JOSH RADNOR INTERVIEW
Josh Radnor is perhaps best known for his role as Ted, the central character on CBS's Emmy-nominated comedy How I Met Your Mother. He is the writer/director/star of the Sundance Audience Award winner Happythank youmoreplease. Liberal Arts is his second film to write/direct/star in.
Whatchamcallit Reviews:: Where did you get the idea for Liberal Arts?
Josh Radnor: Well about two years ago I went back to Kenyon College, my alma mater back in Ohio, and I was shocked by how much older I was than the other students. This was really strange to me as all my memories of college were so vivid, it was as if I was there yesterday, and yet, all of a sudden I was nearly twice as old as most of the students there. And so I just started thinking about time, aging, nostalgia, growing up and not growing up, and this story started coming to me about a guy who goes back to his old college at 35 and is kind of disillusioned, and is worried his best days are behind him, and he meets and is quite intrigued by this 19 year old sophomore, who’s played by Elizabeth Olson in the movie.
WR: The film touches on what a grown-up is, what do you think it means to be grown up? Does this film represent your view of what growing up is?
JR: You know I don’t know. I feel like when I’m writing a film or even when I’ve just finished a film I start with some really big questions that I want to explore. Usually these questions have to be big enough and elusive enough for me not to lose interest, and that often means that they don’t have definitive answers. I’m not sure I know anymore about growing up now than I did before I started the movie, but there’s a great line in the movie where a character says he’s never not felt like a 19 year old, even though he’s in his 60s, and he says, “nobody feels like an adult, that’s the worlds dirty secret.” I believe that line to a certain degree, but I also believe where we get into trouble is when people dig there heels in and are resistant to change, and say no to something new. And on some level this is what both movies are about, people dissatisfied with where they are and what’s going on in their lives, and in Liberal Arts there are characters who want to skip forward, characters who want to rewind back, and the journey of the film, and what you might call growing up, is about these characters learning accept where they are and living with it, as opposed to trying to stop it.
WR: What is your writing strategy since you have to devote so much of your time to How I Met Your Mother?
JR: We have a 4 and half month break between seasons. So I do a lot of the writing between hiatuses. In fact I did the bulk of this writing for Liberal Arts and got the first draft done about 2 hiatuses ago. After that we got lucky and had the movie financed pretty quickly because the financiers of Happythankyoumoreplease wanted to join onto this project as well. So everything came together rather quickly, which you don’t see all that often. But the writing is just about finding free moments. I just find the time to do it.
WR: Which do you prefer more: acting, writing, or directing?
JR: The directing and the writing feel a lot like the same thing, yet at the same time different because they take place at different times. I write and then bring the road map of the script to the shooting, but I’m also the writer as I’m directing because I’m keeping the whole story in my head. Or I’m the director while I’m writing. I’m not sure how they all tie in together. Did you ask about acting too?
WR: I did.
JR: You know I’m really longing to do a movie where I just direct. I originally started writing to give myself some more acting opportunities. For Liberal Arts I was more thinking as a director, but I was also thinking of a role that was for me when I wrote it. But this next go-around I’m trying not to do that. You know I just did a movie where I just acted in the movie, this wonderful little film called, Afternoon Delight, with some fantastic people, and I just got re-inspired about acting, but mostly I’ve been thinking as a writer/director lately. And you know I’ve already done so much as an actor relatively speaking, and if you said I had to stop acting right now, and could only write/direct, I think I’d be ok with that, as writing and directing feels like more of the unexplored territory for me.
WR: You mentioned you write and direct in the same time, in sort of a continuous process, how much do you adapt your work to what your seeing in front of you?
JR: That’s a good question. I was given some great advise before directing HappyThankYouMorePlease, which was “don’t direct the movie that’s in your head, direct the movie in front of you that’s asking to be made.” It’s a delicate balance because you’ve got this idea in your head, but at the same time, if you surround yourself with talented people in every area, then they’re going to each have their own ideas that are going to make you tell your story in a better way. Especially with the actors, they’re going to surprise you, they’re going to maybe not do things how you first envisioned, but you have to allow yourself to be more fluid in allowing your story to take shape in a very organic way rather than bullying it into what you thought it was supposed to be.
WR: So how was it shooting the movie at Kenyon, your alma mater?
JR: Well, in my mind Kenyon is where the movie had to be shot. I have such fond memories there. My dad went to Kenyon, my sister went to Kenyon, even Allison Janney, who is in the movie went to Kenyon. Really, it just feels the same no matter when you went there. You have these buildings that were built in 1824, people live in the same dorm rooms, take the same classes in the same buildings. So everything just feels like you just stepped back in time to when you were last there.
WR: I’m sure you get this all the time, but how do you want How I Met Your Mother to end?
JR: You know, the people who created the show and who write the show are much more creative than I am. What I mean to say is I think they’re going to have a lot better idea how to end the show than I would. You know I was thinking about it recently and I think on some levels How I Met Your Mother is about a guy who loses and loses until he eventually wins. And I think that’s what’s endearing about the character. While the inside of this journey can be kind of frustrating and demoralizing, you know this guys been through a lot, you just end up believing in him and the his optimism, and the great story we’re telling of him. And I think it’s a great underdog tale, but something that’s fantastic about the premise is that no matter how many times he falls down, no matter how many times it looks like he’s not going to get it together, he does get it together, and we know this from the start. And this is kind of comforting to know that he does get the wife and the kids and the life he dreamed of. And so the end of the show is about sticking the landing in the most eloquent and truthful way possible, and I have no doubt that the creators will do just that.
WR: Will you miss the character once the show is over?
JR: I think I’ll miss the experience of filming the show, because it’s been so informative and it’s been a constant for so long, but no I don’t think I’ll miss the character. It’s been a long time to be someone, and whether we end this season or next season, I feel like most stones will have been turned over when it comes to that character.
Liberal Arts opens in Austin, Dallas, and Houston on September 28th.