Josh Radnor may still be looking for his wife as How I Met Your Mother returns for a ninth season, but off-screen the man is quite the budding writer-director. After writing and directing HappyThankYouMorePlease, he is back with an all-star cast in the incredibly personal Liberal Arts.
Movie Fanatic caught up with the multifaceted talent for an exclusive interview where he dishes how a hit TV show is like a one-sided workout and what it was like to return to his alma mater, Kenyon College, as a Hollywood filmmaker directing a big screen movie.
“There’s a real thrill in being able to turn the camera on something that you love. No one had ever shot a movie at Kenyon which when you see it, it’s a little shocking because it’s just such a gorgeous college,” Radnor said of shooting at his undergraduate locale.
“It looks like the ideal liberal arts college. I joked to someone when we were shooting that it looked like the buildings were posing for us. They were happy to finally be photographed in all their glory for a movie.”
As seen in the Liberal Arts trailer, the film centers around Radnor’s character who is a 35-year-old admissions specialist living in Manhattan and longing for his college days. The actor channeled real feelings he experienced as a twenty-something. “In my mid-to-late twenties, I did experience a similar yearning and aching sadness to go back to school,” Radnor admitted.
“I really missed it. I just kind of transposed some of that sadness onto this guy at 35 who really didn’t have much going on, a very uninspiring job and a relationship that just crumbled, and kind of can’t get his feet under him as an adult. But he holds onto this idea of his college days as being this idyllic time.”
Once Radnor’s character returns to his college campus for a professor-mentor’s retirement party, he becomes involved with an exuberant sophomore played by Elizabeth Olsen. “From there I just played with the idea of a 35-year-old guy connecting with a 19-year-old girl and how that would affect both of them,” Radnor said. Hint: It’s not as easy as normally portrayed onscreen.
The professor in the film is portrayed by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (last seen in the stellar Cabin in the Woods). Turns out, that role was inspired by a history teacher with whom Radnor is still in touch. “He’s still a very dear friend of mine,” he said.
Although the character onscreen is retired, his real life mentor is still extolling education. But, there were a lot of things he lifted from his experience with the professor. “I ripped off a few stories from him,” Radnor said and laughed. “We actually filmed in his house! You know the story in the movie about him being so angry at the country that he had to move to France and it turns out he actually had a Fulbright? That’s a story from my professor!”
As inspired as Radnor was by his college history professor, it sounds as if he found an equal muse in Jenkins.
“I was thinking of Richard and Richard’s voice and manner when I was writing the role,” he added. “He has a kind of grace to him that I can’t quite explain. He’s got a really wry, interesting take on the world. He’s an amazing storyteller. I called him a fake curmudgeon because he acts like he’s this great cynic but he’s actually really big-hearted and open-hearted and that’s why he can, I think, open himself up so much for the camera.”
Filming a movie he created while starring in a hit television show is not an easy task (as his co-star told us in our Muppets Jason Segel interview).
“One of the things about television is -- and this isn’t always a good thing -- it gets easier the longer you do it. You’ve really worked out the kinks. So you’re actually spending less and less time there on some level because everyone’s doing their job very efficiently. So it allows me to have a pretty decent amount of time,” Radnor said.
Although immensely grateful for the entire How I Met Your Mother experience, Radnor finds great joy in writing, directing and starring on film.
“I find that the show for me, while it’s been this source of great good fortune, it also is only drawing on a certain skill set for me. My happiest times on the show are when I’m editing a movie because I have this great balance in my life,” Radnor said.
TV, it appears, only flexes one muscle. “I describe being on TV as like you go to the gym every day but you’re only allowed to work out your arm,” Radnor said and laughed.
“So your right arm is incredibly developed and the rest of you really needs a workout. And doing the films, writing, directing, acting in them, it engages all parts of me. For me, that’s just something I need.”