Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders speak to, and pose for the LA Times.
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Actress Cobie Smulders admits she was apprehensive when she first learned that her character on CBS' popular comedy " How I Met Your Mother," newscaster Robin Scherbatsky, was about to become smitten with the show's notorious ladies' man, Barney Stinson. After all, there's no faster way to ruin a long-running series than to begin pairing off the main characters -- consider it the "Moonlighting" rule of episodic television. ¶ Mostly, Smulders says, she didn't want to take Robin immediately from one love interest (in this case, stand-up architect Ted, played by Josh Radnor) to Neil Patrick Harris' morally dubious Barney quite so quickly. ¶ "For a while, I was confused about that," Smulders says. "But I think it's a very endearing pairing, Barney and Robin. It's an interesting dynamic to watch."
If any show can pull off the romantic shuffling, it's "How I Met Your Mother." The series, which premiered in 2005 and has gone on to become a cornerstone of CBS' Monday night prime-time block, upends the usual sitcom rules, telling and retelling stories from differing perspectives and frequently putting its characters in outrageous or fantastic settings -- like, say, flying through the sky wearing nightshirts or starring in 1980s-set music videos
It's the show's premise, the idea of having a subjective narrator with a sometimes imperfect memory at the core of the action, that affords creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas so much freedom. "How I Met Your Mother" unfolds as one very extended flashback, with middle-aged Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) recounting to his children about his younger days living in New York with his four best friends (Smulders and Harris, and Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, who play married couple Marshall and Lily).
Seated opposite one another on a recent afternoon inside a meeting room on the Fox lot, Smulders and Harris are eager to flirt with R-rated territory. Early reservations aside, both actors are excited about Robin and Barney's budding romance, which, based on a scene in the season finale in which they finally confess their true feelings to one another, seems like a sure thing.
"I'm assuming we get together next season," Harris says to the then-very pregnant Smulders, who was due to deliver her first child any day.
"I feel like if we do, we'll have an open relationship and you can do whatever you want," she responds. "But you come home to me."
"That doesn't seem like Barney would want Robin to have an open relationship," Harris observes.
"And therein lies the comedy," says Smulders with a wry smile.
To the casual observer, Barney Stinson appears to be a reprehensible human being. An incorrigible womanizer who just celebrated his 200th sexual conquest, he's a vain egomaniac loyal only to his "bro code," though even that doesn't stop him from executing extreme pranks to embarrass his buddies.
Somehow, Harris manages to bring an endearing, impish spark to the cad, which explains his being nominated in the supporting actor Emmy category in 2007 and 2008. He says he's grateful that the Robin story, which developed after the characters slept together last season, is allowing him to explore a softer, potentially more likable side of Barney.
"As she was concerned about flipping from one guy to another really quickly," Harris says, "I was concerned about Barney losing his womanizing edge. It's sort of the only part of the character. It's been fun this season for Barney to have just another layer, a sort of human layer of struggling between true feelings and his own bravado. I'm anxious to see what they plan to do with it."
So is Bays, who says that the idea to turn Barney and Robin into a couple dates back to an episode in the first season when they discover that they're kindred spirits -- "They both love smoking cigars and drinking Scotch, and they both have pretty relaxed attitudes toward relationships and don't really want to settle down," he points out -- but admits that he and Thomas haven't quite worked out all the details.
"Our guiding principle is that whenever there's an idea that seems like it's going to ruin the show forever, we usually end up getting really good stuff out of it," Bays says. "The scary stories are the ones that end up the most satisfying. The show is about people going through turbulent times in their lives, and it's about change and moving forward."
Smulders and Harris have a few general ideas about how they plan to move forward, ratcheting up the romantic tension between Robin and Barney without, perhaps, worrying too much about the prospects for a long-term commitment.
"We know that when Robin gets in a fight, it turns her on a lot," Harris says, turning an arched eyebrow toward his costar before adding, "There's been more than one episode where you turn an argument into a make-out session."
"She likes violence," Smulders concurs.
"I think there'll be a Frasier/Lilith thing between the two of them," Harris concludes, waiting a full beat to add one important caveat. "This is supposition. They could break up in an episode and a half."email@example.com