Catching up with actor Josh Radnor
After playing Ted Mosby for nine years on the hugely popular TV show, "How I Met Your Mother," no one would blame Josh Radnor if he decided to take a break after the show came to an end in 2014. A break, however, seems to be the last thing on his mind, as the Bexley native is juggling a number of film and theatre projects these days. For starters, earlier this year he appeared on Broadway in the award winning "Disgraced," which tackled the weighty topics of race, religion and culture. Currently, he is preparing to star on Broadway again next spring in "She Loves Me," a 1963 musical based on the same story behind "The Shop Around the Corner" and "You've Got Mail."
He's also working on a major film-writing and directing project (though he is unable to reveal details at this time), and, Tuesday night, he kicked off Capital University's Symposium on Undergraduate Scholarship with a keynote address on the importance of a strong liberal arts education - and the path that education has helped open up for him.
Radnor punctuated his humor-filled talk with pieces of advice on breaking into the entertainment industry ("don't be afraid to get people coffee"), romantic relationships ("try to fail better"), and overcoming depression ("Being a tortured artist was never interesting to me … I'm actually trying to keep depression at bay. I have a kind of melancholy that is always threatening to pounce").
Before his speech, Radnor called Columbus Alive and talked about visiting his hometown, what he misses most about "How I Met Your Mother," the importance of quiet and more.
Q: What's it like to be back in Columbus, your hometown?
A: I've been back pretty much twice a year for many years (Radnor's parents still live in Bexley). On some level I feel like things haven't changed much, and on another level, every time I come back to Columbus it doesn't feel exactly like the Columbus I grew up in. It felt a little under-developed, or like it hadn't yet come into its own, when I was here in high school. Over the last decade or so, it feels like the city has really exploded in a great way. It's exciting to be here and it's nice to come back for a reason other than Thanksgiving.
Q: What do you most enjoy about talking with college students?
A: A lot of people [in college] are facing big transitions. There are a bunch of seniors there who don't know what they are going to be doing next year, or they are scared of leaving college. As someone who made a movie about not wanting to leave college ("Liberal Arts," 2012), I feel that I'm kind of an expert in dealing with that anxiety (laughs). I like talking to 18- to 22-year-olds because they are at a really interesting, critical crossroads, where they are shedding a lot of what they learned growing up. They're unlearning as much as they are learning stuff, and they're growing into who they're going to become.
I always thought that to succeed in [show business], you needed some sort of secret handshake or code whispered to you, and they would let you into the club. I've found that it's not really like that. I didn't really have any family connections in the entertainment industry. I just put one foot in front of the other and trained to be an actor … I took it very seriously as an eventuality ... I talk a lot about taking the word "dream" out of your vocabulary. People say, "Well, you've achieved your dreams," and I say, "No, I didn't. I just never had dreams." The word "dream" puts it in some far-off, magical land - some unattainable thing that's hazy and undefined. I just saw it very clearly and walked toward it.
Q: You posed some interesting questions on the value of higher education and what it means to grow up in your film "Liberal Arts." In what ways has your own liberal arts background shaped the kinds of roles you are drawn to?
A: I like playing smart and engaged people. I'm not so drawn to stoner comedies, even though I got to do some of that on "How I Met Your Mother." I'm interested in stuff that requires me to keep learning ... Certainly, when I directed my first movie [2010's "happythankyoumoreplease"], I learned a lot and I wasn't afraid to ask people questions. That's also a gift of a liberal arts education - asking lots and lots of questions. I just try to stay engaged. I don't want to get cynical or bored.
Q: What do you miss most about working on "How I Met Your Mother"? Do you keep in touch with the cast and crew?
A: When people who watched "How I Met Your Mother" think of the show, they think of like five people. But it's actually like 75 people, and a lot of those people were there from day one, so you're having a nine-year relationship with a lot of people - crew members, writers, our director Pam Fryman - we became really, really deep friends over the years. You knew their families. Babies were born during that time. People who worked on the show passed away... So I miss a lot of people… as well as being united around the common goal of telling this long, unspooling story. It was really fun, but at the same time, it felt like it was done when it was done and that's nice. It didn't feel like it was prematurely yanked from us. We got to wrap it up in our own time.
Q: Last month you finished your role in "Disgraced," on Broadway. What was it like to be back on Broadway after nine nears on TV?
A: I've worked in theatre over the years [on breaks from filming]... but when I did "Disgraced," I was really reminded of how much I love acting on the stage… I just loved everything about the experience and I loved being able to be a part of something that riled audiences up. It's a really provocative, interesting and relevant play. In some ways it was everything I ever wanted to do in the theatre, to be a part of something that really felt of its moment and was really saying something. The whole thing felt like a really big gift.
Q: When you come back to Columbus for visits, where are some of the places you like to visit? Any places you really miss when you're away?
A: Yeah, I always try and grab some Jeni's ice cream and Rubino's Pizza. There are certain things that just feel like home to me really strongly. Like getting a steak at the Top or something [laughs]. I went to the Book Loft the other day, which I love.
Q: What's your most memorable fan encounter to date?
A: When I was doing "Disgraced"… I got these letters at the theatre that were some of the most poignant letters I've ever received. A lot of them were from people who were really affected by my films and the TV show. They really just got what I was doing and were so eloquent. I have a stack of them I am trying to respond to but it's slow going. I was really moved by what I read. That's the kind of thing that really means something to me, when you realize that what you're doing is landing on people and having some impact.
Q: I read that you are really into meditation. Tell me about the role meditation plays in your life and how you first got into it.
A: Trying to stay sane as an actor, I realized that my biggest enemy was my brain and the thoughts that it spat up pretty regularly - a lot of them weren't that helpful. It's very conclusive that just getting quiet once or twice a day really alters your life in a profound way. I started meditating about 12 years ago and it's a non-negotiable part of my day. I don't know how people actually go without it. We're in such a stressful time culturally. Just having time to close your eyes and not be so hooked by everything feels essential to my sanity and creativity.