‘How I Met Your Mother’: Executive producer Craig Thomas previews Barney’s father
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Who’s your daddy? For Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) on “How I Met Your Mother,” it turns out to be John Lithgow! After years of thinking Bob Barker was his father and even refusing to believe Ben Vereen wasn’t his father, Barney will finally meet his dad in Monday night’s episode, appropriately titled “Legendaddy.” But papa Stinson might not be exactly what Barney imagines. Recently, the show’s executive producer, Craig Thomas, chatted with Showtracker about one of the show’s biggest mystery, casting the mysterious father figure and what meeting his father means for Barney’s future and his romantic relationships.
Marshall’s father dying has set off all these chain-reaction stories, one of which is Barney looking for his father on Monday’s episode. Is there like a particular reason why he seeks him out?
We sort of wanted to turn the tables a little bit and make it not that Barney was seeking him out in this episode but that Barney had a missile in the air in the form of a letter that he sent to his dad. He got his dad’s address. In the episode called “Oh Honey” this year, he says to Katy Perry in this scene that he sent a letter and never heard back from his dad. So we kind of planted that in Episode 15 of this season. There’s kind of this boomerang that Barney threw out there that’s going to come back to him in the form of John Lithgow in Monday night’s episode. It sort of comes out of nowhere and takes Barney by surprise. He’d started to give up on it a little. So it’s really not so much the hunt as it is ... oh my God, my dad’s standing right in front of me. It’s kind of a great, shocking moment that kicks off the episode, and it takes off from there.
Is this going to be a positive experience in Barney’s life?
There are episodes that we like to wrap things up in 21 minutes, but this is definitely an episode that’s been a long time in the making. We introduced the notion that Barney didn’t know who his father was years ago toward the beginning of the series. This episode Monday night is five years in the making. I can’t say that we resolve it in this one episode. I don’t want to give anything away about where it goes and how it ends. But it’s not like it’ll be ... easy to resolve it and have it feel OK and fine between these two guys who haven’t seen each other in 30 years. Barney has a very specific image in his head of who is dad is going to be. His dad shows up, and it’s not quite what he was picturing. The episode is definitely about Barney wrestling with 30 years of buildup of who this guy is going to be. Then the door opens and he has to deal with the reality of who he is. What we were aiming to do in the episode, and hopefully we succeeded, was the feeling that at the end of the episode, you really don’t know what’s going to happen between these two.
The identity of Barney’s father is probably the second-biggest mystery on the show next to the identity of the mother.
Now that we’ve answered the mystery of the goat. ... In this episode, we’re answering the second-biggest mystery of our series. I definitely think of it that way.
Is it a relief just to finally get one question off your plate?
It’ll be so nice. ... We always knew we’d answer this question, as we know someday we will answer who’s the mother. You get pretty nervous that when you build up a role this much, shoot, we’ve got to cast someone fantastic. There’s a role we’ve been building up, who is Barney’s father, for half a decade, and John Lithgow was our first choice. It was just one of those moments that the casting gods smiled upon us and we got someone more than worthy of all the buildup, so we’re pretty psyched about that. ... It’s sort of great to be able to answer one of the bigger questions of the series and have such a good answer in the form of John Lithgow. But again, like I said, it’s Barney meets this guy, this father who he hasn’t seen since he was 5 years old and thought of as his uncle at that point. It certainly raises a lot more questions for him than it answers, and we will follow up on those in this season and hopefully moving forward too.
Did you take this character directly to John Lithgow?
We did. He was our top choice and we sort of pitched him the story. He hasn’t done an appearance on a sitcom since “3rd Rock,” and he was coming off being a serial killer [on ‘Dexter’]. I think this part just appealed to him. He asked us to see some specific episodes about Barney and sort of the saga of Barney wanting to know who his father was. We sort of put together a few of those episodes starting with “Showdown” in Season 2, where Barney thinks his father is Bob Barker, and sort of put together like a little box set of Barney-dad-related episodes for Mr. Lithgow. He watched them, and he dug it. He wanted to do the part, and actually, right as we speak, we’re shooting our second episode with him on our stage right now, so he’s back with us. It’s been fantastic. We love him. I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s like on the show. I think people now sort of associate him with serial killers, so it’ll be a nice change.
[Laughs] There’s a way lower body count in this television appearance for Mr. Lithgow.
Where does he fit in the spectrum of television dads?
You mean what is he like? Like is he more Bill Cosby or more … ? I don’t want to give anything away actually because it’s sort of a mystery in this episode who this guy is. This guy shows up, and at first, when you’re watching the episode, you think he’s one thing, and he sort of turns out to be another later in the episode. So the episode’s a little bit about piecing together who this guy really is and what have the last 30 years of his life been like. I don’t want to talk too much about that, but it’s definitely really fun watching this episode. You get to see John Lithgow play a bunch of different kinds of emotions. You don’t really know who the character is at first. It’s just really fun to watch John Lithgow. … He’s so versatile. It just sort of keeps you guessing about who this guy is.
Barney finally has this big chunk of his life filled in. What does this mean for him going forward and his growth this season, as well as his relationships with Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) and Robin (Cobie Smulders)?
It’s definitely going to complicate that. Meeting his father gives Barney an entirely different glimpse at what his own future could be. Both this episode and the one that we’re following it up with -- which is going to be Episode 21 of this season, which is called “Hopeless,” but it’s not nearly as bleak as the title makes it out to be -- they speak exactly to that, especially that second episode. It’s a lot about Barney [having been] so confident in who he is and so convinced he has all the answers, and he’s living the most awesome, legendary life that is possible by a human. He may even be sort of an evolved higher being that is living the perfect, most awesome life. This definitely throws some questions into his life about, “What should my future be? Can I live this way forever?” It really unlocks some different emotions in Barney that he wasn’t expecting to feel, and it’s going to be really fun to see what that does for him moving forward, especially in that second episode that we’re shooting now. ... I can tell you that it definitely involves how we wrap up the season. The questions that Barney meeting his dad bring up definitely factor into how our finale ends.
Showtrackers, are you excited to meet Barney’s father? What do you hope this means for Barney romantically? And make sure to come back to Showtracker to read my recap of “Legendaddy.”
— Vlada Gelman (follow my TV musings on Twitter at @stayingin)