How I Met Your Father 's Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff talk Barney's impact on Sophie's future

How I Met Your Father 's Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff talk Barney's impact on Sophie's future

Warning: This article contains spoilers about the How I Met Your Father season 2 midseason finale.

No, Barney Stinson is not Sophie Tompkin's father — but he is the reason why she's ultimately going to meet her father later this season on How I Met Your Father.

During Tuesday's midseason finale, Neil Patrick Harris reprised his How I Met Your Mother character to inspire Sophie (Hilary Duff) to look for the father she'd never met. Sophie was freaking out thinking her older boyfriend Robert (John Corbett) was actually her father — don't worry, he's not! — and accidentally crashed into Barney's car. In exchange for not charging her for the damage, Sophie told Barney about her "juicy" troubles. During their conversation, her mother texted Sophie vital information: While she did hook up with Robert the night Sophie was conceived at Lollapalooza, they didn't have sex. So Robert's not her father... but he's also not her boyfriend anymore, since the realization that he did "hand stuff" with her mother causes them to break up. It's kind of hard to get past that!

But meeting "recovering serial womanizer" Barney and hearing about his experience growing up without a father before meeting him later in life has an impact on Sophie, as she decides she wants to meet her biological father. EW spoke with Harris, Duff, and HIMYF showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger about how meeting Barney influences Sophie's future and more.

How I Met Your Father  Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff
How I Met Your Father Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff

Patrick Wymore/Hulu Hilary Duff, Neil Patrick Harris

When we last spoke, you teased that there's a cosmic reason for why Sophie meets the original How I Met Your Mother characters when she does. Why was now the right time for her to meet Barney?

ISAAC APTAKER: She just had this incredibly insane night where she suspected her boyfriend might be her biological father, and she's really starting to reflect as a character on, "What does it mean to not know who my father is? Is that something that I want to confront?" And lo and behold, she runs into this character from the original show who had a very, very similar journey of also not knowing who his father was, believing he was Bob Barker, and ultimately, later in life, reconnecting with that person. If she were to run into anyone, this is exactly who it needs to be.

ELIZABETH BERGER: A lot of "how I met my father" jokes were flying.

How much did you want to update the audience on where Barney is now during this cameo?

BERGER: It's always a balancing act, because we want to be true to the mythology and honor what was set up in the original, and hopefully also fill in a few holes in a way that feels cool and satisfying for fans of the original. At the same time, we don't feel it's really our place to make up a ton and fill in a million little details that would probably be best saved for [HIMYM creators] Carter [Bays] and Craig [Thomas] to fill in.

Did you have conversations with Carter and Craig, or even Neil, about what you wanted to do with the character?

APTAKER: Yeah, especially Neil. When we came up with the idea, we jumped onto a Zoom with him and Pam Fryman, our director and the director of Mother, and talked about revisiting the character. "Here's our thoughts about where he'd be, about how we bring him into this new 2023 world that we're living in," and batted some ideas back and forth with Neil. He loved the special way that his character connects with Sophie over the dad stuff.

When Barney introduces himself as a recovering serial womanizer, did that line up with where you thought Barney would be after all these years? What did you think about how he was updated to fit into where pop culture and society are at today?

HILARY DUFF: Neil, I could watch you get electrocuted over and over and over again.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: [Laughs] It hurt my neck a bit, not going to lie. Worth it.

DUFF: I love that he's doing it on his terms. You weren't forced to do it, you were righting your wrongs by your own choice.

HARRIS: And also begrudgingly. I mean, Barney Stinson is and always will be a cad. He was the fifth wheel within the story that Ted was telling, that fifth wheel being a delusional lothario where his escapades were made up and over the top. That was the design of it all. So to have him make a big 180 now would've seemed oddly intentional, and not in the right way. I'm a big defender of the series finale of How I Met Your Mother in the same way — I think that Barney is who he is and that's in his DNA, so to be able to recognize that in both the finale of How I Met Your Mother but also in this incarnation of him, I thought that they did a bang up job in using it as comedy fodder and playing to a modern interpretation of it that makes sense. Isaac and Elizabeth did a good job with that.

BERGER: We really wanted to make clear that now, it's 2023, and what does Barney look like in 2023, and how do we pay homage to this beloved character but also make clear that times have changed and perhaps Barney is attempting to change with the times? We did our best to strike that balance.

How I Met Your Father  Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff
How I Met Your Father Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff

Patrick Wymore/Hulu Neil Patrick Harris, Hilary Duff

How many of those schemes in his apology list came from his original playbook?

APTAKER: I believe that we used all real ones, and then one new one that we felt like could have happened during the interim years.

BERGER: It started off with a much longer list of real ones, but as fun as these all are, this can't be a 45-minute scene. We whittled down to some of the greatest hits.

