Josh Radnor on Happythankyoumoreplease and His Future Involvement on How I Met Your Mother
The last time I spoke to Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother was in that strange bubble of being a cult favorite, but the cast was left biting their nails every every year waiting to learn if CBS had picked the series up for another season. Times have changed: Not that Radnor doesn't still have strong feelings for the show on which playing Ted Mosby -- the "I" in the title -- made him a recognizable face. But it's apparent that the energy and passion once exclusively set aside for the hit comedy has been firmly reassigned to his film career -- namely the new movie Happythankyoumoreplease, which Radnor wrote, directed and stars in.
Happythankyoumoreplease features Radnor as Sam, a successful New York City short story writer who wants to break into writing more long-form novels. On the way to an important meeting, Sam notices a young boy named Rasheen (Michael Algieri) on the subway who gets separated from his foster family. Sam, not wanting to leave a resistant Rasheen at the police station, lets Rasheen stay at his apartment -- all while trying to win the affection of a bartender-lounge singer named Mississippi (Kate Mara) and weaving through the relationships he has with the rest of the ensemble cast (including Malin Akerman, Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber). Movieline sat down with Radnor late last week for a conversation about his directorial debut, the warnings he received about certain plot points and, like TV co-star Jason Segel has hinted, if he, too, is ready to move on from How I Met Your Mother.
I can only assume that people are asking you if happythankyoumoreplease is your Garden State?
Well, I don't know what [writer-director-star Zach Braff's] intentions were. I don't know him. I understand why people are asking; they are generation snapshots, all that, and we are both on these television shows. A lot of actors I know, and I include myself, there's a kind of restlessness with doing one thing and doing one thing for a long time. And that's one of the blessings and curses about doing series television: It's such a gift and the stability is a gift, but you also are asked as a function of serving the larger piece, you're asked to hit the same notes a lot. And I think if you have that restlessness and you want to do lots of things, that can be a great motivation to do something else. So, part of it, not specifically about this movie but generally about writing and doing other things, was to work those other muscles that were not being used.
I think people get worried when they see a trailer for a movie and it involves a kid. And it's addressed with a mocking line in the film, "Sensitive white guy learns lesson from an African-American child." Are you worried people might dismiss this as Big Daddy 2?
Well... I don't know. I mean, that line is there for a reason. And on some level it's to try to mitigate some of that criticism -- which is maybe a cowardly thing on my part. It's also like, they are self-aware people. And I think that Mary Catherine, she's always a step ahead of everyone. So having her say it was kind of like calling him out. Like, "Oh, you're going to use this kid to grow yourself."
So I think that charge is false to label on my movie because I think Sam obviously cares about the kid and obviously goes out of his way to help him. And you really get the feeling, especially in that last seen together, Sam kind of gives him some advice and you want to hope believe that the kid has forever changed and will forever remember this and keep drawing, at the very least.
Were you consciously trying to give Sam different character traits so people won't compare him to Ted Mosby?
Yeah. I think so, a little bit. But I was really trying to just conceive a role that I felt like I would be the best person to play it. I was trying to write a role that I thought, This will be a good role for me to have in a movie. And no one else was writing it, I figured. Well, I'll just write it. And certainly, maybe unconsciously, there was a lot of like... I mean, Sam's certainly not a guy looking for "Mrs. Right." He's not a relationship guy. He's quite the opposite. He's charming and reckless and irresponsible and boozy and slutty and all those things. I wanted to make him feel kind of dark and messy.
Well, the scene that stands out for me in relation to this is when Sam invites Mississippi to stay with him for three days, but he was obviously just trying to sleep with her right then...
So Sam has an asshole side to him. How do you balance the line between an asshole move and making sure the audience doesn't hate the main character?
[Deep breath] That's interesting. It's kind of like I don't want to hate him, in some ways. For me, this particular world, I don't think there are any villains in the movie. Evan Ira -- Annie's ex-boyfriend who has that terrible idea -- when I was auditioning people, some people came in and they were really twirling their mustache. You know what I mean? Like really playing it like a villain. And I was like, "He's not like that. He's friends with these people. He just has a terrible idea, and he's insensitive. But he's not a bad guy." No one in the movie is evil; they're just kind of misguided and getting in their own way. So, to me, it wasn't so much about creating fully sympathetic characters that everyone would love immediately; they're well-intentioned fools who wise up a little bit.
It would have been an interesting plot twist if a character showed up twirling his mustache.
It would have been like, "What? Why is she dating that guy who is twirling his mustache?"
Can't she tell?
That's a dead giveaway! You can hear the audience hissing!
You filmed in New York City. Did that present any problems, considering it's a smaller production?
Yeah, there were sirens -- only when you're filming. There were people who wouldn't listen to PAs and would just walk through shots and stare at the camera. Some people are like, "Oh, you're filming a movie," and are really interested. Some people are like, "I don't care, I'm going." They won't even acknowledge that anything has happened. One guy just wouldn't turn off his music so we paid him off. You know, stuff like that. He was standing in the door and wouldn't leave the door while we were trying to film.
What song was it? Maybe it could have been used?
What was he playing? He was playing something I had -- a French singer -- and I thought, since we like the same music, he was going to stop. No. We had to pay him a couple of hundred bucks. I was like, "Buddy, you just made more tonight than I did." Jerk.
When you're writing, directing and starring in a film, do you feel like there's no place to hide? You can't pawn an idea someone is critical of off on the writer or director.
You know, I had final cut in this movie, which is pretty extraordinary for a first-time director. So it is intensely vulnerable because I have to stand by every frame of it. People gave me great notes and I took the ones that I thought were useful and I didn't take the ones that I disagreed with, so, I do stand by every frame of the movie. But, yeah, it's intensely vulnerable because, on some level, if people don't like the movie, you feel like they don't like you. You know? And that's intense. That requires a bravery that I'm having to cultivate that feels new. Where you're standing in the midst of that and still standing tall and making you not want to leave the house.
Or people take the assumption that every line of dialogue is your personal opinion.
There's so much of that! There's so much weird projection that goes on. And hostilities and praise. Even the good stuff that people say, it all feels weird. It's all just very strange and vulnerable. But I want to keep dong it so I'll just acclimate myself.
So the line in the film questioning Woody Allen for making a movie every year instead of a great movie every few years, is that you or projection?
[Laughs] Well, I clearly love Woody Allen. I think you can tell that I've been influenced by him and, to me, it was an instance of the student ribbing the master a little bit. The guy has made so many great movies and is so influential, but sometimes I wonder, "Maybe he should slow down a little bit." But I'm not super invested in that line, you know what I mean? I don't have a vendetta against Woody Allen. I'm not trying to prove anything. I just thought it was something kind of funny and very New Yorky that Mary Catherine would s
I don't disagree with your opinion, for the record.
There's also something amazing his vigilance and dedication to just doing a movie a year. I believe him when he says that he doesn't read the reviews. And I believe him when he says that it's about the work. He's clearly not doing it to go to the premiere, schmooze and be celebrated. He does it because he loves it.
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