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INTERVIEW: JOSH RADNOR #QNA #HUFFINGTONPOST #2015

‘There’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere’

Note: This QNA of Josh Radnor was done by Nikhil Taneja (@tanejamainhoon) in October 2015 for Huffington Post. An edited version of the piece can be found here: http://goo.gl/q8bWih


Josh Radnor, most famously known for playing the affable ‘Ted Mosby’ in the cult TV sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, truly came into his own as an artist in the last few years. He’s made two films as a writer-director (Happythankyoumoreplease won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and Liberal Arts received much critical acclaim), he’s starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, Disgraced, he’s written pieces for The Huffington Post, LA Times Magazine and Indiewire, among others, that exude positivity, and has also given inspirational talks the world over. He was in Mumbai recently for one such talk, where he used his fame as an example to speak about why we need to be ‘contagiously good’ with kindness.

In an exclusive hour-long interview, he spoke about why he believes so strongly in kindness and hope, and discussed acting, writing, direction, and of course, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). 


You wrote a wonderful piece in The LA Times Magazine (http://www.latimes.com/style/la-mag-oct052008-rules-story.html) on the importance of being kind. It’s interesting that you are using your fame to talk about not any big, worrisome issue or cause, but about something as elementary as kindness.
I think that there’s a kindness deficit going on everywhere, in some way. I think we’re hurting a little bit, and a simple word or a kind gesture from someone can really alter the course of someone’s day or someone’s life. Because of that, I feel that we underestimate the power of kindness, and how every word, thought and action is consequential. I think I also wrote in the piece that unkind words were kind of like air pollution. It’s almost like people writing mean stuff on the internet… they don’t realise that it actually goes somewhere and affects people emotionally. Words have a kind of charge or a heft, that what comes out, goes around, and you can feel it.
So well, even if I worked in finance or the Silicon Valley, I’d still be talking about kindness. It may have something to do with growing up in the Mid-West, which is a nice place (chuckles), but I think, more than that, it’s about how when I’m kind, I feel good, and when I’m not, I don’t feel good. So, in some ways, being kind is like a beautifully self-serving thing, because I would rather feel good about myself and what I’m contributing to the world, rather than just being reckless and serving my ego all the time, which, I find exhausting, you know.


We’ve seen how you’ve carried these ideas into your writing and direction as well, but the roles that you’re taking on as an actor after HIMYM are all complex in their own ways. Is there a line that you draw about the kind of roles you take, so you stay true to your philosophy artistically?
Yeah, certainly. But it’s not about not choosing a, say, violent role, it’s more about how I may not respect what it’s saying to the world. I think we become the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I know this in my life that I want to be careful about who I say I am. So, I feel like, if we say we’re greedy, horrible, angry creatures, we become that, and I’d rather not be that. I don’t want to participate in things that make me feel bad about humanity, or that perpetuate certain lies about who we are. I’m certainly interested in playing complicated people but I turn down a lot of stuff that I feel like, is… (chuckles), assaultive of our better nature.
Like I said in the other Huffington Post piece (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-radnor/why-i-chose-happythankyou_b_830205.html) that we spoke about before the interview, there are so many other people who are on the case of how horrible we are, and I just feel like, as a creator of things, I want to take people through the dark woods of the Joseph Campbell stuff, but I want people  to come out of the other end, emerged and transformed, and awakened to some new aspect of themselves that they didn’t know before they went on that journey.


