SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Stumptown is a nickname for Portland, Ore., which in the mid-19th century was dotted with the stumps of trees where they had to clear land to expand. Now it's a modern town that hosts hipsters and shade-grown coffee-sippers and a troubled private eye named Dex in a new series on ABC.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STUMPTOWN")
MICHAEL EALY: (As Detective Miles Hoffman) Ma'am, your vehicle.
COBIE SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) That's a fancy word for it. Don't call me ma'am.
EALY: (As Detective Miles Hoffman) Yeah? What would you like me to call you?
SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) Dex.
EALY: (As Detective Miles Hoffman) Dex.
SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) My name is Dex.
EALY: (As Detective Miles Hoffman) Very well, Dex. I need to arrest you.
SMULDERS: (As Dex Parios) For what? For getting beat up?
EALY: (As Detective Miles Hoffman) For 14 unpaid parking tickets.
SIMON: Cobie Smulders plays Dex Parios in "Stumptown." She's a former Marine who drinks too much - and not coffee - owes too much and has a brother to care for. Cobie Smulders joins us now from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.
SMULDERS: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: I do have to ask, filming in Portland, so do you have a favorite shade-grown coffee?
SMULDERS: (Laughter) You know, what's hilarious...
SMULDERS: ...Is I quit drinking coffee.
SIMON: Oh, my gosh.
SMULDERS: I know. I know.
SIMON: Spending all that time in Portland, my gosh.
SMULDERS: I know. It seems wrong, but it's not working for me anymore. I'll enjoy, like, a cappuccino every now and then, but I'm not linked to any particular blend.
SIMON: Of course, you're also familiar to a lot of people, well, from a lot of things, but I was thinking of Maria Hill in "The Avengers."
SIMON: But Dex is no superhero, is she?
SMULDERS: No, no. In fact, you know, the trouble she finds herself in - the trouble finds her. She's not looking for any trouble, but she does find herself in some pretty sticky situations.
SIMON: She says, a war ended for me 12 years ago. But clearly, it hasn't.
SMULDERS: Yes, and she's suffering from PTSD quite severely. She experienced some trauma overseas and is currently living with the ramifications of that. She's choosing not to seek any treatment, so it will flare up in her life and is really holding her back from really living a fulfilled life.
SIMON: She's self-medicating, I think it's fair to say.
SMULDERS: Yeah, she's self-medicating with sex, with alcohol, with gambling, with a lot of things and is really not looking at herself clearly. But with all that in mind, she's also a good person. She's very honorable. She takes care of her brother and is his sole guardian, and it's really her and this boy against the world. And on one hand, she is spinning out of control. But on the other hand, she's trying to be grounded and help those around her and in her life.
SIMON: Yeah. Let me get you to talk about her brother. He seems to have special needs.
SMULDERS: Yes, he has Down syndrome. And he's about 20 years old in our show. We're getting into this season, actually, sort of the history of their family and why she is the sole guardian, what happened to their parents. But, yeah, she's tied to her brother. You know, she has to be there to help him. But at the same time, I really believe that the tethering that's involved here between these two is also keeping her grounded because if she didn't have this responsibility, who knows where this woman would be?
SIMON: She can't resolve her personal challenges and find happiness too soon...
SIMON: ...'Cause she's got a whole season.
SMULDERS: Yes. And it's a funny thing because I'm starting the press, and there's a lot of conversations about this love triangle. I'm like, this show's not going to have a love triangle because this is a woman who's just not able to have any kind of emotional relationship. You know, this is a woman who is only in for one-night stands and nothing complicated and nothing that's going to go too deep. So it's wonderful, quite frankly, to play a woman who isn't tied to a relationship on a show. It's kind of fantastic.
SIMON: You played a character that's now all over the Internet.
SIMON: Tell us about the perpetuity of Robin Sparkles from "How I Met Your Mother."
SMULDERS: Oh, yes. Oh, gosh. Specifically the Robin Sparkles version of that character, yes. Making Robin a Canadian popstar in the '80s was an idea that was lofted to me by our creators in the second season, I believe.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO TO THE MALL")
SMULDERS: (As Robin Sparkles, singing) Let's go to the mall, everybody. Come on, Jessica. Come on, Tori. Let's go to the mall. You won't be sorry.
I was nervous about it, certainly, at first because I'm not a singer. But it is a testament to how creative they were on that show because when you sign up to do a sitcom, you kind of think you're going to be doing the same jokes and the character can get a little bit stagnant. And they were never - they never did that. And that's an example. And so we recorded three songs, shot three music videos. And it just became this running joke.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO TO THE MALL")
SMULDERS: (As Robin Sparkles, singing) Let's go to the mall today.
Now I - you know, people ask me to sing the songs all the time, so (laughter).
SIMON: And do you oblige, or?
SMULDERS: It depends on, you know, where we are.
SMULDERS: But I look for it on karaoke lists sometimes. That's, like, the best thing that's come out of this is sometimes you're at a dive bar and it happens to be on the list. And that's pretty exciting.
SIMON: I would like to ask you about a small film you did a few years ago called "Unexpected."
SMULDERS: Yes, probably a film I went most aggressively after in my lifetime. And I play a Chicago high school teacher, and I get pregnant somewhat accidentally. It's not planned. And one of her students - one of her high school students in the 10th grade gets pregnant at the same time, so it follows the journeys of these two women who are on similar paths but come from very different backgrounds. And I was actually pregnant during the shooting of the film, which was an amazing coincidence. But it was a very special one to me, and it meant a lot.
SIMON: Do you like the yin and the yang of "The Avengers" and "How I Met Your Mother" and then also a project like "Unexpected"?
SMULDERS: First of all, listen; I mean, I'll take whatever comes my way. I like to, if it's possible, choose projects that are challenging not only in terms of how they're shot and the scale, but also character-wise. It's definitely a trip to jump from shooting on an "Avengers" film, a Marvel film to a small movie, you know, where we've got 14 days to shoot the whole thing. So I like a challenge. I think I'm somebody who likes to constantly put themselves in tricky situations and see how I do.
SIMON: Cobie Smulders stars in ABC's new series "Stumptown" - premieres on Wednesday. Thanks so much for being with us.
SMULDERS: Thank you so much for having me. It was lovely talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.