Neil Patrick Harris on His Fitness Goals, Career Milestones, and Most ‘exhilarating’ Roles

Neil Patrick Harris
Bravo / Contributor / Getty Images

There’s no celebrity funnyman as well-received, likeable, and straight-up charming as Neil Patrick Harris.

Whether you know him from How I Met Your Mother, his Doogie Howser, M.D. days, or his live appearances onstage, you’ve probably recognized the actor most recently in his campaign as one of Cigna’s TV Doctors of America, an effort to spread awareness for preventive healthcare. If everyone in the U.S. got their annual routine checkups, it could save up to 100,000 lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

We caught up with the actor, comedian, and singer to chat about his most legendary performances, his new collaboration, and his favorite episode of HIMYM.

Men’s Fitness: Was there a personal reason for getting involved with TV Doctors of America?

Neil Patrick Harris: I was a fan of the first round of commercials they did. I remember watching them and finding the sense of humor sharp as well as funny, but the actual reason behind the campaign impressed me. Having kids myself, I’m aware of trying to stay ahead of the negative, and preventive care coincides with that—not just needing to go to the doctor, exercising more, or being healthier because you’re sick or something’s wrong, but to take some personal initiative so you don’t get sick. I respect that about Cigna. There’s an understandable concern with not wanting to go get a checkup because you’re worried about what the results might be. But, I think that is one of those moments of personal constitutional strengths where you need to do it. You need to bite that bullet so you have information. Information is power.

Speaking of fitness, your 2013 Tonys opener was eight minutes long and undeniably athletic. How’d you prepare?

That was a one-off. I had no opportunity to redo any of it, so I honestly was operating on a lot of intense adrenaline. The hardest thing was breath control—to sing efficiently and not look like I was straining to hit notes. The biggest challenge was just to find moments when the audience was laughing so I could actually breathe. If you watch the video, there are a couple times when the audience applauded in moments I wasn’t expecting them to, and you can see my expression of gratitude…that I got to take one more breath before I jumped into the next part.

How has your fitness regimen changed over time?

My recent roles have been more transformative, physically. [Harris recently lost about 20lbs for Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch]. I’ve been trying to have my body adapt to the different guises. But I’ve also realized when I used to go to the gym with a trainer and work out, it was for an outward appearance. I wanted to have a better physique, so I looked better in a T-shirt. But as I’m getting older I’m trying to work out more for longevity—much more bodyweight, core strength, flexibility. I want to be able to stay fit and not get man-boobs when I stop lifting weights, but I also want to be able to survive a zombie apocalypse. I’ve been watching a lot of American Ninja Warrior, and I find that body very impressive. I want to be able to climb down a building if I have to or make my way across a broken bridge, as opposed to being able to squat 450lbs.

Shifting gears a bit: What went into filming your demise in Gone Girl?

There was a lot of blood and a lot of retakes. I was honored to be working with director David Fincher. I had heard so much about his process, and his process involves an extraordinary amount of takes and focus. He demands that everyone from the actor to the focus-puller be 100% committed, 100% of the time. I felt like I was in the big leagues, so any weirdness I would have about getting sticky fake blood on me, or being naked, or any of those personal worries went away when I was playing at such a level. We were all in the zone. It was replicating the exact same thing over and over again as if it were the first time. And it wasn’t redundant. It was incredibly exhilarating. And it was a real pivotal moment to the movie. It was one of those sucker-punch moments where, if you hadn’t read the book at least, that was the last thing you were expecting.

Favorite episode of How I Met Your Mother?

“Girls Versus Suits”. It was the 100th episode. I got to sing a song about my love for all things sartorial.

Your favorite career milestone to date?

Probably living through the Hedwig chapter—getting to be a punk rock star on the Broadway stage.

Your key to staying fearless and spontaneous in life?

Embracing failure, looking forward to it, so it can teach you how to be better the next time it happens.

Have you ever turned down a role you regret?

Dave [Harris’ husband] and I were asked to be the couple that haunted the protagonist in the first season of American Horror Story, and I regret not saying yes to that.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to entertain somebody?

My terrible-flailing-comedic-dance-party skills to amuse my children. I’m glad they’re not being documented in any way.

What’s something people don’t know about you, but should?

I still can’t ride a unicycle. That seems rudimentary. It seems like that should be part of my circus skills. Although, I am very close to doing a slow-press handstand. Not a step forward, kick up, and do a handstand, but what a circus performer does where you slowly bend down at the waist, put out your hands, then slowly work your way up into a handstand. That’s my goal.

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