In the same Huffington Post piece, you wrote about how there is snobbery about films with so-called ‘lighter’ ideas, like kindness, and how the darker stuff is always seen as more real and ‘sophisticated’. Do you face that challenge whenever you try to make something similar?
Oh all the time, all the time. I mean, it’s interesting because, both my films very applauded at Sundance, and embraced in the world, but there‘s a certain kind of critical snobbery that takes over. I always ask myself that question: why do we consider that which is dark ‘sophisticated’, and I think it has something to do with this suspicion that underneath everything, we’re actually bad. I was talking to a friend the other day, and telling him how I think, it’s the exact opposite; at our core, at our core-core, at the deeeepest base, I think we’re divine. I think we’re good. And I think there’s all this other stuff that’s on top of it that we need to get rid of, so we can get back to that core principle.
I just feel that it’s a different way of conceiving of the world, and conceiving of the uses of art, and what, I sometimes think, are the misuses of art, which reinforce these ideas that we are these terrible, horrible, Darwanian creatures who just are wired to maximize self-interest. I just think that’s a lie. I feel it’s actually brave in such a cynical society to tell stories where people are risking the charge of being called ‘sentimental’, which I think is ridiculous, because in today’s age, if the critic feels something, if they feeeel something, if they get provoked emotionally, they call it ‘sentimental’ (chuckles). But I go to the movie so I can feel something, so I can transform myself, right? So I think that there needs to be a distinction between sentiment and sentimentality. Sentiment is great, it’s a full feeling. Sentimentality is something manipulated, it’s a lie. It’s a false, cheap, cliché. I feel like I don’t make those kind of movies, because I’m trying to make something real and honest and have the characters experience something that makes the audience feel something. I try not to apologise for that, although maybe I just did apologize for that (laughs). I try not to, though (chuckles).


In both your films, there’s always some wisdom being passed on by someone older to someone younger, and sometimes, the other way around. How did this become a theme for you? You’re also doing this in your own life now with your talks and columns.
Someone pointed out to me after Liberal Arts that all my films have mentorship in them, and they were right. There’s a whole web of mentorship in them, and I think it’s because I had very good parents, I had very good teachers, but also because I like learning. I like learning from people. And people have said things to me at very tender moments that have altered the course of my life. And, because of that, I find it to be a very dramatic moment, when someone has just the right words that you need to hear and it’s almost as if, you know, God has taken over their mouth and is speaking to you. You know, they are speaking to you what you need to hear. So I’ve really loved the teachers I’ve had. And I really love the opportunity when I can be a good friend or a mentor to someone, and that’s certainly a theme of what I do. But there’s also another theme.
You know, it’s interesting, I spoke at Cambridge the other night and I read this article someone wrote about it. She was a little glib and dismissive of one particular thing that I said. Someone had asked me if I had any advice for college students, and I essentially said what I had said in Liberal Arts, which is that this is the only time you get to do this, and if you don’t appreciate it now, you’re going to be haunted by the fact that you didn’t. The writer used a term like a ‘tacky cliche’ and I was kind of thrown by it, I thought, ‘No! It’s a cliché because it’s true!’ If you aren’t present in this moment, you’re going to be nostalgic and you’re going to realise that you weren’t awake for one of the most special times of your life. I was telling my friend this the other day, that I’m not like a sunny optimist all the time, I actually battle some real melancholy, but I’m trying to (chuckles) stay on the side of working towards transforming rather than getting stuck in some rut…  or (pauses), a feeling of hopelessness. I mean, that’s maybe the worst feeling… hopelessness. So be grateful, you know. And that’s what both the movies are about – pay attention to your life and be grateful.


That’s also possibly one of the things that Ted Mosby taught the audiences. I loved Ted and found it amazing how he was probably the only sitcom character I’ve seen whose ‘quirk’ is empathy. He cared, felt and had compassion. And that seems to be something you’ve brought to the role.
I used to feel like he was closer to me when I started, because I was trying to find these points of identification with him, but as the show went on, I started growing in ways that the character was not. So I’ve used this before – I’ve just said that he was like my annoying younger brother (chuckles). Like we’re definitely related (grins), and he sometimes drove me crazy, but at the end of the day, I loved him, because he was such a great guy.
You know, my acting teaching at NYU used to say that a character is a 50% meeting of you and 50% of the character. So there was 50% of the stuff that the writers were doing and 50% was stuff that I was bringing to it. And then, the writers start paying attention to who you are, and then they write that in, so it becomes like this weird, interesting dialogue between you and the writers, about this character. You know, for instance, Jason’s character, Marshall, was envisioned, and you’ll notice in the pilot, that he’s afraid to open the champagne bottle. But then they got ahold of Jason Segel, who’s not afraid of anything (chuckles). So they started making him a different character, because they suddenly had the actor. So similarly, I don’t feel like Ted, but I lent Ted a lot of myself, if that makes sense.


