It's been 12 years and a rapid skyrocket to fame, but Josh Radnor is happy to be back on Broadway. The actor, who spent nine seasons as the pensive romantic Ted Mosby on the hit TV show "How I Met Your Mother," made his Broadway debut in 2002 in The Graduate. Several years into the CBS series, he performed in a 2011 benefit of the musical She Loves Me, alongside Kelli O'Hara.
Following the conclusion of "How I Met Your Mother," Radnor, who also wrote and directed the films "happythankyoumoreplease" and "Liberal Arts," starred in world premiere of Richard Greenberg’s The Babylon Line at New York Stage and Film & Vassar's Powerhouse Season at Vassar College. Up next for the multi-talented thespian is the Broadway premiere of Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced, which first played Off-Broadway in 2012 at LCT's Claire Tow Theatre, followed by a London production in 2013. Disgraced makes its Broadway debut at the Lyceum Theatre, with previews beginning Sept. 27.
Akhtar's play, in which Radnor co-stars with Gretchen Mol, Karen Pittman and Hari Dhillon, follows a dinner party where politics quickly get personal. As courses are served and wine flows, ambition and cultural assimilation are discussed.
Radnor spoke with Playbill.com about the politics of the play, his friendship with the playwright and his excitement on returning to Broadway. Welcome back! Following the end of "How I Met Your Mother," you're really diving right into performing onstage.
Josh Radnor: The show ended, and it was like the theatre called first. I don't really have an overarching plan, other than trying to follow great and inspiring work. Doing a new Richard Greenberg play and then doing this amazing play on Broadway — that felt like a nice one-two after the show.
I'm picturing your phone ringing off the hook the minute the show wrapped.
JR: There were certain things I didn't want to do. I didn't want to do anything that felt like a repetition or like what I'd just done. And I feel the most alive as an actor onstage. I feel like that's what I was trained to do, that's what I enjoy doing most as an actor. I'm making films now, which I love so much, but when it comes to just pure acting, being onstage — there's nothing more exciting than working on a new play with the playwright in the room.
Ayad said he had you in mind for this role from the beginning. How did you two meet?
JR: We became friends because I read his novel, "American Dervish," which is such a good book. And I wrote him a fan letter. My agent knew his manager. So I wrote him a letter and he wrote me back, and two weeks later I was in New York and we were having this long coffee. We've been friends, and he told me he'd always thought of me for the role, but I wasn't available for the earlier productions, and I was available for this one.
Can you tell me about returning to the stage after acting on TV for so many years?
JR: I've done more of that, obviously, but [Ayad and I] have such an interesting friendship and such an easy exchange of ideas that we're in a really cool dialogue about stuff. I trust his vision. It's his play, obviously the play works, but it's almost tailored, like a suit that works on one actor, like you've got to make a couple trims and snips.
It's been 12 years since you've been on Broadway. How do you think your acting has evolved or changed over the years?
JR: I feel like acting on camera can, sometimes, help you become a more truthful actor in some ways, because you can't technically fake it. If the camera is really up close, you've gotta be dropped in. So I feel like it's simplified things for me. One of the things I like about older actors — and I always like studying older actors — is there is kind of an economy of movements, and they do a lot with a little. So, as I'm getting on in this business, I find I can do a little less [and] have it be more impactful. And I think those are some of the gifts of TV and film for me — maybe more film.
I learned more than anything editing myself in the two films I directed. I think Jack Nicholson said, "If you watch your dailies, no matter how many awards you have or how great people say you are, you'll see that 50 percent of what you do is ridiculous." I learned a lot, and one of the things I like, also, about being able to go from role to role and project to project is that you just keep learning and you have to stay fluid.
This is a very timely and political play. What do you think it will inspire from the audience?
JR: Just dialogue. It's one of those plays where there's probably no way you can just walk away from this play and be like, "Yeah, let's just grab a drink and go to sleep." You're going to want to talk about it, and you're going to be talking about it. And I know from Ayad that a lot of people have one response when they leave the theatre and three days later they have a different response. So it's something that seems to inspire a lot of thinking and rethinking and discussion. I wondered if, after seeing this play, people will discuss it at their own dinner parties.
JR: (Laughing.) It might do terrible things for dinner parties!
You're creating a new role on Broadway, something Hari Dhillon described as a "dream come true."
JR: It never has lost its romance for me. I'm not so jaded that I'm still not excited about the possibility of originating a part on Broadway.
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)