Neil Patrick Harris Talks 'Unfortunate Events' Season 2 and Why a 'How I Met Your Mother' Reboot Would Fail

Neil Patrick Harris is known as an actor who can do it all—comedy, drama, and song and dance, to name a few. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harris does all that and more—but with extravagant costumes, layers of prosthetics and many different silly voices. The first, eight-episode season of the Netflix original show adapted the first four Lemony Snicket books, and Season 2—which began streaming all eight episodes on Friday—takes on books five through nine.

Like the first season, Season 2 of Unfortunate Events masterfully toes the line between whimsy and tragedy. The villainous Count Olaf (Harris) is more desperate than ever to steal the fortune of the orphaned Baudelaire children: Violet (Malina Weissman), Klaus (Louis Hynes) and baby Sunny (Presley Smith). His increasingly outrageous disguises include a gym teacher who wears a turban for "religious reasons" (though he can't name the religion), a vaguely European auctioneer who spontaneously breaks into song and a groovy detective that Harris told Newsweek he based on a Cheetos commercial. The actor also chatted about repressing his singing talent as Olaf and why he doesn't think a How I Met Your Mother reboot is a good idea.

I greatly enjoyed Count Olaf's singing and dancing in this season—especially the big number, "Follow Your Schemes," in Episode 4.

[Laughs.] Thanks. Only in this weird universe of a show do I get to burst into song as Gunther. Barry [Sonnenfeld, co-creator of the series] wanted a big, fun, nonsense number in the middle of the show, and Olaf is certainly one to take any opportunity to showcase his moderate chops. Doing that number in a disgusting fish restaurant, in knee-high boots and sunglasses was very apropos.

Is it hard to hold back your talent, considering Count Olaf isn't supposed to be as good a singer as Neil Patrick Harris?

It was refreshing! I didn't have to keep my brain focused on pitch or precision. I could just roll with it, and if it wasn't perfect, that was was even better.

Behind the scenes of 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' Season 2, Episode 4. Neil Patrick Harris performed a musical number as Count Olaf—while disguised as the European auctioneer, Gunther. Joseph Lederer / Netflix

You've had a lot of roles in your career. What stands out to you about playing Count Olaf?

I like the darkness and the oddness of the world we've created, and I like that Olaf has singular, active goals. Playing him allows me to be a lot at the same time, which I can be hungry to do. I get to be villainous, I get to be physical and I'm often playing another character on top of that. It's far from a boring day at work when I go to set.

Right, Olaf seems very different from your last big TV role as Barney on How I Met Your Mother. Barney was obviously beloved, but it seems like a role that naturally offers less versatility.

No, actually, Barney was great in a weirdly similar way! Barney loved adventure and creating his own narrative. There were lots of disguises that he would put on to "score chicks." There were lots of different delusional ideas that he had. So in certain ways, they're similar.

Has Olaf grown or changed in Season 2?

In Season 2, the stakes have been set. He's chasing these kids who have tried to take action against him, as opposed to puppet mastering kids who are shell-shocked by circumstance. While I'm talking to you, we're headed to start filming the third [and final] season.

As Olaf's desperation grows, he gets more unwound and unhinged. It's fun playing the part knowing there's an ending to it. It allows me the opportunity to be even bigger. I get to be even more operatic and pathetic.

Is there a favorite disguise that you have coming up in Season 2?

Barry directed The Vile Village story, which is two episodes at the end the season, about an entire town overrun with crows. Olaf's disguise is a very cool, very hipster detective named Detective Dupin. He was a delicious dish. He raps, he scats. He has a gold plate, a toothpick, a leather jacket, 70s stretch pants and a straw hat. He goes around almost like that Cheetos guy—the Cheetos character? That Cheetos cat? "Everything is cool, man, groovy baby!"

Are you saying you drew your inspiration for Detective Dupin from Chester Cheetah, the Cheetos mascot?

I did watch a few of those Cheetos commercials, yeah!

Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf—sans disguise—in 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' Season 2. Eike Schroter / Netflix

Was there a character that was particularly challenging to play?

Gunther was challenging physically—he was so buttoned up and erect with that stiff collar and tailored suit. And he had sunglasses, so it was a bit hard to convey expression when you can't use one's eyes. I had to do more head and neck acting.

Coach Genghis in the first two episodes—that turban was not lightweight. Olaf has bad posture and carries his head forward in a menacing way, but when you do that with a 12-pound turban on your head... let's just say I was glad when I got to take that off.

Was that a Joel Osteen impression I heard for Coach Genghis in the second episode?

It was almost uniformly John B. McLemore, who was the protagonist in the podcast S-Town. I was entranced by that voice. Then it broadened to some Dr. Phil. Joel Osteen is an interesting name. Sometimes I sounded like Brett Butler, the female comedian from the '80s and '90s.

It's all that guttural confidence—that quintessential ignorance of an elementary school PE teacher that thinks they know everything, but all they really know is how to dis-ci-pline.

Are your own kids watching the show?

Yes, they love it very much. They know the cast and crew, and have relationships with them outside of the screen. So it's a different experience for them—probably not so traumatic, which is good. I don't want to startle my own children.

True, it does get kind of dark—are you concerned at all that the show might be too dark for them?

I think they, especially Harper, are drawn to dark things. She is begging for us to show her Poltergeist. I'm like,"You're 7 years old! You're not going watch Poltergeist for a long time!" To which she responds, "It's rated PG!" To which I respond, "That was before there was PG-13!" And we go back and forth. But yeah, if she's desperate to watch Poltergeist, she won't have too many nightmares from Count Olaf.

Neil Patrick Harris as the villainous Count Olaf in 'A Series of Unfortunate Events.' Eric Milner / Netflix

Tell me a bit about your new NBC game show, Genius Junior, which premiered this month.

It's a remarkably watchable game show pitting two teams of smart 8 to 12-year-olds against each other, and I rattle off questions. It's not trivia based—it's more spelling, math, memory recall. They accomplish cerebral feats that are uncanny, even for adults. They reached out to me. I love game shows, I've hosted on NBC before and I used to play a child who was very smart. I was an appropriate man to helm the ship.

I've been trying to do content that can be appreciated by more than one demographic. As a parent myself, I get that time spent in front of a screen is best served together. Parents can watch Genius Junior and feel amazed and ineffective, and kids can feel inspired. And hopefully, kids respond to the celebration of education and take that enthusiasm back to school. So be sure to watch on Sundays—it's certainly better than American Idol!

I've been hearing about a Dr. Horrible sequel for years, and this year will mark the 10-year anniversary. So I have to ask: Is that ever happening?

I would be so excited if that were to ever come to pass. From what I hear, Joss Whedon has a couple other irons in the fire. He's busy doing other massive, time-suck, financially remarkable endeavors. But if there's ever another writers' strike, I'll certainly sign up for the sequel.

What about a How I Met Your Mother revival?

There are lots of reboots happening, but I feel like nine seasons of that show was exactly right. To go back would be redundant, and I don't think anyone wants to see that happen. The structure of How I Met Your Mother was terrific—it was a flashback tale that had a conclusion. That's different from Will & Grace or Friends where you meet these characters regardless of the situation that they're in. But the duality of How I Met Your Mother—the ridiculous comedy, mixed with the heartfelt pathos, intertwined with this mystery we're trying to unravel—I think we did that.

So what would you say if it did get rebooted, and someone asked you to do it?

I would be very hard-pressed to find any sort of equation that would equal success. [Laughs.]