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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews P to T > Josh Radnor

Josh Radnor

Have You Met Josh?

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 18, 2006.

The sitcom as an art form had reached a low place recently, but suddenly in the past year there is a stirring of new life in those old bones.  There are still too few funny series out there, but in 2005 a group of shows have reminded us that television comedy can still be comic.  New series like My Name Is Earl, The Office and the sadly quickly axed Kitchen Confidential have all shown interesting ideas on how to fix the sitcom by subverting it.  Probably the best show of all is the new CBS Monday night comedy hit How I Met Your Mother. 

How I Met Your Mother is framed as a reminiscence.  In the year 2030, a man named Ted Mosby (voiced by Bob Saget) is telling his obviously bored kids a long, detailed account of his life and the situations that led to him getting married.  The show is all flashbacks to the current day as Ted and his friends navigate life and love in the singles scene of New York.  Ted’s gang includes the lothario Barney, played by former Doogie Howser, MD star Neil Patrick Harris and his happily engaged roommates Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel of Freaks and Geeks and Alyson Hannigan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and the American Pie movies).  Their world is populated with murderous Moby look-alikes, slutty pumpkins, samarai swords, half-boobs, airport security checks, mysteriously appearing pineapples, perfect-match dermatologists, nightclubs so noisy you need subtitles and Top Gun flight suits.  The latest person to make her way into this tight little group is Robin (Cobie Smulders of The L Word ).  She is the woman of Ted’s dreams – however she is not the mother of the show’s title – future Ted breaks that news in the first episode of the series.  Which leads to some interesting questions.  Who is the mother going to be?  And why isn't it going to be Robin?

Starring as young Ted is the biggest break yet for stage veteran Josh Radnor, who had previously done one other TV series (The Court with Sally Field) and appeared in one movie (Not Another Teen Movie).  Radnor had done serious time on the boards in productions like The Graduate on Broadway with Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone.  He also recently performed the play The Paris Letter in Culver City, California with How I Met... co-star Neil Patrick Harris, Ron Rifkin and Patricia Wettig.

Radnor took a break from filming to fill us in of the series and his career.

I just have to say before we get started that the show is terrific.  It’s my favorite new sitcom of the season.

Okay, good.  You couldn’t say that on the record?  (laughs)  You didn’t want your readers to know you’re a fan?

Of course; on the record then, I hope the show continues to do very well.  I think it’s fantastic.  So anyway, Josh, how did you first get involved in acting?

I just started doing musicals in high school.  I got dragged down to… I was actually asked to sit in the audience with a friend of mine who was auditioning.  My friend Debbie, she was very nervous to go down there.   She said, “Just sit with me.  Just sit with me.”  I sat there and I watched everyone get up onstage and I thought, jeez, I think I can do better than this guy.  (Laughs)  So I ended up auditioning and I got one of the leads.  I just never looked back.  I kept doing it.  All through college, I would go away every summer I was at a different theater.  Then I went to NYU for grad school.  I got out a few years ago and just kept doing it.  I wasn’t discovered in the coffee shop.  (chuckles)  I just kept going.  

You have done a lot of theater, probably most well known was The Graduate with Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone.  How did you get that role and what was it like to finally make it onto Broadway?  Most of the other things you’ve done have been off-Broadway…

I was actually living in LA at the time.  I was doing this short-lived series with Sally Field called The Court.  That show was canceled.  I think, like the day before we were canceled my agent called and said Jason Biggs is leaving The Graduate for three months and they’re going to recast.  It was in the summer – it was June, July and August.  You know, potentially the world’s greatest summer theater job.  So I put myself on tape and the director saw that in London.  I went back to New York two weeks later.  I auditioned once for the casting people.  They brought me in to read with Kathleen and Alicia.  Then, I have one more call-back.  I was the only one there, so I was starting to feel pretty good.  Then I got the job.  I had two weeks of rehearsal, (laughs) and then I was suddenly starring on Broadway.  The experience of doing it – it just feels like you’re doing a play, it’s just there are more seats in the audience, somehow – just the kind of sensory feeling of doing that.  So the actual playing the role didn’t seem as weird as walking up to the theater and seeing my picture out front.  You know a gorgeous Broadway theater…  And then, coming out afterwards and having all these people wanting your autograph, which was, I can assure you, totally new to me.  (laughs)  It was great, because I’d sign all these autographs and then I’d round the corner and I was totally anonymous again.  Then I’d come back the next night and do it again.  Yeah, it was great.  It felt like a real natural progression, of course, this is great, I feel ready to do this.   

