I was on set for the filming of tonight’s episode of Glee, which was directed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and featured Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) as Will’s old rival Bryan Ryan. In between takes of Bryan and Will’s dynamic cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Harris sat down with me to talk about guest-starring on the Fox series, working with Whedon, and the Glee character he finds “dreamy.” (For those of you who haven’t seen the episode tonight, a mild spoiler alert warning!)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to do Glee?
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: I’m a new fan of the show in that I missed the first half of it and I’ve been catching up on iTunes on the airplane. It’s just a great show to watch like that because there aren’t commercials and you can just power through, like, five in a row. It was great. [Kristin] Chenoweth’s cameo is hilarious. And it’s a 20th Century Fox show which [produces] How I Met Your Mother. When we did our 100th episode, it was choreographed by [Glee choreographer] Zach Woodlee who I’m friendly with. At our 100th episode shindig party that Fox threw, Zach was there, as was [20th Century Fox Television chairmen] Dana Walden and Gary Newman. I told them how much I loved the show. They said, “Oh you should come and be a guest on it.” And I said, “Well isn’t Joss directing an episode?” And then [Walden] said, “Hold on a second.” Dana wanders off with her blackberry in hand and comes back and says, “Ryan loves the idea. They’re going to write a part for you and it’s going to be in Joss’ episode.” I shrugged and said, “Great!” So I didn’t think it meant much. All the random stars aligned and the timing worked out and here I am.
Tell me about your character, Bryan Ryan.
Bryan Ryan is an embittered ex-performer. He was the guy in high school glee club that was the man, the one that got all the big parts. Then when high school ended he followed his dream and he went and did regional theme park work, cruise ship work, and then got a crack addiction. He realized that the glee club path is good for nuthin’! Good for nuthin I tell ya!
So he’s a happy man?
He’s not so happy. And he went to school with Schuester so there’s a bit of a rivalry there as well.
What’s the Glee experience been like?
It’s been both invigorating and just wildly grueling. We’re blessed on How I Met Your Mother to feel like we’re doing a bit of a funny playlet everyday. Here, it’s a bit of factory work. They have so many scenes to do and work all the time so there’s no real sitting back, [saying] “That was funny!” and “Nice job!” It’s just a lot of “Next take! Next take! Moving on! Moving on!” I’m working three consecutive Mondays just because that’s how it works for my schedule. The first one unfortunately landed the day after the Oscars on which I had performed and gone out afterwards and got about two hours of sleep. Then [I] arrived at about 6:30 a.m. to Paramount to do a kind of Glengarry Glen Ross/“You’ll amount to nothing!” monologue to all of the cast, who I’m fans of, who are now sitting there just staring at me as I forget every line. It had been a long week.
Why do you and Joss work so well together?
I admire Joss’ ability to be both highly stylized, highly theatrical, and yet nuanced and subtle. He’s a very avant-garde kind of awesome guy. For someone who’s had so much success, I would have expected him to be not so encouraging creatively. You would think he would be resting on the successes of his past, but he’s always interested in redefining. He’s directing an episode of Glee for God’s sake! What’s that all about? He just loves the show. It’s kind of amazing. I’ve been very fortunate in the unique circumstances with which I’ve been able to work with him. It’s been these cool little gets. Dr. Horrible[‘s Sing-Along Blog]. Then Glee.
Are you thinking of doing another Dr. Horrible?
Absolutely. My fear is that they decide to turn it into a feature film and suddenly Ewan McGregor’s got another job. “Nick Jonas as Dr. Horrible!” So I hope it happens quick!
Is Bryan more villainous than Barney?
No. Bryan is more tortured. Barney has no idea what consequences mean. He’s balls to the wall. Bryan is masking his behavior and the wounds he’s experienced with this take-charge bad attitude. His battitude!
Do you have a favorite Glee character?
I kinda like Finn.
Well, he’s dreamy. But also I think he represents a really great element of the viewership and what glee club can be because he’s a quintessential straight guy, kind of a bumble-y. He’s such a great actor and he provides that enthusiasm, and yet he’s still a guy so it’s not like your watching a bunch of campy theatrics all the time. And then Puck gets in the mix and then people who are watching in the Midwest go, “This could be cool as an option.”
And I love his relationship with Kurt.
Yeah he doesn’t pass judgment in a position where it’s expected.
Is Bryan someone we could see again on Glee?
There’s certainly the possibility for it. It’s a tricky dynamic because I’m currently employed by another network so it’s not in CBS’ best interests to have me on a Fox show. But they were lovely enough to let me do sort of a one-off.