Did any of the ideas perpetuated by Ted or the show shape who you are as a person?
Ted… not quite, no (chuckles). I mean, maybe I’m being dishonest with myself, but I think he was a better example of a friend than he was as a romantic kind of a guy. I mean, he gets so much credit for being this great romantic, but sometimes I think he was actually crazy, and a little obsessive, in a really unhealthy way. Like a lot of people cite this ninth season speech, where he talks about love, you know… ‘Love means doing anything for a person, no matter if it kills you’, and I think, like, ‘No! It doesn’t!’ That sounds like insanity, calm down (grins). But I thought he was one of TV’s great friends; he was a really loyal person.
As for the show, well, I think the biggest thing that it gave me was that it taught me to be publicly vulnerable. Because it’s a very hard thing for a man to be that vulnerable in our society, and some people don’t want to see that, and others are longing to see that. So, it taught me a certain kind of emotional bravery that I don’t know I would have had had I not been forced every week. And I remember that same acting teacher at NYU thought that I was an incredibly, technically proficient actor, but he thought that I didn’t I wasn’t connected to my emotional life. And I couldn’t think of a better teacher for that particular thing that I needed to learn than HIMYM.


I want to end by asking you a fan question, which you may have been asked already a hundred times. It’s been over an year since HIMYM ended, do you look at the ending differently now? Do you feel it could have ended in some other way?
(Chuckles) Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t the creator of the show, I didn’t write on the show, so I was serving the show as an actor, and I know, certain people act like I, (laughs), you know, had something to do with it or wrote that, and I obviously didn’t. But I also stand by thee vision of it and I think, ultimately, the show will age quite well. I think it’ll be interesting how we feel about that in 10 years versus right now, and I think some of the sadness people felt was just sadness about the show ending. It’s just hard to let go of something that you love like that. I also think if you look at it from a kind of meta perspective, it’s like the whole pilot episode was not about the mother but about ‘Aunt Robin’. So the DNA of the whole show was in that pilot episode. ‘I thought we were talking about Mom?’ ‘No, we’re talking about Aunt Robin!’ That’s what the whole show was.


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Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on October 26, 2015. An edited version can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/nikhil-taneja-/how-i-met-your-mother-tau_b_8387438.html
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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2012 Roundup: The 20 Best Films You’ve Not Seen

Having gone through innumerable ‘Best Of’ lists over the past month, there is only one conclusion to be made: There is no such thing as the “definitive” list of the best movies of the year, since each ‘Best Of’ list depends only on the movies the critic compiling the last has managed to see in the past year. Because thanks to multiple film festivals, quick DVD releases, wide indie distribution and.. *ahem*… the internet, there’s far more variety of outstanding movies available for consumption than what the mainstream media thrusts in our faces. But at the same time, with the amount of brilliant international television out there, it’s not possible to watch *everything* without ensuring  a clot in your brain.

So, having watched around 200 movies this year, here’s a helpful guide to the 20 best movies you have probably NOT seen this year, but you really must! This list includes independent cinema from across the world, including India, and is subjective and limited to the 200 or so movies I’ve seen, and which made me feel. There are probably many more fantastic indie movies I’ve missed, and I’d love to hear your suggestions and recommendations in the comments.

20. GOD BLESS AMERICA God Bless America was this year’s guilty pleasure. Written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, who has earlier directed The Jimmy Kimmel Show, the movie follows a miserable 40-something insurance salesman, who goes on a rampage to rid the society of its ills – including worthless reality television contestants and people cannot park decently – along with 16-year old accomplice who is tired of it all too. The movie is hilarious, bizarre, demented, over-the top, wacked out, and a giant middle finger to the world at large.

