Josh Radnor may have made his name as Ted—Haaaaave you met Ted?—on the long-running CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, but television star wasn’t on the agenda when he pursued a career in acting.
“When I was leaving grad school, my intention was to be a New York theatre actor, but circumstances led me to Los Angeles,” he says. “I always seemed to have good success booking pilots—and then this one just took off. When you have a great success—a very visible success—your next choices have to be, on some level, a response to that. You do have choices here: Are you going to lean into what you have been doing, or are you going to risk it and try some new things? It’s quite scary to come outside of that, but, at the same time, that’s where all the joy lives—in the risk, in the doing of new things.”
These days Radnor is basking in the greener pastures of a new Richard Greenberg play at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse. The Babylon Line refers to the Long Island Rail Road line that once a week takes his character, a struggling Greenwich Village scribe, from Penn Station to Levittown, where he teaches creative writing to a class of adults during the last quarter of 1967. Prior to his Broadway bow in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Disgraced, the Line actually first re-connected Radnor to New York theatre after his sitcom siege.
He didn’t hesitate too long to hop that train. “When the series was finishing,” he recalls, “I was anxious to get back to theatre, but I didn’t know how—or when—that would happen. Then, a couple of weeks before the series ended, I got this offer to do The Babylon Line at New York Stage and Film up at Vassar [College]. I’d been an acting apprentice there when I was 19, and every couple of years I go back and do a play.
“It was a very successful production, but we just had two-and-a-half weeks to throw it on its feet, and it was more of a sketch in terms of trying to figure out what this thing was. Six out of the seven cast members in the current production were in that production two summers ago. We’re all old friends now.”
The housewife contingent of the students (Maddie Corman, Randy Graff, and Julie Halston) has been dubbed “the furies” by director Terry Kinney. Michael Oberholtzer and Tony winner Frank Wood are the other carryovers from Vassar.
Elizabeth Reaser is new to the cast but not to Radnor, who has known her since she was at The Juilliard School and he was at NYU, long before she played the girl he wound up with in Liberal Arts, a film he wrote and directed.
Radnor says The Babylon Line, opening December 5, is “an everything play. It’s melancholy, it’s got huge laughs, there are poignant moments. It’s about language and love and bitterness and regret and perspective. To me, it feels like a full meal of a play. It’s the kind of play that grows in you the more you reflect on it. I think theatre is at its best when you personalize it—when you think about your own life and reflect on your choices.”
Needless to add, it’s a joy to act. “Once I discovered acting onstage, it has been a lifelong love. There’s no part of me that feels less enamored of stage acting than I did back then,” he says. “There’s something about sharing a play with an audience that’s holy. A group of people gathered in a room—it feels ancient to me, sitting by the campfire, telling stories. For me, a dark and empty theatre is like a cathedral. I could sit there, feel quiet, and get in touch with something deeper. I really honor the experience that can do this. Even when I watch a play, I feel like it’s a gift to be able to receive it.”
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