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Alyson Hannigan

Alyson Hannigan - "How I Met Your Mother" Sitcom - Ign.com Set Visit

Monday 18 September 2006, by Webmaster

How I Met Your Mother: Exclusive Set Visit We take a visit to the set and speak to the cast of the innovative sitcom about Season 2. by Eric Goldman

September 15, 2006 - How I Met Your Mother is a very funny show, but it showed it could also pack some strong drama into its half-hour sitcom format in the season finale, which left engaged couple Marshall (Jason Segal) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) broken up, just as Ted (Josh Radnor) had finally gotten together with the object of his affections, Robin (Cobie Smulders). Recently I was able to pay an exclusive visit to the set of How I Met Your Mother to learn what’s in store for season 2 and the new situations the characters find themselves in.

As I was first brought onto the Mother set, I was invited to have what I am told is some of the best catering on the Fox lot, and I have to tell you, having sampled it, I’m inclined to agree, as those were some seriously good ribs and mashed potatoes. Fueled by food, I took a tour of the main sets of the series. How I Met Your Mother is not filmed in front of a studio audience, a decision made by the producers due to the show’s frequent use of creative editing (such as flashbacks and jump cuts) to service the jokes and storylines. Not only would these jokes not be able to be conveyed easily to a studio audience, but with many more scenes per episode than most sitcoms, Mother has a three-day production schedule each week, rather than filming all the material in one night. After a show is edited together, it is shown in its completed form to an audience, whose laughter is recorded.

I walked down a path on the soundstage that included the familiar set of Ted and Marshall’s apartment, and a bit past that, the bar, where the five central characters spend much of their time. Just across from those sets was a row of other sets which included Robin’s apartment, and an apartment Lily goes to look at as a possible new home in the 2nd episode of the season, "The Scorpion and the Toad," which was filming that day.


Jason Segal (seated) and Neil Patrick Harris in the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Scorpion and the Toad" I then went over to an adjacent soundstage, which had previously been the home to Pamela Anderson’s sitcom Stacked. Not currently housing a permanent production, this soundstage was also being used by How I Met Your Mother, with a diner set built for a scene filming at the moment between Marshall and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). The actors shot several takes of the scene, at one point interrupted by a bit of laughing that broke out between them. Because laughter will eventually be recorded by an audience, the crew is allowed to laugh as loud as they’d like at the jokes, and I gladly joined in, watching Harris and Segal continually nail the clever lines in the scene, as Barney and Marshall discuss what happened with Marshall and a girl he met the night before.

With the scene completed, I was able to sit down with Segal, who took me to an enclosed area outside the cast’s trailers. Segal was excited about being back on set, saying season two was, "Going great. I feel like everyone came back with a renewed vigor and we’re just after it." In the scene I watched Harris and Segal film, perpetual womanizer Barney was clearly trying hard to influence Marshall to get back into dating in a big way, and I asked Segal if Barney was trying to take Marshall under his wing. "It seems like that’s where they’re heading, which will be funny," Segal replied, adding that, "Doing scenes with Neil is just a pleasure." When I asked Segal if we would see the "Barnification" of Marshall, he said, "I feel like Marshall is a pure enough soul that you’re not likely to see him get that bad, but I think you’ll probably see him test his boundaries."

As to the new situation with the characters, with Marshall upset over his breakup and Ted in a new, happy relationship, Segal remarked, "I love that it’s the exact converse of how the show started last year, where I’d just gotten engaged, and he’s just blown it with a great girl. And now we start off this season with him as happy as could be and Marshall depressed and lonely, so it’s neat the way they did that."

In the pilot of the series, the older Ted who narrates the series (voiced by Bob Saget) tells us that the eventual mother of Ted’s children is not Robin. As to whether the cast speculates themselves on who the mother is, and wonders about various guest stars, Segal said, "I feel like they [the producers] don’t know yet who the mother is going to be, and when they know, we’ll have some sense. But it’s a little bit like dating in real life. I think when they meet the right actress, she could be the mother, you know?"

Regarding on screen encounters between Lily and Marshall since the breakup, Segal noted, "There hasn’t been [any] so far, but actually, tonight we’re shooting a pretty big scene where we see each other for the first time since the breakup, so that’ll be exciting. I’m looking forward to that." Segal elaborated that when it came to the reunion scene, "They’ve written it beautifully. I’ve had that moment where you run into an ex-girlfriend for the first time and no matter how much you think you’re over it something clicks right back to the day you last saw each other."

As Segal and I were talking, Cobie Smulders happened to come out of her trailer and introduced herself to me. I was amused as she made an observation several others had also, about how rare it was for anyone but the cast to be sitting in the area we were speaking together in. Joked Smulders, "Very few people get beyond the wooden partition!" Segal added, "I had to vouch for you."

Segal noted that he was happy to explore his new storyline, saying, "I think where they’ve arrived now, at just such a genuine moment when you’re single and you don’t know what to do and I like delving into this area." As for Lily and Marshall’s future, Segal said, "I think they’re made for each other, deep down. I do like that they’re having them explore what it’s like to have them be apart from each other, because when they reunite I think it will be right. But these two have been together for nine years. They grew up linked to each other, so it’s important for them to be alone for awhile I think... It also makes for good comedy!"

