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Neil Patrick Harris is the American actor who portrays Count Olaf on Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events. He also sings the intro song, “Look Away”, as Count Olaf.

Biography

Neil Patrick Harris was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 15, 1973. His parents, Sheila Gail (Scott) and Ronald Gene Harris, were lawyers and ran a restaurant. He grew up in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a small town 120 miles south of Albuquerque, where he first took up acting in the fourth grade. While tagging along with his older brother of 3 years, Harris won the part of Toto in a school production of The Wizard of Oz (1939).

His parents moved the family to Albuquerque in 1988, the same year that Harris made his film debut in two movies: Purple People Eater (1988) and Clara's Heart (1988), which starred Whoopi Goldberg. A year later, when Neil was 16, he landed the lead role in Steven Bochco's television series about a teen prodigy doctor at a local hospital, Doogie Howser, M.D. (1989), which launched Harris into teen-heartthrob status. The series lasted1989-1993 and earned him a People's Choice Award for Favorite Male Performer in a New Series (1990) and a Golden Globe Nomination (1990). Harris attended the same high school as Freddie Prinze Jr., La Cueva High School in Albuquerque. Neil acted on stage in a few plays while there, one of which was his senior play, Fiddler on the Roof (1971), in which he portrayed Lazar Wolf the butcher (1991).

When "Doogie Howser, M.D." stopped production in 1993, Harris took up stage acting, which he had always wanted to do. After a string of made-for-television movies, Harris acted in his first big screen roles in nine years, Starship Troopers (1997) with Casper Van Dien and then The Proposition (1998). In July 1997, Harris accepted the role of Mark Cohen for the Los Angeles production of the beloved musical, Rent (2005). His performance in "Rent" garnered him a Drama-League Award in 1997. He continued in the musical, to rave reviews, until January 1998. He later reprised the role for six nights in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in December 1998.

In 1999, Harris returned to television in the short-lived sitcom Stark Raving Mad (1999), with Tony Shalhoub. He was also in the big-screen projects The Next Best Thing (2000) and Undercover Brother (2002), and he can be heard as the voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the newest animated Spider-Man (2003) series. Harris has continued his stage work, making his Broadway debut in 2001 in "Proof." He has also appeared on stage in "Romeo and Juliet," "Cabaret," Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert (2001), and, most recently, "Assassins." In 2005, Harris returned to the small screen in a guest-starring role on Numb3rs (2005) and a starring role in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother (2005). Neil played the title role in the web-exclusive musical comedy Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008), widely downloaded via iTunes to become the #1 TV series for five straight weeks, despite not actually being on television.[1]

His husband is David Burtka and he has two children, Gideon Burtka-Harris and Harper Burtka-Harris, via a surrogate mother. All three of them also appeared in The Carnivorous Carnival: Part Two as Mr. Willums, Skip Willums, and Trixie Willums.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Daniel Handler and Barry Sonnenfeld wanted to cast Harris after viewing his musical number from the 2011 Tony Awards, "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore." They thought he would be perfect to "play someone who could make fun of villainy but still be scary." When Sonnenfeld was at a Thanksgiving Dinner that Harris and his family also attended, and Harris was doing magic tricks. Sonnenfeld told him, "Hey, there's a show coming up that I haven't been hired for yet, and I can't tell you anything about it, but if I do get hired, I'd love for you to be the star." Harris simply said, "Okay."

Netflix executive Ted Biaselli originally thought of Harris more as Snicket than Olaf, but he was later blown away by Harris's performance.

Harris found his casting as Olaf to be "an opportunity to do something creative, fearless, and physically transformative." He had a huge respect for the challenges the crew put themselves through, and said that every person working on teh show was so overwhelmed with appreciation for the project.

He decided to say specific words very theatrically- such as "fortune"- due to Olaf's trait of pontification and loving to hear himself speak. He stated that he was happy to be around the Baudelaires, as he was finally able to perform his monologues to someone, as he was mainly alone, but when Esmé and Carmelita began to tag along, he realized early on that it was a terrible decision. Early in Season 2, he and Ally decided to work with the angle that Fernald was in love with Olaf.

Harris had to sit for three-and-a-half hours in makeup to get all the prosthetics on to transform him into Count Olaf. There was a lot of gluing involved, and upon the beginning of Season 2, the makeup department found the best glue had been discontinued and they had to rush to stockpile $350 jars on eBay. Harris would finish his routine by spraying himself with a cologne that gave him a funky stench to get into character. He was fascinated by the makeup process every day, and very proud of the team who made it look perfect.

One of his biggest influences for Count Olaf was Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, as he could be evil without raising his voice or moving his face much.

He also said that one his easiest aspects of the job was trying to figure out how fully realized to make Olaf's disguises, as while Olaf was a bad actor, Harris didn't want to make it look like he was giving a bad performance. Once The Daily Punctilio announced Olaf's death, he stopped with disguises, but he still continues to fail actualizing his plans and he starts wildly attacking to try and capture the Baudelaires, making his characters much less realized.

