A Conversation with Ned Rolsma of How I Met Your Mother

Ned Rolsma talks acting, not only in the series, but as an experience.

By , Columnist

How I Met Your Mother, the narrated long-running Thomas/Bays television comedy series starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, and Alyson Hannigan, has gained a strong following over its eight seasons. As with all things, How I Met Your Mother is nearing the end of its successful run, with the series concluding at the end of next season, its ninth.

The show has been nominated for 24 Emmy awards over its run, with a solid win of seven of the category awards. With most successful shows, the main casts are often shored up with peripheral characters that add to the charms of the story lines. How I Met Your Mother is no exception.

Ned_Rolsma_grn.jpgDeep within the series are more than a few funny characters. One of them is Marcus Eriksen, played by Ned Rolsma, who play the taller, older brother to main character Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel).  Marcus has thus far appeared in over ten episodes throughout the series with his own running—and comical—story line.

I caught up with Ned Rolsma to throw a few questions at him that not only explored the set of How I Met Your Mother, but also how Ned came to be on the series, his development as an actor, and his future.

Acting is a bug that infects creative people. Obviously, it has infected you. What inspirations led you to consider an acting career? What age were you when the dawning of such a realization struck you?

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a love of acting and broadcasting and public speaking for TV and film. To say I was “raised by TV” is unfair to my parents, but I was definitely raised “with” prime time network TV! And, a LOT of PBS - Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, NOVA — and Saturday a.m. cartoons, too. My folks tell the story that, as a toddler, one of the first phrases I repeatedly said was, “Pee mett-it-tiss! Pee mett-it-tiss!” It finally dawned on them, while we were watching TV together, I was saying “After these messages!” Hooked from the start!

Did you have specific actors that you paid closer attention to as you grew into your aspirations?

I’d say Fred Rogers was my earliest influence. And, having grown up just outside Pittsburgh (like Rogers), there’s a special connection there. His legacy inspires my continuing work in public television (for Santa Monica CityTV). And I wasn’t just influenced by actors/acting. For the longest time, I wanted to be Dan Rather and/or work on 60 Minutes. And game show gurus like Bob Barker, Dick Clark, and Richard Dawson! Hell, I still do! But, I can remember watching shows like The Jeffersons (Sherman Hemsley), Taxi (Andy Kaufman), and Sanford & Son (Redd Foxx) with my brothers, not understanding the grown-up dialogue, but still appreciating ‘the play’, if that makes sense. Then, through adolescence, I paid close attention to Tim Allen (Home Improvement), Will Smith (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and Jim Carrey (In Living Color). Seinfeld is/was a huge influence! I absolutely love SNL, too! Pretty much every cast through the years — Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy…Farley/Sandler/Myers/Carvey, and Ferrell/Fey/Fallon — you name it! Will Ferrell is an idol of mine. I’m a student of the game, and I’ll watch anything and everything!

Most, if not all, actors have performed in plays. Whether they be school productions, or community efforts, did you find yourself in a few? Did acting come to you naturally? Were you always “in a play”?

I was, indeed, “always in a play” — school stuff, community theatre, talent shows, choirs and choruses, church stuff (passion plays, public readings, etc.) ... anything I could get my hands on! In first grade, I wrote a stand-up comedy routine (complete with Pee-Wee Herman impressions!) that went over big with the elementary school crowd! And if I wasn’t acting on stage, I was usually just acting up! First day of second grade, the teacher sent me to the principal’s office for “trying to be an ‘entertainer’,” and cracking everyone up! During Catholic First Communion, I got yelled at (and pounded when I got home!) for making faces when I ate the bread/drank the wine, acting like it tasted horrible. Anything for a laugh! In high school, I was a silver-tongued, straight-A student-athlete, voted 'wittiest’ by my classmates (as opposed to the hacky and unfunny ‘class clown’, proudly). Told you: I was hooked from the start!