APTAKER: There was a slightly longer version of the scene that spoke a little bit more to some of what is going on in Barney's life, but we wanted to, again, strike the balance of making sure that the scene is really about the way that he has this huge impact on Sophie's journey. So we wound up stripping a little bit of that away.

What was it like filming your scenes together as Sophie and Barney bond over their similar upbringings of knowing their fathers?

HARRIS: I was just moved by it all. That's the meta part for me that makes me as an actor and Barney as a character a bit of a softie — I am a parent with a daughter, Barney wound up being the father of a daughter, and now Sophie is looking for her father. Barney didn't have a great relationship with his father, and that's sort of this singular soul track that he has, so to combine all that and have it all meet in this chaotic "accident," that's like the crux of both shows. That gives me the feels when I read it, and when I was acting it, I'm sitting next to a woman who is a full-time performer as an actor, also as a producer on a show, also as a full-time mother, and she's dealing with all of it. It's mind-boggling. And she remained so kind, alert, present, lovely, and warm, and I would forgive her for being none of those things. The fact that she was all of those things and doing a scene where she was speaking about the importance of family and what it all can mean, it was a nice way to spend an evening, that's for sure.

DUFF: Oh my gosh, I so agree. I was on cloud 10 after that evening. It was a kind of treacherous night that was over way too soon. Them tying the bow around that scene with him encouraging her to reach out to that person that's missing in her life — Sophie, this season, she so needs something to go her way, and that's the ingredient that is holding her back in life. She hasn't made that leap or taken that risk to try to find her father, and until that's cleaned up, truly loving and trusting is really going to be hard for her. After that encouragement, she gets on this cool path of needing something to go her way and it actually working for her.

BERGER: When we come back for our second half of the season, these friends really rally around Sophie in a fun way to help her figure this out. We are going to meet her dad in the second half of the season, and we can't say who it is yet but we love the actor that we have playing her dad.

We get an update on Barney's daughter, Ellie, but we don't learn about his romantic life — what do you think his relationship status is now?

HARRIS: [Laughs] No idea. I'm not good at speculating these things because if I say something that's too saucy, I get in trouble, and if I say something that's too milquetoast, then I feel like I'm changing the course of his story as well. I'm assuming in an app-based world, his appetite is —

DUFF: Ferocious?

HARRIS: [Laughs] Ferocious. And he probably loses quite a bit of his liquid income on his dating habits. Who am I to judge?

DUFF: Barney's definitely scrolling day and night.

HARRIS: For sure. But, I mean, he still looks sharp in a suit, so I'm sure he gets plenty of DMs himself.

How I Met Your Father  Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff
How I Met Your Father Neil Patrick Harris and Hilary Duff

Patrick Wymore/Hulu Neil Patrick Harris, Hilary Duff

Was there ever any information about Barney's romantic life included in the scene?

APTAKER: That was never part of the scene, and that, we feel, is not ours to tell. This is Carter and Craig's character, and we feel like if we ever were to get into that and do anything much more definitive than where they landed him in the finale of the show, that would be a real conversation with them. We want to respect where they see the character ending up, so that's not really for us to answer.

Neil, after filming this cameo, would you want to return to How I Met Your Father again? Or are you hanging up Barney's suit for good now?

DUFF: [Laughs] Oh Neil, there's only one way to answer this.

HARRIS: Which is how?

DUFF: You be coy, my friend.

HARRIS: Listen, playing Barney Stinson was one of the greatest opportunities I literally ever had in my entire life. I got to play for almost a decade, through my 20s and 30s, someone that was a sharp-dressing, old fashioned-swilling life of the party. And many years later, people are stopping me — we're in London and people are stopping me on the way to the hotel to do this interview. Kids who are in their early 20s are saying, "You're legendary," and giving me high-fives. And that is a super blessing. To get the opportunity to play him again would be super fun because he was such a dynamite guy. But I got to play him through thick and thin for so many hours that I wouldn't know in what context it could or would happen again. But it's certainly easy to say yes when it's Hilary and Pam [Fryman], because they're the heartbeat of the show in the way that defined the show and makes it unique.

Hilary, now that Sophie's single again, what are the chances we'll see her and Jesse [Christopher Lowell] reconcile in the second half of this season, especially since Valentina [Francia Raisa] just put his love song into the lost and found box?

DUFF: Well, there's obviously a few kind of heavier episodes following Neil's episode, and she goes on the journey to start finding her father. And a lot happens for her romantically too, so I think the fans will be satisfied by what they see. But then there's actually some heavy weather that hits New York, and we have this really epic ending of the season where we're all stuck together because of the weather. What's great about this show is everyone in it is messy, and things haven't quite panned out the way that they think, but they all have each other and that's the love story, the friendship between everyone and everyone just trying to navigate their 30s.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How I Met Your Father returns with new episodes on Tuesday, May 23, on Hulu.

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