Following my conversation with Segal, I returned to the main soundstage to watch Smulders, Josh Radnor and the newly brunette Alyson Hannigan shoot a scene together, in which Ted and Robin accompany Lily as she checks out the aforementioned apartment. I took a seat at a table in Ted and Marshall’s apartment to watch this scene, which was being filmed directly across from that set.


(L-R) Cobie Smulders, Josh Radnor and Alyson Hannigan on the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Scorpion and the Toad" As that scene concluded, Radnor was introduced to me. Commenting on how the relationship is going between Robin and Ted as the season begins, Radnor said, "They seem to be doing great," but that the situation with Lily and Marshall was also prevalent in their minds. "It kind of seems like that time when you have friends in crisis, that a lot of energy goes towards them," Radnor remarked. "Which is good for us, because you don’t want to overanalyze a new relationship and Ted Mosby is a chronic over-analyzer, so it’s probably good for him. They seem to be doing great. They seem to have a real comfort and ease about them. They kind of bust each other’s chops a bit and all seems to be good. "

I remarked that Ted and Robin find themselves in a predicament many of us have been in, when a couple you’re good friends with breaks up and you sometimes find yourself choosing a side. Radnor revealed that as far as his character goes, "I certainly have chosen the side of Marshall and I lay all the responsibility for this at Lily’s feet. But it’s just one of those things where you see your friend in so much pain and you just want to take it away and you don’t know how to do that, and he’s a mess in the first episode. He doesn’t get off the couch for months and he won’t wear pants... he’s just a mess! And who wants to live with that, you know? We all want the old Marshall back."

Executive Producers/Creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas loosely based the characters on How I Met Your Mother on themselves, with Marshall and Lily representing Thomas and his wife and Ted representing Bays. Beyond the great jokes on the show, Radnor discussed the appeal the series had, saying, "It’s such a provocative conceit and I think it’s interesting, because Carter and I are both still single and it’s kind of fascinating to be at a stage in your life that’s not totally dissimilar to Ted. I’m not totally like Ted, but it’s interesting. I like the concerns of the show. I think it’s not trying to solve all the problems in the world, but it takes these people and their concerns very seriously. It’s not condescending towards them because of how old they are or what stage of life they’re in. They’re genuinely confused and thoughtful and trying to work it out, and I like that."

Before How I Met Your Mother, many were saying the traditional sitcom was on the way out, replaced by single camera shows like The Office and Everybody Hates Chris. "I think anytime you declare anything dead, that’s the time when it’s ripe for a renaissance," said Radnor. "It’s almost as if the universe hates hyperbole of any sort; it will seek to disprove that!" As to what makes Mother stand out, the actor observed, "I just think they took the visual vocabulary of film and applied it to a sitcom. Because it’s so non-linear and broken up and every episode has a bit of a feel of comedic mystery to it. In this episode, Lily’s back from San Francisco and you think she’s had this great time and then you go back and get the revisionist history of what San Francisco was really like. But these are all done in really quick inserts. There’s a lot of that. The whole episode [last season] with Victoria at the wedding was like, ’Who is this girl? Where did she come from?’ They’re just great storytellers. They’re unconventional."

As to who the Mother of the title will end up being, Radnor replied, "So many people ask me that question, and it’s kind of like, well, it’s either someone we’ve already seen and maybe they’ll bring someone back, or do they have an actress in mind? I don’t know. It depends on how long the show runs. Or they could say, ’Yeah, she’s going to be a physician, who lives in New Jersey.’ None of it means anything at this point, because we don’t know. And I think also they could cast someone in a guest role and then say, ’Hey, there’s really something here,’ and see how long they could explore that. Who knows? Who knows what this is going to be like. And I think that’s part of the great part of the show is they locked themselves into this beautiful corner, but then the whole thing is a big improvisation of like, ’Oh, how do we find our way through this?’ But what’s great is the characters don’t know that much either about where they’re headed, so it’s one of those things... Like that famous quote, ’Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.’ It’s kind of that."

As I was wrapping up my conversation with Radnor, Smulders and Hannigan joined us at the table. I asked Radnor if he thought it was funny that apparently his voice will change to sound like Bob Saget when he gets older, according to the show. Radnor smiled, replying, "I do. We were just talking about that. They’re not completely similar at this point, but who knows what adventures Ted will go on?" Smulders added, "When you age, maybe something’s going to happen with you," as the two then joked about looping over all of Radnor’s performance with Saget’s voice.


Josh Radnor on How I Met Your Mother After Radnor departed, I sat down the two lovely ladies of How I Met Your Mother, for a conversation best presented in Q&A format, as Smulders and Hannigan had a fun time bantering with each other, as they commented on the show.

IGN TV: I was asking Josh if Ted and Robin have had a hard time choosing their loyalties between Lily and Marshall now that they’ve broken up.

Smulders: Well, she [Lily] kind of disappeared for awhile. So the loyalty went to Marshall.

