In the crazy, glitzy world of show business, it
doesn't take much for a little fame to go to someone's head. That's why
its always nice to meet a TV or movie star who is completely grounded,
just a normal, nice person doing what they love.
Take Cobie Smulders.
Smulders spent most of the past decade as a key
component in one of the most popular, long-running comedies on TV. As
Robin Scherbatsky, the Canadian teen-pop-star turned New York cable news
anchor, Smulders spent eight seasons pounding down beers and talking
about life and love at local watering hole McLaren's pub with co-stars
Josh Radnor, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris. Her
character survived career turbulence, love affairs with two of her best
friends and eventually a wedding that lasted the entire final season of
Even during the run of the series, Smulders started
branching out into films, taking on starring roles in such varied
projects as the comedy Delivery Man with Vince Vaughn, the
Nicholas Sparks romantic drama Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel and
Julianne Hough. She even played the voice of Wonder Woman in The
Lego Movie. However, perhaps her biggest film breakthrough was
smashing into the Marvel comics universe, playing Agent Maria Hill in
the films Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers:
Age of Ultron, and even the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
This summer alone, Smulders has three films
released: the aforementioned Avengers blockbuster Age of
Ultron, the offbeat romantic comedy Results and the sweet
indie comedy/drama Unexpected.
It's a pretty heady workload for an actress who is
in her early 30s. Particularly considering that while filming
Results and Unexpected, Smulders was pregnant with her second
child with actor/comedian husband Taran Killam.
like I said before, Cobie Smulders isn't the kind of person to let
things go to her head. She recognizes that she is in something of a
dream position and she takes none of it for granted.
An example, if you may. I recently met with
Smulders at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo, New York, to discuss her
latest film Unexpected. The second I walked into the room, she
smiled brightly and said, "Hey, I know you."
Yes, we had met. Once. Seven years before. Soon
after How I Met Your Mother had been renewed for its fourth
season, the cast and creators did a special Emmy-consideration
presentation of one the episodes from that past season. It was held at
a famous New York tap room called McGee's, the bar that was the
inspiration for the show's MacLaren's Pub. I sat down for about fifteen
minutes at a time with each cast member: Smulders, Radnor, Hannigan and
Harris. (Jason Segel couldn't make it, he was in Hollywood filming a
movie that would become I Love You, Man.)
I'm not telling this story because Smulders actually
remembered me, though of course that is gratifying. Honestly it is
rather shocking she recalled, considering how many interviews she has
undoubtedly done in the time since we last spoke. However Smulders went
so far to prove further that it was a strong memory. When we started
the current interview she smiled, "I wish we were at McGee's having a
pint. Another time." As mentioned above, McGee's was the location of
our last interview.
It's a small thing, but it says so much about
Smulders as a person. She takes the time to appreciate the ride that is
going on around her, to share in her success and to never, ever take
anything for granted. This approachability and genuine sense of decency
extend to her screen persona: an attractive, smart and good-hearted
openness which makes her perfect for the role of both the ideal love
interest or best friend.
Now, we are a little over a year on since the finale
of How I Met Your Mother. "I miss all these people so much," she
said wistfully, looking at an old photo of herself with her co-stars.
However, her life and career are taking her on
different paths now. With a busy summer of three new movies hitting
theaters (and the recent announcement of her signing on for another new
film, the first movie to be directed by actress Clea DuVall), Smulders
has been rushing from one project to the next.
So, how has her life changed since How I Met Your
"I have a lot more air miles," Smulders said,
smiling. "It's been a lot, but it's been lovely inconsistency. I was
so blessed to be on that show for so long, and work with the same people
for as long as I have. I really miss everybody every day. And the job
and the character every day."
However, as much as she enjoyed the comfort of a
stable and enjoyable job, she is also getting into the idea of being
more in control of her own destiny.
"It's terrifying and also very freeing and lovely to
be able to choose your own things. Sometimes say 'No.' Sometimes say 'please???
Please hire me!'" Smulders laughed, "It's been lovely. We moved to New
York. So there's been a lot of changes. It's been really exciting.
I've been very lucky."
One of those changes is one that also forms one of
the main plot threads of her latest film, Unexpected, which will
be opening in New York and On-Demand on July 24th.
In that film, Smulders plays Samantha, a teacher in
a Chicago inner-city school whose life is thrown into a certain amount
of turmoil when she learns that she has become pregnant. As a dedicated
career woman who was not planning to have children yet, Samantha is
concerned about her ability to juggle her career and motherhood.
Smulders has had to deal with many of the same
concerns, though she recognizes she is in a different situation.