19. CABIN IN THE WOODS The craziest thing about this year was the fact that The Avengers was probably *not* Joss Whedon’s best film of the year. Cabin in the Woods, which was co-written and produced by Whedon and directed by Drew Goddard (frequent collaborator of JJ Abrams), took every horror movie cliché and turned it on its head to come up with probably the smartest horror film in a while. About a bunch of friends (including Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth) who travel to a remote cabin and start dying mysteriously, nothing is as it seems in this must-watch film.

18. HIGH SCHOOL High School is a laugh-out-loud stoner comedy set in high school… and hence the ingenious name. The film by writer-director John Stalberg is about a geek who accidentally gets stoned for the first time in his life one day before a drug test in his high school. To avoid his future from getting jeopardised, he decides to get his entire school stoned before the test. With a plot that crazy, the laughs come fast and loud, and Adrien Brody’s side-splitting turn as a drug dealer makes this movie one of the year’s funniest!

17. CHRONICLE What Whedon did to Cabin in the Wood, newbie writer-director Josh Trank, along with co-writer Max Landis, did to Chronicle. A movie about three friends who accidently gain superpowers, Chronicle brilliantly fuses together elements of superhero, sci-fi and found footage movies to give a refreshing, intelligent and fun take on a bunch of genres that have been so done-to-death that you puke on hearing the term “hand-held camera”.

16. GOOD NIGHT GOOD MORNING The Hindu film critic Sudhish Kamath’s sophomore film after 2006’s The Four-Letter Word, Good Night Good Morning was a fresh, inventive, witty and wonderfully crafted rom-com, that’s as far a cry from Bollywood as dreamy lead actress Seema Rahmani is from your typical Bollywood showpiece ‘heroine’. Co-written by Kamath and Shilpa Rathnam, the film is about an all-night conversation about love, life and all that in between, between two strangers trying to belong.

15. END OF WATCH David Ayer, who has in the past written Training Day and The Fast and the Furious, came out this year with End of Watch, a gritty cop drama-meets-buddy movie about two young officers who inadvertently cause events that make them a mob target. The film is polished yet stark, cinematic yet realistic and entertaining yet honest, and boasts of two of the finest performances of the year by Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena.

14. STARBUCK Before India came out with Vicky Donor, in 2011 Canada came out (no pun intended) with Starbuck (that had a wide theatrical release in 2012), a French comedy by writer-director Ken Scott about a forty-something slacker who discovers that he has 142 children from the sperm he had donated years ago. A funny, sweet, heartwarming and feel-good comedy, Starbuck is a unique film that’ll make you warm and fuzzy about family ironically through its theme of artificial insemination.

13. KSHAY Kshay is the unlikeliest of Indian movies you’d ever see in your life, and yet one of the most confident, well-crafted and riveting ones. A psychological thriller about a woman’s obsession with an unfinished sculpture, the film that’s been made on a shocking micro-budget of Rs 4 lakh, is an accomplished, brave and original piece of Indian cinema that’ll give you hope about the future of our movies, in the time of Bodyguard and Rowdy Rathore.

12. RUBY SPARKS The writing debut of actress Zoe Kazan, who also stars in the movie, Ruby Sparks is a romcom that blurs the line between reality and fantasy and ends up as one of smartest and sweetest films in recent times. Made by Little Miss Sunshine directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the film stars Paul Dano as a writer who falls in love with a character in his own novel – as she comes alive. A novel film about both love, loneliness and writing, Ruby Sparks is a wonderful watch.

11. THE RAID: REDEMPTION Indonesian action thriller The Raid: Redemption or Serbuan Maut, written and directed by Gareth Evans, is orgasmic-level of awesome where action movies go and is possibly one of the best you’d ever see. About a SWAT team trapped in a building with a crime lord and his ruthless killers, and featuring possibly one of the longest martial arts fight sequences ever, the hand-fights, raw energy and visceral violence in the film will leave you giddy for more.

10. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK Two years after his inspiring Oscar-nominated The Fighter, David O’Russell goes back to a genre only he does in a manner quirky and smart enough to spawn its own genre – the comedy drama. Silver Linings Playbook is a family drama, a romcom, a character study as well as an ode to the dysfunctional people and relationships in life all rolled into a fun, honest film with delightful performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Anupam Kher.

