‘How I Met Your Father’: Neil Patrick Harris on Suiting Up Again as Barney & Not Visiting a Familiar Set

Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff in 'How I Met Your Father'
Spoiler Alert
Patrick Wymore/Hulu

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for How I Met Your Father Season 2 Episode 11 “Daddy.”]

Suit up! Neil Patrick Harris returns as How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson in the midseason finale of the Hulu sequel series.

Picking up from where How I Met Your Father left off Sophie (Hilary Duff) in the Season 2 premiere, we see her spill all about suspecting that her new boyfriend Robert (John Corbett) might actually be her dad (he’s not); if the story’s juicy enough, she doesn’t have to pay for the repairs on Barney’s car after rear-ending him. Barney, meanwhile, now gets shocked by his ankle monitor every time he utters a problematic word or phrase (a.k.a. a lot). And in the end, he has some advice that Sophie decides to follow: tracking down her dad could lead to something great.

Here, Harris talks about donning a suit to play Barney once again.

Talk about getting the call to reprise the role of Barney. Was it an immediate yes? Did you have to think about it?

Neil Patrick Harris: Pam Fryman, who was the den mother of How I Met Your Mother, directed almost all of them, is now the head and director of all of How I Met Your Father, texted me and said, ‘any interest?’ And I said, potentially, but I need to know more details, obviously. So I did a Zoom call with Pam and How I Met Your Father creators Isaac [Aptaker] and Elizabeth [Berger], and they sort of pitched an idea of how Barney could appear in a singular way and provide a bit of impact for Sophie, and at the same time reveal a bit about his current status. I thought that their conceit was clever and the timings worked out, so I said absolutely.

Did you want to include anything when you spoke with them in that conversation?

I just didn’t know them, and so I didn’t want to rely too much on past catchphrases and things of his vernacular. I did still want contemporary Barney to have some redeeming qualities and not just be sort of a burnout guy trying to still do the same thing that he did in the past again, over and over, as if he was just that singular. That was my only request, but I think that was a request made to people who were in total agreement. It wasn’t as if that was their plan, and I asked to change anything. I know I still respect all of Barney and didn’t want him just to be sort of the butt of the joke.

Speaking of catchphrases, I think challenge was used well.

Yes, indeed, in a clever way, which makes me happy because then fans of both shows can have an extra smile, but it doesn’t need to be a real jazz hand; lay it on thick punchline for sure.

Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff in 'How I Met Your Father'

Patrick Wymore/Hulu

How was it stepping back into Barney’s shoes, or rather, suit?

It was wistful and lovely. He got to wear nice, well-fitted suits, so on a sartorial level, I was pleased. But also, there was a lot of love and goodwill during the run of How I Met Your Mother, and an impressive amount of crew from that show are now crew members on How I Met Your Father. So I was not expecting to arrive and see so many familiar faces. I knew I’d see Pam Fryman’s, and I was looking forward to that, but I had no idea that the assistant director’s department was the same, that the production, the design department was the same. And so to have a reunion with so many people and catch up with so many people made me feel a bit déjà vu-y that I was right kind of back where I was before. It was lovely. Everyone is still in such good spirits and such kind people.

Did you stop by the set for what is now the guys’ apartment?

Weirdly no. My scenes were all done, not even on that sound stage. We filmed at a whole other location outside in the actual street during an actual rainstorm in an area which is now being bulldozed and turned into sound stages. So it was kind of nice. We were on a backlot at Radford Studios. So no, I didn’t get to sit on the couch, and I’m glad because I probably would’ve stolen props and written awful things on Post-its on the refrigerator for them to read months later.

As we find out, Barney has that experimental electro-shock treatment with the ankle monitor, which clearly isn’t working very well. But this is a Barney who’s very much a work in progress when it comes to not being the man he used to be, even though he is now a father to Ellie. But he can get there, right?

That was the sweet spot that we wanted to hit was to recognize and acknowledge, but not necessarily neuter, right? Because part of Barney’s DNA is being quick with a potentially ill-timed or lewd punchline to what someone else is saying. That’s what he did for the whole run of How I Met Your Mother. So I applaud them for finding a mechanism with which he can be beholden to and trying to improve, but still inevitably sort of his same base self.

Even in his last line about Venmo, he can’t help but finish it even though he knows he’s going to be shocked.

For sure, for sure. He’s shocking in more ways than one, that Barney Stinson.

What do you think Barney saw in Sophie during their conversation? Obviously, both have issues with their fathers, though they have been handling it in different ways.

Barney has an undeniable sincere spot for the father-daughter relationship. So to hear from an adult female that she’s yearning for that same connection, I think, resonated with him; even though most of his advice is to be ignored, he [had] a thing or two to say with some positivity and commitment in that regard.

Talk about working with Hilary. I know you two knew each other before filming.

We did. I think she’s just amazing. She’s a multihyphenate, and the fact that one of those hyphenates is a mother of three, doing that full-time with kids of different ages and being so positive still on set and so present and so professional and a producer, it was a joy to see. I don’t know, I just assume, I guess, that when you’re going onto someone’s show, they don’t have to be the nicest person. They don’t have to even really be there very much. They can show up right before they are shooting. That’s allowed. They might have five other gigs; I don’t know them. And yet she was there, present, kind, helpful running lines with me, sharing stories. I couldn’t have felt more welcome, and it was rooted in a sincerity that was really appreciated.

Hilary Duff and Neil Patrick Harris in 'How I Met Your Father'

Patrick Wymore/Hulu

Talk about that reunion with Pamela.

Pam’s just one of the great women in my life. I have a handful. My actual mother, Sheila, my original agent and manager, Booh Schut, and Pamela Fryman. She’s just a standup, remarkable individual. She was the guiding light for everyone for all of the How I Met Your Mother run. She’s a remarkable mother to her twin daughters. She was the officiant at my husband’s and my wedding. She’s just a really great human. She has an incredible knack for comedy, for maintaining authentic, lovely vibes with a crew. She’s everything, and so I do whatever she tells me whenever she asks. [Laughs]

Will we see you again this season?

No. We wanted it to be kind of a singular occurrence. I think the fact that Sophie can run into people that we have seen in the past — I guess literally run into them, in my case — and then have that be a moment for her as opposed to having that person become a participant in the story in a larger way helps tell this story in its singular form.

Are you ruling out returning in the future? Or if Pamela texts again, you might reconsider?

She has not yet. I don’t know, I think they’re waiting to see if they get picked up, so I really couldn’t say.

At this point, how do you remember How I Met Your Mother, especially after reprising Barney’s role on How I Met Your Father?

I just absolutely loved the whole chapter. It was a great time to be on television. We were on a network show that made it past the four-year mark and then syndication started, so we suddenly had some momentum and then before you knew it, we were in year nine and we’d all been together through relationships and deaths and births and all of it. And then Barney continued to be a sharp-dressed, whiskey-drinking, delusional cad told by an imperfect narrator. And so it was just a really fun thing to get to play. Every episode was a new crazy adventure, and Barney had so many costumes and characters and everything. It was the best kind of nuts sandbox to play in. I just loved it.

How I Met Your Father, Midseason Premiere, Tuesday, May 23, Hulu