Neil Patrick Harris Prepares For His Third Turn as Tony Awards Emcee (Q&A)
NEW YORK – As Neil Patrick Harris prepares for his third stint as host of the Tony Awards honoring Broadway’s best Sunday night, he took time out from rehearsals to talk with The Hollywood Reporter about “putting together the pieces of the Tony telecast puzzle.”
Harris: Without question, but the job of host in this context is less to entertain and more to pass the baton and introduce. That’s the duty of the Tonys – it’s not only about giving out awards but showing an exorbitant amount of actual performances. It becomes more about setting tone, and making people feel comfortable and welcome.
THR: Given your affection for the theater and how rarely you get to do it these days with your TV schedule and two young children, do you have some kind of special affection for the Tonys?
Harris: Yeah, that’s incredibly accurate. It allows me to still be in the theater world. It allows me to see a bunch of shows – sometimes complimentary, which is a perk. And it allows me to promote it and help keep theater in the cultural zeitgeist.
THR: Among the legendary awards show hosts is there anyone in particular that you admire and regard as your ideal model for the job?
Harris: I was a big fan of how Johnny Carson hosted awards shows. Dick Cavett, as well, I think did a really great job of providing a nice blend of comedy, wit and class. You know, everyone gets dressed up; you’re wearing a tux. So it’s a fancy night, but you still want to feel like it’s a party you want to go to, and it’s not stuffy. If you steer one way or the other you can get in trouble, and I think both of those guys handled that balance really well.
THR: Do you find it tricky to nail the balance between irreverence and respect?
Harris: I find the irreverent balance trickier this year. Last year’s show was so awesomely irreverent because of the sweeping nature of Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s show The Book of Mormon. That created a tone that we could play off of. This year there's nothing quite as acerbic, so it shifts the tone of my jokes. But frankly, I’m glad about that because I don’t think awards shows should feel like roasts. I think there should be clever jokes, but more inclusive jokes.
With the Tonys it’s a little tricky because a lot of the funnier jokes are more insider, so people watching at home may not get a Julie Taymor reference the way that New Yorkers would. So you have to figure out what comedy plays to a large audience and still respect the individuals who are there.
THR: So what will be some of your targets this year? Are you going after Spider-Man again, or is that tapped out?
Harris: We certainly whacked the spider on the web like a piñata last year, so I don’t know what candy is left to pour out. I’m not sure where I’m going to run with the season. There’s a lot of shows that are based on movies, which I think may be minable. And there’s really a lot of David vs. Goliath stories – Newsies vs. Once, Peter and the Starcatcher vs. Other Desert Cities or Clybourne Park. You’ve got a lot of opposite ends of the spectrum. Philip Seymour Hoffman is against James Corden, who both give tremendous performances but on wildly different levels, so I think that there might be some intrinsic comedy in that.