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.