talented girl–she held her own. She’s the sex object in the movie.

That’s not a stretch.

Harris: No, that’s not a stretch, but she’s been trying to play against that type her whole career, and she’s really so funny. She plays two roles; she’s also Penelope Snow, who is her alter ego. But she is kind of easy on the eyes. I don’t know if you know that about Denise. The kids today call her a “looker.”

I guess could see that. In the right light.

Harris: Yes! If you lit her right, she might look all right.

So was Charlie Sheen lurking around the set?

Harris: Charlie Sheen is who again?

Uh, Denise’s fiancée?

Harris: Wait a second, Denise is engaged?

[Pregnant pause]

Harris: THAT WHORE! [Breaks up laughing]

No, actually when we were making the movie they hadn’t met yet. She was still single while we filmed. They only met on the set of Spin City right after. She says he’s a wonderfully super guy and she’s thrilled–they’re so happy together.

Upcoming, you’re the choice to be the voice of MTV’s animated Spider-Man. What’s it like working with MTV?

Harris: It’s really cool. When I auditioned for the show, I didn’t realize it was an MTV production, which is going to make for really good tunes during the episodes, if nothing else. Then, being on MTV, the dialogue can be a little darker, more interesting and edgy…and the animation is just phenomenal. It’s a CGI program that’s doing all the animation, so when Spidey does a back flip, it really looks like someone doing a back flip with a half twist and landing on the wall.

Can you do a back flip?

Harris: I actually can. I’ve been taking a trapeze class for the last couple of years. I’m working on my double back right now.

You should be on Circus of the Stars!

Harris: Why did that end up being so cheesy, though? That circus s*** is HARD. I’m not foolin’–my hands are totally calloused. I’ve been working on this stuff twice a week for a

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couple years now, and the double back is hard. But you watch Mario Lopez do it, and it’s just not that exciting. [Laughs] Would it be any different if I did it? Probably not.

So you’re Spidey on MTV and Tobey Maguire‘s Spidey on the big screen. Could you take him?

Harris: [Laughs] I would not dream of taking on Tobey Maguire. Plus, he’s a talented and nice guy, and I have nothing but nice things to say about him.

That’s not a fun answer.

Harris: I know it’s not, but it’s true. I’ve been acting for 13 years, and they’ve all been acting since they were youngsters. Our social circles have mixed, then not mixed and then mixed again. Tobey’s a mellow, cool guy. He’s just a good guy. I know that’s not the answer you want, and I don’t mean that as the political thing to say, but he’s a nice guy.

Talk to me about Starship Troopers. Are you surprised about what a cult hit it’s become?

Harris: I think it was the highest selling DVD of that year. I am a little surprised. When they first made it, they were thinking it would be a huge success–and we’re talking sequels–and I think it was marketed poorly…and then it came out on DVD, and everyone watched it again and loved it. I mean, it really held up well. We had a great time making it.

Denise Richards was also in this movie. It seems that every time you’re in a movie with Denise, she gets to kick butt and you don’t.

Harris: As in life. [Laughs] Denise gets to kick ass and I get to talk about it. [Laughs more]

I have a final request–again, bear with me. You received rave reviews for your role as Mark in the musical Rent. I was wondering if you could sing a little something for me from the show.

Harris: [Sings] December 24th, nine p.m., Eastern Standard Time, from here on in, I shoot without a script. [Laughs] That’s all I remember.

Undercover Brother opens in theaters everywhere May 31.

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