Lights … camera … thanks!
June 9, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
Not since Elvis’ “thank yuh very much,” has gratitude been expressed with more style. But “happythankyoumoreplease” comes close.
That’s the title of a new movie from Josh Radnor. The young actor best known for playing Ted Mosby for five years on TV’s hit “How I Met Your Mother” is making his debut in the new roles of writer-director … and star … of this quirky romantic big-screen comedy.
Having to show such a personal labor of love to an audience, “there’s a potential for great humiliation,” he acknowledged during a recent phone interview.
In fact, the verdict has gone the other way. The wry but tender look at various sorts of love in modern Manhattan won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It will screen in prime time — 8 p.m. Saturday, June 19 in the Celestial Cinema — at this year’s Maui Film Festival, which returns Wednesday through June 20 to Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Like its title, everything about “happythank- youmoreplease” feels like coloring outside the lines. Along with its young, hip, slightly offbeat characters, the New York setting is like a member of the cast.
If you’re thinking Woody Allen, only younger, warmer, more attractive and without the whining, you’re on the right track.
Doing the screenplay, “I taught myself to write,” said the affable 35-year-old Radnor on the phone. He was calling from Spain, where he said he was “hoofing around” after doing some theater recently in New York.
Everything about his film was an evolutionary process. “I had written a screenplay before, but I actually wanted to make this one, and not have it be a writing exercise,” he explained.
Screenwriting was all about rewriting, discovered the stage actor, who had made his Broadway debut in 2002 in a stage version of “The Graduate” with Kathleen Turner and Alicia Silverstone.
He started writing the script with three separate ideas: a guy who’s late for a meeting who winds up with a kid … a friend with a condition called alopecia universalis, that makes her unable to grow hair … “and I wanted it to end with a song.”
How he tied those threads together is what gives the quirky comedy its charm, its wit and its heart.
Being theatrically trained — he won the Paul Newman Award when attending Newman’s alma mater, Kenyon College — Radnor had to temper his tendency to verbalize everything.
“I taught myself to be more cinematic,” he said. It entailed finding ways of showing, not telling. In the course of working on the script, he also realized, “I didn’t know what the movie was about.”
Eventually he found, “It’s about gratitude, about making changes, about saying yes.
“It’s almost like your unconscious is making a lot of connections,” he says, likening it to “falling in love with someone, and only later do you realize who you’ve fallen in love with.”
The project gained some more star power when Malin Ackerman joined the cast. She’ll also be in attendance at the festival.
The Swedish beauty and rock-band singer is best known for her roles in films including “Watchmen,” “The Heartbreak Kid” and “Couples Retreat.” She makes perennial appearances on those 100-sexiest lists. That’s a far cry from the role of Annie, whose baldness and appearance are more of a challenge than an asset, at least in her own mind.
“I didn’t know Malin before, but she loved the script,” said Radnor. “She very aggressively pursued it. She said she’d shave her eyebrows.”
He credits her along with the other cast members in their readings with fleshing out his story — and with helping him learn to direct.
“I have this pattern. I obsessively freak out before a thing happens. I just want to go home to my parents’ house and cry. But when it finally happens, it’s totally fine.
“When we started, I had bitten off so much, I had to rise to the occasion. If I didn’t show up — fully — at work, we were in trouble.
“Personally, I’m the opposite of a tyrant, but I got everyone on the same page. I’m able to communicate with actors, and was able to translate it to the production designer and crew.”
Radnor says he’s working on a new script.
“I’m teaching myself to write all over again.”
Since heading for Europe, he has also gained new appreciation for “How I Met Your Mother.”
“It’s such a wonderful thing to be part of that cast and show. I didn’t realize how much impact it has,” he said.
At this milepost in his career, he ventures, “I came from the theater. I didn’t know I would spend so long on series TV. Some people are quite content to do one thing … some people get a little restless.
“I’m in the latter camp.”
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Josh Radnor's “happythankyoumoreplease” screens at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the Celestial Cinema.