Like you just mentioned, How I Met Your Mother is actually your second series; you had also been in The Court with Sally Field.  How did you get cast for that role?

I went on tape in New York, because I was here doing a Law & Order.  I got a test deal from the tape.  I flew out.  I think I came in late at night, I woke up the next day and I went right to network.  And I got it.  (laughs)  I wish these stories were a little sexier.  Most of my life has been walking into a room, shaking some hands, doing an audition, going further, doing it again and hearing you got the part or you didn’t get the part.  Then you do the job and you end up talking to Jay.  (laughs)  That seems to be how it’s gone.  That was an amazing experience, because I didn’t have much experience on camera at all.  Then I got to be around Sally Field and Pat Hingle and Craig Bierko and Diahann Carroll and Chris Sarandon and Miguel Sandoval – these amazing, amazing actors.  It was like this kind of on-camera class for me. 

Even your TV guest starring roles had previously been more dramatic, on stuff like ER, Six Feet Under, Judging Amy, Miss Match and Law & Order.   Do you find comedy or drama harder to do as an actor?

Well, I always have loved doing comedy.  It’s been something that I have always gravitated to.  Although, when I’m doing a comedy I want to do a drama and when I’m doing a drama I want to do something funny.  I don’t think of them as being that different.  The kind of basic principles are still in place.  With comedy there are certain rhythmic things you need to pay attention to a little bit more, perhaps.  Especially this role is kind of – you know the show itself is a hybrid, but Ted is almost a hybrid character.  I described him to somebody as an independent movie character who is trapped inside a sitcom.  He gets these long scenes that are a little more serious.  I think he’s really – I don’t know.  Ted Mosby – you’re a mystery to me…  (laughs)  He’s an interesting guy.  I really love playing him.  I don’t totally think of it as a sitcom.  Maybe because we don’t tape in front of an audience, it doesn’t feel (like one)… 

What attracted you to How I Met Your Mother?

I was trying to be very picky about television, especially in pilot season.  The first thing I did in LA was a pilot for the WB that I got replaced on when it went to series.  (The show was Off Centre, which ended up starring Eddie Kaye Thomas of the American Pie movies.)  Which, in hindsight was the best thing ever.  I wouldn’t have been able to do The Court or The Graduate.  All this stuff worked out.  But it was a sitcom that I saw a few episodes (of) and thought, wow, I’m really happy not to be on this show.  (laughs)  This is not something that I would want to do.  A lot of times I’ve found in this business that the universe kind of moves that way.  These things kind of get contextualized and you realize, oh, okay, I see how that works out perfectly.  With a series, it can potentially go for years.  Most of them don’t, but because I did something that I thought, oh that could have been terrible at my agent’s urging, I was really trying to be selective.  I wasn’t even particularly looking to do a sitcom.  The one I got replaced on was a sitcom and maybe I had some kind of unconscious allergy to the form.  Because I thought well that door got closed to me and I’ve had all this success with the dramas.  I remember I just got the script and I was intrigued by the title.  I sat and I read it.  I called my agent and said, yeah, I’ll audition for this.  I was actually the first person they saw on the first day of auditions.  It just felt like something that – you know, you feel so many doors close and then when they’re not, there’s a kind of effortless… you just keep walking through these unlocked doors.  This whole process has been that.  It’s been kind of like, oh yeah, here, you’re cast.  And here, we’ve got these great people to be in the show with you.  We’re going to make the pilot.  Okay, now the series gets picked up.  Now the series gets picked up for the back nine.  And now, keep going, keep going…

Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan are all actors who have been around in different good roles over the years.  This show is the first time I remember seeing Cobie Smulders.  What is the ensemble like to work with?  Is it comfortable?

Yeah.  It just was.  Neil and I had just done a play together in LA, like a month before.  So I had worked with Neil.  Alyson and Neil have known each other since they were teenagers.  Jason – I’m a huge Freaks and Geeks fan, so I was thrilled to work with him.  Cobie and I went through the whole audition process together.  So, there was a kind of comfort that was happening right away.  We also had a great director and great writers.  (Series creators) Carter (Bays) and Craig (Thomas) are just these great young guys.  I don’t know.  It’s one of those mysterious, happy accidents.  It all seems to work out.

