I talked with Josh Radnor, who you’ve probably followed as Ted Mosby for almost a decade, about his favorite How I Met Your Mother episode, what’s next for him, and what on earth really happened with that pineapple.
Who are some of your cinematic influences?
I grew up loving Indiana Jones, Goonies, Back to the Future, John Hughes, early Cameron Crowe and Spielberg movies. I didn’t really develop any kind of cinematic taste or aesthetic until much later (and honestly it’s still developing, and doesn’t make me love the films or filmmakers listed above any less) I love movies that feel both modern – in that they speak to the current moment – but also say something universal enough that they age well and continue to be relevant. I like honest movies that aren’t afraid to confront the deep stuff. I also like to laugh. Life to me is both funny and sad and I like movies that reflect both polarities. “Tootsie” and “Broadcast News” are two movies I consider to be nearly perfect. I really care about Richard Linklater and whatever he’s up to. What else…? “Magnolia” and “Punch Drunk Love,” Nicole Holofcener. I learn a lot across the board from documentaries. Certain foreign films have knocked me out in the last couple of years. The German film “The Lives of Others” is one of my favorite movies of all time. Two great ones from this past year were “The Great Beauty” and “The Hunt” (which I just saw the other night, it’s on Netflix right now and totally worth checking out)
Do you see yourself transitioning to behind the camera more often now that How I Met Your Mother is ending?
I do, but not exclusively. I don’t know if I could kick acting completely, though if I were forced to retire from acting right now, I feel I could find some peace with that. The writing and directing seems like such a bigger, unexplored landscape. There was something so exhilarating about being on the other side of the table (and camera) after so many years of acting and auditioning. I think most actors who’ve pounded the pavement for awhile and experienced the chronic rejections, humiliations, almosts, and near-misses of the auditioning life develop a mild actor PTSD that never quite goes away. One of the many great gifts of doing HIMYM all those years was I got a serious break from the audition circuit. I didn’t pursue certain acting opportunities because I really wanted to live and travel and write and make my own stuff. So I chose to work less and just be really sure that whatever I was working on was something I could throw my whole self into. I’ve fallen hard for making movies. I love every step of the process and can’t wait to do it again. I think you have to follow your enthusiasms and do what makes you feel most alive and creatively engaged. For me, right now, that’s making movies.
What shows are you keeping up with right now?
I’m a terrible TV watcher and it’s not because I’m a snob. I have a TV and a DVR and I’d like to watch more but it just doesn’t happen all that often. I definitely have this writer thing where I worry that I’m not writing enough and should always be writing more. And because I trained to be an actor not a director, I’ve been trying to give myself a little film school education and watch and study all the amazing movies I’ve never seen (and there are many.) And for some reason if I have a free moment, I tend to reach for a book or magazine rather than turn on the TV. I don’t know why, it’s just how it is. That said, I try to keep up with Girls. I watched half of Orange is the New Black, loved it and intend to get back on that train. I’m also a huge Key & Peele fan. Those guys are geniuses.
You have a background in theater as well, is that something that will continue?
For sure. That’s actually where I feel most at home and alive as an actor.
Personally, what was your favorite episode of the series?
Oh, man. Kind of an impossible question. I was talking with Kourtney Kang, one of our writers, about how we really came out of the gate strong with some weird and funny episodes in our first season: Purple Giraffe, Sweet Taste of Liberty, Return of the Shirt, OK Awesome, and The Slutty Pumpkin. I remember reading the table draft of “Return of the Shirt” (which Kourtney wrote, incidentally) and it featured a Belle and Sebastian song as a major plot point and I thought “Wow, what a cool sitcom I’m on.” There was no other multi-camera comedy doing anything close to that. And over the years we kept taking these weird chances that didn’t feel at all multi-camera-ish. We developed our own singular style pretty quickly. I think we were the first show to really poke fun at the 90’s, to look at that decade as a period piece and mine it for comedy. Some of my favorite stuff on the show was Ted, Marshall, and Lily at Wesleyan. The writers went back to the Pretentious College Ted well quite a bit and I loved it. I always loved flashing back and flashing forward (when the show went on the air I said to people “It’s like if Quentin Tarantino directed a sitcom.” He apparently loves the show, which makes sense to me) I love the episodes that fill in a lot of the lore and backstory like “Arrivederci Fiero” and “How I Met Everyone Else.” Then there are those episodes that were just great Ted episodes and were super fun to shoot, like “Ten Sessions” and “Drumroll Please.” But honestly, when I read the two-part series finale, I thought it was so special and elegant and sad and hilarious – basically everything that made our show great – and that might now be my favorite.
