When Neil Patrick Harris takes the stage at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 22 to host the 87th Academy Awards, it will be his tenth time as the emcee of an awards show. He’s hosted the Tony Awards four times and the Emmy Awards twice; in 2010, he hosted the Video Game Awards; in 2009, he hosted the TV Land Awards; and in 2008, he even hosted the World Magic Awards.
Clearly, he knows how to host.
Standing at the helm of the Oscars, however, is not only the pinnacle of awards show host-dom, it has been something of a dream of Harris’ for a long time. Just days before his biggest hosting duty ever, the actor talked to BuzzFeed News via phone about being the first out gay man to take on the role, how his past experience will help him tackle the big night, and (yes, of course) Channing Tatum.
Hosting the Oscars has been, at least from the outside looking in, such a thankless job. So why has this job has been on your bucket list?
Neil Patrick Harris: I’ve always admired the P.T. Barnums and the Kermit the Frogs and the masters of the ceremonies. I don’t know why. I’m happiest when I’m hosting the party and explaining the game and making sure that everyone’s feeling comfortable in their surroundings. That was always something I looked up to when I saw Billy Crystal do it, or Johnny Carson.
I think the job of the host is to set a tone and then try to maintain or alter it, depending on the circumstance. I think I have a reasonably good ability to sense whether things are going well or need to go differently. And the awards show evening forces you to make decisions quickly, and that’s a bit of the charge.
Though the Tonys and the Emmys are very different beasts from each other — and from the Oscars — what did you learn about yourself from hosting those two shows that you’re applying to this job?
NPH: Well, they are really different. All of them. I think you have to make sure that you’re honoring the specifics of the genre as opposed to just doing the same thing every time. So with theater, it’s much easier in certain ways because it’s a show for performances by people who do those things — performances — all year long. And they are very excited to be showing it to a massive audience and are well-rehearsed. And the Emmys is totally different. It’s very, very disparate; lots of small, little tribes of gypsies that only interact with themselves, all put together in one giant room to mingle and be judged. You have to figure out how to embrace all of that, which is a very, very wide berth, especially given the landscape of television these days.
The movies, it seems, is kind of in between. It’s a smaller number of films that are all highly regarded, and have been for months or more. And so I have to figure out a way to entertain the people in a cinematic way more so than a song-and-dancy, hardworking kind of way, while still maintaining some sense of legitimate live entertainment.
I’m thankful that I have the Tonys and the Emmys as notches on my belt, as it were, so that I’m familiar with the vocabulary of it. I know how to walk up the aisle while reading a little teleprompter being carried by a guy holding a big giant camera rig. The first time you do that, it’s a very bizarre experience. And the 10th time, it’s less daunting.
Another major difference between the Tonys, the Emmys, and the Oscars is that there is such a long campaign season for the Academy Awards, with so many precursor awards now. Have you been paying much attention to that?
NPH: A fair amount of attention, and it’s changed from years past. Before, I would be interested to know who won what before just so I could win my Oscar pool. Now I’m less interested in who wins awards, and I’m more interested in who tells what jokes at award ceremonies because I don’t want to be too redundant. The Oscars is the last one of the season, so all Golden Globes jokes have already been said. So you have to find new angles for things — or just repeat Amy [Poehler] and Tina [Fey]’s jokes verbatim and hope that the section of the viewing audience never watched [the Golden Globes].
Are you caught up with all the nominated films? Have you watched all of them?
NPH: I haven’t watched all of them. I’ve watched most of them. Slowly checking them off the list.
Are you watching the short films?
NPH: Not watching the short films. Not yet. I may do that. I might have a DVD that has all the films. Thankfully, I don’t have to be quite the historian. I just get to make jokes about people that have silly names.
So you are, as best I can tell anyway, the first out gay man to host the Academy Awards. You did that great bit at the Tonys about how Broadway is not just for gays anymore, but I’m wondering how you might be addressing the fact that for many, the Oscars are sort of seen as the gay Super Bowl.
NPH: (Laughs) I always think of the Tonys that way. I had given that aspect of what I’m doing for the show very little thought because there have been people before me: Ellen [DeGeneres], and Jane Lynch hosted the Emmys. It’s culturally so mainstream that it feels irrelevant to make comment on. That being said, Channing Tatum’s in the house. So it’s going to get a little crazy.
The Oscars producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who are running the show for the third time in a row this year, told me that they had talked with you about hosting the Oscars the last few times they’ve produced. But, because you had very recently hosted the Tony Awards and/or the Emmy Awards, it was just too close to the Oscars until this year. Was that one of the reasons you put a stop on hosting other shows for a while, so that you could clear your schedule?
NPH: Not really. I just didn’t want to feel like my presence had been overstayed. I don’t have much interest in competing against myself in things. So even hosting the same award show in subsequent years becomes its own mind-fuck a little bit, because you don’t want to do the same thing, but you don’t want to be too different. And so I would withdraw a bit just for my own creative protection more than anything.
I think what helped me this year was just having a larger presence in film as an actor. So it seemingly gave a bit more validity to my being part of this amazing group of talented people. Having done Gone Girl, having defecated in a derby for a Seth MacFarlane film — it’s those kind of moments that really thrust you into the short list at the Oscars, apparently.
So, the day of the ceremony, what will your routine be?
NPH: You need to have gotten as much rest as possible. Hangovers — not a good friend, the day of. I try to structure my day of to have as few variables as possible. So I try to get to the theater as early as possible or stay really close to it. And then I do a vocal warm-up. My vocal coach, Liz Caplan, has a great breathing warm-up that gets the breath lower into your body, keeps you kind of moving and aware of how you’re taking in breath. ‘Cause when you get nervous, you tend to hold your breath or lock your body, and that is less than effective.
NPH: Uh, there’s lots of big-picture things that have happened this year that will be fodder for comedy or conversation. But I just — I actually was hoping that I was gonna turn and take a selfie that would include all of the nominees, but the light had washed out everyone else’s faces, and it seemed like a funny way to reference that conversation without being too heavy-handed about it.
And finally, are you keen on hosting the Grammys so that you can get a hosting EGOT?
NPH: (Laughs) I’d host the Grammys, sure. That would be dope. I think that’s how I’m supposed to say it. That would be dope, yo. However, I’m very afraid of the LL Cool J. I think there’s some mafia business going on there, and so I would never dare try to remove him from said position. But, assuming that his show only runs on CBS for another 10, 11 years, I’m hoping to host the Grammys in 2032.
The 87th Academy Awards air on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.
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