Josh Radnor – Have You Met Josh?
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally 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…