Broadway Spotlight: Interview with Cobie Smulders

Funny Girl of Film & TV Makes Broadway Debut

Canadian starlet Cobie Smulders, best known for her role as Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother and Maria Hill in The Avengers franchise, made her Broadway debut in April alongside Kevin Kline in the revival of Present Laughter. The over-the-top comedy following an actor dealing with a mid-life crisis takes place in the late 30s/early 40s during World War II, was conceived by playwright Noel Coward, is directed by Tony Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God), and is running through July 2 at the St. James Theatre.

Cobie spoke with New York City Monthly about her three years in New York riding the subway, biking around town, and taking in all that it has to offer. She reflected on the meaning of her Broadway debut, and she shared why Present Laughter will keep crowds laughing for more.

You’ve made a career for yourself in TV and film, from How I Met Your Mother, to The Avengers to many other shows and movies. How did the opportunity come up for you to star in Present Laughter on Broadway?

Well, I’ve been hunting. I’ve been wanting to do theater since I came out of the womb, really. I started in theater in high school and after high school in very budgeted spaces around Vancouver where there are black box theaters with fold-out seats and stuff. And I moved to LA and always got hired for film and TV. Especially when I moved to New York three years ago, it was my #1 goal to get into theater. I literally would have gotten in with the Wall Street Players.

I’m lucky to do a Noel Coward play. It’s an amazing cast led by Kevin [Kline]. It’s kind of insane so I try not to think about it too much ’cause it’s kind of overwhelming. Just selfishly, having the experience of a live audience and to try to keep it fresh when you’ve done it 80 times is a great challenge for me. Also, I wanted to come out a better actor and have the experience of playing a character for that long. To delve into a project and have this much time for a month rehearsing. When you’re doing film and TV you don’t have any opportunity to rehearse; you prepare by yourself and you don’t really get an opportunity to work with the cast or the director. Especially with it being a Noel Coward play – with the accent, to give it time to simmer and be a great show.

You live in New York of course with your husband Taran Killam. What do you enjoy most about living in New York both as an actress and as a New Yorker like anyone else?

Well I mean, the thing that is great about my situation is I moved here and I always knew I was going to be living here for three years. And that’s such a gift ’cause you know there’s an expiration date, so you truly take advantage of it.

I bike everywhere in the city, I walk everywhere, I see as many shows and live music as I can. I have had some of the most delicious food. I have met the most eclectic group of people, and for me that has been the most exciting thing. It’s so culturally diverse and you have a whole socio-economic scale and you are thrown into this fucking madness on the subway. And to be constantly meeting people is really exciting. I’ve met some of the most interesting people in this town, and I’ve really taken advantage of my time here; it’s been the cherry on top of the sundae being on Broadway.

You get to work with one of the finest actors, Kevin Kline, both a leading man and well-known character actor celebrated time and time again. What’s this experience been like for you working with Kevin and the other talent from the cast?

I’m such a fan of Kevin. I was such a fan of his – In & Out, A Fish Called Wanda – he is so entertaining. He’s just so much fun to watch because, I feel like with some actors – and there are very few and far between – you don’t know what this person is going to do next. It just draws you in. I truly think he’s one of the greatest actors of our time. He’s an idiot savant. It sounds negative; it’s the most positive compliment where he’s an amazing painter, pianist, he’s an exceptional actor, he’s a great writer. He’s just a creative force, and to be able to be on stage with him every day and just to be not knowing where the scene is going to go every night is just so much fun.

And we have Kate Burton in the play, too, who’s been doing this since she was a child, and she’s just a rock, she’s exceptional and a woman of power. And Kristine Nielsen is amazing as well, she’s just so funny. Comedy can sometimes be harder to do than drama, but for this, when you’re doing a Noel Coward play, you can fall into the trap of it being too much of a farce; it can feel not realistic. We live in a very reality-based world right now, where I don’t think people would be interested in seeing a put-on performance. It’s late 1930s but still real and grounded, and it’s about finding that balance, finding the real hammy moments, and our cast is just exceptional every night.

Your Off-Broadway debut was in 2010 in Love, Loss, and What I Wore. Present Laughter is your Broadway debut. Have you had your eye on Broadway for a while?

I haven’t done anything on stage since that. That was sort of a truncated run; it was only a month long. It was wonderful, but this is a totally different thing. When I wasn’t living here, it’s a 6-8 month commitment. I’m very happy I was able to be living here in the city and getting some amazing time on stage. In between I was doing How I Met Your Mother. With Love, Loss, and What I Wore, it was during my hiatus from my TV schedule and it worked out perfectly. I was auditioning a lot for theater here, and it just didn’t work out that I was unavailable or they didn’t want me or they thought I wasn’t good enough. It just didn’t work out ’til this one thing, and it’s kind of amazing that this is the dream project.

Present Laughter was originally staged in 1942 and starred a number of major talents like Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole, Ian McKellen, and more. Why is this play revival about a self-obsessed actor a great choice to check out on stage right now? 

It’s funny because Noel Coward wrote it right after the war. It was an opportunity to come to the theater and just sit back and laugh and enjoy yourself. I believe it is the time right now to get out and be with other people and be entertained for two-and-a-half hours. I think it’s extremely charming; it’s a throwback to a time where characters were more broad and more arched and biting, and it’s just the perfect version of what the 1940s were. It’s a great chance to forget your troubles and just have a good laugh.