First, if you haven’t yet seen The Matrix Resurrections, you may want to wait to read this until after because the true nature of Neil Patrick Harris’s Analyst character is discussed. So, having said that, Neil Patrick Harris is very good at playing this kind of role. Where it’s like, hm, where is this guy coming from? And, then, yes, down the line find out he has sinister motives. (He also played this to perfection in Gone Girl.)
Apparently Lana Wachowski felt the same way. The two had never met, but Wachowski reached out to Harris and after a FaceTime chat talking about clouds and fog, Harris was cast in this pivotal role of Thomas Anderson’s (Keanu Reeves) therapist who, at first, has to convince Thomas that everything he remembers about The Matrix is all in his head. But as the film progresses, this character becomes more and more central to the entire plot.
Harris also talks a bit about his stint as Oscars host. In that it’s starting to look like a rarity since there hasn’t been a host going on three years now. Harris actually gives a pretty thoughtful and insightful answer about why no one really wants to host it anymore and what can be done to revamp the proceedings.
But, first, when we hopped on Zoom, the scene behind me was pretty bare because we are in the process of movie, which Harris was quick to point out…
Neil Patrick Harris: I like what you did with the place.
Well, look, we’re moving, by the way, so you’re just lucky you’re not seeing a bunch of boxes behind me.
And you live in New York, right?
As you know, moving in New York City, not the easiest thing to do. So this is the only wall that is…
I love it when you play characters like this. Is this something you seek out? Gone Girl is another good example.
I think that my background in magic might be helpful in some of these roles that I get to play? Because with magic you know the secret and you try to be as skilled as possible at when secrets are revealed, or withholding information in misdirection kind of ways. So, I think because of the logic of that, it’s kind of fun to be as subtle as possible with potentials and with questions and uncertainties, right? I also live in a murder mystery head space. Where everyone is kind of culpable. The UPS guy could be the murderer just as much as the matriarch. So, I think it’s fun to always maybe have an eyebrow raised and maybe be the red herring or not.
Speaking about being red herring, in Gone Girl I think you’re playing against how most people think of you. Now that you’ve done Gone Girl, I don’t think it’s as much of a surprise anymore. I just think you’re really good at it. I don’t think it’s, “Well, obviously Neil Patrick Harris couldn’t be a bad guy,” anymore.
That’s interesting. And so, again with this, Lana tasked me with really embodying an analyst who was capable of making sure that Thomas Anderson didn’t overreach. And that he, in a world that he was starting to question, that there was someone he could talk to that would make him feel safe and comfortable, right?
And I think that that’s a human place to exist and also serves multiple purposes. And so that’s why I think it’s fun. I played all kinds of operatic Count Olaf’s and things where it was very clear what my agendas were and what I was seeking to accomplish. And I enjoy the David Finchers and the Lana Wachowskis for honoring subtlety where you might… where you’re not sure. Sometimes I’m the analyst with a little “a” and sometimes I’m the analyst with a capital “A” and you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.
I think her casting process starts much earlier than “we’re making this movie and everyone should audition for it.” And I don’t want to speak for her, but it seems like she likes to surround herself with people that she vibes with. And since she was a part of the creation of the story and the script, she wanted to make sure that there was an energy vibe element to everyone, whether they had a big part or a small part. I don’t think she likes to hang out with people she doesn’t gel with. And so we got to engage and FaceTime, sort of like what we’re doing now, and just talk about stuff and life. And I’m so fascinated by her and I’m such a fan of her work and I’m such a fan of her heart that I just kind of commandeered that conversation and asked her a lot of questions.
Did you know her at all before? Had you ever met?
Never met her at all. And so I was just curious as where she’s residing and her answers were spectacular. She lives in San Francisco and Berlin, Germany. And I thought, wow, that’s such an interesting dynamic. And so we talked about clouds in San Francisco and she was obsessed with the way the fog rolls in and what is the viscosity of it. There was just very specific things that she was intrigued in. And I was probing her with questions, because I don’t get the opportunity to get to ask Lana Wachowski questions about stuff. And as it turns out, she was looking for an analyst that was asking questions to people.
Oh, did you not know that? So you were asking questions and she’s like, “This is what I’m looking for”?
I didn’t go in completely blind. But I hadn’t read any script or anything and she was very forthcoming about what she was looking for and who she wanted this person to represent. And so that was in line with how I sort of exist anyway. And so it was a good vibey convo.
When the original Matrix movies came out, did you consider auditioning for those movies?
I grew up in a time when television performers and feature film performers didn’t intermix as much as they do now.
But you were just a Paul Verhoeven movie, Starship Troopers. That’s pretty good.
Which was an anomaly, it felt very, “Wow. I can’t believe I’m in this singular thing.” Even before that… Was it before that? Around then, I did Undercover Brother.
It was a feature film and it was just exciting to be doing feature film work. But it wasn’t something that I had the ability to say, “This is where I want my career to go.” It was more like, “Paul Verhoeven wants really white Aryan people to be in this movie and you’re really white and squeaky clean looking. Maybe you should play the guy with the trench coat.” And so I thought, well, that’s an anomaly. So, it all felt like that. And when I watched the first films, I just thought, wow, that would be a cool life. To be in big movies where you’re spending months rehearsing on physical things and there’s explosions and there’s very specific asks on a cinematic level. I was sort of infatuated with bullet time and with how the process of creation of a movie like that goes. More than an actor, I was more intrigued by the direction of it all.
Speaking of, I re-watched Starship Troopers. And then I re-watched the trailer. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer recently, but it’s kind of like, oh yeah, no wonder audiences didn’t know they were getting a history lesson on fascism from Paul Verhoeven.
It was very propaganda based wasn’t it?
I am genuinely curious, because obviously you hosted The Oscars. If there’s no host this time that would be three years in a row without one. Has it gotten to a point where there’s just no upside to host? It feels like no one wants to do this.
There’s not a lot. There’s not a lot of upside to hosting the big awards in general. And I don’t say that as negative. Yeah, it’s just the job of the host in that context: which is a very, very pressure filled engagement with people who are very nervous, who are not used to this. This is the last award in a gauntlet of award shows. So they’ve all hung out and lost multiple times already. And so they’re sitting in this giant thing and it’s millions of people watching, so they can’t be themselves and they haven’t eaten. And it’s all very strange.
So the idea of watching award shows in 2021 where there’s so many options of things to watch, I think the whole thing has to shift in some way. And I’m not sure how. The Tony’s are trying interesting ways of doing the awards early and then doing sort of a big spectacle show in the evening. Because if people really want to know and listen to speeches by screenwriters and things, which I think are valid, you can just follow them on Instagram. You can go dive deep on screenwriters. Whereas, before, The Oscars tended to be behind, like, an unveiling of behind the curtain of what happens in the Hollywood industry. We’re much more exposed now. And so I don’t know how it changes? I don’t know how it changes, but I still watch it. I like to see what weird dresses people wear. That’s just me.
Well, that was a great answer. That was very informative.
Thanks, man. Best of luck with the move.
Thank you. We need it.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.