When he wants to escape the Hollywood grind,
onetime child actor and current How I Met Your Mother star, Neil Patrick Harris, finds that his
hometown of Albuquerque suits up
perfectly. Photographs by Cliff Lipson.
Yes, Neil Patrick Harris was Doogie Howser - medical prodigy, kid
doctor, best bud to that slacker Vinnie. He headed to Hollywood at
age 15, where he played Doogie for four seasons on the Steven
Bochco series Doogie Howser, MD.
then, Harris has starred in feature films such as
and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,
in television movies, and performed in the theater, with a
role alongside Anne Heche in Proof.
Now he is 34. And now he is Barney, Barney Stinson - the
well-suited, well-versed Lothario; the good-time-guy best bud to
that romantic slacker Ted on the CBS comedy How I
Met Your Mother. Harris is in the midst of his third season
with the show. Year two brought him an Emmy nomination for best
supporting actor in a comedy series. So popular is Barney that the
name Doogie rarely surfaces these days. Now airport shout-outs are
requests to "suit up," a popular Barney-ism that fits nicely with
Barney's Fortress of Barnitude bachelor pad and his king-size bed,
which has just one solitary pillow (hint).
"There's nothing like people coming up to talk about Barney,"
Harris says. "I've lived with other names for far longer than
Plucked from a place that Hollywood sees as merely flyover country,
Harris is one of the few former child stars who have steady work
instead of a steady stream of scandals, a feat that seems to be
increasingly unusual. He attributes his stability - professional
and otherwise - to having parents who never saw a moment that
wasn't teachable and to his hometown of Albuquerque.
Harris's parents grew up in New Mexico, raised him there, and still
reside there, as do his grandma, his cousins, and the elder brother
he followed to an audition in the fourth grade (at which he nabbed
the plum role of, well, Toto in a production of The Wizard of Oz). When Harris jets home for the
holidays, it's for a family-heavy shindig.
But the day we meet, Harris is on Stage 22 of the Fox Studios Lot
in Los Angeles, the set of How I Met Your
Mother. He's taking a break during an episode in which
Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) have had a fight
and Ted (Josh Radnor), Robin (Cobie Smulders), and Barney are
trying to, CSI-like, find out exactly how
it unfolded and why. There are flashbacks, fast-forwards, real-time
interactions, and the usual array of zingers.
Since they're paying homage to CSI, the CBS
hit that's set in the arid Southwest, it seems only appropriate
that Harris and I chat about his love of hot, spicy green chiles
and about what makes another Southwestern city - his beloved
Albuquerque - so beloved.
Here's where Neil
Patrick Harris gets his green-chile
fix, among other things, when he goes
home to Albuquerque.
moderate to expensive, (505)
(505) 266-0550, www.frontierrestaurant.com
Sandia Peak Ski &
(505) 856-7325, www.sandiapeak.com
district, along Central
We're probably obligated to begin with Doogie Howser, MD. You
did that at what, 14?
At 16, but I was there before that. My dad was an attorney, and he
stopped his practice for a bit. We thought it was very important to
live together. Once I turned 18, they moved back. Dad kept up his
law practice for a while but decided that the innate morality of
the legal profession was always tainted, because someone has to
always be on the other side. So he left the profession. My dad is
very moral and a truly just man. He was finding himself losing his
cases over semantic wording by other attorneys. That sort of wore
him down. So they thought they'd open a restaurant for the
Rotaryclub set. And it's been successful. They're doing well.
Is that a plug?
It's a plug. Consider it a plug.