Hannigan: Traitor!

Smulders: She just kind of went away, and you really did try and discover yourself, because you literally had no contact with anyone.

Hannigan: I’m playing it that Robin didn’t return my phone calls.

Smulders: Watch your mouth! But that’s the thing, like when we got the first episode - Now, the second episode is [Lily’s] back, but the first episode, I was like, "Wouldn’t Robin call her up or get a phone call to be like, ’Look, this is what happened’?" But they just didn’t write it, so a lot of the times on this show you kind of create the subtext yourself. And you go, "Oh yeah, they’ve had totally, so many conversations."

Hannigan: Yeah, and they also won’t tell us anything about what’s coming up. Josh figures out ways to weasel information out of them, but you really don’t know. You don’t know what’s gonna happen.

IGN TV: Based on what I saw in the scene you just shot, it seems like Lily’s made some big life changes.

Hannigan: Yeah, I don’t know if she’s actually made them or life just made them for her. Obviously going to San Francisco to pursue art was her decision, but then she just basically realizes, "Wait a minute, this isn’t what I’m going to be doing," or that she’s not really that good at it.

Smulders: But that’s to your own interpretation.

Hannigan: Yes, exactly.

Smulders: You can’t say that you’re not good! It’s your own interpretation.

Hannigan: True... it’s art! But now she will be sort of in a crossroads of what to do now, because things are changing in every aspect of her life.

IGN TV: And how are Robin and Ted doing?

Smulders: We’re great. It’s interesting; we’ve very much in a romance stage right now, [the way] it’s being written. The first episode, we made out... I think we were definitely kissing in every scene. And it’s just kind of this beginning. Especially with our relationship, because it’s been built up for so long and there’s been so much chemistry, and there’s so much history, that it is that much more passionate. So we’re kind of in a very passionate and lovey dovey stage right now.

IGN TV: I know people ask if it’s odd doing love scenes, but you all seem like such buddies, so is it weird when you’re told, "Okay, make out with your friend now"?

Smulders: I don’t find it very awkward. You’re just kind of like, "Okay, let’s make out."

Hannigan: Yeah, it really is not glamorous at all. And it’s not even real kissing. It’s not the way I kiss.

IGN TV: With four cameras on you?

Hannigan: Yeah! Yeah, but it is just sort of an action, at least for me. I don’t know about Smulders here... Woo hoo!

Smulders: Hot and steamy! No, I agree, it is just kind of part of the job and it’s a bit strange and it is a different weird part of going to work, and making out with someone who’s not your partner. But you get through it like anything else, and it’s just kind of normal and it’s a part of your character and so it works.


Cobie Smulders and Alyson Hannigan At this point Smulders had to leave, and Hannigan and I continued talking for a few minutes. I asked her if Lily felt odd being newly single while Robin and Ted are happy and in love, and she replied, "You know, I think, at least in this episode, she’s so sort of... she’s like a hamster - spinning the wheel, spinning the wheel - that she’s sort of oblivious to everything else, because she doesn’t want to take the time to stop, because she’ll probably have a primal scream and wind up in the fetal position for a few months. I think she’s definitely avoiding the severity of her actions, so I don’t think she even notices them, you know? [She’s] just in her own world and she’s going around, pretending she’s super happy and had the best summer ever, and when that all comes out and they discover that’s not the truth, then it’s just all about, ’Oh my god... Marshall.’ So she’s just being very self-absorbed. Maybe next week I’ll notice [Ted and Robin]."

Though How I Met Your Mother does have a longer production schedule then other sitcoms, Buffy veteran Hannigan still noted, "This schedule is amazing compared to the one hour schedule. I have a life, which is lovely." She added that, "There’s definitely times here where we’re like, ’God, I wish we had an audience!’ But it’s just too complicated. It’s just not a show you could do in two hours, you know? I mean even the run throughs are really hard. Everyone’s walking from set to set and back and everybody sort of gets their cardio on."

"It would be nice in certain scenes to get that feedback that you would get from an audience," Hannigan remarked, "but it’s also nice in other scenes not to have it, because you really get to have the emotion that you would have more so on a drama, and you get to play it for real, rather then playing for laughs or that kind of thing. The intimate scenes, it would just be heartbreaking to hear an, ’Awwww!’ Which obviously would happen, and it’s sweet if it happens, but in the moment I just think it would make you a little more self-conscious about the tenderness."

As to whether she thinks it’s a good idea to keep Lily and Marshall apart for awhile, Hannigan said, "I obviously think that Marshall and Lily should be back together. They’re just so perfect for each other, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see how they are separate. You know, they’ve been together their whole adult life really, nine years, and I just think here can be a lot of exploration into the two of them single, and that’s such an interesting world. And now that Ted and Robin are together, we can be the ones that you have to pine for to get back together!"

As we were finishing our conversation, I suggested to Hannigan that it might be pretty interesting and funny if Lily and Barney had a fling, to which she replied, "Well I’ve heard rumblings that perhaps maybe she goes to live with Barney, and I think that would be hilarious. A little odd couple."