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Joss Whedon on Directing Neil Patrick Harris in 'Glee'

by Jane Boursaw, posted May 18th 2010 5:01PM
Joss Whedon directs Neil Patrick Harris in 'Glee'Tonight's episode of 'Glee' is definitely a must-see viewing extravaganza. First, Neil Patrick Harris guest-stars as Bryan Ryan, Mr. Schuester's former high school nemesis who causes trouble for the glee club. Second, it's directed by Joss Whedon, who also directed Harris in 'Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.' Thrilling on many levels.

I sat in on a conference call and got the scoop on tonight's episode. And no, Whedon wouldn't talk about 'The Avengers,' but he had plenty to say about the wonders of 'Glee' and how much fun he had directing this episode.

What's it like directing someone else's show?
It helps if the show's wonderful. That takes a lot of the pressure off. But it's a little tricky because you're living in somebody else's house and you have to make sure that you're fulfilling their needs. It also takes some of the burden off you. You don't have to be the guy who sees the big picture. You just take what they give you and make sure you're servicing it as best you can. Having said that, 'Glee' is probably harder to shoot than any other show in recorded history, with all the different elements going on. It's a different kind of challenge, but enormous fun.

What was it like working with Neil again?

I am so tired of that guy. Why do they always make me direct Neil? No, Neil is a consummate pro and a dear friend, which is an ideal combination. He's one of those people who expresses the way I wish I could express myself. He's like a muse, and he's friends with Matt (Morrison), so the rivalry and affection between them just informed the whole thing so much. He came in the day after the Oscars and the day before 'How I Met Your Mother.' He fit this into his schedule in the most bizarre fashion. I even got him and Jane Lynch to come in late on Friday night after finishing 'How I Met Your Mother,' so that we could knock a scene off because the schedule was so hard for him. Always cooperative, always imaginative; Neil's the man.

How does Neil's character fit in, and what can we expect in this episode?

Well, the episode is 'Dream On,' so it takes things that are at the core of people. With Will, it's his desire to perform and what he may have given up. With Rachel, it's questions about who her real mother was, and Artie obviously thinks about if he'll ever get out of the chair. These are very hard, personal things they don't necessarily talk about with other people. For me, it was just a question of making sure they dovetailed and didn't feel sort of random, but they all came together and you understood why these stories were all in the same show.

Talk a little about how much fun you had doing the flashbacks (with that mullet!) and how collaborative you guys were about what Neil was going to bring to this episode.

Neil's great because he looked at the script and had specific questions about what kind of guy he was supposed to be. So it was a real collaboration. As for the mullet, there was definitely some talk about "Isn't that kind of the '80s? And isn't this the '90s, so what's with the mullet?" Without missing a beat, Ryan Murphy said, "'Achy Breaky Heart' was '92." So, he's really on top of his game.

What other shows would you like to direct?
I'm just going to make a blanket statement that I don't want to direct shows I'm a fan of anymore. It means I always have to read the episodes that come before it. It's like a giant slew of spoilers that quite frankly is not fair. I would say after 'Glee,' 'Friday Night Lights' is probably the show that blows me away the most. But, I definitely don't want to direct one of those, because I'm still on season two.

Were you involved at all in the song selections for this episode?
Oh, no. They select the songs well in advance, and you're there to service what they've already thought up. I would definitely give my thoughts, like "Oh, I feel like the song should go like this, is there any way we can do this," little stuff like that. But this really is Brad (Falchuk), who wrote it, and Ryan (Murphy) and Ian (Brennan). This is their world, and I'm privileged to walk in it, but I'm not going to walk all over it.

In past episodes, it's kind of clear that the cast is lip-syncing, but in 'Dream On,' particularly the bar scene with Matthew and Neil, it didn't really seem that way. Was it sung live?
Yes, it was. Every now and then they like to do these sing-alongs as opposed to just a number, and for sing-alongs, you have to have the originals so they've got it in their head. So, yes, that was sung live.

'Glee' has won TV Land's Future Classic Award; what's your take on the legacy for the show, both for current and future fans?
The thing is, this is the world that I'm used to. I love musicals, and it was just a very comfortable place for me. The process is actually a little ground breaking in terms of how it makes people embrace this show -- various people singing and dancing spontaneously -- who normally wouldn't. Then it has this very serious issue of inclusiveness and identity in school that sneaks up on you while you're having a great time.

How is 'Glee' different from other projects you've worked on?
'Glee' is different from anything else period. Every show is different, but the enormous amount of work that everybody is doing at all times on this show kind of spun my head around. It's not an easy show to make, and the whole cast works so hard on every episode. There's also an old-fashioned aesthetic in the lighting, and the camerawork is very classical. It's not edgy in that sense. The edge comes from taking a very comforting milieu and putting something rather shocking in it. Either shocking because it's snarky or dirty or funny, or because it's just so open-hearted.

How does 'Glee' compare to the musical episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'? Did that help prepare you?

Yeah, doing 'Buffy' and 'Dr. Horrible' were both great prep for something like this. This is obviously not my first rodeo, but knowing the realities and differences in shooting a musical number and shooting a regular scene is very useful. It's the kind of thing that I would like to spend a lot more time doing. I love musicals deeply and dearly. This was a return to home for me. Not my home, but a very welcoming one.

[(Follow @jboursaw on Twitter.]

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