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Cobie Smulders likes playing a dysfunctional 30-something on ‘Friends from College’

The “How I Met Your Mother” actress is back on TV in Netflix’s new show about xennials behaving badly.
Cobie Smulders
Cobie Smulders stars on "Friends from College." a new Netflix comedy about xennials behaving badly in NYC. It premieres July 14. Photo: Getty

Cobie Smulders is back on a TV comedy, this time, playing a xennial whose life is about to blow up. 

On Netflix’s new eight-part series, Friends from College, the 35-year-old actress plays Lisa, the most sympathetic in a group of immature old college friends who never really got over their glory days at Harvard undergrad, (cue eye-roll) although they’re now approaching 40. 

When Lisa and her husband Ethan [Keegan-Michael Key] join the gang in New York City, the former ACLU lawyer has landed a higher paying gig at a misogynistic hedge fund to support Ethan, who’s “working on a new novel” but really spends his time having an affair with their mutual friend Sam (Annie Parisse). Lisa, meanwhile suffers through the emotional and physical pains of her first IVF cycle

But Lisa isn’t blameless for long, Smulders teases. At first, “it’s very, ‘Oh, poor, Lisa,’’ says the “How I Met Your Mother” actress. But “once she realizes her relationship is not what it was, her whole world sort of crumbles." That’s when the role gets fun for Smulders. “It’s one of the reasons I was excited to take on this job, because this woman who is seemingly very together and educated and on this great trajectory, she just goes through the wringer and loses her mind and makes some poor choices,” she explains. 

The Vancouver, Canada native calls in from her home in Manhattan, which she’s leaving soon to move back to LA with her husband, actor Taran Killam (“Drunk History,” “SNL”) , and their two kids. We chat about college nostalgia, the show’s depiction of in vitro fertilization, of course, “How I Met Your Mother.” 

“Friends from College” is all about this group who can’t get over their college nostalgia. We read that you never attended undergrad. Was it hard to channel that sentimentality? 

I have a kinship with my high school friends [who are] still some of my best friends, so I do understand the regression that happens. Whenever I get back up to Vancouver, I don’t understand why I’m not a 19-year-old anymore. All of a sudden, there’s this weird time warp that happens. My current life, where I’m a 35-year-old woman with two children, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me a lot of the time. [Laughs] 

You’ve spoken about how as a cancer survivor, you were initially told by doctors that you wouldn’t be able to have kids. Were you able to tap into that struggle for this role?

Absolutely. Although I didn’t have kids [via IVF], I did so much research [into it] when I was told I wouldn’t be able to have kids. I have so much sympathy for women who have to go through it, multiple times, it seems. Also, the feeling as a woman, going, “This is something I’ve always wanted. [Having kids] is literally the one thing my body is capable of doing, over a man. This is my one job,” and when that is taken away from you, it really changes your perspective. 

You just wrapped your Broadway debut. How is acting for the stage different from TV? And while we’re on the topic, what about acting for a network sitcom compared to streaming?

The process as an actor doesn’t change much as far as finding a character, but the day-to-day is so different. I keep going, at 5:00 p.m., “Oh I have somewhere to be!” Being on stage night after night was an incredible experience. You’re never allowed to be the same character for that long. I played Robin [on "How I Met Your Mother"] for nine years and that’s such a rarity. Even with playing Lisa, we only shot for two months. But when you’re getting nightly feedback on your choices, it changes the way you think about your [character]. 

One takeaway from “How I Met Your Mother” is how it can take years to find out who you should really be with. Could that lesson work as a backdrop to the relationship struggles in “Friends from College”? 

I think it could. The coupling of Lisa and Ethan, it happened in college and they didn’t have this time of finding out who they were themselves first. It will be interesting to see if we proceed on with more episodes, where that’s going to take us. 

The great thing about “HIMYM” is there was all this time. We can speak to the [idea that] Robin and Ted were always being destined to be, but in that time, they were able to have these different experiences and lead independent lives. Robin’s journey was always “career career career” and wanting to do what’s best for her. But Lisa hasn’t had that opportunity yet.