Josh Radnor on happythankyoumoreplease, Accepting Love, and His Woody Allen Problem

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Josh Radnor is suddenly a very busy man. Most people know him as the titular character from How I Met Your Mother (he'd be the "I," not the mother), but over his summer hiatus, he wrote, directed and starred in a relationship dramedy called happythankyoumoreplease that's suddenly become one of the buzziest films at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

How is Radnor dealing with his film's sudden anointment as a must-buy? Movieline sat down with him hours ago in the midst of all the frenzy.

When you got accepted into Sundance, you must have pictured the perfect premiere in your mind. Did it live up to your expectations?

Honestly, I try not to get ahead of myself by fantasizing about what something might be like. I just try to stay present and try not to leave wherever I am in my mind.

So when you got a standing ovation at your first screening, were you "present" for that?

You know, that was such an interesting moment, because I had just walked up to the podium and it occurred to me as it happened, "Soak this in. Don't leave. Stay here and enjoy this." Almost like I'd gotten a burst of sunlight and I had to bask in it for a few moments. It was amazing.

You're a sitcom actor who directed a Sundance film that you star in, so comparisons are bound to be made to Zach Braff and Garden State. Do you bristle against that?

Well, it's a great model, actually. I've found it more inspiring, just what happened with that movie and how it was received and how it seemed to be this generational, iconic piece of moviemaking. If as many people see my film as saw Garden State, I'll be a very happy first-time director.

You wrote this role, originally with no plans to direct, because you wanted a really great film part?

Yeah, it was just to create a great acting opportunity for myself. TV has always seemed to be more responsive to me...

...and theater.

And theater! I've probably done more theater than anything -- well, I don't know, I've done 102 episodes of this television show. With film [auditions], I always seemed to get really close to stuff and never quite land it. I have such a small window now to do stuff, and I guess I had a sense of what I might be really good at. I could write to my own strengths, which you can do if you can write and if you know yourself as an actor, which I hope I do. So yeah, it was more to just give myself that opportunity.

What did you feel you could show off in this role that you haven't gotten to as an actor?

Well, I've been playing this one character [on How I Met Your Mother] for five years, and he's wonderful, but there's also so much of my personality that doesn't get reflected in that. By its very nature, it's 22 minutes, it has its own rhythm, there's a certain laughter quotient that needs to be hit. I liked taking the time and space to explore more and maybe have a charming throwaway line that's not a laugh line -- that's always exciting to me, although How I Met Your Mother actually does that quite well.

How do you feel Sam is different than your character on How I Met Your Mother?

I liked playing someone more rakish. I think Sam's afraid of moving in any direction -- he's spinning in circles a little bit, and it's almost by design. He drinks a lot, he's the guy that hangs out at the bar hitting on the bartender, and he's fundamentally unattached to anything in his life, except where the next thrill is coming from. That's not an uncommon thing, and part of this movie is him opening up to a deeper connection with other people. One of the big themes is what Malin [Akerman's] character says at the end: "Go get yourself loved." I love just playing with this notion that it's really easy to fall in love -- "Oh! I love this person! Lovelovelovelove." It's not as easy for people to be loved and accept love. I used to wither when people would compliment me, I couldn't take it. So many people are like that, and it's actually very frustrating to compliment someone when they don't want to hear it and they reject it. You're actually saying, "I don't feel worthy of this compliment," and I think it's really a great thing to say, "This person is responding to me or my work, and I can open up to that." I liked writing a movie that wasn't cynical about love. I feel like, why don't we believe in something awesome?

Do you feel like most movies are cynical about love, or that they're cynically made?

I think so. A lot of things are cynically made for crass commercial purposes, certainly. There've been a bunch of comedies that have had some real heart to them, but I think a lot of people are scared to put themselves out there in an open way. It's something I'm always challenging myself to do, to put myself out there and not feel like, "Oh, people are really gonna think I'm an idiot if I stand up for something." The response to this movie is that people are really hungry for this sort of thing. They want things to work out. The news is so unrelentingly dark, and I think people want to believe in something again.

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