*PLAYBOY: *Most people know you from How I Met Your Mother, the TV series on which a 2030 voice-over version of your character, Ted Mosby, shows his kids, in flashbacks, the highs and lows of searching for the love of his life. Do fans ever confuse Josh Radnor with your character?
RADNOR: Demographically, Ted Mosby is not all that different from me. Just by happenstance one of the show’s creators is from Shaker Heights, Ohio. I grew up in Columbus and wear a lot of Ohio State T-shirts. When people see me around, some of them probably get that sense like “I know him” or “I went to high school with that guy.” I get this strange vertigo when I meet people who watch the show. I don’t know them, yet they feel familiar with me.
*PLAYBOY: *Has that familiarity ever translated into female fans wanting to know you in a personal way?
RADNOR: There’s something really ugly about women who want to be with you just because they saw you in a movie or on a show. I was out one night and this girl left her friends at their table to come over and ask me if I was on How I Met Your Mother. I said I was, and she rejoined her friends, who just kept staring, so I went over and shook some hands. Later a guy handed me a note from this girl that read, “Josh, do you want to sleep with me tonight?” It had this box where I could check yes or no. I turned bright red and said, “Uh, I have a girlfriend”—which I didn’t at the time.
*PLAYBOY: *So you don’t take up those offers?
RADNOR: If I check yes on that box, I’m reinforcing a part of myself I don’t want to reinforce—the part that needs adoration from someone every night. Every actor has an insecure, damaged part of himself, or he wouldn’t be doing it. I’m trying to heal some of that damaged stuff. Quitting drinking helps cut down on your idiotic decision-making, so that’s been a nice shift.
PLAYBOY: How did you realize you needed to knock off drinking?****
RADNOR: I started to get some unambiguous signs from the universe that it was time to get my drinking under control. I didn’t go into a program or anything like that; I just stopped. I’ve had a glass of wine here and there, but I don’t enjoy it anymore. I took a hard look at what it was bringing into my life and what it was keeping me from.
*PLAYBOY: *What has been your favorite fan interaction so far?
RADNOR: I was in this little town on Majorca where I stayed for about five days. I met a 22-year-old kid whose father had died and left him the owner of the only local bar. This kid had never been off the island and was such a crazy fan of the show. He couldn’t believe I was in his bar. He said, “I love your show because it’s all a flashback of an older person’s memories of the best times of his life. It makes me realize I’m living what will be my best memories and I need to enjoy that more.” Sometimes you lose sight of why you’re doing something, but what a cool, interesting legacy for the show to have.
*PLAYBOY: *Is that why, except for your having dated Lindsay Price, you’ve mostly avoided showing up in the press hitting cool clubs and dating a series of beautiful women?
RADNOR: I have an allergy to that sort of social life. New York and L.A. have a lot of beautiful women, but in New York that beautiful woman will be reading a book. That, to me, is intensely sexy. If I was going to live in L.A., it would be on the condition that I not sell my soul in order to do that. I deliberately moved to a house that felt away from everything—until a girl from The Hills moved next door. The paparazzi were always there and I kept wishing they’d leave. Then she moved away.
*PLAYBOY: *How do you explain the staying power of How I Met Your Mother despite its roller-coaster ratings?
RADNOR: A lot of articles have been written about why we watch these “friend families” on TV. The people on them become your extended family on some level, which I guess is a little creepy. [laughs]
*PLAYBOY: *Your co-star Jason Segel has made high-profile movies. Neil Patrick Harris has done movies, Broadway and hosted the Emmy and Tony awards. Is it tough playing the show’s straight man in such a quirky, funny cast?
RADNOR: It’s been interesting trying to find the goofiness of Ted but also keep him grounded. No disrespect to Neil or Jason, whom I have immense respect for, but they’ve done things outside the show that are absolutely in their wheelhouse. That’s what they want to do and they’ve created those opportunities. I wanted to make a movie that I wrote, and I also wanted to write a book.
*PLAYBOY: *Your writing-directing debut movie, Happythankyoumoreplease, stars Malin Akerman, Kate Mara and Zoe Kazan as friends of your character, a not always likable aspiring New York novelist who’s unable to commit and who carries out a misguided act of altruism that involves a lost kid. What made you want to do it?
RADNOR: The film’s central idea of letting yourself be loved and having gratitude isn’t something I’ve seen before. It moved me and said something to me. My character isn’t Josef Mengele, but I liked playing a more dangerous character who is still basically a good guy. From experience, I knew the feel of people living without a lot of money in New York, stumbling around in their relationships, and I eventually decided to direct it—which wasn’t my initial plan—because I wanted to guard the tone of it. The best depiction of New York I’ve ever seen in a movie in terms of class issues is Peter Hedges’s movie Pieces of April. I wrote him a fan letter, and if he ever reads this, he did not write me back. [laughs]
*PLAYBOY: *Which other famous people have you written to?