9. SLEEPWALK WITH ME The debut film of writer-director and lead actor Mike Birbiglia, Sleepwalk With Me follows a struggling comedian who tries to get noticed at the cost of a long romance and regular sleep. The film is one of the year’s most amusing and likeable, and only uses humour as a garb to say meaningful and intelligent things about relationships that are always best said funny.

8. HOLY MOTORS Holy Motors is a one-of-its kind bizarre, inventive, crazy, random and awesome movies of the year that’ll give you an experience you rarely have at the movies. About a day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (an exceptional Dennis Lavant), who goes from being a beggar to an assassin and dons many other avatars through the course of the film, Holy Motors entertains, bewilders and thrills as Leos Carax lives up to his reputation of an auteur.

7. LIBERAL ARTS How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor’s follow up to his charming Sundance-winner Happythankyoumoreplease, Liberal Arts is an even more enchanting, assured, intelligent and feel-good take on love and relationships. A film reminiscent of Midnight in Paris in its celebration of nostalgia, conversations and the liberal arts, the movie is exactly what you need to put a smile on your face.

6. JAGTEN One of the year’s most brilliant films, Jagten (The Hunt) is a tense, taut and terrifying psychological drama about a man wrongly accused of sexual abuse and the consequent mass hysteria that endangers his life. A collaboration between two of Denmark’s contemporary cinematic greats – director Thomas Vinterberg and actor Mads Mikkelsen, Jagten is a powerful film that will make you think as much as it thrills.

5. EK MAIN AUR EKK TU Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is only a Karan Johar production in name and budget, but its heart and soul is as indie as you could find. The debut film of writer-director Shakun Batra, EMAET is about two weeks in the life of its uptight, troubled and pushover protagonist as he meets a quirky, confident girl who teaches him about life and living. A refreshing, uplifting and happy film about love and relationships by a director who has nothing but a bright future ahead.

4. THE INTOUCHABLES A French comedy-drama about friendship, The Intouchables is based on the true-story about the unlikely camaraderie and bond that’s forged between a quadriplegic millionaire and his caretaker, an ex-con. The film about hope, trust and possibility, does for disability what few others have ever managed by driving home the pointing that… it really doesn’t matter. But it does so in a hilarious, irreverent and loveable manner, ending up as one of the movies of the year.

3. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD Writer-director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a beautiful, moving and inspiring tale about the defiance, optimism and courage of a six-year old girl in the face of certain doom. One of the most polished, poised and powerful feature film debuts in a while, the movie will make you feel like few others, and has a heart like no other.

2. WILD BILL English actor Dexter Fletcher (best known for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) delivers a fantastic, enjoyable and profound debut film about the relationship of an ex-con with his two sons who were abandoned by both him and his wife. A smart, entertaining, well-acted and beautifully-crafted crime drama about life and relationships amongst people who rarely have either, Wild Bill is one of the best Brit films you’d seen in recent times.

1. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED Undoubtedly my favourite film of the year, Safety Not Guaranteed is about three magazine employees who travel to a small town to interview a guy who placed an ad looking for a companion to time travel with. But it’s not just the wacky premise that the film is a must-watch for. The film is essentially about friendship, about a sense of belonging, about hope, about the power of belief, about magic and about the fact that miracles do happen, if you want them bad enough to!

10 Other Notable Indies:  Valley of Saints, Teddy Bear, Smashed, The Sapphires, Pitch Perfect, Moonrise Kingdom, Goon, Detachment, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

10 Notable Mainstream Films: Argo, Cloud Atlas, The Hobbit: An Unforgettable Journey, Life Of Pi, 21 Jump Street, The Dictator, The Dark Knight Rises, Project X, Looper and Ted.

5 Notable Documentaries: Supermen of Malegaon, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Imposter, This is Not A Film and Indie Game: The Movie.

Note: This column first appeared on Firstpost.com on December 31, 2013

Link: http://www.firstpost.com/bollywood/the-20-best-films-you-have-not-seen-in-2012-574297.html
Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).
© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.