JOSH RADNOR LIBERAL ARTS INTERVIEW (Exclusive) – Josh Radnor, probably best know for his role of Ted on How I Met Your Mother, has become one of the hottest young directors on the indie circuit. His first film, Happythankyoumoreplease, garnered praise and the Audience Award at Sundance 2010. In 2012, he returned to Sundance with his second directing effort, Liberal Arts. Now half a year later, the film opens in limited theaters on September the 14th in the U.S.. Before I left to cover Toronto International Film Festival, I talked with Josh about everything from Elizabeth Reaser and Twilight to Zac Efron’s role of Nat.
It seems like your directing career is really taking off now
Movies kind of exist in their own reality and they demand to be made when they are ready to be made. For some reason when I made Happythankyoumoreplease… you know it only seems like my movies are close together because my first movie came out at Sundance and then soon after we started shooting this movie. So it only seems like I make a movie every year when it is really every two years. For this one I had a really strong idea for it and I wrote a draft really fast and we got the funding really fast because the people that produced this were really big fans of my first movie. So there was a lot of ficitionlessness going on and it sort of happened pretty fast.
Were there any difficulties on being allowed to direct your movies?
Well it a catch-22 in filmmaking, any aspiring director will tell you, you can’t direct unless you’ve directed so how do you get that first job if you haven’t directed? When making Happythankyoumoreplease, they were fine with me starting in it but were at little hesitant on me directing. So we just had some people sort of take a chance (on me directing) and the movie turned out. So with the second one, I was a person that had already directed a movie and now I have directed two, so now there is less of that barrier going on.
How was Elizabeth Olsen attached to the film?
It was pretty simple because we have the same agent. I sent my agent about 45 pages from the script of my early draft. She then called me immediately and said I have your Zibby. She said it was Lizzy Olsen (Elizabeth Olsen) whom I had never heard of because none of her movies had come out yet, She assured me that there was no one else for the role. She was right. Lizzy is just such a talented and gifted actress and a lot of people that see the movie think that I wrote the script thinking of her because she so embodies it. She has so many great qualities that make her really right for the part. I describe the character as a young person but she has this old soul quality. She doesn’t seem like she is nineteen. She is more sophisticated, she has no trouble hanging with the adults. It is one thing to get a rising star in your movie but it doesn’t really mean much if they are wrong for the par because the movie won’t work. But she was entirely right for the role.
You put in a little Twilight jab in the movie.
I was traveling around Spain when I wrote it. It was an early idea I had. I just remember writing these scenes and I didn’t mess with them much, that was sort of from the first draft and stuck around. I didn’t name the book because I felt like we didn’t have to. I thought it was a funny argument path but if you watch the movie, it’s not really about what I call “The Vampire Book.” It’s much more about the fact that Jesse is getting closer and closer to this person and he starts to fear the intimacy. He latched on to this book as evidence that she is not sophisticated enough for him or to young for him.
I also think that it is a cultural argument up for a lot of people. There are people that believe reading should be good for you and nourishing on some level. And there are other people that believe reading should be fun and enjoyable. Those are just two different camps that won’t be budging on their positions anytime soon. I had fun writing both sides of the argument but I think Libby really won that argument. She kind of demolished Jesse on that.
It’s funny because I had a fight with my wife over the same sort of situation. I told her she shouldn’t watch Jersey Shore, that I didn’t want it on at our house. I lost that fight also.
I feel that happens in every medium. There are good for you movies and kind of junk food. And there are good for you TV shows and there’s junk food. I always think, what do I want to download into my psyche? Do I want that kind of stuff floating around?
It is funny that you had the Twilight argument because you actually have an actress from Twilight in your film.
Elizabeth Reaser is a good friend of mine. She was at Juilliard when I was at NYU, I’ve know her for years and I have always wanted to work with her. It just seemed like a really great role for her and I even told her before she read the script, “Yeah, there is a little Twilight bit.” She couldn’t have loved it more, she thought it was hilarious. I think that is one of the greatest jokes in the movie that one of the actresses from Twilight is actually in the movie.
You have Zac Efron in the movie. Do you feel like this will bring a younger audience to see the film that maybe wouldn’t have sought out this film otherwise?
I don’t know, we are not in anyway marketing this movie off of Zac’s back or anything that he is in the movie. We kind of like the fact of him being a surprise in the middle of the movie. The fact that he is this funny but I think awakened, philosophically enlightened guy who hangs out on campus but isn’t even a student there. He is sort of a Jiminy Cricket spirit guy to Jesse, the character I play. He is really funny and is really different from anything I have seen him do.
Have you ever thought about putting some of your castmates from How I Met Your Mother in one of your movies? Or do you want to keep that a separate world?
I certainly would because they are a talented bunch and if the right role every came up for them, I would love to do that. Right now there is so much association with me and the rest of them with How I Met Your Mother that right now it is more about me creating another space for me to work in. I would never not cast one of them if they were right for the role.