In “Uncoupled,” Neil Patrick Harris reimagines life as a single gay man in NYC


More than eight years after ending his run as legendary straight Barney Stinson on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, Emmy-winner Neil Patrick Harris returns to the sitcom format in Netflix’s Uncoupled, playing a gay man , who is involuntarily thrust back into the New York City dating scene after being unceremoniously dumped by his 17-year-old partner.

Created by Darren Star (Sex and the City) and Jeffrey Richman (Frasier, Modern Family), Uncoupled – which premieres Friday – follows Michael Lawson (Harris), a successful New York real estate agent whose The perfect life is thrown into disarray when his longtime partner Colin (Tuc Watkins) unexpectedly moves out on the eve of his 50th birthday. Overnight, Michael must deal with two nightmares: losing the man he thought was his soulmate, and being forced to navigate the digital and generational divide of dating as a newly minted gay man in his 40s.

Harris — who rose to fame as the child prodigy on Doogie Howser, MD but received critical acclaim for his dramatic roles in Gone Girl, It’s a Sin and A Series of Unfortunate Events — was already always open to tackle projects that vary in genre and scope. Last summer, he received a text message from his agent asking him to read a pilot script for a romantic comedy that Star and Richman originally wrote without a specific actor.

“Once we finished the pilot, we knew Neil Patrick Harris was the only actor we wanted,” Richman wrote in an email. “He challenged us in a very positive way by asking really smart questions on the subject [the] Character and story that we had to find answers to. It just made the writing better.”

After admiring Star’s extensive body of work and working with Richman on the short-lived NBC sitcom Stark Raving Mad around the turn of the century, Harris jumped at the opportunity to work with the veteran television writers on a modern show that would be filming in New York, where he shared his husband David Burtka and their two young children.

The script he read “was contemporary and casual and funny, and yet it kind of made me cry,” Harris told NBC News in a recent video interview. For the 49-year-old actor, who is in “a super long-term relationship” with Burtka, the immediate appeal of the series, creators aside, was an opportunity to explore an alternate version of his own life: “It’s almost a ‘ What if my life took a radical turn?’ history,” he mused.

As he grapples with the grief and denial of “disconnection,” Harris’ character Michael struggles with the politics of gay dating in today’s society – the transactional nature of connections, the unwritten rules of etiquette across various apps.

The harrowing experience of being thrown into “another world” and being forced to learn on your own two feet was something the creative team really wanted to convey, according to Harris, who has Michael’s struggles to adapt to the ever-changing world of dating -Welt mit seine compared own struggles with the development of SMS sending.

“When you’re dating people who are significantly younger than you, who have been doing it for a long time, there’s a learning curve, and I think learning-curve comedy is always pretty universal,” he said.

After starting dating Burtka in 2004, well before dating apps took off, Harris joked that he was equal parts “impressed” and “appalled” by contemporary wooing concerns, adding that he feels lucky “getting on a date earlier all the distractions” that caused shorter attention spans.

“I find it very sexy and exhilarating that very specific preferences and desires can be openly traded and discussed and matched,” Harris said. “Often when you’ve just been on a date with someone it’s been very awkward to show what turns you on, and that wasn’t a first or second date conversation. It was like, ‘We really got to know each other, and now we’re going to talk about it, like, ‘Oh, I’d rather you wouldn’t do that,’ or ‘I really like it when that’s what happens.’ But that’s all for now, isn’t it? … That is exciting.”

But he added, “I also feel like we’re karmic people; You will meet the right person when the timing is right. If you’re too hard to find it, you won’t find it. But people fit together when they’re supposed to, like they’re supposed to. Life works so well.”

While Michael worries about the viability of a middle-aged gay man in a dating market made up mostly of younger men, Harris said he’s embraced aging over time despite living in one culture and in one industry works, which continues to value youthful appearance.

“I think aging is a very personal thing that probably has to do with how you grew up, what your parents thought, what your friends thought,” said Harris, who “always felt kind of younger” than him as a celebrity Child actors were known for their boyish looks.

“My struggle for decades was just being comfortable in my own body because I was in my mid-20s, late 20s, and I just still went to the gym and felt like a second grader in high school and everyone was better than me in it, and I felt awkward and awkward and didn’t know my posture,” he said. “But now that I’m almost 50, I feel healthier and in better shape and frankly more comfortable in my own skin than before. I feel like that’s kind of a goal in life — an achievable goal in life is to want to take your shirt off more often as you get older because it doesn’t mean that much to you.”

Part of becoming more comfortable in his own skin came when Harris decided to come out publicly in 2006. in a statement to People. More than 15 years later, the actor thinks “we’re entering this new world” where advances in LGBTQ representation on screen mean “there’s less fear of ill effects when you’re proud and open and honest, who you want to hook up with” — to the point that he’s now able to direct his own Netflix show as and about an openly gay man.

“Certainly, now more than ever, people are encouraged to be honest with everyone about who they are, and that takes different forms for different people,” he said. “But I can safely say that when I was openly out there and still working, I was less concerned that people might think things about me or think things about me because I was just who I was and I was think there is innate freedom and breath and just attitude with just existing.”

But Harris cautioned that actors should act at the end of the day, explaining that he chooses to look beyond gay or straight labels when dissecting his own characters.

“Straight people are all very different, and gay people are all very different. There’s a lot of feminine affects that can come into play, there’s a lot of masculine affects that can come into play, regardless of sexuality,” he said.

“I played a straight guy in ‘Gone Girl,’ but I didn’t really spice it up because the character I played was kind of weirdly awkward and a little creepy, androgynous psycho [like] Norman Bates…so I didn’t have to be a straight guy to play him. I only played him one at a time,” he continued. “And if I were to play an over-the-top flight attendant in a broad comedy, I’d probably go into a very different interpretation — not gay or straight, but what the writers and directors were hoping for.”

Harris said he believes an actor’s sexuality is very different from how they play their roles.

“You just want so many actor darts in your quiver,” he said with a smile. “I want to be a baller and be a bare-knuckle fighter in a Guy Ritchie heist movie with an accent and all… but I also want to be a camp and live my best life on a dance floor. So I want to have the opportunity to do both, but they are very different skills – and that’s sort of my job.”

Uncoupled is now streaming on Netflix.

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