Ted is such a romantic and Barney is so cynical, how do you think they became such close friends? Do you think there’s a certain symmetry to the fact that they get along together so well?

I have a Barney in my life, and I’m not like him, so I think that makes sense.  I don’t know.  There are a lot of mismatched friendships.  Ted needs Barney somehow and Barney needs Ted somehow.  You know we have that episode where we go to Philadelphia and even though Barney drives him crazy, there’s a kind of sense that you always get an adventure out of it.  It’s never boring.  He probably does end up meeting a lot more women because he hangs out with Barney, because Barney has little-to-no shame.  He’ll get them entangled in all sorts of things.  And for whatever reason, Barney really needs Ted.  (laughs)  Barney is really much more kind of hardcore about keeping them together as a team.  He wants to be my best friend.

Yeah, he’s always jealous of Marshall…

Yeah, when I call Marshall my best friend, yeah… (laughs)  They’re really great about keeping these kind of running themes going. 

The relationship with Robin is fascinating, too, because by every sitcom convention it would seem that Ted was in love with Robin and they would be hooking up.  Yet in the pilot episode, the voice over says that not only don’t they ever get together.  How important is it to the show to keep the two of them apart?

Ted and Robin apart?  Well, we’re a little ahead of you in terms of what we know.  I don’t want to say too much.  I want you to keep watching.  They certainly are kind of drawing out that tension.  Yeah… I don’t want to spoil anything.  (laughs)  They’re aware of that.  The writers always say to me very sweetly, “It’s almost a shame that Robin can’t get together with Ted, because we just love the two of you guys together so much.”  And I love working with Cobie.  So we’ll see… 

Throughout the series you have met a series of women who seem like they may become the mother of the title, but it never seems to be the right one.  In the last episode that aired, they showed Ashley Williams (previously of the series Good Morning Miami) at the end and kind of hinted she may be it, but the show has done that before and you never saw the girls again. 

Right.  Well, actually, she will be in a few episodes. 

Do you think we’ll ever meet your future wife, or she’ll just be one of those classic unseen TV characters like Bob Sakamato or Vera?

(Laughs)  That depends on the whims of Les Moonves and company, whether they will keep us on the air.  My idea is if we do get – God forbid – canceled, we can do a kind of Serenity (a movie based on the canceled Joss Whedon space series Firefly).  You know, do a feature, release it in the theaters and resolve the tale.  

Yeah, and maybe the mother will end up being the slutty pumpkin?

Yeah, maybe she’ll come back, who knows?  The convention they’re using is kind of wide open for stories for a really long time. 

So, do your friends now go up to girls in bars and do the “Have You Met Ted?” trick on you?

No, no one has done that to me.  In Columbus, a girl came up to me and said, “Have you gotten a lot of ‘Have you met Ted?’”  No.  (laughs)  No one has done that to me.  I wouldn’t hang with people who’d do that.

Has your life become any clearer now that you realize that someday you will grow up to be Bob Saget?  

(laughs)  I met Bob Saget.  He’s a funny man.  No, that hasn’t made anything clearer.  I’m just as confused as ever. 

Neil Patrick Harris is very funny in the role, but between this and Harold and Kumar, do you think he is trying to get distance himself from all of those Doogie Howser mentions?

He’s just a really talented guy.  He can do lots of different things.  I think he’s – just like any good actor – kind of experimenting with range and what he can do.  He’s been doing so much theater over the years.  I haven’t really talked to him if there’s any kind of intentional thing he’s doing.  I just think it’s fun to see this guy who played this very iconic character so many years ago, pull a different rabbit out of his hat.  It’s fun, for whatever reason.  He’s so nothing like Barney, but he really is so great at playing that guy.  I don’t know if there’s anything behind it other than an actor being an actor.

Speaking of child stars, your character lived out a youthful fantasy of mine by having a one night stand with Winnie Cooper.

(laughs)  That’s right.

Were you a fan of The Wonder Years and what was Danica McKellar like to work with?

