A Hollywood soundstage can often seem like a big empty space, a hanger-sized mix of concrete, wood and cables.
© — Associated Press file photo
Canadian actor Cobie Smulders arrives at Vanity Fair’s Fiat Young Hollywood Party Feb. 25 in Los Angeles.
On this day, as the TV press is invited for the last time to the set of “How I Met Your Mother,” it feels more like a friendly gathering at a neighbourhood bar. That’s because reporters, along with the cast and crew, are jammed into the well-stocked MacLaren’s set, the Irish pub where the gang spent many a scene on this long-running sitcom.
The main cast is all there — Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan — along with co-creators and executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. So is Pamela Fryman, who directed almost every episode. Among them is Cristin Miloti, late to the party as the mother in the title.
There’s a relaxed, tender atmosphere as they all take their places on directors chairs and field “how does it feel now that it’s all over”-type questions.
All spoke about how they didn’t think the series would last beyond the pilot stage, because, as Hannigan put it, “it was so wonderful, and everybody got along so well and it was just such a great experience, and it was just too perfect. You are like, well, that’s doomsville.”
Instead, nine years later — and with some cast members, such as Segel, anxious to move on to feature films and other projects — the party is over.
“We watched each other go through, like, some really serious life stuff,” says Segel. “People have gotten married and have children.”
Segel figures he’s now known the people on this show longer than “any group of people besides my family. You have friends from way back, but you know, high school is four years. I didn’t go to college, but I hear it’s four years.”
After the formal press session, the cast mingled with reporters at the bar. The most tranquil person on the set seemed to be Smulders, ever laid back and approachable at these gatherings. The transplanted Canadian says she was “just trying to get a work visa” when it all began.
Smulders’ character, Robin Scherbatsky, came to New York and bonded with the gang when she landed a job as a news anchor. In real life, Smulders left Vancouver for New York to pursue a modelling career when she was 18. Four years later — after Jennifer Love Hewitt turned down the part of Scherbatsky — she was among the up and comers who made up the nucleus of the series, in many ways a new generation of “Friends.”
Canadian viewers got an extra kick out of all the jokes aimed our way through the Scherbatsky character. On an early episode it was revealed she was once a Canadian pop star named “Robin Sparkles,” whose big hit was “Let’s Go to the Mall.”
“I haven’t met a single Canadian who is offended,” says Smulders of all the jokes. “I keep checking in. I’m like, ‘Are we happy about all this attention?”’
Other than guest work, the Vancouver native had only been on one previous series, ABC’s short-lived “Veritas: The Quest.” Clinging to a six-month visa, she had been in the middle of a busy pilot season when this sitcom opportunity came up.
“I had to choose between these three projects and it’s like a gamble,” she says.
Actors have to make long-term commitments to shows even though the one they pick could flop, blocking other opportunities.
“It’s kind of terrifying,” she says. Helping her choose “How I Met Your Mother” was her instant rapport with Bays and Thomas. “They were so lovely, and it was a fun show.”
The show wasn’t exactly an instant hit and seemed “on the bubble” of cancellation those first few seasons.
“It was only, like, two years ago, when I thought, ’Oh, well, this is a regular gig.”’
Now Smulders is in demand, having already branched out into the Marvel universe through the “Avengers” film franchise. She also appeared in the pilot of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Smulders will appear next in the Russo brothers’ “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and later in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
Just don’t ask her about either film, where details are locked in the Marvel vault.
“They have an amazing memory-erasing device that I go do every day,” she jokes.
Her most immediate plan is to move to New York to join husband Taran Killam (“Saturday Night Live”). She loved the city during her brief stint there as a young model.
“Now I’m moving back as a mom and so it’s a very different city.”
Smulders and Killam have a four-year-old daughter. The couple, who married in 2012, manage to make a bicoastal marriage work.
“I think on paper it looks more difficult than it is,” says Smulders, who, given her sitcom taping schedule, figures the two were together at least one week of every month. A lot of air miles, she says, were collected.
As for her roots in Canada, she’s excited for Paul Campbell, now starring opposite Dave Foley on CTV’s “Spun Out.” Campbell is a friend from her Vancouver days when the two shared the same agency. He landed on a pilot with Killam in 2005. Smulders came along for support, met Killam and the rest is history.
Smulders says it’s “exciting to see Canadian comedians doing their own stuff, writing their own stuff, getting it on the air and, hopefully, it lasting. We import so many shows.”
Such as “How I Met Your Mother,” which concludes with an hour-long series finale Monday on CBS and Global.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.