NEW YORK – Every Grindr user knows the lingo: Can’t host, face pic, masc4masc.
Neil Patrick Harris got a crash course in those terms as he prepped for his Netflix comedy “Uncoupled” (streaming Friday), in which he stars as a middle-aged real-estate agent named Michael who’s plunged into the New York dating pool after his Boyfriend of 17 years, Colin (Tuc Watkins), dumps him.
Harris, who’s been in a relationship with his husband, actor/chef David Burtka, since 2004, relied on friends to educate him about gay hookup apps such as Grindr.
“I’ve never been a swipe-left or swipe-righter because I was with David before that app came out, so I found how it works kind of interesting,” Harris says. (Editor’s note: There is no swiping through matches on Grindr.)
“It seems that app-based dating in the gay world is much less about long-term connection,” he continues. “It’s much more carnal, which is refreshing because if that’s what you want, you don’t have to go on a third or fourth date. At the same time, it does feel like you’re potentially missing out on a deeper connection. ”
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“Uncoupled” is executive-produced by Harris’ longtime friend, Jeffrey Richman (ABC’s “Modern Family”), and Darren Star, who’s best known for creating HBO’s “Sex and the City” and Netflix’s “Emily in Paris.”
Like Carrie Bradshaw and her pals in “Sex,” Michael and his queer friends have a variety of nightmare dates and steamy hookups throughout the eight-episode first season. Meanwhile, Michael bonds with a newly divorced real-estate client (Marcia Gay Harden) and attempts to uncover why Colin might’ve left him.
The series “is unrelated to any ideas about ‘Sex and the City,'” Star says. “Jeffrey and I are past 50 and wanted to write a show that reflected our lives. We’ve both been through significant breakups and felt that it was a strong way in to tell a story not only about a gay relationship, but about a gay man becoming single in middle age, and what that would mean.”
Harris was their first choice to play Michael because “he checks every box,” Richman says: He’s an out gay actor who understands comedy, having played cocksure womanizer Barney Stinson for nine seasons of CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother.” But he’s also shown dramatic chops in projects such as “Gone Girl” and HBO Max’s “It’s a Sin.”
For Harris, 49, it was refreshing to portray a nuanced character who’s “profoundly lonely” yet still “very funny” as he navigates the “open wound” of a long-term breakup.
“Barney Stinson was a dream job, but he was voracious and delusional. He thought he was much more of a baller than he actually was,” Harris says. “Michael is much more of a human being (who’s) actually having to confront the subtleties of dating and emotion and why things happen.”
Like the go-getting Michael, the actor says he struggles “with bandwidth: not just professionally, but also family-wise,” as the father (with Burtka) of 11-year-old twins Gideon and Harper. But unlike his character, Harris says he never really had awkward dating experiences.
A couple of years after moving to New York from Los Angeles, he was introduced to Burtka through a mutual friend while walking down the street. Both were starring in Broadway musicals at the time.
“He was the hot thing on Broadway,” Harris recalls. “We said hello and then I slowly started trying to figure out where he was after shows.”
Soon after, they were spending all their time together and eventually moved into an apartment in Harlem. They were engaged in 2011 and married three years later.
“Once we started dating, we just never really stopped,” Harris says. “We cuddled really well together, so we just kept cuddling.”
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Due to the show’s suggestive content, it’s unlikely Harris’ kids will ever watch “Uncoupled.” (“They would be the first to change the channel,” he jokes, although Harper enjoys her dad’s teenage breakthrough in ABC sitcom “Doogie Howser, MD”) But filming the Netflix comedy led Harris to reflect on his marriage to Burtka and how partnerships , like people, are constantly evolving.
“Relationships are complex chapters, and the design of love and its definition isn’t singular,” Harris says. “So you have to redefine it through chapters, through tumult, through discontent. Because you’re two individual people co-existing together, and so you’ll be supercharged by each other and then super-frustrated simultaneously. We’ve been together almost two decades, so we’ve had a lot of chapters of reconnection and self-acceptance.
“I’m anxious to see Michael’s journey through that kind of self-acceptance because I think we’re just getting to know him,” he adds. “So maybe in subsequent (seasons), he’ll be able to grow and learn a bit more. And if that means I get to do more fun bedroom scenes with people I barely know for season after season, I’m OK with that .”
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