Okay, then, let's talk about New Mexico. You're
not just fond of your home state, you're also practically obsessed
It's one of the most untouched areas I've seen. Very grounded. I
think most people think of New Mexico as one big pile of sand. Yet
you can go to ridiculously amazing rockclimbing sites and
white-water raft down the Rio Grande. There's a real humbleness and
gravity there, and I think the Native American influence has
something to do with that. There's sort of a cultural calmness
that's the antithesis of Los Angeles, which is all about what's new
What is the name of your parents'
Perennials - like the flower. It's sort of a fusion of American
breakfast and lunch mixed with Southwestern, so there are
sandwiches and salads, but there are also turkey green-chile
sandwiches. My mom's pounded-pork-tenderloin sandwiches, which
she's made for forever, are on the menu, and there are omelets and
pancakes and waffles and breakfast burritos. There's foliage
Here's where we go in
Albuquerque to escape from L.A. or
Hotel Albuquerque at
Old Town, moderate, (505)
Don't mistake this conventional
hotel for staid and uniform. It offers
a unique blend of New Mexico's Pueblo
Spanish and Western cultures.
Los Poblanos Inn
& Cultural Center, moderate
Rooms stuffed with terrific artwork
around the center of a courtyard with
kiva fireplaces and Southwestern decor.
This family-owned gem even has a
Sadie's of New
inexpensive to moderate, (505)
Sadie's is a spacious restaurant that
offers homegrown New Mexican cuisine
and flavor. Each meal comes with chips
salsa, beans, and sopaipillas. The
chili is so steaming hot, there's a
polite advisory next to it on the menu
to alert the timid. Portions
here are just big enough to warrant a
pitcher of soft drinks - or, better
yet, a round of margaritas.
moderate to expensive, (505) 255-8781,
This intimate and inviting two-level
contemporaryspace with an open kitchen
located in the trendy Nob Hill
district and serves classic northern
Italian cuisine. Its seasonal menu
changes with the harvest.
Park the car and jump on the tram to
the Albuquerque Aquarium, Rio Grande
Botanic Garden, Rio Grande Zoo, and
Tingley Beach, which has well-stocked
fishing ponds and beautiful scenery.
The aquarium offers a perspective on
Rio Grande ecology; its exhibits
display everything from fish found
locally to a huge aquarium full of Gulf
of Mexico sharks.
This one-stop shop offers information
about visiting the pueblos as well as a
calendar of feast days and other
events. It also has exhibits of
weaving, jewelry, pottery, and
photography from each of the 19 area
They really made it with love, from the ground up.
Thanks. I'm just very proud of them. My dad has worked so hard at
this. He's there every day at 4:30 or five in the morning,
unloading food and hiring and firing and handling just about
Where else would you send a visitor to chow down
A place called Frontier; I'd recommend the burrito. It's one of the
greatest meals I've ever had. It's directly across from the
University of New Mexico, on Central Avenue. It's open 24 hours.
They have renowned cinnamon rolls. It's one of those places with a
big, long counter, and there's always a line, no matter what time
you go. You order whatever, like green-chile cheeseburgers or
pancakes. I always get the Frontier burrito. It's made with ground
beef and green-chile stew mixed with cheese or greenchile sauce on
the inside, with cheese on top of it. It is so good. It's the first
meal I pick up [on my way] from the airport to the house and the
last meal I eat [before] going back to the airport.
What's with the green chiles? You've mentioned
them no fewer than five times already during this
New Mexico has the best green chile in the world. It's everywhere,
in every meal. It goes on eggs. It goes in burritos. It goes on
pizza, on burgers, in stews. Green-chile salsa. It's very unique to
the south-central mountains of New Mexico. Everyone who goes to New
Mexico comes back and says, "Green chile! I couldn't believe it. I
couldn't get enough of it!" It's opium in some weird way. It's hot.
It burns. And yet you have to keep eating it, like your mind is
somehow tricked into thinking that it's so hot, you need to cool
off by eating more of it.
Where should we go if we just want to hang out in
The Nob Hill district, right down Central Avenue. It's the main
street that goes from downtown to past the university. If you keep
going, [you'll find that] it becomes this hip kind of boutique,
clothing-store, coffeeshop, Bohemian kind of vibe. I just find it
very artistic. It's great. They've got a movie theater there that
plays art films. This is usually where I go to do my Christmas
shopping and just to hang out.
