Neil Patrick Harris was enchanted by Los Angeles’ famed Magic Castle before he ever set a foot inside.
The actor — and longtime magic enthusiast — was a teenager living in small-town New Mexico when he learned of the sprawling private club sitting atop a hill in Hollywood where generations of magicians perform.
Neil Patrick Harris shares his experiences at the Magic Castle in "M For Magic."(M For Magic)
“My father, who was an attorney at the time — his secretary had gone to Los Angeles, and she regaled me with stories of this magical place where walls open up when you say magic words," Harris told the Daily News last week. “I was just completely hooked. As soon as I got to Los Angeles, I tried to find out how I could go.”
The castle is now the subject of a new documentary, “M For Magic,” that explores the colorful history of the club created by Milt, Bill and Irene Larsen in the early 1960s that opened its doors to countless magicians and celebrities over the years.
Harris, a former president of the club’s board of directors, wasn’t yet 21 — the age required to visit the Magic Castle — when he moved to L.A., so he joined a group for junior magicians that allowed him to attend monthly meetings.
"Once I turned 21, I was there a lot more often,” Harris, 46, said.
The “How I Met Your Mother” star served as an executive producer on the documentary, which shows how multiple generations of the Larsen family turned the towering castle into the international mecca for magic.
“It’s really pulling back the curtain behind something that has been kept intentionally quiet for a long time," Harris said of the film. "You get to see the showrooms. You get to learn about the histories behind it. Lots of great classic footage from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s of magicians performing. It is an interesting thing because it’s a private club, so you can’t just go knock at the door and go in.”
The Magic Castle in 2005.(Barry King/WireImage)
Harris, Jason Alexander, Dick Van Dyke, Colin Farrell, Yeardley Smith and Laurence Fishburne are among the celebrities who share their experiences at the venue in “M For Magic.”
Also featured in the film are Bill and Irene’s daughter, Erika Larsen, and granddaughter, Liberty Larsen, who continue to keep the legacy of the Magic Castle alive.
“M For Magic" was originally scheduled to premiere in March at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas; the event was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. The Magic Castle itself has closed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The documentary’s director, Alexis Manya Spraic, says “M For Magic” has received considerable interest from potential buyers since.
“My hope is that it can come out around the time that the castle looks toward reopening and really helps, not just as a rallying cry for that community, but I think because it is a larger-than-life story that is really entertaining and engaging ... as we learn to live with COVID or we get to move on past it, how do we preserve a world that supports niche communities, independent businesses, family businesses?” Spraic said.
Several of Harris’ TV characters have practiced magic, including Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother." The actor is currently writing the fourth book in his “The Magic Misfits” series.
His love of magic started at a young age.
“I was looking for a hobby, a way to pass the time, that was rewarding in multiple ways,” Harris recalls. “Not as single-minded as collecting comics or collecting stamps, where you acquire and then just keep. I wanted to acquire a skill that I could keep, and also present. In magic, you find that.”
He considers the Magic Castle the “preeminent location” in its field due to its multiple showrooms and bars, full restaurant and immense library.
Although the club is reserved for its members and guests, Harris says there are ways for people who show great interest in magic to get in.
“I highly recommend the NPH Old Fashioned," Harris said with a laugh. “Have a drink in my honor. I can’t wait to have another.”