"It's a balancing act," Smulders said. "A balancing
act, always. It's really about trying to be as present as possible when
you are with your kids. Be with your kids, and when you're at work, try
to be at work. It's hard to turn off the other thing when you are with
one of them. It's challenging, but I'm very grateful. As a working mom
I'm in a very good spot. There are so many women out there that are
working a lot harder than me, with a lot more to do. I just feel very
is loosely based
upon the life of writer/director Kris Swanberg, who was an inner-city
Chicago school teacher who got laid off due to her school being closed
for lack of funding. As that was happening, she was pregnant and
learned that one of her former students was also having a baby, so they
grew closer over the shared experience. Swanberg is also currently
pregnant again, due to have a baby soon after the film opens.
Though the film was based upon Swanberg's life,
Smulders also felt that the story had a strong familiarity to her own
"Very much so," Smulders said. "I was pregnant, so
obviously all this pregnancy stuff we were talking about was really
relatable to me. As well, having a young child and going through
pregnancy and delivery. All of it fed in to my little brain. I was
able to click back in to those moments, when need be."
Smulders was particularly intrigued by the fact that
the movie did not fall into the normal clichés. It portrayed an
important part in any woman's life, but it did it in a quirky and
"I read it and it was a version of the pregnant
movie that I hadn't seen," Smulders said. "I feel like this was told
more from the female perspective."
Even more intriguing was the central friendship,
between her character of Samantha and that of her student Jasmine
(played by terrific newcomer Gail Bean). They come from two very
different worlds, and yet they deepened a connection through a shared
"To me, one of the more interesting things about it
– I mean there's a lot in it that's relatable to me as a woman who has
children – but it was such an interesting way to showcase this
relationship between these two women," Smulders continued. "It was a
relationship I hadn't seen on screen. Under any other circumstance, I
don't think that you would see it. I think that these women were bonded
together because of their pregnancies."
Smulders also liked the fact that the characters did
not necessarily connect with their expected roles. Just because one of
the women appeared to be older and wiser did not mean that she had all
"It was an interesting way to link these women
together and watch their journeys unfold," Smulders chuckled. "The
thing that resonated with me, too, which I found really interesting was
that these are two women, one of which is in a stable relationship. A
great place. She went to college. She has her career in check. She is
in a good place. The other one is young, wanting to go to college. Has
a boyfriend that is not really around. And the younger of the two is
having an easier time with this pregnancy. I thought that was really
interesting, seeing these two different women and how they interacted."
Of course, the most vital part of making the film
work was finding the right actress to play against Smulders as her young
charge, a poor-but-smart city girl who was trying to balance her
impending future as a single mother with her dream of going to college.
The film lucked out with Gail Bean, a young actress
who has been working in movies for about five years. She has had small
roles in several indies and shorts, even one large role in the
little-known film At Mamu's Feet. However, Unexpected is
her biggest role and biggest production so far, and she easily kept up
with her more seasoned co-star.
"She was lovely," Smulders recalled. "I think she
was very difficult to cast. That part was really hard to find. When
Kris found Gail it was just perfect. The thing about Gail is she's
supremely talented, but she's also just... what, 22, 23 or something
now?... and she seems so much older than that. She's very wise, but on
the other hand she has a lot of vulnerability to her. She's very open.
She's very connected. She was just really amazing to work opposite."
Part of the tension in the film revolves around the
fact that Samantha cares deeply about Jasmine but sometimes seems to not
recognize that they reside in very different circumstances. Samantha
looks at Jasmine's problems from the perspective of a middle-class white
woman, and she believes that anything is possible for the girl.
Jasmine, who grew up with little money, tends to be a bit more pragmatic
about life's limitations.
For example, Samantha becomes determined that if she
pulled some strings, Jasmine would be able to continue following her
college dreams away at Samantha's alma mater, the University of
Illinois. Samantha is trying to do it out of love and belief in
Jasmine, but Jasmine is more concerned about things like scholarships,
housing and child care.
"I think that her emotions get a little bit mixed
and she gets a little bit too involved," Smulders acknowledged. "Also,
what she thinks is best for Jasmine is not necessarily what Jasmine
thinks is best for Jasmine. That's really how it resonates. Another
thing I love about the film is seeing this last scene with Jasmine at
the barbecue surrounded by this amazing family that love and support her
so much. That family is really important to Jasmine. That is such a
beautiful thing in itself. We end the film and Jasmine is not giving up
on going to school and having a career. She's still pursuing that, but
just in another way."
Samantha's family is there for her as well, but in a
slightly different way. Samantha is unmarried when she gets pregnant,
but she is involved in a very committed relationship with John, played
by Anders Holm of Workaholics. He immediately steps up and they
get married, but Samantha worries that perhaps he did it because of the
pregnancy rather than the relationship.
Holm and Smulders, both of whom have long histories
in TV comedy, had a strong, natural connection as a film couple.
