Like David Hasselhoff (”America’s Got Talent”), Ryan Seacrest (”American Idol”) and AnnaLynne McCord (”90210″), Alyson Hannigan grew up in Atlanta. She left for the bright lights of Hollywood at age 11.
“I learned there were seasons in the year,” she said in a phone interview earlier this month. “And I learned you should be early to places. I got a little of that good Southern hospitality. In L.A., people are 15 minutes late and think they’re on time.”
Hannigan now is just happy to have found a steady gig after “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” thanks CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother,” which returns tonight for season five.
In the first episode back, she’ll try to get Robin and Barney to define their relationship – by any means necessary. Yes, her character Lily can be like that.
Hannigan wouldn’t give much in the way for teasers but the show’s 100th episode will feature a big dance number. “I will definitely need some extra practice time with my two left feet,” she said.
The show’s most unique aspect is its use of frequent and numerous flashbacks, plus very very quick scenes. Over 22 minutes, the show shoots 60 scenes, or one every 20 seconds on average. “It’s a crazy shooting schedule,” she said.
After five years, has it gotten any easier? “The writers just sort of keep throwing more and more at us,” she said. “It’s like we’re doing a movie.”
Hannigan got pregnant during the last season. The writers decided not to make her character Lily pregnant. She and fictional newlywed hubby Marshall (played by Jason Segel) will stay baby free for now. “I think it’s too soon,” she said. “The gang likes to hang out at a bar. A baby would crimp our style.”
The result meant she had to have her stomach hidden strategically. Example: as an elementary school teacher, she stood behind a globe. As a joke, they did show up at a food eating contest with her pregnant belly. (Actually, they shot it, then re-shot it a couple of weeks later because the bigger the belly, the funnier the shot!)
And for a few episodes, she disappeared while she had the baby.
The show didn’t send her to a fat farm or visit relatives in some distant land. Instead, she became offended by some joke Barney made and just went away for awhile. The season finale was shot early, too, to accommodate her and Cobie Smulders, who plays Robin and was also pregnant.
Plus, the writers have a sense of humor — or a sadistic streak.
They have her play a stripper in a future episode. Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) takes Marshall to a strip club and one of the strippers look a lot like Lily. “It’s a shocker because I just had that baby,” she said. “The writers are probably thinking, ‘How can we torture our post-pregnancy ladies?’”
“Thank goodness I’m nursing,” she added. “At least I have that going for me! Hopefully the focus will be on my chest area, not my bum area.”
The show’s fans are rabid about continuity. And with all the flashbacks, mistakes do happen. One time, the show re-shot an entire arc because a french horn was supposed to be in the scene and wasn’t.
And has Segel, now that he’s a big film star, gotten a big head about it? “If he does, we just knock him down,” she said. “He’s got a sense of humor about the whole thing. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.”
As for his predilection for showing all his assets on screen (see “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), she said he strips down every day on set to his boxers. “I say, ‘Jason go to your room!’ But he doesn’t want to walk all the way there.!”
And how is baby life? “It’s just the best thing in the world. All the cliches are true. You really don’t get it til you have a baby.”
Hannigan said the happiest person to read this will be her mom Emilie Posner Haas, who lives in Atlanta and works at Prudential Realty as an agent. “People seek me out because they’re Alyson fan,” Emilie said. “If they buy a house, I give them an Alyson action figure.” (She’s given out three.)
She said Alyson was more of a print model in Atlanta and got top dollar. She said she was at $40 an hour, then $60 an hour, then $130 an hour. She also did a ton of commercials from Hardee’s to Duncan Hines to Six Flags. And once in Hollywood, she was able to get steady work, except for a dry spell right before Buffy. (She is also famous for her band camp character in “American Pie”)
“What I’m most impressed about,” Emilie said of her daughter, “is how unaffected she is by Hollywood like a lot of starlets. She’s become rich and famous but it hasn’t gone to her head. She’s still the same ol’ Alyson.”