Trading one character (a buff womanizer) for quite another (a lipstick-and-stiletto-wearing transgender singer) is no easy task, especially when both roles are fan favorites. Just ask TV, film, and theater star Neil Patrick Harris, who recently shed Barney Stinson, his How I Met Your Mother small-screen persona, after nine seasons to don drag for the role of punk rocker Hedwig on Broadway in Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
The rock musical first garnered acclaim back in 1998 when its creator, John Cameron Mitchell, performed the title role off-Broadway. He also starred in and directed the independent film version in 2001, which quickly earned cult classic status. Now, with Mitchell working behind the scenes, Hedwig recently hit the Great White Way and has already earned eight Tony nominations, including one for Harris as Best Leading Actor in a Musical.
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While Harris certainly has the Broadway chops -- his résumé includes turns in Cabaret, Proof, and Assassins, and he's won three Emmys for hosting the Tony Awards -- Hedwig requires a kind of feminine gauntness he can't simply emote. This former child star shot to fame more than 20 years ago as a scrawny kid doctor in Doogie Howser, M.D., but he's 40 now and stands a strapping 6 feet tall.
Under the direction of a trainer, Harris, who is also starring in A Million Ways to Die in the West, spent "the last 4 months restructuring my body to have less bulk and more softness, which is a pretty intense workout change, from lifting weights to doing hot box yoga, stretching, and cardio."
As of press time he'd lost 20 pounds for the role. "I've been trying to curb and change my cravings," says the actor, who's repeatedly declared his enduring love for L.A.'s In-N-Out burgers, chips and guacamole, and Red Bull. "I used to be able to eat burritos at 11 or 12 at night," he laments. "Now, I stop eating at 7 p.m., my main meal is lunch -- and it's a salad."
Healthy weight loss is just one challenge; there are other, more nuanced requirements to master if he's to pull off Hedwig's waifish physique. "My trainer has been spending time with me on core flexibility and scapular retraction" for the shoulders, Harris says. "As the more macho Neil"-- he's referring to his character on How I Met Your Mother, and also to himself, off-screen -- "I tend to have my shoulders forward, almost in a boxer's stance, which isn't great for my posture. I need a long feminine neck [for Hedwig], and I need to keep my back down so that my shoulders are deep in their sockets, with my belly and butt tucked in. I need a lot of length."