Of course.  It was great.  She was totally sweet.  I guess she’s like a math genius or something. 

Yeah, that’s what I hear…

It was great.  It was certainly surreal.  Though, so much of my life since I’ve been an actor has been surreal.  Because you grow up watching these things and it’s weird to see someone that you only know from TV and film and be, not only working with them, but rather intimately.  It’s weird, but I never get really starstruck or anything.  I just kind of assume, oh, there’s the girl who played Winnie Cooper.  Fantastic.  And then I move on. 

You mentioned earlier that when you were doing The Graduate, people used to wait to get your autograph. 

Well, I don’t know if I was the draw.  (laughs)  Kathleen and Alicia were also there.

Have you hit the point in your career where people start to recognize you on the streets?

I’ve been getting more and more.  Definitely, when I went back to Columbus for Thanksgiving, there was a lot of it.  I was just in San Francisco and people would say stuff.  And now a little bit more in LA.  People are a little more reserved in LA, just because there are people on TV all over the place here.  But all of it’s been really nice.  Just people say, hey, I love the show man.  Like nothing crazy.  I don’t feel hounded or anything.  What I’m saying is I’d like more people to come up to me.  (laughs)  I’d like your readers to all come up to me.  No, don’t tell them that. 

Okay, I’ll make that the lead.  If you see him in the street bug him!

(laughs)

Do you have any ideas for the show that you’d love to see them do – either about Ted’s character or more generally for the show?

I talked to them a little bit about – and they liked this – they actually had this idea, having Ted go through a phase where he’s not so romantic and wanting something.  That he goes through a phase where he gets a little cynical about it.  I think that would be really interesting.  I don’t know how sustainable it is to just have him mooning over all these girls.  Because, he sometimes treads that line between romantic and stalker.  (laughs)  So, you know, you’ve got to be careful.  In the early days of a lot of shows the characters are a little more broadly drawn.  And I think our characters are really, all things considered, very complex and multi-layered.  But, yeah, I’d love to see him get a little more prickly or a little – just kind of become less Ted.  (laughs)  Go for something else there.  We’ll see.  I pitched them one little idea.  Barney insists once and for all that Ted’s going to wear a suit out and go out on the town…   

You’re going to suit up…

And I do and all the women pay attention to me and not Barney (laughs) and then he doesn’t want me wearing suits anymore.  So, we’ll see.  I don’t know.  I’m not on the staff of the writers. 

Ideally, over the long haul, how would you like for people to look back at your career?

Oh, man.  What a question.  I did have a very funny experience.  I did one film a few years ago called Not Another Teen Movie.  I was reading a review of The Kennedy Center Honors right when the movie got released.  Jack Nicholson and Julie Andrews and some other people were being honored.  They talked about their first experience in movies.  They said Miss Andrews had such a classy start to their career.  Others, like Mr. Nicholson appeared Hells Angels Bikers, whatever that movie was…

Easy Rider?

No, it wasn’t Easy Rider, it was a movie literally like Hells Angels Biker Chicks or something.  (It was a 1960 potboiler called The Wild Ride)…

Oh, okay, and come to think of it, he was in Little Shop of Horrors, too.

Right, yeah.  But they said something like, “Which leads to a frightening thought.  Somewhere in Not Another Teen Movie a Kennedy Center nominee for 2050 might be lurking.”  I cut out the article, because I thought, what a great thing to keep in mind.  Just because I was in this movie, hey, I can get a Kennedy Center honor.  (Laughs)  I just thought it was a funny thing to stumble across.  I could be all; hey it’s all right to be in Not Another Teen Movie.  I don’t know, I write, I’d love to write stuff, lots of plays.  Just kind of improbably continue succeeding in this business that you’re not supposed to succeed in. 

Are there any misconceptions you’d like to clear up?

About me?

About you, the show, your career, anything you want…

Oh, man.  I think these are great questions.  I just don’t have great answers.  (laughs)  No.  I try to be clear about stuff so I’m not misquoted.  I trust that you will be faithful to all the idiotic things I’ve said.

Yes, I promise that I will not misquote you.  In fact, I’ll send your publicist the link.  You can check it out yourself.

I can write in and say, “I never said that.  (laughs)  It was a trick!  The whole thing was a trap!” 

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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 18, 2006.