The Stunning Transformation Of Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris — whether you know him from "Doogie Howser," "How I Met Your Mother," his work on stage, or one of his many presenting gigs, chances are, you do know him. Since the tender age of 14, Harris' fame has steadily grown. After the young Harris was discovered while attending a summer drama camp, he soon landed the leading role in "Doogie Howser" — a role he is still remembered for today. Since then, he has appeared in musicals, plays, TV series, films, award shows, and even magic shows.

Since coming out as gay in 2006, Harris has married his long-time partner, David Burtka, and had twins. These days, the talented actor, director, and producer is busy with work and domestic life in equal measure. But how did Harris, who grew up as just another kid in New Mexico, become one of the most famous people in Hollywood? Here is the stunning transformation of Neil Patrick Harris.

Neil Patrick Harris grew up in rural New Mexico

Neil Patrick Harris was born in 1973 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and grew up in the small town of Ruidoso. As he explained to Rolling Stone, his parents were busy with their legal careers, so he spent much of his youth running around in nature. "It was very small-town," he recalled. "Almost Native American, to be honest. Fishing in duck ponds, running through pine forests. We would create our own little world. I remember running through major woods, where there was no trail, but knowing exactly how to get home. You knew, in a sort of tribal way, which pine tree meant 'make a left turn here.'" By the sounds of things, his upbringing couldn't have been further from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.

Even though Harris' career took him far from his rural New Mexico roots, he still holds a soft spot for his hometown. "I really want the kids, our kids, to experience what New Mexico has to offer," he told KRQE (via YouTube). "So, we were here last year for the balloon fiesta ... it's wonderful to be able to come back and say hello to people, eat at my favorite restaurants, and sort of feel welcomed."

Neil Patrick Harris fell in love with magic and theater as a kid

When Neil Patrick Harris wasn't running around in the forests of New Mexico, he was becoming increasingly fascinated by the performing arts. When his father took him to see a production of August Wilson's "Fences" in Los Angeles, it sparked a love of acting. "I remember I was just the whitest kid ever from small-town New Mexico in this big city of Los Angeles, which isn't super diverse," he told The Creative Process. Harris recalled how he was moved to tears. "I recognized the impact that the theater can have on someone that isn't even anything like what they're like, right?"

Harris also became fascinated with the world of magic. As he told WBUR, he grew up watching Doug Henning and David Copperfield on TV. He became "smitten" by Fool's Paradise, a local magic store. In fact, most of his allowance as a kid went towards magic tricks. As Harris explained, magic is now a hobby — however, he is a member of the Academy of Magical Arts to this day!

Neil Patrick Harris was discovered at a drama camp as a child

After falling in love with performing arts as a child, Neil Patrick Harris was encouraged by his teachers to attend a summer drama camp. As he explained to Backstage (via YouTube), it was a summer that ended up changing his life. "A man named Mark Medoff was the playwright in residence there ... he had written a movie called 'Clara's Heart,'" Harris explained. While at the camp, he happened to be in a cold reading audition class with Medoff. "He thought I would be a good choice for it, so he championed me to put myself on tape with him," he said. Eventually, Harris landed the role opposite Whoopi Goldberg. And just like that, his career was launched.

For Harris, there couldn't have been a better way into the industry. In fact, it served as a sort of "film school" for him. "It was a really pivotal chapter in my upbringing, and I was very fortunate it was with such great people," he told Variety. "To have [co-star] Whoopi Goldberg and director Bob Mulligan — he was remarkable. It was a terrific film school for a 13-year-old boy."

Doogie Howser became a career-defining role for Neil Patrick Harris when he was just 14

Shortly after starring in "Clara's Heart," Neil Patrick Harris landed the role of Doogie Howser, a young prodigy doctor. This television show was another important moment for Harris's acting education. "I'm very proud of that role," he told The Guardian in 2021. "That was my formative college years, even though I was barely in high school."

The show ran for four years until it was canceled in 1993. During that time, Harris rocketed to fame. Becoming a household name at such a young age wasn't always easy for the teen. "I was a late bloomer, and when you're a youngster, and you're in the public, and people are recognizing you — it's hard to behave normally," he told New York Magazine. People in the streets would shout out his character's name or simply watch him from afar. For Harris, it was all a little overwhelming.