While he wanted Olaf's final scene to feel authentic, he also wanted Olaf to remain the antagonist, and for little sympathy to be offered for him. "I think it's a more complicated watch when you're seeing someone suffer that you don't like."[2]

Filmography

Film

Year Title Role Notes
1988 Clara's Heart David Hart
1988 Too Good to Be True Danny Harland
1988 Purple People Eater Billy Johnson
1989 Home Fires Burning Lonnie Tibbetts
1989 Cold Sassy Tree Will Tweedy
1990 The Earth Day Special Doogie Howser M.D.
1991 Stranger in the Family Steve Thompson
1993 A Family Torn Apart Brian Hannigan
1994 Snowbound: The Jim and Jennifer Stolpa Story Jim Stolpa
1995 Not Our Son Paul Kenneth Keller
1995 My Antonia Jimmy Burden
1995 Legacy of Sin: The William Colt Story William Colt
1995 The Man in the Attic Edward / Krista's lover
1995 Animal Room Arnold Mosk
1997 Starship Troopers Carl Jenkins
1998 The Proposition Roger Martin
1998 The Christmas Wish Will Martin
2000 The Next Best Thing David
2001 The Wedding Dress Travis Cleveland
2001 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert Tobias Ragg
2002 The Mesmerist Benjamin
2002 Undercover Brother Lance
2004 Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle Neil Patrick Harris
2005 The Golden Blaze The Comic Shop Owner Voice
2005 The Christmas Blessing Nathan Andrews
2008 Justice League: The New Frontier Barry Allen / The Flash Voice
2008 Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay Neil Patrick Harris
2008 Prop 8: The Musical A Very Smart Fellow Short
2009 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Steve Voice
2009 Beyond All Boundaries 1st Lt. David Hettema / Sgt. William Manchester Short
2009 Yes, Virginia Dr. Philip O'Hanlon Short

Voice

2010 Dracula's Daughters vs. the Space Brains Dan Short
2010 Batman: Under the Red Hood Dick Grayson / Nightwing Voice
2010 Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore Lou Voice
2010 The Best and the Brightest Jeff
2011 Beastly Will
2011 Company Robert
2011 The Smurfs Patrick Winslow
2011 The Muppets Neil Patrick Harris
2011 A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas Neil Patrick Harris
2012 American Reunion Celebrity Dance-Off Host
2012 Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special Two-Face / Black manta Voice
2013 Rien ne bat un astronaute Man Short
2013 The Smurfs 2 Patrick
2013 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 Steve Voice
2014 Attack of the 50 Ft. Gummi Bear! Steve Voice

Short

2014 A Million Ways to Die in the West Foy
2014 Gone Girl Desi Collings
2017 Downsizing Jeff Lonowski
Spinning Gold Bill Aucoin
2020 Anita Chad
2022 The Matrix 4

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1989 B.L. Stryker Buder One Episode
1991 Carol & Company Hoogie Dowser One Episode
1991 The Simpsons Neil Patrick Harris One Episode
1991 Blossom The "Charming" Derek Slade One Episode
1992 Roseanne Dr. Doogie Howser One Episode
1992 Captain Planet and the Planeteers Todd Andrews One Episode
1993 Quantum Leap Mike Hammond One Episode
1989-1993 Doogie Howser, M.D. Dr. Doogie Howser
1993 Murder, She Wrote Tommy Remsen One Episode
1992-1995 Capitol Critters Max
1996 The Outer Limits Howie Morrison
1997 Homicide: Life on the Street Alan Schack
1999 Joan of Arc King Charles VIII of France / The Dauphin
2000 Will & Grace Bill One Episode
1999-2000 Stark Raving Mad Henry McNeeley
2001 Static Shock Johnny Morrow / Replay One Episode

Voice

2001 Son of the Beach Loverboy One Episode
2001 As Told By Ginger Ned One Episode
2001 The Legend of Tarzan Moyo One Episode

Voice

2001 Ed Joe Baxter One Episode
2002 Touched by an Angel Jonas One Episode
2002 Justice League Ray Thompson
2003 Boomtown Peter Corman One Episode
2003 Spider-Man Peter Parker / Spider-Man
2004 Law & Order: Criminal Intent John Tagman One Episode
2005 Numb3rs Ethan Burdick One Episode
2005 Jack & Bobby Prof. Preston Phelps One Episode
2006 Me, Eloise Voice
2008 Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Billy (Dr. Horribile)
2008 Sesame Street The Fairy Shoeperson One Episode
2007-2009 Family Guy Barney Stinson
2009 Batman: The Brave and the Bold Music Meister Voice
2009 Robot Chicken Two-Face / Various Voice
2010 Glee Bryan Ryan One Episode
2012-2013 Neil's Puppet Dreams Neil Patrick Harris
2011-2013 Adventure Time Prince Gumball / Additional Voices Voice
2005-2014 How I Met Your Mother Barney Stinson
2015 American Horror Story Chester Creb
2010-2015 The Penguins of Madagascar Dr. Blowhole
2017 Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return Neville LaRoy One Episode
2017 At Home with Amy Sedaris Neil Patrick Harris One Episode
2017-2019 A Series of Unfortunate Events Count Olaf
2020 Boys

Trivia

  • His role as Count Olaf is especially hard because when doing the disguises, he has to portray Count Olaf who is portraying someone else.

Gallery

Behind the Scenes

Videos

Sources

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