Actor, Filmmaker Josh Radnor Speaks at Colgate


Josh Radnor from “How I Met Your Mother” discussed his new pursuits in screenwriting. 

The hill was buzzing with excitement on Thursday, September 24 as word spread that filmmaker and actor Josh Radnor had arrived at Colgate. Later that evening, every spot in the Palace Theater was filled with students listening to Radnor share his experiences as an emerging screenwriter and director.

Students recognized Radnor, who studied drama at Kenyon College and acting at Tisch School of the Arts, for his role as Ted Mosby on the nine-series sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” Halfway through the show in 2010, Radnor began his filmmaking career. He has written, directed and starred in two movies, “Happythankyoumoreplease” and “Liberal Arts,” which he characterizes as being “optimistic” films.

“It’s about good people getting better at being themselves. I think evil is boring, and kindness is much more varied and interesting,” Radnor said.

He has since acted in the 2014 Broadway show “Disgraced” and is a member of the cast of “Mercy Street,” a PBS series set in a Civil War hospital premiering this January. 

Radnor’s extensive acting experience was a huge advantage to him as he dove into screenwriting, he said. Because he was trained as an actor and improviser, he knows good dialogue from bad. 

“If I’m writing a scene and I say: ‘Look, I… uh, I don’t know, I mean…” I’ll write all that. Whatever my brain trips up on, I take that as good, because the character’s obviously having some trouble expressing themselves. I’ll talk and I’ll pause and I’ll italicize something … A lot of my characters [double back on things]. They’re trying to land on the right word or phrase and they’ll keep going until they get there,” he said. 

A good way to make sure a screenplay’s dialogue is natural, Radnor said, is to do a lot of readings. Hearing good actors read through the piece together can help you figure out what doesn’t sounds like real speech, and actors can offer feedback about which lines were hard to interpret and deliver naturally.

Even with this strength, however, Radnor was swimming in unfamiliar waters making his first movie. He envisioned “Happythankyoumoreplease” like he had the outside edges of a puzzle. He wanted a writer who’s running late for a meeting to end up spending the day with a child, a character based on his friend Rachel who has alopecia, and for the movie to end with a song. Making “Liberal Arts” was a completely different process, though, since he had learned so much about what a film does and doesn’t need in the scriptwriting process and editing room from “Happythankyoumoreplease.” 

“The reason I started writing was because… my director Pam Fryman (on “How I Met Your Mother”) told me, ‘You’re never going to get what you need from this show.’ … I think of it like, I’m going to the gym every day but I’m only allowed to work out my right arm … the rest of me is withering away in atrophy,” Radnor said.

Senior Lizzie Marino, who is applying to the graduate film program at Tisch School of the Arts, found this to be the most meaningful moment of Radnor’s talk. 

“I think the most valuable piece of advice I garnered was that success cannot be so easily defined. … He was grateful for the show, but it was a jumping off point for what he really wanted to do,” Marino said. 

The decade-long sitcom may not have been enough to fulfill Radnor, but he was delighted to reminisce with students about his fond memories of the show and his character, Ted Mosby. 

“I kind of feel like he’s my annoying younger brother,” Radnor said of Ted. “I found when I started playing the role I really wanted to forge points of identification with him… we both went to liberal arts schools, we’re both from Ohio, etc.” Despite the similarities, Radnor won’t answer when fans yell, “Hey Ted Mosby!” 

Senior Alyse Kalish is a loyal fan of the sitcom and found it disorienting to see Radnor as himself instead of Ted Mosby. 

“It was weird,” Kalish said. “Then I went home and watched ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and it was even weirder… he’ll never look the same to me ever again.”