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Sitcom Star Mulls What’s Next

Vince Vaughn and Cobie Smulders attend a screening of  "Delivery Man" hosted by The Cinema Society and DreamWorks Pictures on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Vince Vaughn and Cobie Smulders attend a screening of "Delivery Man" hosted by The Cinema Society and DreamWorks Pictures on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

When Hollywood sizes up Canadian actress Cobie Smulders, the model-gorgeous/model-thin star of TV’s How I Met Your Mother, they envision her as “some tough chick,” she says with a laugh. “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 winsome, romantic but thick-skinned TV anchor, Robin Scherbatsky, has been toughened up by a dad who would have preferred having a son. And Robin likes her guns.

As agent Maria Hill in The Avengers, Smulders is packing. Surrounded by unstable super-heroes and the occasional super villain, who can blame her? Even in her new movie, Delivery Man, she carries heat. 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.”

That’s another niche the Vancouver native has made her own. As How I Met Your Mother winds up its run, her character ties the knot with the womanizing Peter Pan, 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 hits when she becomes pregnant. Her character sizes up the beau and finds him wanting. And 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 bit of 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 that Delivery Man is based on, 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 the sitcom 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’s got 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 How I Met gave her that big break. She has been “relishing every minute, every final surprise on set,” this year as that show finishes shooting in February. That means her years of squeezing in movies between seasons are over.

And even though she has a starring role in the comedy They Came Together with Paul Rudd and 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 married (to actor and Saturday Night Live regular Taran Killam) mother of a little girl 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? But dramas and comedies? I’m up for those, original plays and classics with a new spin? Call me.”