RADNOR: I wrote Tony Kushner years ago because I was so moved by a book of his essays, and he wrote back and came to see me in a play. I know Sarah Silverman a little bit socially, but I wrote her a letter after reading her memoir, which was so hilarious and touching.Q11
*PLAYBOY: *Are you worried your movie could get overlooked because it isn’t pessimistic and negative like some of our most-praised films today?
RADNOR: When Variety reported that my movie had won the audience award at Sundance, it kicked it to the curb and referred to it as a “sitcom-style comedy” because I’m on a sitcom. That’s just lazy. I thought, Wow, that writer has not seen the movie. The people in the movie have legitimate problems, and they learn to shift their perspective and find grace in the middle of those problems. I’m not a negativity denier, but if negativity comes in, just say hello—don’t fix it a cocktail and ask it to stay.
PLAYBOY: So you’d rather accentuate the positive?*RADNOR: *A bunch of people at dinner the other night were talking about some TV program about women who go crazy and kill their husbands. I was silent, and maybe I’m a lousy dinner guest, but I said, “I don’t understand why we’re talking about this. There’s just as much great stuff happening in the world as dark and horrible stuff.” I feel if you’re watering a garden, are you watering the weeds or are you watering something more interesting?
*PLAYBOY: *People who know you as a funny guy on a TV show may read this interview and wonder where that funny guy went.
RADNOR: That character is not me. The more distance I’ve gotten over the past five or six years, the more I feel I’ve grown and changed, the easier it’s been to play this character because it doesn’t feel like me at all. I don’t watch the show much anymore. I have a TV, but I don’t know how to turn it on.
*PLAYBOY: *Would your high school friends be surprised at how your life and career are turning out?
RADNOR: It’s probably shocking to see someone you grew up with end up in movies or on TV, but it’s not like I was some übernerd who turned into an action star. I was class president, swim team captain and editor of the school paper. I’m still really tight with a lot of high school people.
*PLAYBOY: *In 2002 you co-starred with Alicia Silverstone in the stage version of The Graduate. She is a vegan and an animal rights advocate; you’re apparently allergic to cats and dogs. How did you two gel?
*RADNOR: *I found I was not allergic to Alicia Silverstone, if that’s what you’re asking. I accidentally read the book she gave me, The Food Revolution by John Robbins, and that turned me into a vegetarian for about two years. Sorry, though, Alicia; I fell off the wagon.
*PLAYBOY: *You mentioned on a talk show that you were writing a book, and it sounded autobiographical. Being a fairly young actor, do you figure that some people may prejudge the book as narcissistic, let alone premature?
RADNOR: After I showed my movie at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a guy raised his hand and said, “I’m curious if in any of the feedback for this film, you’ve heard that it’s narcissistic or self-indulgent?” And I went, “Not until right now.” A narcissistic piece is something an audience can’t appreciate because it starts and ends with the person who created it, with no generosity of spirit in it. Making a movie or writing a book is like telling a story around a campfire. If you want to sit around this campfire and hear this particular story, you’re welcome to. If not, there are other campfires.
*PLAYBOY: *So what’s cooking at your campfire?
RADNOR: I’ve been a little evasive talking about this book because it’s not uncontroversial in some ways. I’ve been writing it for about three years. It will be out this fall. It’s memoir-adjacent, a linked series of essays about things that have happened to me these past few years that have been revelatory and kind of amazing. Meditation is a big part of it, which I’ve been doing for about six and a half years. Let’s say I won’t be going on the Today show to do a five-minute clip. It’s just too complicated to talk about in a sound-bite way.
*PLAYBOY: *What would your critical, analytical TV-series character make of this book?
RADNOR: I hope you can appreciate there’s this whole other part of my life so much more amazing, exciting and thrilling than Hollywood that I had to write about. It dwarfs anything else. It’s made me realize, in the truest way, what the mystics talked about—that earthly material pleasures crumble and provide no sustainable bliss. They provide an adrenaline rush of acquisition and then they’re gone and you just get more depressed. Maybe a lot of people don’t want to hear that because they’re like, “Fuck you, guy on TV, telling me money doesn’t matter.”
*PLAYBOY: *When did you last take a big physical risk?
RADNOR: I’m not all that physically courageous. Maybe it’s Judaism or something, but flinging my body into peril is not my idea of a good time. After seeing 127 Hours I was like, “Oh no, I can never go hiking again. I don’t even want to go for a run.”
*PLAYBOY: *What’s on your immediate must-do list?
RADNOR: I wrote the script for my next movie in four months, and that’s a direction I want to head in. I also hope my performance in Happythankyoumoreplease opens more acting doors. There’s something about this business that’s rigged to keep you always dissatisfied; then I think how it’s statistically impossible to make a living as an actor, yet I’ve been doing it for a long time. By any standard, I have been blessed. Sometimes you just have to stop, take a breath and say, “Where I am is pretty great.”