“Don’t Buddha sculptures calm you down?” he asked, standing in front of one. “I have some around my house. It’s not that I think that the sculptures themselves are inherently holy. It’s that they trigger something within yourself that can remind you, either ‘Breathe’ or ‘Quiet down’ or, you know, ‘Drink some water.’ It reminds me of simplicity, a little bit.”
Unlike some of his co-stars on “How I Met Your Mother” — Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris — Mr. Radnor, 42, was largely unknown before the show’s premiere in 2005. Fame was an adjustment (“There’s stuff that comes along with it that’s really nutty,” he said), and while he is grateful for the series, he found himself “actively depressed” by the end of the second season.
That’s when he began reading widely in spiritual traditions — Hindu; Buddhist; Sufi; Christian; and his own, Jewish — for perspective, and guidance on how to live. He had already been meditating for a couple of years, ever since “a breakup that kind of knocked me on the floor,” he said. Through meditation, which he still does every day, “something opened up in me.”
Talking about all this, Mr. Radnor worried that he would seem “spiritually pretentious.” But in three hours at the Rubin, he came across as thoughtful and genuinely searching — a digressive, intellectually curious conversationalist, and easygoing once the camera was gone.
Raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, he was educated at an Orthodox day school. Consulting sacred texts makes sense to him.
“I just feel a little existentially restless,” he said. “There’s something about these ancient philosophies and ideas, wisdom traditions, that lands on me. They kind of comfort me when I feel adrift.”
Aaron Port, his character in “The Babylon Line,” knows that unmoored feeling. Most of the play is set in 1967, when Aaron, a New York writer with a desultory career, reverse-commutes to Levittown, Long Island, to teach an adult-education class. His much older self narrates the play, letting the audience know that Aaron will later flourish. But in 1967, he can’t see that his misery is temporary.
Mr. Radnor finds solace in the notion of “an older man saying, ‘Things turned out wonderfully,’ and a younger man saying, ‘Things are a disaster.’ I think we can get really bullied by the present, like ‘This is what’s happening now, and it’s always going to be this way.’”
Shortly before he was cast in “How I Met Your Mother,” Mr. Radnor performed in the world premiere of Jon Robin Baitz’s “The Paris Letter” in Los Angeles, coincidentally opposite Mr. Harris. Mr. Greenberg remembers hearing back then, from friends who saw it, that Mr. Radnor was “the discovery of the evening.”
After the sitcom ended in 2014, he quickly returned to the stage, in a developmental production of “The Babylon Line” at New York Stage and Film in Poughkeepsie, then in Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning “Disgraced” on Broadway.
Plans for another Broadway outing, in “She Loves Me” last season, fell through when the musical revival conflicted with Mr. Radnor’s PBS series, the Civil War drama “Mercy Street,” in which he plays a morphine-addicted surgeon. But he knew that he would be sad if he heard of anyone else performing his role in “The Babylon Line.”
Lately he has been trying, as an artist, to make his favorite things. Thus the songs he has been writing with his friend Ben Lee, a musician, for their coming album, “Love Songs for God & Women.” Thus also “The Seeker,” the dialogue-free movie he shot last year with the band Cloud Cult.
A film he acted in this year, “ _______ People,” poses a slight obstacle with its unprintable title, which he’s hoping will be changed. He gave up swearing a while back, bothered by what he called the “resonance of negativity” in the words.
As for his own movies — two so far that he has written, directed and starred in — the adverse reviews for the first, “Happythankyoumoreplease” (2011), are still a tender subject. He attributes the critical response in part to the fact that he was a sitcom actor directing a film. “People get uncomfortable if you don’t stay in your lane,” he said.
His second movie, “Liberal Arts” (2012), did better, and found a fond defender in Roger Ebert. In both films, Mr. Radnor said, the central tension is “between trying to be something in the world” and trying to “get better at being yourself a little bit.” That is, of course, their author’s ongoing dilemma.
“Josh is actually a good person,” said his friend Elizabeth Reaser, who appeared in “Liberal Arts” and plays a seductive student in “The Babylon Line.” She has known Mr. Radnor since the 1990s, when she was at the Juilliard School and he was at N.Y.U.’s Tisch School of the Arts. “He comes from good, kind people,” she added, “and he’s decent.”
He intends to direct more of his own screenplays and has begun writing plays, one of which, “Sacred Valley,” had a reading at New York Stage and Film this summer. He also sold a book of essays, which he now needs to write.
He questions how much he wants to continue to act, wondering if writer-director is the more adult occupation. He also believes, though, that he has returned to the theater a wiser actor than when he started there.
“I couldn’t have played this role 10 years ago,” he said over a cup of tea — the blend was called Balance — in the museum’s cafe. “I wasn’t dinged up enough. I didn’t have enough hurt in my life, enough heartache, enough failure. I went out and got some of those things.”
And that’s a plus?
“You need those things!” he said. “Our wounds, on some level, are what make us relatable.”Continue reading the main story
I just read your column in the Sunday Globe on fund-raising tips, and it got me hoping that someday you will find the opportunity to advise telemarketers on something they should not do: address total strangers by their first names.
I often get calls from telemarketers who begin, “Is this Alfred?’’ When I respond in the affirmative, they proceed to use my first name. It seems to me that if I were in such urgent need of money that I had to phone total strangers for their help, I would address them as Mr. or Mrs. I might even say, “Sir.’’ I certainly would not address them as if they were a buddy. Over the years, I’ve found this most annoying.
F. H., Natick
One of the etiquette tips we give for both verbal and written communications is to defer to the formal anytime there is a question as to how a person would prefer to be addressed. The formal - Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Rev. plus last name - leaves very little, if any, room for offense.
When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know how they wish to be addressed, especially someone older than you or more senior to you in business. Imagine if you started out calling your new boss by her first name only to hear others address her by her title and last name. It will be awkward to switch from using her first name to using her title plus last name.
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Conversely, if you start out using title plus last name, it will be much easier and less embarrassing for you to switch to the first name once you know it is acceptable. Often, if you have addressed a person formally, they will respond by saying something like, “Please, call me Shelley.’’
The same is true for written communications. With e-mail especially, it is easy to let the informality of the communication process steer you in the direction of being informal. If you’re sending an e-mail to someone more senior than you, to someone you have not met previously or not already established how you will address them, then deferring to the formal is a safe haven. You won’t go wrong, and the respect you show by addressing the person by title will help you start out on the right foot to build a positive relationship.E-mail questions about business etiquette to email@example.com.