The Arty Semite

Josh Radnor on Talmud and 'Liberal Arts'

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

John Radnor is best known for his role as Ted Mosby, the central character in the hit CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” But that’s likely to change as he continues to flesh out his resume as a talented film writer and director. His first feature, “Happythankyoumoreplease” (2010) had, in his words, “a really small theatrical run, but has had a fantastic life on DVD and television.”

Jacob Hutchings
Josh Radnor as Jesse and Elizabeth Olsen as Zibby in ‘Liberal Arts.’

Now comes “Liberal Arts,” a thoughtful and entertaining film about growing up and moving on, which opens in New York and Los Angeles and on Video on Demand September 14.

Radnor spoke to The Arty Semite about film distribution, how his TV and film careers impact each other and how a graduate of the Columbus Torah Academy accidentally got the show business bug by doing a mitzvah for a friend.

Curt Schleier: Did anyone express concern that not only were you acting in a film you wrote, but you also were directing?

Josh Radnor: I think it was a concern for the first film, because I hadn’t done it before. People get alarmed about first-time directors all the time. There are stories of people who get in over their heads. But as Herculean as the task seems, it is doable; a lot of people have done it. And now I’ve done it twice; that’s not to say that it’s for everyone, because it certainly isn’t.

What do you think about the way many films are being released quickly on television?

It seems a lot of people are seeing movies on demand. I was just talking to someone who said she loves video on demand because she has kids and it’s hard for her to get out. Every filmmaker has dreams of packed multiplexes, packed theaters for a long long run of their movie. But given the lives people are living now, I feel any way people can see a movie is great.

Did your television exposure help you raise financing?

People might think so, but it was very difficult to get financing for my first movie. We had some people who were interested in the script, wanted to make it and were okay with me being in it, but were less sold on me being a director. Financing for the next film was a lot easier, but I think that was because the producers were fans of the first film and also fans of Elizabeth Olsen who was attached at that point; they had worked with her before.

On the subject of Olsen, you have a great cast: Richard Jenkins, Allison Janey, Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Burton and Zac Efron, among others. Was TV related there?

I think the script does it. People are looking for good material. If there’s good material to be had, they want to do it. There’s not a ton of juicy roles floating around for all these actors. It’s very competitive to get good parts. I think when there’s a script that speaks to people, they’ll want to do it. I’m not saying that [TV exposure] hasn’t helped me some, but it also can get in the way of things. People say he’s just a sitcom actor. You’ve got to fight for a little more respect.

Can you tell me a little about your upbringing?

I went to an Orthodox Hebrew day school. We belonged to the Conservative synagogue. My dad and mom were both active in the synagogue. My dad was president for a while. They sent me to the school because they thought it was a great education.

As I understand it, you became interested in show business because you did a friend a favor.

I got dragged down to the auditions for the (high) school musical, “Oklahoma,” by a friend of mine. She was nervous and wanted me to keep her company while she was there. I went and I was watching everyone audition and thought, man I think maybe I can do this a little better than these people. They pointed at me and asked if I wanted to audition. I said yes and ended up getting one of the leads. The next year I played the MC in “Cabaret” and that was kind of it for me. Once I did that I started to think maybe this is something I wanted to do.

Is there something in your Jewish background that informs your work?

I read somewhere that Tony Kushner was asked why so many Jews are attracted to the theater. He said reading the Talmud and reading a play are very similar. There’s a surface read and then digging underneath the text. I feel having this background, having this love of literature, looking at something on the surface and excavating and finding out what more can be gleaned from it, you get from a Jewish way of learning.

Watch the trailer for ‘Liberal Arts’:

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Liberal Arts, Film, How I Met Your Mother, Interviews, Josh Radnor, Curt Schleier

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.