‘How I Met Your Father’ Producer Explains Crafting Less Crass Barney for Neil Patrick Harris’ Return
Warning: This story contains spoilers from “Daddy,” the Season 2A finale of “How I Met Your Father,” now streaming on Hulu.
Is Barney Stinson really a changed man? Well, he’s trying to be! During Tuesday’s “How I Met Your Father” Season 2A finale, Sophie (Hilary Duff) sneaks away from Robert (John Corbett) when she thinks he may be her dad — and crashes right into “How I Met Your Mother” ladies man, Barney.
During the encounter, he reveals that he’s no longer the crass man he once was toward women, something that changed when he had his daughter. To reinforce that, he’s electrocuted every time he does make a comment — something Neil Patrick Harris’ physical comedy was absolutely perfect for.
“You write this much and then go, ‘Neil?’ and he fills in the rest,” director Pamela Fryman, who helmed nearly every episode of “How I Met Your Mother” and returned for “Father,”.
Harris agrees: “I love to go to town on that. I’m a big physical comedy guy. It seemed like a great comedic method to acknowledge Barney’s shortcomings while still staying true to his core person… I thought that was a very smart call because it allowed recognition of the world and humanity and the way one is supposed to behave and yet, it’s still kept — in a comedic way — Barney’s engine is always running and revving. You can’t really stop it. As much as Robin tried, as much as fans might want, Barney’s Barney. That’s how he was designed.”
“How I Met Your Mother” aired on CBS from 2005 to 2014, and featured many storylines — almost all of Barney’s — that haven’t aged well. That was also part of the reason for the change in his character’s ways.
“‘How I Met Your Mother’ was a while ago. A lot has changed and people grow and but it’s Barney,” says Fryman. “We have to recognize this character that we’ve loved for so long. It seemed perfect to me.”
While Harris didn’t “just blindly say yes” when asked to make a cameo, after a Zoom call and lining up timing, it felt both “lovely” and “surreal” to suit back up — especially with the arc that Sophie is going to start looking for her real father, just as Barney did.
“He’s having these conversations about a daughter seeking out a better relationship with her father as a new father of a daughter and sitting talking to female who’s as attractive as Hilary Duff, it’s innate Barney fodder,” says Harris. “He wants to say authentic things because he feels authentic things, but he’s saying it to someone that he would normally wants to say something crass to! That’s who he is. It was intrinsic and well written.”
He also felt an authenticity to the story as both he and Duff are parents in real life. “I’m now having a conversation with her now as a human who, 10 years ago, had little blobby babies that just kind of sat there. Now I have like a fully formed pre-teen daughter. So to be able to talk about those dynamics, I was definitely a changed actor when I was sitting there speaking all of that. It was nice to be able to have an authenticity to those scenes in a kind of weird, meta way,” he explains.
To make things even more personal, when Barney shows Sophie a photo of his daughter Ellie, it’s a picture of Harris’ 12-year-old daughter, Harper.
Harris and Duff had never worked together and it was fun to watch, Fryman recalls. “She was so nervous to meet Neil, so nervous to act with Neil. She was shaking. We had a bit of downtime because it was raining hard, so they got to talk and spend some time with each other. It was it was pretty magical.”
Of course, the door is open if Harris wants to bring Barney back again in the future.
“I think it’s Barney the movie,” Fryer jokes. Harris adds, “I think it’d be Barney, the spinoff. We can pull a straight-up ‘Frasier.’ Just call it ‘Stinson!’ Exclamation mark at the end.”
Season 2 will return to Hulu with new episodes beginning May 23.
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