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A Minute With: Neil Patrick Harris about "Smurfs"

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By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Neil Patrick Harris may be the most versatile star in showbiz. The Emmy-award winner can sing and dance, perform voice-overs, host award shows, and still finds to act in the TV show "How I Met Your Mother."

Now, he's working with little people in family film "The Smurfs," which mixes live-action characters with the blue animated creatures made famous in the cartoons.

The film hits theaters Friday with Harris playing a marketing executive whose life and career are thrown into chaos when the Smurfs magically appear in his New York apartment.

Harris spoke to Reuters about his outrageous behavior in the "Harold and Kumar" movies and how he avoided the traps of Hollywood stardom as a child actor.

Q: Were you a Smurfs fan as a kid?

A: "I watched the cartoons, but I wasn't a rabid fan like a lot of people, and I've been wildly surprised at how many people I know are secret Smurf freaks. They all wanted to know, did I have to be painted blue? And which Smurf am I playing? So I had to keep explaining, I'm not a Smurf in the movie."

Q: How hard was it acting with creatures that don't exist?

A: "It was hard, especially at first. But I'm a very technical actor and I love all the stuff like green screen. But then you don't know how far to push it physically. I found the bigger you go the better -- but that's so counter-intuitive when you're on stage with no one there. It seems so silly, making all these faces to nobody, but later when you watch it with the Smurfs animated in, it makes perfect sense."

Q: How much of you is in your character?

A: "A lot. I wanted to make sure, since it's a family film for a younger audience, that all my dialogue sounded natural and not like a note from a studio executive. So I used my own writers and we worked hard to find the right tone."

Q: It looks like you had a lot of fun making it?

A: "We did. The cast -- Jayma (Mays) and me, Sofia (Vergara), Hank (Azaria) -- we all had a blast shooting in New York. I'd happily do another one if this is a hit."

Q: You're next in "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas," a slight change of pace from "The Smurfs."

A: (Laughs) "Yeah, it's very dark! Neil Patrick Harris outdoes himself in every 'Harold and Kumar' film with a new drug and a new level of outrageousness. I have a great big song-and-dance number, and I've taken a liking to crack. That's all I'll say."

Q: Speaking of, how come you're never caught in some tawdry sex or drug scandal like a normal star? What's wrong?

A: "Maybe I'm too busy at work, and when I get home I just want to cuddle up and watch TV. I'm kind of boring in that sense. I lived my craziest chapters in Hollywood when I had a fake ID and did the whole club scene. But when I turned 21, 22, I was done with the partying and just wanted to get serious about my career."

Q: Q: You started off as a child star. Do you come from a showbiz family?

A: "Not at all. They're all lawyers. But my parents are kind of hams, and there was a lot of artistic encouragement growing up, and I was an extrovert kid who loved singing and going on local talent shows."

Q: Most child stars never make the transition to adult stars. How did you manage to do it?

A: "I love working and I'm very wary of the fame, and that's probably a healthy place to start. If you love all the fame and you don't like working hard, you're probably doomed."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Patricia Reaney)