Neil Patrick Harris turned his attention to theater after Doogie Howser where he finally felt accepted

After his somewhat tumultuous time as Doogie Howser, Neil Patrick Harris took a step back. He was 20 when the show ended and stepped out of the spotlight for a few years. He struggled with accepting his sexual identity while also dealing with the pressures of fame. Finally, with the exception of a few TV movies, the actor turned his attention to the stage. When he was 25, he was in an L.A. production of "Rent." Finally, he said, he felt he found his tribe.

"This gypsy world of people who are just so appreciative of each other's individuality!" he told New York Magazine. "Where some people are super-gay and have girlfriends or boyfriends for twenty years, and others swing both ways — or are straight ... And you're singing about that: no day but today, and there's only us, and there's only this, and don't regret."

Neil Patrick Harris was cast in How I Met Your Mother, which proved to be a life-changing show

After a few stage roles and a few more TV parts, Neil Patrick Harris landed another breakthrough role as womanizer Barney Stinson in "How I Met Your Mother." Harris moved from New York to L.A. with his boyfriend, David Burtka, to be in the show. Initially, the pair expected it would be a short stint. "I assumed the show would be a short chapter," Harris told Architectural Digest. "But the plan was always to come back to New York when the show ended and raise our family." However, the show lasted for nine seasons, putting their plans for a family on hold.

Nevertheless, the show proved pivotal for his career, giving him a whole new image after his years as Doogie Howser, taking him from child star to critically acclaimed actor. He even earned four Emmy nominations for his work as Barney.

Neil Patrick Harris came out as gay in 2006 as his fame grew

In 2006, Neil Patrick Harris officially announced that he was gay in a statement to People. "The public eye has always been kind to me, and until recently, I have been able to live a pretty normal life," he said. "Now it seems there is speculation and interest in my private life and relationships." He stated that he was happy and proud of his sexuality.

Harris was in his 30s when he came out. "For me, [the coming out process] started later because I wasn't very sexual early on," he explained to Glamour. "I wasn't some sexual Lothario that people were pining after. So I was hungry to represent myself in that way, but wasn't physically representing myself in that way." Because Harris came to terms with his sexuality more slowly than some, it took him a little longer to make the official announcement. But as he explained, there's nothing wrong with that. "I just feel strongly, that it is so individual, there are so many variables and shades of gray within it, that it's no one's right to dictate any of it," he said.

Neil Patrick Harris became known for his hosting abilities

As his career continued to bring success after success, Neil Patrick Harris took on a new kind of role: that of the award show host. His natural charisma and sense of comedy proved to be perfect for the job. As of 2022, the actor has hosted the Tonys four times, the Emmys twice and the Oscars once. He's also hosted Spike's Video Game Awards and the TV Land Awards. He even appeared as a guest host on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in 2017. In addition, he has also appeared as a judge on "American Idol."

While hosting helped Harris's career progress, there were some downsides. "What's interesting about the hosting gig is that when you succeed as a host, you become more of a personality, an affable person that's trusted as a conduit for other things," he told Backstage. Even though hosting made Harris more of a personality, he realized that it wouldn't stop him from being an actor. "Being on a mainstream sitcom on CBS and subbing for Regis now and again, I think that in my professional world right now, people recognize me as both an actor and a bit of a personality, and I'm fine with that," he told The Daily Beast. "I enjoy being a hyphenate."

Neil Patrick Harris continued taking on a wide variety of roles, hoping to avoid type-casting

As Neil Patrick Harris became increasingly recognizable for his role in "How I Met Your Mother" and his hosting work, he also tried to take on other varied acting roles to avoid typecasting — or boredom. "I was a white, all-American-looking kid, so those [early TV movie parts] were the parts that I got," Harris explained to Time Out. "Now it's fun to be able to play against that, and then randomly 'Harold & Kumar' [a franchise of films in which Neil Patrick Harris played a fictionalized version of himself] came along. I try hard to diversify my portfolio as best I can."

He has certainly succeeded in diversifying his resume. Since Barney, he has appeared in musicals, thrillers, comedies, animated films, kids' films, and dramas and has taken on a huge range of roles in each. Yet, no matter how well-known Harris has become, he's always managed to maintain the reputation for being capable of doing just about anything.

