“How would I, as Neil, in a subtler way, respond to a whole new world?” Neil Patrick Harris says of stepping into the role for his new eight-episode series, hitting Netflix Friday
Neil Patrick Harris is ready to have the rug pulled out from under him.
At least that’s what he signed up for in Uncoupled, Netflix’s new romantic comedy series in which his character, real estate broker Michael, is blindsided when his partner Colin (Tuc Watkins), a hedge fund manager, walks out after 17 years together. Suddenly, Michael is thrust into New York dating culture again.
“Up until this job, I had spent a decade or so doing gigs that were as removed from myself as possible,” Harris, 49, tells PEOPLE, name-checking previous roles like How I Met Your Mother‘s lothario Barney Stinson, his villainous Count Ola in A Series of Unfortunate Events and Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
“I thought it was fun to play as many different versions of me that were nothing like me,” he adds.
But Uncoupled, from co-creators Darren Star (Sex and the City, …And Just Like That) and Jeffrey Richman (Modern Family) offered Harris the opportunity to explore a life that looked much like his own.
Harris and his husband David Burtka, 47, have been together 18 years (they married in 2014) and share 11-year-old twins, Harper and Gideon.
The notion “of playing a nuanced comedy version of a life that’s very similar to my own in certain ways — same location as where I live, same length of the relationship that I’m currently in — but now it’s totally different” appealed to the New Yorker.
“How would I, as Neil, in a subtler way, respond to a whole new world?” he asks.
Heartbroken and still pining for his ex in the series, Michael grapples with how the world has changed in almost 20 years, including the creation of dating apps like Grindr.
“Michael’s going through the five stages of grief about his breakup,” says Star. “He’s trying to move on, but he’s still carrying the pain of what happened, and it’s informing and coloring everything he’s going through. So while he can go out for a wild night and try to have a good time, the reality of his life kind of gut punches him in the end.”
CREDIT: BARBARA NITKE/NETFLIX
The creators ultimately mined heartbreak borrowed from real life.
“Both Darren and I knew of long-term gay relationships where one of the partners does what Colin does to Michael,” says Richman. “That seemed to us like a great launching point, jumping off place, to start a romantic comedy. The lowest possible place you could come from.”
Still, Uncoupled doesn’t let Michael wallow for too long. Helping him pick up the pieces are the protagonist’s straight-shooting real estate agent partner Suzanne (Tisha Campbell), celebrity weatherman Billy (Emerson Brooks), and sensitive art dealer pal Stanley (Brooks Ashmanskas).
And, a particularly difficult new client arrives to distract: the bitter divorcee Claire (Marcia Gay Harden), who puts Michael through the paces as he strains to sell her overpriced penthouse.
“She stays in the stage of anger for her grief for a really long time, and that was so much fun to do,” says Harden. “The angrier she was, the better.”
The show offers a full depiction of how one couple calling it quits can destabilize an entire friend group.
“Ordinarily in a breakup comedy, the couple breaks up, the ex is a jerk, and the hero moves forward and lives happily ever after 90 minutes later. But this is a different show,” says Watkins, who plays Michael’s ex. “Uncoupled is about an uncoupling, and all that goes along with that.”
Star applauds Harris’ go-for-it attitude on set, whether it was a diving into a stunt falling backward while skiing in the Catskills to Michael’s newly-single sex scenes.
“Just as the character Michael is taking a lot of crazy risks in his life that he’s never taken before, I felt like Neil was doing the same thing in these scenes,” he says. “And it wasn’t about the sex… Neil was literally just really going out on a limb all the time on the show.”
For Harris, Uncoupled was about embracing the comedy that all too often walks hand-in-hand with tragedy.
“When I’ve talked to friends who’ve watched it, someone said in a really astute way that that’s what life is,” he says. “You don’t have a breakup happen and then it’s just sad all the time.”
Uncoupled is now streaming on Netflix.