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Josh Radnor on Not Being a Reclusive Weirdo
Our May Guest Judge is as insightful as the character he played for years
Book of the Month, Josh Radnor
May Guest Judge Josh Radnor, best known for his role as Ted Mosby in "How I Met Your Mother," selected a book about New York, family, and writing - all topics Josh is intimately familiar with. He answers our questions below.
& Sons is a New York City-based novel. You spent time in NYC while attending NYU. How do you think this novel represented New York?
There are so many New Yorks, and & Sons touches a lot of them, though its action mostly takes place on the Upper East Side whereas my New York has always been solidly below 14th Street. New York changes every ten blocks, and it's this perpetually mutating quality that makes it such a magical city. Gilbert paints a really vivid picture of the city - the Frick museum and Central Park pop to mind. Oh, and the Brooklyn Bridge. If ever there was a 'New York novel,' this is it.
How do you like LA compared to NYC?
The two cities are compared constantly and it's really unfair as it's difficult to think of two major American cities that are more different. What's great about one is lacking in the other and vice versa. I love living in California and I'm a great defender of Los Angeles when it's under assault from East Coast denizens (which is often.) I've grown to appreciate not being crushingly depressed and vitamin D deficient in February. I heard this once: "New York is a city you love immediately and grow to hate, and L.A. is a city you hate immediately and grow to love." I'm not sure about the former (I continue to love New York) but I stand by the latter - the longer you're in Los Angeles the more its charms reveal themselves to you. The traffic is as horrible as every cliche tells you it is. Other than that, it's a great town.
You have two sisters. Is your relationship with them at all like the sibling relationships portrayed in & Sons?
God, no! The brothers in & Sons are so distanced from each other, though the two older brothers share some happy youthful memories. It's almost the reverse with my sisters. We were at each other's throats quite a bit as kids and as adults have found a real sweetness and ease with each other. I'm a big fan of both of my sisters. They're terrific people. We fully have each other's backs.
Your character Ted Mosby was full of wise words and wisdom throughout the 9 seasons, and 208 episodes of HIMYM. Are there any Ted Mosby words of wisdom that have stayed with you?
Well, there are two Ted Mosbys really. There's older, wiser, narrator Bob Saget-voiced Ted and then there's the younger Ted who looked and sounded a lot like me. I always questioned whether older Ted was a reliable narrator (he's certainly editing some for his kids and curiously leaving in all sorts of stuff that might have been better left to the imagination) And younger Ted sometimes said things that he certainly believed in the moment but were perhaps fueled by some misplaced passion. Still, I think both Teds do possess some wisdom, but I wouldn't take everything they say as gospel. Ted's a beautiful guy, but flawed (like all of us.)
Your current role on PBS' "Mercy Street" takes place during the Civil War. If you could live at any time in history and in any place '“ when and where would it be?
I'm having a terrific time with "Mercy Street" - no question I prefer fake Civil War to the real one. As a pain-averse fan of anesthesia and modern dentistry, I'm grateful to be alive in this moment. That said, ancient Greece and Rome have always exerted a pull. I think studying with Socrates or Epictetus would have been pretty great.
You're also a screenwriter and director. Any plans to write a book? Our March Guest Judge Craig Ferguson suggested you two write a book together, what about that?
Did Craig suggest that when I was a guest on his show? I don't know how that would go (no offense, Craig!) But I know he's a big reader and that we both love the Lawrence Block Matt Scudder books. I am actually writing a book. But I can't say much more about it other than that I'm writing it. I write in a lot of different forms - prose, plays, screenplays, I'm even writing songs with my friend Ben Lee. Some things want to be told cinematically or theatrically, and other things feel like songs or essays. I try to let the content dictate the form.
How do acting, writing, and reading compare as different outlets for you?
They all kind of inform each other. And I'm always striving to achieve some kind of balance among the three. Most really great actors I know are voracious readers. And I'd think it impossible to be a good writer who isn't also a good reader. Actors, writers, and readers are all in the empathy game, stepping into experiences that are not their own. Which I think is essential to being a thoughtful, alert, and awake human being. I place reading up there with the other essentials: air, food, water, shelter, and relationships. Without stories we're lost.
You've talked about your public persona - and not wanting to be a narcissist or a "reclusive weirdo" who doesn't leave the house (similar to A.N. Dyer in & Sons). How is this going?
Thanks for asking! I think it's going well. I mean, I am leaving the house fairly regularly, so I seem to be keeping the 'reclusive weirdo' at bay. I might not be the best to judge the narcissist piece. I hope I'm doing okay in that regard (Please don't ask around, just take my word for it'¦) It's important for me to find a way to stay creative while being engaged with the world. I don't buy into the tortured artist myth. Suffering, depression, and isolation tend to cripple me creatively so anything I can do to stay healthy and connected to others only serves me as a person who makes things for a living.
You regularly quote great writers. What are some of your favorite quotes?
Oh, so many. Sometimes you're bending over backwards to express something and you find someone already said it infinitely better and more concisely than you ever could, so it's nice to have great quotes on hand. A sharp quote on reading via David Foster Wallace: "The purpose of reading is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed." This from William Blake should hang above every writer's desk (and/or preface every book): "Dear Reader, forgive what you do not approve, & love me for this energetic exertion of my talent." These wise words from Robert Anton Wilson: "You are precisely as big as what you love and precisely as small as what you allow to annoy you." And I return to this often, from the Sufi mystic Al-Ghazali: "Know, O Beloved, that man was not created in jest or at random, but marvelously made and for some great end.
Reading is a big part of your life. All-time favorite books? What's the one book you would bring with you to a deserted island?
I feel there are certain books that speak to us at certain moments (i.e. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, senior year of high school) and were we to pick them up again years later they perhaps wouldn't make much of a dent (I haven't reread OFOTCN so I'm not speaking of that specifically) And that, of course, works in reverse: I never got (or even finished) The Great Gatsby when I was supposed to read it in school but then I read it a few years ago and was completely bowled over by it. Sometimes I think we're asked to read certain books before we're ready for them. Over the years I've been deeply affected by Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Milan Kundera, Etgar Keret, DFW, and many many others. Spiritually I've drawn great inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, The Tao Te Ching, C.S. Lewis, and Swami Sivananda, to name a few. Re: the deserted island, I think I'd be a fool not to bring a complete Shakespeare. It's all in there and it would take a few lifetimes to absorb it all so that seems a wise choice.