Meet Josh Radnor, The Man Behind Ted
The introduction to Josh Radnor’s talk at the INK Conference 2015 made it clear that we weren’t going to meet the TV star or the character he was known as all over the world. We were going to meet Josh Radnor, the man.
“I fell in love for the first time when I was 16. It wasn’t with another person, it was with the theater.” He was bit particularly hard by the acting bug and from school plays to Summer Theater apprenticeships, he kept at what he called “my passion, my obsession, my motor, my mistress and eventually my wife.”
With plans to become a New York stage actor, doing a pilot for a show in LA, at age 29, happened by chance. That show was How I Met Your Mother.
Radnor went on to talk about how that pilot and that show changed his world. “The strangest and most disorienting of those changes was that suddenly a lot of people knew me. They didn’t know me, they knew my face – this character that I was playing. By some strange coincidence, the character and I looked a lot alike.”
Thinking about the kind of public person he wanted to be, Radnor realised “I didn’t want to be an alcoholic or a drug addict. I didn’t want to be an impossible-to-be-around narcissist. And I didn’t want to be a reclusive weirdo who doesn’t cut his fingernails or leave the house.” So far, so good.
Talking about the benefits of being on a TV show that is watched worldwide, he said, “it makes the world feel small in a really nice way” (having met fans from India, Singapore, Majorca, Tanzania, Italy, Peru and Texas). Another gratifying reality was hearing about his show having helped people through dark times in their own lives. So far, he sounded exactly like the world famous celebrity people expected him to be.
When he began opening up about the pitfalls of his fame, we began to get glimpses into Josh Radnor the man, the very fallible man. “As the show got more successful, I got more depressed…I could see how competitive I was, how much I compared myself to others, how vain, anxious and self-conscious I could be in my least attractive moments…” Instead of slipping down the rabbit hole, he decided to take stock of his life. “Fame can be a terrific teacher, if I agreed to the lesson plan.” A part of this struggle was getting used to the attention, something that didn’t come naturally to a person who claims to be “intensely shy and monastic.” The other aspect was letting go of pride. He decided that the best way to let go of this, was the Internet, where he could get insulted for free on a regular basis. An insult that has stayed with him to this day is, “I’m trying to figure out what I don’t like about this guy, and I think I finally figured it out – his face.” He decided to let it toughen him up, “to drain it of the power to chip away at your sense of self.”
Take every challenge as a teaching moment, instead of letting it destroy you. That was what Radnor was preaching and this is how he practices it – “When a reporter misquotes me or quotes me wildly out of context, I can practice surrender. When a fan behaves strangely around me, I can practice compassion. When a beautiful woman approaches me with a big smile and says, ‘I’ve never seen your show, but my boyfriend is a huge fan and he’s too shy to come over and ask, but can he have a picture with you?’ I practice acceptance. When the girlfriend’s camera won’t work, and I’m standing awkwardly, shoulder-to-shoulder with her grinning boyfriend, for what seems like hours, I can practice patience. When I feel overwhelmed with attention or scrutiny, I can practice gratitude. When no one knows who I am or what I’m doing, I can practice humility…. When people say things like, ‘You’re much more attractive in person’ or ‘You’re much thinner than you look on television’, I can practice everything.”
He left audiences with the thought of ‘behavioural contagion’ – the idea that our every word and action is contagious and that “we take cues from each other about who and how to be…. This, I suspect, is how we remake the world. One word, one sentence, one story at a time.”
Apart from the show and a few roles, Radnor has written, directed and starred in two films – Happythankyoumoreplease in 2010 and Liberal Arts in 2012. Trying to describe how he views the processes of writing, directing and acting in his films, he said, “They feel of apiece to me. I don’t separate them… It’s just storytelling. Being an actor is like playing the violin in an orchestra and being a director is like being the conductor. But you’re still contributing to the sound, wherever you are.”
Discussing the positivity that pervades his writing and both his films, he admitted, “My impulse is to end things on a hopeful note, only because I want to watch a movie that leaves me with hope. I like my characters to feel like they’ve gone through some transformation and that there’s some hope.” While he finds this current pre-occupation with anti-heroes interesting, he thinks if we go too far in that direction, we sometimes forget the other needs we have as an audience, among them, to see characters with virtue.
After his interviews, just as Josh got up to leave, all the journalists crowded him with their cameras desperately clicking selfies…not only had they not asked his permission, they had also expressly been requested not to. Oh well. We hope he enjoyed practicing patience.
Watch his entire talk below: