Neil Patrick Harris Talks New Nerdist Puppet Series & Getting Joe Manganiello, Nathan Fillion To Cameo
He’s a TV sitcom stud, an occasional award show host, a film star and, of course, a family man, but Neil Patrick Harris is adding another gig to his plate today with the premiere on Nerdist Channel (on YouTube) of his new web series, “Neil’s Puppet Dreams.”
The series, co-executive produced by Neil’s other half, David Burtka, and co-creator/producer Janet Varney, will drop new episodes every week, diving into the actor’s puppet-packed slumbering memories.
Along for the ride are Henson Alternative puppets and a host of guest stars, including “True Blood’s” Joe Manganiello, “Drag Race’s” Detox and Wilam, and Neil’s “Dr. Horrible” co-star Nathan Fillion.
In a new interview with AccessHollywood.com, Neil explained the origins of the weekly series, which puppets were way too “filthy, sexually” on set, and how he got some very busy, and very handsome actors to make guest spots.
AccessHollywood.com: Does the origin of this have to do with you – as a dad – being around cuddly toys for the last few years?
Neil Patrick Harris: (Laughs) Weirdly, in my real life, I don’t recall much of my dreams, but Chris Hardwick was trying to entice me with doing some content for his channel, on Nerdist, and his pitch to me was, ‘What about a collaboration with you and Brian Henson and the Henson puppets?’ I’m a big fan of him and that world and I said, ‘Absolutely. What should we do?’ And he said, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ So we all met in a conference room at the Henson studios and discussed different ideas and concepts and this dream concept came up and it really sparked everyone’s interest.
Access: There are some very not-G-rated puppets in this, including one named Lorainne Thompson, who looks a little like Betty White, dressed in a nurse’s costume. Were you aware of how sassy that puppet was going to be? She’s got a mouth on her and you can’t always counsel the elderly.
Neil: It’s a generation gap. I’ve met some very soft-spoken, genteel elder puppets, but I think, you know, she had a tough life and has done a lot of living and she’s got the mouth of a sailor and it was difficult on set. We had to rein her in, but she was also filthy, sexually and that was difficult as well.
Access: Did you feel sexually harassed? Did you have to contact human resources?
Neil: She was really into the beaver puppet and I’ll just leave it at that.
Access: Your whole family is in this. It opens with you addressing your children. And David is all over the series. How did you get him involved?
Neil: David’s been involved since the beginning. He’s one of the co-creators of the idea. He was not only an actor in it but a co-executive producer, so as my acting schedule is taking up a lot of my time, he was able — even given his E! News schedule — to be able to help deal with all of the elements pre-filming and including filming. We filmed all seven of these in just over two days. But there was a lot that had to be done in a very short amount of time and we had a couple months prior to get all of our puppet ducks in a row and that job fell squarely on the shoulders of David and Janet Varney who is our other co-executive producer. They did a great job.
Access: And Joe Manganiello (of ‘True Blood’ and ‘Magic Mike’) cameos in this as well. He’s very handsome, very tall. How did you get him involved?
Neil: He’s a behemoth. That was just extraordinary timing. It was a small, very quick cameo and he was going to be filming ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for two episodes starting that following week. He was literally flown in from a different country, arrived at the airport, went home for half an hour, came right to the set, filmed it 10, 11 o’clock at night and was out. So it was a ‘cross our fingers, hope we can get him.’ He said ‘Yes.’
Access: In the behind-the-scenes video already up, he’s in a pineapple tank top. Is there a special significance to that?
Neil: There is. It’s a [running gag] on the episode called ‘Dream Bump.’ There’s a lot of pineapple.
Access: What do you get Joe to do when he comes in? First of all, everyone knows he can strip.
Neil: Indeed. I didn’t want to be too exploitative. It’s a very interesting concept, because we want to be able to be darker in our comedy, but not intentionally blue and lewd, so when someone like Joe is involved, you don’t want to exploit him, you want to have him fit into the world. So I asked him if he’d be willing to be a part of something that he knew nothing about. Then I sent him multiple scripts [and] the song that was gonna be in that episode, so he knew the tone. And I also encouraged his input every step of the way from what he was wearing to his dialogue, to any sort of other ideas that he had. I wanted him to feel part of the process. And he’s great. He’s one of the funnier guys. I don’t know if you caught last week’s ‘How I Met Your Mother’ … but you forget when you see him acting so broody and dramatic how funny he actually is. And he got to exploit that. I guess we did get exploit him, just not his body. We exploited his comedy.
Access: And you got Nathan Fillion involved too – your old buddy. Is that the easiest sell in the world?
Neil: Nathan is so dry that you just ask. You’ll either get a, ‘You got it,’ or ‘Sorry, can’t do it.’ And we luckily got a, ‘You got it.’ And he’s one of the nicest people in the world. We’ve worked together many times and I hope it’s the first of a thousand. I want to do like road trip movies with Nathan Fillion.
Access: That would be amazing.
Neil: He’s just amazing.
Access: Lastly, was there any puppet on set who had a sassier mouth than others?
Neil: We did an episode called ‘Dream Bump,’ where my boring dream inadvertently combines with David’s awesome dream and we got to work with drag queens Detox and Willam, and while not a puppet, Wilam has one of the sauciest mouths around.
Access: He could have given puppets tips on how to cover up a beard.
Neil: (Laughs) There was some felt covering, for sure.
-- Jolie Lash
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