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Here’s why Lemony Snicket cast Neil Patrick Harris

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Joe Lederer/Netflix

If you had one shot, one opportunity, one Tony Awards opening number… would you take it?

Neil Patrick Harris steps into the sinister leading role of chameleonic Count Olaf in Netflix’s forthcoming adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, but as EW learned from Snicket himself — who goes by his very real name, Daniel Handler, these days — Harris managed to land the part in a decidedly less morose, more musical way.

“Neil was kind of my idea, to be honest,” Handler tells EW ahead of the Jan. 13 premiere of the first season, which covers the first four (of 13) books following the adventures of three orphans who constantly escape the schemes of a greedy relative (Harris) on the hunt for their family’s fortune. Along the way, Olaf dons well over a dozen disguises and accents, thus requiring an actor of certain versatility for the part.

Lemony’s lightbulb went off sometime in 2011 when Harris hosted the 65th Tony Awards on Broadway and opened the ceremony with a lightning-fast tour-de-force musical number. “I saw him do that big song, ‘It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore,’ and I just immediately saw someone who could pull off a million things at once,” says Handler. “Now, just to watch him work, I feel like it’s visiting an amazing factory. When Count Olaf’s in disguise, he’s playing a guy who’s playing a guy and Neil plans out everything. How he’s going to open a door, how he’s going to gesture. It’s really funny and it’s just an amazing machine.”

Watch the number below:

A Series of Unfortunate Events will debut on Friday.