Having grown up in a blue-collar city unused to film actors in their midst, did you feel a sort of pull toward a more conventional career? How did you repel that?

My father, grandfather, uncles, cousins, etc. all joined the union and worked in Pittsburgh’s famous steel mills. That generation, that’s what you did after high school…IF you even made it that far through school. But, honestly, I think they wanted better than that for us kids. And they were very supportive when it came to fostering outside interests and extracurricular activities. Plus, I think when the mills closed and the steel industry went overseas, that helped mitigate the “pull toward a more conventional career” stuff. That crash made Pittsburghers redefine what a conventional career even was! But, make no mistake — the trademark “hard hat and a lunch pail” blue-collar core values of a Pittsburgh upbringing are part of my DNA. Now, as far as the pull toward the “Aliquippa Abyss” of guns, drugs and gang violence that claims so many in my old hometown, thank God we’re a tight family.

By the way, my Black-and-Gold pride prohibits me from missing the whole “blue-collar city unused to film actors…” thing. Pittsburgh has a rich history in the dramatic arts! It's home to Carnegie Mellon University! And Frank Gorshin! And Michael Keaton! And Dennis Miller! I could go on, you know!

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You moved closer to Hollywood. How did you feel about being on the other side of the “world” in pursuit of a seemingly impossible quest to become an actor?

It’s really not some big, “impossible quest,” is it? I mean, think of all the movies that are made, and all the TV channels filled with shows and commercials, and all the stage productions. Is it really that hard to get into, on some level or another? Somebody’s got to be in them! Working for NASA, on the other hand…now there’s a “seemingly impossible quest”! You know, at the Endeavour grand opening, they told me I was “too tall” to be an astronaut! Is that height-ist, or what? America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, where you make dreams come true! Two of my uncles worked for NASA, one an early developer of stealth technology! I believe I, too, have the brains to be a space man…but I guess I can’t?

But…this is where the best of the best in TV and film production come to play, bottom line. And that’s where I see myself. That’s what I’ve set out to do. I got my BA in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Tennessee, and then had a brief, three- or four-year career in professional basketball after. But all the while, I was picking up commercial and theatrical gigs, so it was always kind of in the back of my mind to move to the West Coast full-time and get down to work. That being said, I’m not too close to Tinseltown! I’m not here for “Hollywood” or to “get famous.” I’m here to hustle and work. Gotta stay humble.

Have you ever regretted the move in any way?

I don’t do regrets.

You were fortunate in being cast as a character in a long running hit series, How I Met Your Mother. Tell us about your character as he’s progressed through the series.

I play Marcus Eriksen, BIG brother to Marshall (Jason Segel). When they cast the show, the joke was, at 6’4”, Marshall is the “runt” of the litter behind 6’8” Marvin Jr. and 7’0” Marcus. Marcus is the middle child, so there’s that underlying sense he’s always vying for approval and attention (and his spot at the dinner table!). He acts out, and acts up! Seven feet up! He’s a loveable oaf! He’s the self-described “best” at the violent Eriksen-created winter bloodsport “Bask-Ice-Ball” (a combination of hockey and basketball using tennis rackets, with good old-fashioned wailing on each other mixed in!) He’s developed an arsenal of pranks and puns…and punches! The Eriksens' intense sibling rivalry comes out in some memorable moments in episodes “Arrivederci, Fiero”(S2), “The Fight”(S4), “Oh, Honey”(S6), “Tailgate”(S7), and the season 8 finale “Something New” (which airs on May 13). It totally reminds me of my own siblings!

Do you remember the audition for the part? Were you surprised when you were chosen?

Like it was yesterday! I moved to L.A. in January of 2005, jumped right into some bit parts on a few movies, TV, and commercials, and then got called in to read for Marcus that September. It was on the lot at Fox (where HIMYM tapes), and as I walked into the casting offices, two ladies I didn’t know followed me in the building. So, like any gentleman would do, I held the door for them…and then made some joke about chivalry (likely flirting) as they walked off. Like half-hour later, when my name was called and I walked in the room, the two “door” ladies were casting the role! And, the read was like one silly, throwaway line (which they laughed at like they were watching Blazing Saddles!) so, in a sense, my audition happened on the way in the front door! And I nailed it! Probably because I wasn’t trying. Pretty Zen, huh?

