In 2005, when Doogie Howser, M.D.‘s first season hit DVD, I chatted with Neil Patrick Harris for an item in EW. The transcript wasn’t so much lost as it was found on my desktop this morning when I realized that I was still humming the show’s theme song thanks to that SNL Digital Short (and my coworkers who keep replaying it). If you, too, are feeling nostalgic for Doogie, read our interview from ’05, share your favorite episode, then head over to Hulu (which has all four seasons).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, I watched the entire first season over the weekend.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: [Laughs] You did not!
I did! I had a big ol’ marathon, and let me just tell you that I’m still traumatized by the Wanda-gets-appendicitis-and-Doogie-has-to-give-her-a-pelvic-exam episode. That was the episode I remembered most from the original run. Do you hear that a lot from female fans?
[Laughs]A harrowing episode to be sure. Women are very frightened by the content of that one indeed.
Watch a clip of that episode
Is there an episode that fans always mention?
In season 1, there’s a very special episode where I save the life of a dog. In the emergency room. A very profound and deeply moving Doogie.
On the DVD, co-creator Steven Bochco said the appendicitis episode was the one that best encapsulated the series for him. Is that the one you’d choose as well?
I was a big fan of the pilot episode, actually. David E. Kelley wrote that with Steven Bochco, and I thought that separated the man-child elements really well, having to confront death at the same time worry about his prom date.
Bocho says, had the shown been able to wrap up with a fifth season, Doogie would have become disenchanted with medicine and quit to become a writer. Is that what you always thought would happen?
No, I assumed he’d probably overdose on hospital medication due to the inordinate strain on his young mind. [Laughs]
Millions of hearts are breaking — however, that would be a fantastic reunion movie.
That’s true. Live from rehab!
Now on to the important questions: Did you get to keep the acid-washed jean jacket?
[Laughs] I unfortunately didn’t. The acid-washed jeans were, I think, out of style even then. Doogie tried to be the fashion forefront for many different looks: The wild and wacky tie, the oversized, unlaced hightop Nikes. I tried to bring the bouffant back in the first three-quarters of season 1, to no avail.
Was the juggling something you did before the show or a skill you acquired for Doogie?
I juggled before the show. Still do. I just bought some Dubé juggling knives and swords.
Are you serious?
Yeah, they’re not sharp, they’re juggling style, but it’s cool. I’ve yet to juggle five. I can juggle three, I can juggle four, but I never accomplished five. On the show, I had to learn a fair amount of stuff really quickly. I had to learn Japanese in a day. I had to learn sign language. Since he was a genius, they would throw all sorts of interesting, who-knew-he-could-do-that things at me.
Like practicing suturing on raw chicken breasts. You mention that on the DVD.
Yeah, that was the best. They gave us suture packs, and told us to go to Ralph’s and get a chicken breast. And actually, we would use raw chicken on set. They’d cover all the edges of it with gauze and such, so it looked essentially like skin. You got to suture fast, that’s one of those believability issues.
You also mention that you have a serious dance phobia. Discuss.
I don’t like the scrutiny. My favorite time to dance is at, like, wedding receptions, when it’s all ages and everyone seems to be having fun. But dancing in L.A. is kind of nightmarish, and dancing on set where you have to have the music piped in one ear while the whole set is extremely silent, and you’re gyrating with someone, hoping that you’re on beat, trying to say lines — it’s really kind of the most horrible and embarrassing situation ever.
Watch a must-see clip from the Doogie Howser, M.D. pilot
Why are you so believable as a smart guy?
I don’t know. I have a very large forehead. I have a pronounced skull. Maybe producers think that there is a lot going on up in there. Joking aside, I am relatively cerebral. I think things through a lot, so I probably use my head more than my heart. That probably comes through in my acting.
Revisiting these Doogie episodes, what do you think people will be most surprised about? For me, it was seeing how racy it was. Vinnie and Doogie constantly talked about sex.
I never thought about that. I hope that when people watch the first season again, they appreciate just the writing element of it. I think that because of the name, people assume it to be a Saved by the Bell, Punky Brewster kind of show, but Bochco had quite a pedigree. The writing they did was really good….I’ve heard so many stories from people who said it was one of the few times their family sat and watched something together and discussed it. Kids didn’t feel like it was talking down to them. I had no idea it had that kind of impact while we were making it….I’ve run the emotional gamut of dealing with being that character, but in the end, I was really grateful to do the show and thought the work was really strong. People who come up and say things are almost always very nice.
Last question: Where would our beloved Vinnie be today?
Vinnie would be the manager and sugar daddy to the Pussycat Dolls.
More on Neil Patrick Harris:
Ken Tucker raves about NPH’s SNL gig; Adam Markovitz not so much
Gallery: The cast of How I Met Your Mother recreates 2008’s best moments
Dave Karger’s video interview with NPH
NPH named one of EW’s 25 Entertainers of the Year
Whitney Pastorek’s EOTY video chat with NPH