"The great thing about him and what he brought to
this part was that it could be this kind of a jerk husband, who is like:
'You can't do it. You've got to stay home. You've got to do this,'"
Smulders explained. "He did that in a way that it just made it seem
like: yeah honey, I support you and I love you. I want you to be happy,
but this is the reality. He was never mean about it. It was just he
was the voice of reason. I think that can come off sometimes as a
little bit mean, but because he is who he is and he did a great job of
it, he was able to be that voice without coming off as being too
Her mother is played by Elizabeth McGovern, who had
her own experience in a pregnancy film: the 1987 John Hughes drama
She's Having a Baby, co-starring Kevin Bacon. However, Smulders did
not get any of the dirt about making that somewhat similar film.
"She didn't [talk about the experience]," Smulders
admitted. "Elizabeth came to us helter skelter. She wrapped on
Downton Abbey and flew very soon after and came to us. She started
working the next morning. We didn't have a lot of time to rehearse and
run things, but she came in just perfectly ready to fulfill this role.
She was just so easily affected by everything.
"Again, it's another role, both her and Anders, they
could have been just whiny nay-saying characters, but Elizabeth really
brought a lot of humanity and depth to this woman, who really just
wanted what was right for her daughter. Really wanted her daughter's
life to be perfect. It was such a beautiful change to go from this
woman that saw that vision of her daughter going down the aisle in white
shatter, and to pick up the pieces and be the mom that her daughter
needed her to be."
Also of great importance to Smulders' character was
her work as a teacher in one of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. A good
amount of the film's time looks at the children and the problems with
inner city schools being starved of funds and closed down in the
communities that need them the most. Smulders feels for the parents and
"I would love to figure that out," Smulders said.
"I would love for education to be free. I'd love for it to be
equalized. I'd love for friggin' university to be free. You look at
Europe, even in Canada, where I'm from... it's laughable how much
college is. It's like $5,000.00 for the whole year for tuition. I
don't understand why it has to be so expensive [in the US], but it is.
It would be nice to see better schools. Also getting teachers more
equalized and better paid. It would be nice. That would be really
She paused and laughed slightly. "I don't know how
to fix that system. Luckily that's not my job, because that seems like
a massive undertaking. But it would be amazing to see it happen in the
One thing we will be seeing in the near
future, though, is more of Smulders in our multiplexes. With
Unexpected just about to premiere, this is her third film to make
theaters this summer.
Another indie film which came out last month was
Results, a mixture of workplace drama and romantic comedy about an
Austin, Texas gym. The subtle and slightly subversive film, directed by
cult director Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess, Funny Ha Ha)
allowed Smulders to play totally against type, as a cynical and bitter
fitness instructor whose fling with her older boss (played by Guy
Pearce) eventually becomes more serious than they originally intend.
Though her character in Results was a fitness
freak and constantly working out and looking buff, Smulders was actually
pregnant while filming that movie as well, though not as far along as
she was in Unexpected. Hiding her pregnancy on film was an
interesting experience for her, though it looks surprisingly seamless on
"It was interesting," Smulders said of the
experience. "I wasn't able to push myself physically as far as I would
have liked. But, it was still early on, so I was able to do a lot. It
was slightly challenging. We got through it and everyone was so
accommodating and really understanding. It was one of those that just
kind of timed out perfectly and we were able to sneak it by and keep
going and really, really show off the pregnancy in this one."
Also, of course, Smulders continued her ascension
into the Marvel comics universe, appearing in the summer's big
blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron. Smulders continued her turn
as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Nick Fury confidant Maria Hill.
This role alone should keep Smulders employed for
years. It's something of a given that Marvel characters float from
project to project. So far, she has played the character in
Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
and now Age of Ultron. So, tell us the truth, Cobie Smulders.
Does she have to be constantly on call in case Marvel decides they want
to drop her into one of their blockbusters?
"[Do] I have the microchip installed and I drop
everything when it goes off?" she asked, good naturedly, shaking her
So what is it like to be part of such a massive
series of projects, one with such a huge international following?
"It's wonderful," Smulders said. "It's amazing.
It's so fun. With Ultron coming out it was just another
whirlwind experience. Shooting it was awesome and then having it come
out and having fans react to it. Anything that has to do with Marvel
comes back to its amazing fans. The support and the love they have for
these characters is just a really cool thing to be a part of. To go to
the Comic-Cons and to see everybody and to feel that excitement is quite
Excitement seems to be a vital word for Smulders in
this stage of her career. Coming off almost a decade having a dream
job, she wants to spread her wings a bit and see where things take her.
Next up is a just-announced untitled ensemble film, which will be the
directing debut of actress Clea DuVall (Argo, Jackie & Ryan).
Smulders will be working with a cast of diverse talents such as Melanie
Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Ben Schwartz and
And then? Who knows? Smulders is enjoying the
freedom of picking and choosing her projects. She'll do indies. She'll
do big budget. She'll do anything, as long as the script intrigues her.
"It's a case by case scenario," Smulders admitted. "I'm interested in
just trying out different characters. Working with people that I enjoy
and I respect and that seem like they'd be a lot of fun. But it really,
really just comes down to script and story. Trying out different
things. I'm trying to challenge myself and keep myself interested."
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