Screen Scene: Meet the other openly gay star of “How I Met Your Mother”

How great is it when life imitates art, which imitates life, which imitates art … You get the idea.

Unless you’ve been on a media fast all of your life, or like Steven Colbert, you’re so evolved that you don’t see race or orientation, then you probably know that Neil Patrick Harris is gay.

There was a brief hubbub when the world was forced to accept the beloved Doogie Howser as one of the enchanted.

Blessedly it was a brief hubbub. The National Enquirer had bigger fish to fry.

Then, the gods of television irony did their thing and in a blaze of casting brilliance, introduced Doogie as the womanizing horn dog, Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS.

Delicious, and it just got tastier.

On the series Barney recently met and fell for Patrice, and the bubbly, sweet-as-pie co-worker hijacked his heart. The great thing is, Ellen D. Williams, the actress who plays Patrice, is just as enchanted as Patrick.

Yes, gay people playing straight people on a hugely popular sitcom. If they were paying attention, Focus on the Family would be foaming at the mouth. Let’s hope they catch on soon.

Chatting with Ellen D. Williams

In a phone chat from her home in Los Angeles, Ellen talked about this giant transition in her career. It was pretty hilarious as Ellen darted from room to room, trying to avoid her girlfriend Leslie’s Malitpoo. The dog was darting from window to window, barking his little doggy brains out at the gardener.

At one point during the telephone interview, Ellen was trapped in a dark bathroom, trying to avoid the noise but unable to turn on the light because the equally noisy exhaust fan was connected to the same switch.

The steep price of fame …

From the first minute it was clear that Ellen D. Williams is a easily accessible young lady who’s up to the challenge as she told her story over the muffled barking outside her bathroom door.

For starters, aside from a brief stint in Seattle, Ellen is a native of Los Angeles.

“I’ve been a theater kid most of my life,” she explained. “I started off in musical theater. There was lots of stuff between. And then I was actually serving jury duty when I got a call from my manager letting me know I was up for an audition. I was auditioning for one line, that’s all it was. The role was for a Filapina on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and I got it. Later the casting director said, ‘This might be your lucky day.”’

‘It’s like the God’s of acting were looking down on me that day. This was actually my television debut. I didn’t know what was going to happen, I’d never been on an actual television set, and certainly not on a popular show like, ‘How I Met Your Mother.’

“I shot on a Friday,” Ellen continued, “and on Monday, casting called and said, ‘we love Ellen and we can’t stop talking about her. We’d love to have her back. We don’t know what’s going to happen but we just wanted to let you know.”

Apparently, the gods continued to smile over her that weekend.

“I had no idea this would turn into what it’s turned into. It’s been amazing and awesome and a huge step, and I’m sorry that took so long,” she giggled.

This is pretty much the Cliff Notes of a five-minute detailed description of her path to “How I Met Your Mother,” and honestly it was all either fascinating or amusing. But this is a brief column. Suffice to say that even in the seventh circle of jury duty hell, the Gods of Acting can be beneficent.

Regarding her co-star, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen, like most people, has only praise.

“He’s awesome. On that first day he came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Neil,’ like I didn’t know! The whole cast and crew is like a very well-oiled machine. Everyone, and I mean everyone in the whole cast and crew was extremely welcoming,” she said.

“But, back to Neil: When I first met him he was very dapper, and what people say about him being a true performer? He really is. He’s not like, just this actor on TV. He has all these hats that he wears. Of course he was a child actor but then he did musical theater and a lot of other things when he was going through the, ‘What happened to Doogie Howser?’ phase.”

Ellen continued.

“Well here it is: Neil is a gay man who plays one of the most misogynistic players on television, so it’s so great to see it’s not about gay/straight. It’s just that you’re given a role and you play it to the best of your ability. That’s what you’re supposed to do. And I feel that way about my character, Patrice,” she said.

“Seriously though, I did an interview recently that was all about me being a woman and being Filapina and being bi-racial and being gay and, well you get it. My whole thing about diversity is: Are we making strides? Yes. Could it be better? Absolutely. Do I want to see more people that look like me on television? Absolutely. Do I want to see more not-stereotypical gay people on television? Absolutely.

“But at the end of the day it’s about telling your own story. I’m an actor who happens to be of Asian-American descent, who happens to be gay, and those are just parts of me. It’s not a big deal. Speak your truth and that’s the most important thing.”

And as if the Gods of the Interview felt compelled to share the wealth, I noticed sweet silence in the background. The gardener was gone, and after hanging up, Ellen D. Williams had left me smiling.

What a delight.

The details

“How I Met Your Mother” airs 8:30 pm Mondays on CBS. Check your local channels for more information.

Kurt Niece writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is a freelance journalist from Lakewood, Ohio. He is the author of “The Breath of Rapture” and an artist who sells his work on his website.

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