Josh Radnor

Actor, writer, director and musician Josh Radnor - formerly of Bexley - plays a song during “An Evening with Josh Radnor April 27 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center in Cleveland. The Cleveland Jewish News, sister newspaper of the Columbus Jewish News, along with Singerman, Mills, Desberg & Kauntz Co., L.P.A. presented the event. 

Before actor, writer, director and musician Josh Radnor offered a glimpse into his personal and professional life at the Cleveland Jewish News and Singerman, Mills, Desberg & Kauntz Co., L.P.A.’s “An Evening with Josh Radnor” on April 27 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center in Cleveland, he shared with the CJN in a backstage interview all about his Ohio roots, the impact Torah study has on his artistry, the rise of antisemitism and how others can achieve their dreams. The Cleveland Jewish News is the sister publication of the Columbus Jewish News.

A former Bexley resident, Radnor attended Columbus Torah Academy and graduated from Bexley High School and Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. A resident of Los Angeles and New York, Radnor told the CJN a lot of what inspired his journey into the arts drew on foundational childhood lessons.

“Once I fell in love with the theater, I just decided I was going to be a creative, artistic person that was going to live in New York City and made things (for a living),” he recalled. “Along the way, I made some smart decisions that allowed me to do that. I fortuitously met some of the right people that allowed me to make a (living) as an artist.”

Radnor described himself as a book-smart but inherently artistic child, stemming from growing up with bad allergies that sometimes limited the time he could play outside. As a way to keep him engaged, his mother, who lives in the Columbus area, would just “park me at the table with paints,” he said.

“I was really into drawing, and I loved visual art,” Radnor said, adding once he got on stage, he discovered a love of acting and singing. “Looking back, I was that rare creative kid. But, I really excelled at school. I liked art classes, the academic classes – all of it.”

Once he tapped into that desire, Radnor’s arrival at the career he has can be summed up in a single metaphor.

“My friend, Ben, uses this metaphor that any life in the creative arts is like a jungle,” he said. “You get a machete, and you’re hacking through the forest, and you have to create your own path. But, your path closes up behind you. So, you can’t walk someone else’s path. You have to figure it out on your own. But, I had this great foundation – being from Columbus and having this great Jewish background.”

Reading Torah and Talmud taught him to be a critical thinker, Radnor said, knowing that understanding Judaic study requires digging deep. That Jewish upbringing, and concepts like tikkun olam, or repairing the world, directly influenced the career path and roles he takes, Radnor said.

Best known for his role as Ted Mosby on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” his other television acting credits include PBS’ “Mercy Street,” Amazon Prime’s “Hunters,” and F/X and Hulu’s “Fleishman Is In Trouble;” in films like “Afternoon Delight” and on Broadway in “The Graduate” and “Disgraced.”

“Some projects you read and you think, ‘I don’t want to be associated with this’ – just morally and ethically it doesn’t feel right,” Radnor said. “But, certainly, I’ve held a gun. I used foul language all the time. I am not super puritanical about it, but at the same time, I do try to keep an eye towards what I feel like might be, culturally, more needed.”

Noting that, as a society, “we’re in a moment of grief, anger and division,” Radnor said he prefers to lend his talents to projects that “at least edge towards healing something,” which he described as “a very Jewish thing.” Musing on the rise of antisemitism, Radnor added he, like many American Jews, used to think overt acts of hate and antisemitism “felt like something of the past.”

“It feels like something got uncorked, where people feel like they can say and do these vile things,” he said. “I’ve been rattled. I’ve been uncomfortable. Your heart breaks around it. ... I don’t know what else to say other than it is really unfortunate, and it has to be confronted head-on. The most dangerous thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand about it.”

Outside of acting, Radnor also wrote and directed two feature films, “Happythankyoumoreplease” and “Liberal Arts,” and has two upcoming films, “3 Birthdays” and “All Happy Families.” He also is a musician, creating two albums with Australian musician Ben Lee as Radnor & Lee, and also has a double album set to release this year. Lee is also Jewish.

When asked about what keeps him in Hollywood, Radnor said “the cheeky answer” would be that he doesn’t know how to do anything else.

“From my first year out of school, my dad helped me with my rent, but since then, I’ve been able to make my living doing this,” he said. “I feel incredibly fortunate. I think that you do these things, you get these roles (and write and direct films), and I didn’t know I could do that until I did it, and realized I was actually pretty good at this. There is this thrill and excitement to scaring yourself, stepping into that fear, conquering that fear and doing it anyways. They say, ‘Do it scared.’ And I am constantly having to do that.”

When asked if he had any advice for other small-town kids with big dreams, Radnor once more pulled from the jungle-with-a-machete metaphor, but stressed that you have to want to put the work in.

“You can grow up far away from New York, Los Angeles or any other art center, and make a pilgrimage and figure it out,” he said. “If you have some talent, some drive, stamina and resilience, and you really want to do it and you’re kind to people, which is important, it can be done. ... It requires a lot out of you. If you’re willing to do it, it can be done.”

Recommended for you