Neil Patrick Harris reveals the secrets behind his British accent in 1980s drama ‘It’s A Sin’

Neil Patrick Harris in It's a Sin
Neil Patrick Harris as British clothes shop worker Henry Coltrane in 'It's a Sin' (Image credit: Channel 4)

Neil Patrick Harris is among the all-star cast of the new Channel 4 and HBO Max drama, It’s A Sin, which also includes Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Shaun Dooley.

The five-parter, written by Queer as Folk and Doctor Who screenwriter Russell T Davies, is set in the 1980s. 

It follows a group of gay friends led by wannabe actor Ritchie Tozer (Years and Years singer Olly Alexander) who move to London for a new life, just as the AIDS epidemic takes hold. All the music, fashions, attitudes and politics of that heady era are also covered.

Harris plays Henry Coltrane, who has lived with his Argentinian boyfriend for 30 years, and ends up taking one of the teens, shy Welsh tailor’s apprentice Colin (played by newcomer Callum Scott Howells), under his wing. But as the AIDS crisis escalates, the repercussions are devastating…

We caught up with Neil Patrick Harris, who tells us more about It’s A Sin and how he channelled David Niven to play Henry Coltrane.

Neil Patrick Harris on what made him want to star as Henry Coltrane in 'It’s A Sin'...

“I’m a massive fan of Russell T Davies. Queer as Folk was a seminal show and it had really had a strong impact on me. The way Russell writes his dialogue, crafts his scenes and stories and makes the characters complicated but also enticing really left its mark on me, so I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. 

"Then about six months ago he called and asked if I’d participate in It’s A Sin – and I said absolutely and cleared my schedule! I was quite taken aback as I didn’t think that an American living in New York would be asked by someone as esteemed as Russell to come and have a role in this!”

Neil Patrick Harris explains how he mastered a British accent to play Henry Coltrane in 'It’s A Sin'

“I asked questions about accent – I needed more specifics because I didn’t want to do a generic British accent with no context. I worked with a coach to make sure most of what I said was on point and tried to channel David Niven a bit. It was a fun challenge!”

Neil Patrick Harris in It's A Sin

Neil Patrick Harris as Henry Coltrane working in a high-class Savile Row tailors in 'It's A Sin' (Image credit: Channel 4)

Neil Patrick Harris reveals how 'It’s A Sin' is heartwarming, despite being set against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic

“Personally I knew people whose partner contracted AIDS and died pretty quickly. I also watched people whose lives were relegated to having to take 15 or 20 different medications a day. But this story is actually much more about celebration of family and of individuals coming together in a time period where they weren’t aware of repercussions. None of it is played as if it’s all foreboding and a harbinger of what’s to come. It feels much more like a joyous celebration of people’s lives against this backdrop of a ticking clock.”

Neil Patrick Harris on the friendships he made while filming 'It’s A Sin'

“I did wonder, given the overriding seriousness of the story that’s being told, that there would be much more gravitas on set. So I was so pleasantly surprised because everyone was so lovely and the group had create a real sense of family. It was a love fest and it was wonderful to see this alchemy that was created by brilliant casting.”

Neil Patrick Harris with Callum Scott Howells in It's a Sin

Neil Patrick Harris with Callum Scott Howells (centre) as Henry and Colin at a dinner party in It's a Sin (Image credit: Channel 4)

Neil Patrick Harris explains why It’s A Sin is must-see television

“For people who lived through the time period it will be a very interesting watch. But also for the younger generation living this life now, HIV/AIDS doesn’t seem like a threat, it doesn’t seem like the death sentence that it was back then, so this will be certainly a wake up call. I hope they’ll be able to watch it and appreciate what has happened… and what still needs to happen.”

When can we see Neil Patrick Harris in 'It’s A Sin'?

The five hour-long episodes will begin on Channel 4 on Friday 22 January at 9pm, and all episodes will then be available on the On Demand service All4 after the first Channel 4 episode is shown. It’s a Sin will then air in the U.S. on HBO Max. 

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.