Neil Patrick Harris: Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a “redemption tale” following failed movie sequel

The How I Met Your Mother star says Netflix's newest original series ain't just for kids

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In 2004, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events hit cinema screens – so some might say it’s fitting that Netflix’s adaptation of Daniel Handler’s smash hit novels follows 13 years later on Friday the 13th of January 2017.

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It’s been a long wait for fans of the series, which didn’t exactly get off to a bad beginning on the big screen. The film – with Jim Carrey in the title role of the odious fortune hunting Count Olaf – was a box office success that seemed certain to get a sequel.

But that follow-up never materialised so new leading man Neil Patrick Harris says the Netflix adaptation is “a bit of a redemption tale” for Barry Sonnenfeld (who directed the series and was originally intended to direct the film) and Handler (who wrote the screenplay and, of course, penned the novels under the guise of Lemony Snicket).

“I think they finally get the opportunity to tell the story the way that they wanted to tell it,” says Harris, who cites the duo’s commitment to the project as one of the things that drew him to the role. 

“They let [the movie] go because creatively it didn’t line up with their core vision and now they’re doing [the Netflix show]. I knew that there would be a safety net creatively, because it’s the people who made the book and who have a really good concept of it visually, and it’s that kind of role that’s just so juicy to play.”

Harris certainly sinks his teeth into Olaf, chewing up the scenery in the guise of the almost cartoonish villain who makes the Baudelaire orphans’ lives a misery as he relentlessly tries to get his hands on their fortune.

You’d think following in the footsteps of Jim Carrey would seem daunting, but for someone like the Tony and Emmy award-winning star of How I Met Your Mother, it’s child’s play.

Within moments of discussing Olaf’s numerous disguises, the man sitting across from me in the armchair of his New York hotel suite has transformed into a myriad of characters – merely by changing his tone of voice.

“Every disguise needs to be different vocally, obviously very physically different and yet all of them had to remain Olaf, which was great,” gushes Harris as he relishes the chance to delve into his repertoire of curious characters.

“It was a little mind****-y, because if I’m playing Shirley St. Ives, who’s the secretary to Dr. Orwell and I’m a female, like I didn’t know how female I should be, because Olaf’s not a good actor, so is it supposed to be this bad Olaf version of a woman, or is it supposed a really proper disguise as a woman?” he explains.

“I wasn’t sure, but I knew that I could go as far as I wanted to, because it was too far and it was awful. That’s kind of what Olaf would have done anyway, so each one’s very distinct. It’s a little schizophrenic.”

Harris is curious to see how Netflix promotes the series, which is one of their first aimed at both children and parents alike. He sees it sitting in the same vein as his 2008 musical comedy-drama miniseries about a wannabe villain, Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

“I’m hopeful that it’ll be more Comic Con-y. In fact, I think this is adjacent to Dr. Horrible. I think Joss Whedon will like this show a lot”, explains the actor, who’d rather see Olaf and co on the cover of GQ than Parenting magazine. 

He thinks there’s more of an adult edge to Lemony Snicket’s humour (when compared to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels for example) so he’s interested to see how older and younger audiences respond to the series. 

“I think kids will see it and like it and a lot will go over their heads and I think adults will pick up on and appreciate the over-the-headedness of it all”, he muses. 

As for future episodes? Well, Harris is already reading through the next novels and working on new voices for potential characters, though he admits his “quiver of vocal arrows is not super deep” .

Each book is spread across two episodes so he estimates that “if I do my math correctly, there would hopefully be 18 more episodes?”

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Presley Smith, Malina Weissman and Louis Hines play Baudelaire orphans Sunny, Violet and Klaus

Harris could see the show continuing for a few more seasons, but admits that he’s not opposed to the idea of it having an end point either.

“As someone who wants to not just do a single thing forever, there’s something wonderful about the idea that it’s a finite amount of material, that you can spend a lot of time on one project and then walk away from it, as opposed to gilding a lily and doing the same thing for 10 years.”

That’s certainly something Harris couldn’t be accused of, but is there anything he feels is missing from his extensive TV, film and theatre CV?

“I’ve been trying to be The Riddler for years, because that’s how I think. I’m a puzzler and I love immersive theatre and games and solving clues and needing to crack the code to get to the next room, so that’s sort of where my brain is” Harris grins cheeikily.

“If Batman ever needed to fight anyone who could defeat him through cryptic clues, I’m very game.”

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A Series of Unfortunate Events is available to stream on Netflix from Friday January 13th 2017