Is there anything with the series that you envisioned playing out differently?
Not really. (Jason) Segel and I once had a talk where we agreed that – even though we both write – neither of us would be all that good at writing “How I Met Your Mother.” It has such a unique voice and specific structure, and that all comes from Carter and Craig. I trusted that they knew this world and these characters better than anyone. I saw myself kind of as part of a great band – an essential part of the band, certainly, but we (the cast) weren’t writing the songs. We were hired to play them and we just tried to play them the best we could. There were moments certainly where I felt Ted was drifting too far in one direction or another, and I often lobbied for them to give him a win every once in awhile. The guy took so many knocks over the nine seasons and I felt protective over him a bit. I always wanted him to be okay and I thought he had some virtuous, occasionally heroic qualities that I wanted them to lean into a bit more. It was great to have the guys at the top be so receptive and open to those kinds of discussions.
What similarities do you feel like you have with Ted Mosby?
There’s this weird thing that starts to happen as a series goes on. The writers get to know you and they kind of plunder your life and write it in. Not always in a ripped-from-the-headlines way but they fold in little details from your life and aspects of your personality. But it’s mostly to serve the comedy. That Ted and I are both from Ohio was a total coincidence (Carter is from Cleveland, I’m from Columbus) and they always intended Ted to be from Ohio, which didn’t bother me one bit. I don’t know that Ted was conceived at the outset as such a smarty-pants, that was something that came later and a lot of it – I think – was because I always had a book on set or a crossword puzzle and I get really excited to talk about certain big-idea-type things. So they started folding some of that in. The weird thing for me, though, was Ted’s intelligence was kind of a liability, he got knocked around for it and that sometimes bothered me (though the pretentious stuff was really fun to play.) So I don’t know, that’s always a really complicated question. I lent him a lot of myself but I think of him as wholly distinct from me (and also fictional.) I don’t say “I love you” on first dates, I don’t own red cowboy boots, I never got a butterfly tattoo on my lower back, I pronounce encyclopedia the same way everyone does. But I’m not all that demographically dissimilar from him: went to a small liberal arts school, moved to New York in my early 20’s, etc. In some ways Ted was like my annoying younger brother I would sometimes roll my eyes at and in other ways he was kind of a teacher for me. He’s honest and passionate, he’s intensely loyal, and he’s one of the world’s great optimists. All admirable qualities that I hope to embody.
What will you miss most about the show?
Well, the people obviously. And not just the cast, there are a hundred people that make that show and you get to know them all pretty well if your show runs as long as ours did. I’m already missing everyone a lot. Other than that, I think it’s the knowing that I was a part of something that brought people a lot of joy for a long time. Life is really tough in so many different ways and we’re not always totally honest about that. I heard from so many people over the years about how much the show meant to them, how it helped them out in some really dark times. I heard from people who were sick or had lost parents or gone through terrible break-ups, and that ‘How I Met Your Mother” was sometimes the only thing that put a smile on their face. The show’s also really popular with soldiers overseas, which I always thought was wonderful. Because the experience of making the show is so intimate and becomes so familiar you can forget that the final product is getting beamed out all over the world. When I started traveling more I started to get a clearer sense of how meaningful the show was to people. And I was better able to appreciate the experience of making the show. It began to feel like I was a part of something much bigger than myself and my egoic needs. It sounds simple, but to be a part of something that helps people get through their day and maybe reflect more deeply on their lives, that’s kind of it for me. That would be my hope for everything I make. Of course, the show now belongs to all those people forever so I guess that part of the experience is one I don’t have to say goodbye to.
What do you think really happened with the pineapple?
I’m not at liberty to say. Although there might be a DVD extra that addresses some of that for fans who’ve laid awake nights wondering about that pineapple (and I’ve met quite a few of them)
Out of the group on How I Met Your Mother, who would survive the longest in a zombie apocalypse?
Cobie. No question.