In an interview, the actress and singer discussed her wide-ranging career and How I Met Your Father, her new sitcom reboot.
The girl next door has a new apartment.
Hilary Duff — forever young, forever pert, forever blonde — found a home on the Disney Channel two decades ago as Lizzie McGuire, a self-possessed tween with an animated alter ego. After forays into music, where she went multiplatinum, and film, where she and her sister, Haylie Duff, racked up a few Razzie nominations, she stopped chasing auditions.
"I had been touring for four years," she said. "And I really just needed a break."
She married hockey player Mike Comrie and had a son, now 9. Two years later, in the midst of her divorce, she received an offer for Darren Star's TV Land rom-com series, Younger, and went on to spend seven delightful seasons as brash publishing executive Kelsey Peters.
Along the way she had a daughter with musician Matthew Koma, whom she married just before the pandemic. She became pregnant again a year later. In her ninth month, with Younger newly wrapped, she heard from Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger, co-showrunners of This Is Us (with Dan Fogelman), who were putting a new spin on the echt-00's sitcom How I Met Your Mother.
That series, which ran on CBS from 2005-14, starred Josh Radnor as the mother meeter, with a supporting cast that included Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smulders, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel. In the new show, How I Met Your Father, Duff plays the lovelorn heroine — a striving photographer named Sophie with a perky New York apartment that few real starving artists would be able to afford. (Kim Cattrall appears on screen as the older, cashmere-clad version of Sophie.)
Duff had seen only a few episodes of the original. "I like murder too much to watch comedy," she said. But after some initial hesitation, she agreed. The show debuted its first two episodes last week, with eight more to follow on a weekly basis.
Very early on a recent weekday morning, Duff arrived on a video call from her Los Angeles home looking seraphic in a white dress embellished with broderie anglaise. Despite a few interruptions — hug bombs from her 3-year-old daughter, a TikTok shoot by Koma ("He'll do anything for some content," she said indulgently) — Duff spoke about her career past and present and whether she, like Sophie, believes in soul mates. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: You were 13 when Lizzie McGuire debuted in 2001. What was it like growing up on camera?
A: With Lizzie, that was me; those lines were very blurred. I was that mismatch queen in my everyday life. Some of the things that happened to her were comforting to play out loud because they were also happening to me. She became really real to me. Then I shot the movie when I was 15, turning 16, and I wanted my own identity. I'd be out on the street, and everyone would be like, "Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie!" I wanted to be known as Hilary. Now I've fully come to peace with it. I love her, and I am so grateful for that experience. But from probably 17 to 25, it killed me.
Q: You moved to music. You made movies. Then your career seemed to downshift. How did you find your way back to television?
A: I got married. I had my son. I learned that I love to cook; I love to entertain; I love my dogs; I love bicycle riding. I just started to find out who I was, you know? I didn't get a chance to explore any of that stuff on tour, locked in a hotel room or a bus or a stage. Younger found me when Mike and I were about to get divorced. No one knew. I read the script, and I'm like, this could be great. I get to play an adult. It's fun. It's sweet. Like, I am that person.
Q: Kelsey is also driven and very good at her job.
A: She knows her worth. It took me longer to find my worth. Maybe I learned from her. But I was like, "I can't come to New York. I'm so sorry. I'm about to get a divorce. And I have a baby." [Darren Star] was like, "No, no, you can. We're just going to shoot the pilot. No big deal." It feels great to be wanted by someone like Darren Star. I did it, and then it lasted seven years.
Then the week I got back to LA, I got the call from Isaac and Elizabeth. I'm like, "Why are you calling me? I'm about to have a baby. You want me for this role of this 30-something girl who doesn't have kids?" Obviously, the title scared me a lot. I was not into doing a reboot, and it was such a beloved show. That cast was incredible together, so buttoned-up and tight. Then Isaac was like, it's a sequel. No one's trying to be this person or that person. The cast is off on their own adventure.
Q: And that sold you?
A: Well, I loved Sophie, and I never really got to have that time in my 30s where I just dated and tried and fell on my face a bunch. I definitely have had struggles, but not in that way of, like, where am I going to land? Am I just a loser? Sophie is a romantic. She has this idea that her person's out there, but she's going to learn that she's got to make herself whole first.
Q: Have they told you who the father is yet?
A: I've given up because they're just going to cat-and-mouse me, bat me around. It's actually kind of hard to navigate sometimes shooting because I have moments with all the guys. It's almost like The Bachelor, but better. Everyone is a possibility. So I've given up guessing.
Q: Is it exciting knowing you're going to grow up to become Kim Cattrall?
A: Hell yeah. When I sat next to her in all the photos, I was like, God, I need your posture. I just need to become you. For me, it just feels sweet because I have a son, and I can't wait to drink too much wine and be cosy in my cashmere on my couch one day, telling him stories.
Q: Sophie believes in soul mates. Do you?
A: Not really. That might crush my husband to hear me say that, because he is absolutely the more tender, thoughtful one, and I don't think I could do this with anyone besides him. I love him so much more than I ever thought I could love a person, and it's just grown through us having all these damn children. I'm so happy. I thought I was just going to do it by myself forever. But I don't think I actually believe in soul mates. I think there are a lot of people out there that you can be compatible with, be in love with, and those scales move up and down. It's just a matter of doing the work to find your way back together, or not.
Q: I understand you tested positive a week into the How I Met Your Father shoot.
A: Oh, no, I tested positive the first day of work. I had not gotten Covid all through the Younger shoot. I was vaxxed up.
We had our first day of rehearsal. I'd never done multicam before, and I had no idea what to do. I was only four months out of having a baby. I got in the car and cried to my husband, "I don't know if I can do this job. I don't know what's wrong with me. This isn't who I am." And that night, I got the results back at, like, 4 in the morning. It was awful. And I shut us down one more time because my son got Covid.
Q: What happened to the planned Lizzie McGuire revival? Did it fall apart because the show wanted to acknowledge the existence of sex and the network didn't?
A: It's been a wild adventure. I was not really willing to bend, because of the age that Lizzie is, and they weren't willing to bend, and we politely and lovingly paused. It's not dead. And it's not alive. I'm always here to explore that character because it's such a big part of me. You never know.
Q: The nice thing about the arc of your career is that you managed to become an adult actor without having to disown the tween actor that you were. You've kept playing these funny, ambitious, outspoken, openhearted women.
A: That means a lot to me. Navigating and not abandoning that was challenging, when it seemed other people were trying to make big moves to be taken seriously. That's really not who I am. And I'm not embarrassed of anything I did. I'm finally settled with that.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
Written by: Alexis Soloski
Photographs by: Ryan James Caruthers
© 2022 THE NEW YORK TIMES