A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2: Neil Patrick Harris reveals his favourite Count Olaf costume

The star of Netflix's Lemony Snicket adaptation explains how Count Olaf's "remarkable transformations" come together

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 (Netflix, JG)

A Series of Unfortunate Events season two may promise more “miserable” events and murderous Count Olaf mischief, but for costume seekers and wannabe cosplayers, the Netflix series is a dressing up box of delights.

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Just like season one, the villainous Count Olaf has a whole wardrobe full of brilliant-but-never-quite-convincing disguises with which to fool unsuspecting adults. The Baudelaires, of course, can see through the charade.

The Crown - Matt Smith, Peter Morgan, Claire Foy - Writer/Creator Peter Morgan with Matt Smith (Prince Philip) and Claire Foy (Queen Elizabeth II) (Netflix, TL)

For star Neil Patrick Harris, being the master of disguise at the centre of the series is a dream.

“Given what our art and production design do, it’s impossible to become jaded by those elements,” he tells RadioTimes.com. “Every new book provides an entirely new locale that is so incredibly realised on sound stages. We’ve just finished filming on a submarine; yesterday I was filming in an opera house.

“In season two I’m in an actual carnival which is completely realised on set with an actual working rollercoaster. The tents aren’t just empty, they’re filled with delicious, decrepit details and set pieces.”

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 (Netflix, JG)

Each episode too brings a new disguise for Neil Patrick Harris: a new journey of prosthetic self-discovery, new make-up, new hair or sideburns or dodgy goatee.

“Once you have the make-up and the costumes and the prosthetics, and everyone’s gathered together on these full realised sets, it is a remarkable transformation,” he says.

Find out more about how the costumes come together below.

Do you get to see the initial designs for the costumes?

With Olaf’s disguises, there’s definitely a lead time. I get to see photo rendering of their initial ideas. Then we’ll have multiple fittings, and the designers will add or take away until we get it right.

Count Olaf posing as lab assistant 'Stephano' in A Series of Unfortunate Events season one (Netflix)
Count Olaf posing as lab assistant ‘Stephano’ in A Series of Unfortunate Events season one (Netflix)

How much does the costume change before filming?

In many instances it can be something as simple as creating a different set of sideburns, or adding a strange pair of glasses, a neck tie, a top hat. Each individual piece is worked on, but when the right piece appears the ensemble just all fits together.

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 (Netflix, JG)
“In many instances it can be something as simple as creating a different set of sideburns” – Count Olaf disguised as vaguely European auctioneer Gunther in season two (Netflix)

We’re also dealing with a relatively timeless piece. I don’t mean that the series is ‘for all time’, but that the series is intentionally not set in any single historical period or era. Even though we’re not using cellphones, we’re not speaking in old-timey English either. That makes it more interesting when you’re picking automobiles or pocket watches, because you want something that could come from the 60s, 70s, 80s – or the 20s!

What’s your favourite Count Olaf disguise?

I loved playing Detective Dupin (in the video below), because he thinks he’s very, very cool. Everything from his boots to his belt buckle, his junk-hugging pants, leather jacket, sunglasses, gold tooth, toothpick, straw hat – he went the whole hog with that one.

That said, when I look at all the photos from season two, I love Olaf as a carnival barker in a circus sideshow.

I think the carnival ‘step-right-up’ mentality is very Count Olaf. “Come, give me your money! Peak behind the curtain at the freaks and laugh and point!” That’s how he likes to live his life as a villain. That costume, I imagine, was very comfortable for him to don every day.

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2 (Netflix, JG)

You don’t just have to change outfit each episode. You also have to record multiple versions of the same Series of Unfortunate Events theme tune too…

A few times when we were recording the theme tune yet again, I would ask, ‘Can’t we just use the one from the last episode? Do we have to keep re-recording this chorus?’

The first episode of each two-parter is sung in Count Olaf’s voice, but part two always has a section sung in the voice of the character he’s portraying. That was a fun idea – but it is very, very difficult to sing as Gunther…

A Series of Unfortunate Event season two is released on Netflix on Friday 30th March

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