Neil Patrick Harris ventured into the world of directing

Acting, hosting, magic — is there anything Neil Patrick Harris can't do? Well, as it turns out, he can also direct. As of 2022, he directed one episode of "How I Met Your Mother" and one episode of "The Goodwin Games" (via IMDb). On stage, he has directed "Rent," "The Expert at the Card Table," and "Nothing to Hide."

As Harris once explained, he has hopes that his future lies in directing rather than acting. "I love directing, that's where I'm sort of angling," he told Access Hollywood in 2010 (via YouTube). "Acting's fun but it's just so quick, you know, each gig is short ... so many words to memorize, you know. I'd so much rather be Joss Whedon on the other side of the camera directing it." As he went on to explain, he's interested in the entire process from the casting to the editing — as a director, he gets to be involved in it all. "As a director, you're, like, there with the crew, with the cast."

Neil Patrick Harris became a parent to twins in 2010

In 2010, Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka had twins, Gideon and Harper, via surrogacy. As Harris and Burkta explained to Oprah Winfrey (via YouTube), the couple was desperate to have children. "We really, really wanted kids," Harris said. "Like we really had thought it through financially, emotionally, relationship-wise."

Once the twins arrived, life changed dramatically for the couple. "I'm an overworked dad at the moment," Harris confessed to Time Out in 2012. But, he added, things had become a little easier as the babies got older. "My bonding has increased exponentially the older that they've gotten," he said. "When they're just crying, and you can't ask them what's wrong, you have to just try different things. That's not in my skill set yet."

For Harris, becoming a parent has meant learning to be more flexible. "I think what's surprising is that kids grow in such a way that it requires parents to shift," he told Yahoo!. After all, kids are constantly changing and growing — and he has two of them!

Neil Patrick Harris returned to Broadway with something pretty different from How I Met Your Mother

After nine years of playing the macho womanizing Barney in "How I Met Your Mother," Neil Patrick Harris was eager to go in a new direction. So, he took on the role of the trans woman Hedwig in the Broadway music "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

Despite being very different from Barney, Harris told Time Out that there were a few similarities between the characters. "I don't feel like it would be leaving one big personality behind to go to something much subtler," he said. "It's a different but equally impressive tightrope to walk." As he explained, the biggest change wasn't in character but in the lifestyle required for performing on stage. "It'll definitely be a bipolar existence: being a family man with David [his husband] and the kids in the day and being a super hard-core punk rocker in the evenings," he explained. Harris and his family also moved back to New York after he finished the show. It sounds like he returned to his roots in more ways than one.

Neil Patrick Harris is living a very domestic life these days

With two teenage children, Neil Patrick Harris settled into a pretty domestic life as of 2022. His daily life, as he told The Guardian in 2021, is all about "dealing with kids in schools and parent-teacher conferences and dad life."

He and his husband, David Burtka, live in a five-story Harlem brownstone (via The New York Times). The home itself is pretty eclectic, but, at the end of the day, the family leads a very everyday, unglamorous, domestic existence. The couple told The Washington Post that they love nothing more than a home-cooked meal and would much rather stay in than go out.

And Harris's worries and concerns have shifted from worries about his public persona to worries about his domestic life. "I'm a parent to ten-year-olds, a boy and a girl," he told Glamour. "Even last night — late last night — I'm up, hands on my head, stressed about how I'm parenting and what my thoughts are on school for the kids and scholastic learning and what that means for them."

There is still a lot that Neil Patrick Harris wants to do

Neil Patrick Harris has already come a long way since his days as a young boy running around New Mexico — but he isn't finished yet, in either his career or his life.

In fact, as he told The Guardian in 2021, "I have an insatiable desire to accomplish and do more things. I love bungee jumping and fire-eating and traveling and white-water rafting — my bucket list is long. I think that's kind of what life is about: experiential education."

But Harris doesn't just want to do more in his life; he also has things on his career bucket list. One of the biggest ones is starring in a big movie such as a superhero movie, as he told Variety (via YouTube). Anything with "big scale CG elements — like a large movie — like it could be Chris Nolan large, could be PlayStation 5 large," as Harris put it.

It sounds like we haven't seen the last transformation for Harris by a long shot.