ORLANDO, Fla. — When Hollywood sizes up Canadian actress Cobie Smulders, the model-gorgeous/model-thin star of TV's How I Met Your Mother, it envisions her as "some tough chick," she says, laughing. "I do all these things where I like guns, and I'm kind of a guy's girl.
"I have no idea where that comes from."
It must have started with the sitcom. Even her HIMYM character, winsome, romantic but thick-skinned TV anchor Robin Scherbatsky, has been toughened up by a dad who would have preferred having a son. Robin likes her guns.
As agent Maria Hill in The Avengers, Smulders is packing heat. Surrounded by unstable superheroes and the occasional super villain, who can blame her? Even in her new movie, Delivery Man, she carries a gun. She's a New York City cop, pregnant by a boyfriend (Vince Vaughn) who "needs to grow up and be the man she's always hoped he could be."
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That's another niche the Vancouver native has made her own. As How I Met Your Mother winds up its nine-season run, her character ties the knot with the womanizing Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), during a wedding weekend that takes up the entire final season of the CBS show.
Smulders, 31, is used to playing an adult woman in a world of childish men.
"For some of us, it hits us in our late 20s or early 30s — with some men, it's in their 40s — that moment where we realize, 'Oh, shoot, I need to grow up, don't I?' For women, that seems to happen sooner."
For Emma in Delivery Man, that realization comes when she becomes pregnant. Her character sizes up the beau and finds him wanting. Just as she's sent him packing, with an implied "come back when you've grown up," he learns of more evidence that he's a childish flake. The sperm-donation-for-money thing he did to make ends meet 20 years ago blows up on him as his surrogate kids want to know his identity — all 533 of them. He hides this from Emma but starts to grow up as he secretly tracks down and lends a hand in these many and varied young adults' lives.
"I get to play the audience, in a way," Smulders says. "I watch this change in him unfold, these big revelations that change his character that are kept from her. Emma's reacting, but she's a pretty complex character."
Smulders had seen Starbuck, the acclaimed French-Canadian comedy on which Delivery Man is based, and was willing to audition for the part to get it. In just a few scenes, Smulders has to embody a serious woman with a sense of humor, someone who has the warmth and patience to be the perfect mate for a disorganized screw-up. Getting that across takes more than acting. It takes presence.
"What comes across on camera is not just impeccable timing," says actor Will Forte, who has worked with Smulders on HIMYM and a Broken Lizard big screen comedy, The Slammin' Salmon. "She seems, on camera, like someone you'd want to know — just nice, friendly and funny," a pretty woman who'd tolerate a few quirks — maybe because she has a few herself.
Jacoba Francisca Maria Smulders started turning up on TV and in films a dozen years ago, and had recurring roles on a couple of shows before her big break in How I Met Your Mother. She has been "relishing every minute, every final surprise on set" this year; the show finishes shooting in February. That means her years of squeezing in movies between seasons are over.
Even though she has a starring role in the comedy They Came Together with Paul Rudd and Lexington native Michael Shannon, even though she sees "a long, life and career, I hope, in the Marvel Universe," with a couple of Avengers projects in the can (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron) or in the future, the end of How I Met Your Mother will herald a major life change for Smulders. The actress — who is married to Saturday Night Live actor Taran Killam, with whom she has a 4-year-old daughter — is pulling up stakes.
"I'm moving to New York and hope to do some theater there. I'm not going to impose myself on musical theater. Why try and take a job from somebody who can actually sing?" she says. "But dramas and comedies? I'm up for those, original plays and classics with a new spin? Call me."