What’s it like working with your castmates Jason Segel, Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, Cobie Smulders, and Josh Radnor?

As a former collegiate/pro basketball player, I frequently say it’s like running with The Lakers. They’re the best of the best, in my opinion. Such a high standard of excellence! That group of five actors is so talented, so smooth, makes it look so easy — they’re like Magic and Kareem and Worthy and the “Showtime” Lakers! And esteemed director Pam Fryman is our Pat Riley — ever so slick! Or our Phil Jackson — Zen-like calm in the heat of the moment! I guess in this scenario, I’m Kurt Rambis!

Do you feel a sense of sadness at knowing that the series is coming to end?

Definitely! I was a fan of the show first, through the first seven or eight episodes of season one (Marcus first appeared in episode 9), so it is sad to know it’ll be the end of the road after next season! I really do love these characters (and the people who play them!) and will miss them…but, I think there’s excitement to be felt in that, too! I mean, we all just wanna meet The Mother, don’t we?! And I’m looking forward to what the future holds for all of us! The amazingly talented cast and crew and production team have been a dream to work with, and I want all of them to continue their success in other ventures! What’s the next step?

What other things have you participated in as an actor?

Movies, TV, commercials, print, musical/theatrical stage productions…you name it.

You're a tall guy. Do you feel this hinders you in any way in getting possible roles that you read for?

I stick out like a sore thumb! How is that a bad thing in this business?! I don’t like the word “hinders.” Is it a consideration for casting agents? Of course. But there are plenty of roles that call for extreme measurements. And when they don’t, I use my skills to become the character. Now, you might say, no amount of acting will morph me into Tom Cruise’s 5’7” frame…but I believe in my chops and I believe in my future. And, they can do amazing things with CGI these days! But, the notion that I’m too tall to make a career in this business (as one of my idols, Howard Stern, suggested) is a farce. He said my head would stick out of the top of the TV, for crying out loud! I’m an actor who happens to be tall. Well, extremely tall!

What's in the future for you? Do you currently have anything “on the burner” that we can expect to see you in?

The How I Met Your Mother season 8 finale airs Monday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. EST/PST. In the season finale, Marshall is back in Minnesota to introduce Little Marvin to his Grandma, before he, Lily and baby head to Rome for a year for Lily’s new job. Ever the opportunist, Uncle Marcus just can't miss the chance to see his little nephew — and inflict bodily harm on his little brother! Hilarity ensues.

Having done the hard part (uprooting yourself to move closer to a dream, going to countless auditions, the “becoming” of a character), would you recommend such a transition to aspiring actors?

Yes, because I think if you’re really serious about it, this is the only place to be. That being said, just “being here” does not equal success. I mean, I don’t think the hard part is moving here. Anybody can do that…as evidenced by the droves of “anybodies” that do it every day! Even the countless auditions, everybody does that. I think the hard part is not getting caught up in the “scene” and also not giving up when times get tough. Every “somebody” was once a “nobody,” and every star has a story. But, to answer if I’d recommend it, I’d say strongly. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, the world always needs more baristas, bartenders, and busboys!

I like to take this opportunity to say thanks to Ned Rolsma for his candid interview. Many fans of How I Met Your Mother already know Marcus. As you already know, the season 8 finale airs on May 13 at 8pm, PST/EST. If you have never met Marcus, that is as good a time as any.

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Matt Rowe began his life with an AM radio, listening to anything that was considered music. Since, he has labored intently to build a collection of music, paring it down, rebuilding, and refining as he sees fit. His decided goal is to keep up with new music by panning for the nuggets among literal mountains…

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