Give us a snapshot of the holidays
I think a lot of people don't realize that it snows a great deal in
New Mexico during winter. Do you know of luminaries?
you take a small, lunch-sized paper bag and put dirt or sand inside
with a candle, which makes the whole thing glow. And so people put
them all over the outside of their houses. Whole blocks will have
them, all lined up, on the front and the roof, and people will get
very elaborate with them. So what we always do on the way home from
dinner is drive through these certain areas and turn off the car
lights. The only lights are these luminaries. It's so much classier
than cheesy Christmas lights all over the place. And it comes from
Spanish origins; again, it speaks to a historical appreciation of
the state. And it looks really cool. Downtown gets all dolled up
with the big tree. Everything opens up at night on the weekends,
and people serve cider, and you walk around and window-shop and
hang out with your loved ones. I love the holidays there.
How do you feel growing up in New Mexico shaped
It's a big part of what kept me relatively grounded - partly
because I didn't have to consider Los Angeles my home, so I wasn't
getting lost there. I had a home to go to. But the people in New
Mexico are very genuine, very authentic, just nice people. It rubs
off on you.
Even now that you're an insensitive womanizer?
Also, tell me: When, exactly, did you become Fonzie?
Every sitcom has that random Fonzie kind of guy who's an extreme
version of what everyone is thinking. Barney is a mixture of Carter
Bay and Craig Thomas [the show's executive producers and creators].
He's their brainchild, a kind of acerbic wit mixed with my odd
timing. The content of what they say is definitely there, but I
think they trust me to swing from the rafters. Barney is not the
emotional center of the show. He doesn't have many redeeming
values. That allows me to try stupid things.
Child actors have been known to eventually show up
on the police blotter. What has been your blueprint for making sure
you stayed employed and sane?
I've always seen Sally Field as an inspiration. She's a talented
actor who's just kept working. She was in Gidget and The Flying
Nun, and, you know, years later, she ended up being in Mrs.
Doubtfire. Now, decades later, she's on Brothers and Sisters and
just won an Emmy for that. You just have to persevere and hope that
people will come along for the ride with a new you. The hope is to
get a few chapters that are as recognizable as the last. You can
never think of yourself as a one-trick pony.
How does fame factor into the downfall of child
Fame is this strange version of British royalty. People love to put
people on a pedestal, and they love to rip them down. Fame is
intoxicating, yet it's dangerous. You have to always have some kind
of perspective on things. The nature of working as an actor is that
you don't work a lot of the time. That's tricky for the ego. You
can work and work and become famous, and then something goes wrong
and the show fails, and you don't work for three years. Fame is fun
- it gets you good tables in restaurants - but you have to take it
with a grain of salt.
And an iPhone. Between each scene you've shot
today, you were working your iPhone.
I'm multitasking. I'm responding to e-mails, sending e-mails I
should have sent out yesterday - things like that. You fi nd when
you work here for a number of hours that the rest of the world kind
Let's get back to Albuquerque. Where do you stay
Home. My parents still live in the same house. It would be odd to
stay in a hotel. Although my room is more like a very sanitary
guest room now. It's missing all the dirty clothes everywhere. I
don't know what Mom was thinking, cleaning it up.
What lodging would you recommend to visitors,
other than your sterile room?
My first thought is the Marriott Pyramid hotel. It's designed after
an Aztec pyramid, and it's got the most spectacular views of the
mass ascension of hot-air balloons at the balloon festival that
you'll ever see.
Does Albuquerque hail you as the local boy who's
People know I'm from there and are protective of me. They are happy
I've done well. So I blend in pretty well. A lot of people are
second removed from me or my parents. It's not a gigantic town. But
people know I'm a big fan of the state. I didn't run out of New
Mexico and embrace Los Angeles. I actually moved back after I'd
been in L.A. for a while to a town called Placitas, which is
between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Some friends of mine lived
nearby. I needed a break from work, so we rock climbed a lot and
hiked around. It was great. I love to go there, lie low, watch the
amazing sunsets. When the sun is setting, it casts this amazing
watermelon- pink glow over the mountains. That's a can't-miss if
you make it there - like that fantastic restaurant called
Is that another plug?
It's another plug.
KEN PARISH PERKINS is a freelancer based in Arlington, Texas. He writes frequently about television, arts, and culture.