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Q&A: Josh Radnor of 'Happythankyoumoreplease'

To answer your question: Josh Radnor, the “How I Met Your Mother” actor who wrote, directed and stars in the coming-of-age, indie rock-flavored dramedy “Happythankyoumoreplease,” doesn’t want to be seen as the next Zach Braff (“Scrubs,” “Garden State”). Or the next anything, really.

“When someone does something new or someone new comes [along], [talk about them is] all referential, like, ‘Oh they’re kind of like so-and-so meets so-and-so,’” says the Ohio-native, Los Angeles-dwelling actor, 36, by phone from New York. “I hope that I make enough films that I just become my own thing.”

Radnor’s certainly putting a more positive spin on the problems of directionless 20-somethings with “Happythankyoumoreplease.” He plays Sam, an aspiring novelist whose routine of one-night stands and hanging out with his best, no-more-stable friends (Malin Akerman, Zoe Kazan) is shaken up when he takes in a young boy (Michael Algieri) who’s separated from his unhappy family on the subway.

It’s a sometimes too-cute movie in which happiness is only a matter of perspective, which Radnor, who’s certainly reminiscent of his idealist TV character, Ted Mosby, says is something he wants to believe about the world. That is why he’s trying to make a movie “that would give me a different perspective on my life and would make me feel better by the time the movie was over.”
We asked him for more perspective on his first moviemaking experience, the conclusion of “How I Met Your Mother” and if he has anything to say to his troubled CBS comedy colleague Charlie Sheen at the next network meeting. (He doesn’t.)

If Ted Mosby went to a screening of “Happythankyoumoreplease,” what would he say afterward?

That’s really interesting. No one’s asked me that. I think that he would totally dig this movie because he’s really sincere and he’s really thoughtful and I think he’s a little nostalgic, but he’s also really doing his best to make the present moment OK. Ted’s a little past-obsessed and a little future-obsessed. He’s more than a little future-obsessed. But I think he would feel gratified by—this is actually really fun for me to consider—I think he would feel grateful that someone was telling him to calm down and it’s all going to be OK. ’Cause I think that’s sometimes maybe what he needs.

What was a moment in the process of making “Happythankyoumoreplease” when you told yourself, “It’s OK, it’s my first time. Next time I’ll do it better.”?

Well, probably when I was saying “Hold the roll” and I meant “keep rolling.” I did that for the first two days before my [assistant director] pulled me aside and he said, “Look, man, you really mean ‘Keep rolling.’ You don’t mean ‘Hold the roll.’ ‘Hold the roll’ means stop, and you mean keep rolling.”

So no one else would point it out?

He just said, “Look, the crew knows what you mean, but it’d be better if you said the right words.” [Laughs.] I was clueless about certain things … I hope I keep this on my second film, but because I was a novice filmmaker I realized that it was OK to say, “I don’t know” or, “Please explain that to me, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” I ended up saying it quite a bit, but I checked my pride at the door. Even though I was the captain of the ship I needed someone to explain to me sometimes how the ship sailed. [Laughs.]

My friends and I have been searching for a Chicago version of MacLaren’s. What advice do you have for us?

I think you just have to take over a place, right? [Laughs.] Like just keep showing up and keep sitting in the same booth and kind of declare yourself a regular. I assume that’s how that’s done.

So it doesn’t matter what the place is like?

Well, there’s certainly enough wood-paneled Irish places that you can park yourself at, right?

Plenty.

So just pick the one you feel best at and put your flag in it.

How concerned are you about Ted’s children, as they listen to his story, spending six, seven years in the same room without food, water or a bathroom break?

Yeah, either it’s literally taking this long to tell the story and they’re just well-preserved somehow, or it’s one really, really long afternoon. I think that’s what they have in mind ’cause they haven’t changed their clothes. I mean, you’re right to worry about them.

I’m just worried that after we meet the mother, the kids will say, “Dad, how about some dinner?”

Yeah, yeah. There must be some sort of massive prize waiting for them at the end of this, ’cause most kids I don’t think have the patience to sit there and listen to all that.

We just learned that Ted has been to an N’Sync concert. Have you?

[Laughs.] No. But I love that line. What did he say? “I caught JC’s shirt.”

Then what’s your own concert confession?

My first concert was UB40. Remember them? They played “Red Red Wine” like the second or third song. And after that it was kind of like, “Wait, why are we here?”

Did they play it again at the end of the show?

I kind of feel like maybe they did as an encore. [Laughs.]

How often are you listening to UB40 these days?

Not as much as you’d think. You’d probably think, “I bet that guy listens to a lot of UB40.”

That was the first thing I thought when I saw you.

I know, people always say that. But I listen to a lot less as the years go on.

Ultimately when we find out who is the mother of Ted’s children, do you think it will be more of a bombshell like Sofia Vergara, or someone more protective like Florence Henderson?

[Laughs.] Do you mean the actual Florence Henderson? ’Cause I think that would be a bombshell.

If this conversation informs some casting choices, that’s fine.

You know, I have no idea how they’re going to do that. Because of the title and because of the convention of the show they’ve really set everyone up for something. It could be a sweet, minor-key ending or it could be some sort of spectacular fireworks thing. I think what they’re such geniuses at is the rigging of the plot and this clever non-linear storytelling. I think whatever it is it will be less about the woman at the end and more about all the twists and turns leading up to it, which is essentially what the whole series is about.

My money’s on Angela Bassett and a twist about adoption.

All right. All right. [Laughs.] Vegas, you hear that?

Plus
Reader question from Katie Bussan Frey: “Who is the funniest cast member on ‘How I Met Your Mother’”?
“Well, I’ll tell you something, Alyson Hannigan is secretly one of the wittiest people I’ve ever met. She just comes out with these zingers that are so funny. Cobie [Smulders] sometimes starts laughing in the middle of a scene and gets us all laughing. That kinda gets us all worked up. Neil [Patrick Harris] in the scenes makes us laugh, and Jason [Segal] is, Jason is like truly one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His sense of humor’s so odd. You’re never quite ahead of him; his jokes are always pretty surprising. So I don’t know, that was a little political, my answer. They’re all really super-funny.”
Listening to/on iPod right now: Cloud Cult; La Sara; Tennis; Betty Wright (who he saw on Jimmy Fallon the night before); The Belle Brigade; Local Natives
On Chicago: “Both of my sisters lived there for years. I really like Chicago. I still have a lot of friends there. I’m a Midwesterner so it’s kind of the big, urban Midwestern town. I got nothin’ but love for Chicago.”
His next script: “It’s about a guy who’s realizing how old he is. That’s all I’ll say. It’s again about growing up but from a little bit of an older perspective.”

mpais@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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