Getting a ‘Liberal Arts’ Degree from Josh Radnor and cast!

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On Monday I was invited to take part in a series of interviews with writer/director/actor Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, and Richard Jenkins in honor of the impending release of Radnor’s sophomore feature ‘Liberal Arts’. It’s not any sort of secret that I loved the film (found here), so this was a Press Day to look forward to. I’d actually met Radnor once before, and I’ll tell that mildly amusing story a bit later, but it was nice to get to talk to him again. All three were very enjoyable to speak with, and in the case of Jenkins it was one of the most pleasant chats I’ve had in a long time. The man is a real sweetheart. I’ve got the highlights of the interviews to share with you below, and they’re split between a two person talk with Radnor and Olsen, as well as one with just Jenkins. The movie is a joy to talk about, so there was no shortage of discussion points, from literature to Kenyon College (the unnamed school the flick is set at which Radnor, along with most of my girlfriend’s family, attended). Enough preview though, let’s get into it and see the highlights I recorded during the ‘Liberal Arts’ Press Day with Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, and Richard Jenkins!

Josh Radnor

To begin with the aforementioned story of our previous meeting, I actually had run into Radnor opening day for his directorial debut ‘HappyThankYouMorePlease’ at the Angelika, an old theater in New York City. I was just there to see it, but right before sitting down a date had canceled on me, putting me in sort of a blue mood. After the screening I said hello to him and chatted momentarily about the film, and somehow brought up the event. He was polite but clearly uncomfortable, so it was with great hesitancy that I reminded him during this interview that we’d previously met. He seemed to vaguely recall and was pleased to here that my current relationship was going well. The transition moved then to his recent adoption of Twitter and then actually talking about the film. I’ll start off with the question I wanted to make sure that I asked him (and actually had sort of been asked to speak to him about)…

On shooting the film at his alma mater and what specific things Kenyon alumni will notice:

“Well, I just did a screening for some Kenyon alumni and I said that they’re the only crowd that’s going to be watching this and saying “you started driving at the Kenyon Inn and ended up at the Caples parking lot a lot quicker than you normally would”. They’re the only ones that will notice little things like that. There are little location things that they’ll know and appreciate. Lizzy and I have a nice little scene where we’re walking around campus and we walk behind the Science building, it’s a little more hidden of an area. There aren’t any secret Kenyon tip-offs, but there’s a song at the end ‘I Want a Kenyon Man’ that plays in the credits”

On the chemistry he had with Elizabeth Olsen:

“Chemistry isn’t something that you want to point out if it’s there, you just want it to be there. I think if a script is well written, truthfully written, and the right people on both sides show up to play the scenes, there will be chemistry there. Even if the characters are fighting, there’s going to be a great chemistry there since everyone is equally inhabiting the part. Lizzy is so perfect for the role that people thought I must have written it for her”

On if he looks at footage shot as an actor, a director, or a writer:

“It depends on what is in front of me and needs to be looked at. If I’m watching playback of my performance, I need to see that we got what we needed. Editing myself in 2 movies and watching playback has gotten me over it a bit…I’m looking at it as everything at once”

On if there’s any improvisation in the film (mixed in with Elizabeth’s answer below):

“Not much. We improvised while walking on Middle Path, though Richard improvises. Allison Janney comes from the theater so she really sticks to the script. There’s a few moments of improvisation throughout the movie, but largely it was pretty tightly scripted. You know, I’m also kind of laboring over each “you know” or “um”, and when a character pauses there’s a reason for it. They’re sort of…my characters kind of search around for the right way to say things and that was particularly appropriate for this kind of movie since it’s about words and movies and articulating ideas. That sounds kind of dry though (laughs), that’s not really what the movie is about”

On if he could have written this 10 years ago:

“No, and I don’t think I would have been drawn to it. Writing a movie about getting out of college at 25 is a lot different than writing it at 35. I think in some way I was in the midst of mourning getting out of college the same way that Jesse is (his character in the movie), so I’d have no perspective on it. I kind of kicked that college nostalgia in my late 20’s…as much as I love the experience I wouldn’t want to go back”

On ‘How I Met Your Mother’ as opposed to his films:

“Um, well it’s interesting, these films I feel are very different, but there’s some thematic overlap I think. You know, I care about similar things as the writers there do, it’s just a different take on them. Film allows me to ask some really big questions and have some time and space to explore them a little more deeply”

On his films being rite of passage stories:

“That’s not a small question. On some level ‘HappyThankYouMorePlease’ was a 20’s story and this is a 30’s story, and you know…your 20’s they say are your most unhappy decade and there is an increase in happiness with each decade, but I found that all the things I used to obsess about as a young person I’m no longer as obsessed about. I have new concerns, but they’re a little more existential and not as petty”

On if he reads reviews:

“I do my best not to, though sometimes people insist. I should probably toughen up and read everything though”

Elizabeth Olsen

There’s not a whole lot that I have from Olsen, since her time was split with Radnor, and most of the questions were directed his way, but she often chimed in on his answers, which I didn’t include above but were nice to hear. She was very nice though, and here’s some of what she had to say:

On if there’s improvisation in the film (mixed in with Josh’s answer above):

“No (laughs). We stuck to the script. Someone asked if we improvised and I said there’s almost no improvisation. You (Josh) write in such a specific style, almost like a playwright, that you don’t really want to stray from it. There’s a common language that everyone is speaking, whether it’s pace, intelligence, there’s a smartness to it that I feel I would just ruin”

On her college experience influencing her character:

“I had such a specific experience at NYU, I mean I’m still a 6 year student there and I have 2 Humanities left which I’m finishing in January. I went to acting school with theater nerds and when we had academics it was to get them done in the fastest way possible so we could focus more on rehearsals…I can relate to it by going to a really great high school though…so to have conversations like Zibby does, I had that and I’m very much a rooted academic person due to that experience”

On how many scripts she reads a day:

“A lot. I definitely read at least one a day on a work day, though maybe I’ll give myself a weekend off. I actually stopped for a while because they were all so bad!”

On if she reads reviews:

“Sometimes. This time I don’t really care to read the reviews…it’s a personal experience of a movie. I was interested in reading reviews of Martha (‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’) since I was so curious what people thought and took from it…and also what they thought of me in my first movie. Here it’s such a feel good movie I just want to keep that”

Richard Jenkins

The second chat was with the great Richard Jenkins, a man who’s incredibly nice and way funnier than I was expecting (seriously, one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met while doing this). We actually had a quick chat about my iPad that I recorded the conversation on (making him the latest in a rather long line to mention it and chat offhand with me about it…I’m thinking it’s becoming as much of an ice breaker/conversation piece as a recording tool) before getting to the nitty gritty. Jenkins is incredibly relaxed and soft spoken, so this felt far more intimate than it otherwise might have. Here are the highlights, and yes…I managed to work in some talk about ‘The Cabin in the Woods’:

On identifying with his role:

“I identify with the whole film. I went to a small private school in the Midwest and I loved every minute of it, love going back, and every time I’m there I go “why can’t I just be in college again”. I understand being 19 in your head all the time, don’t we all?”

On what goes in to picking a role:

“My agent called me on Cabin in the Woods and I said no, I don’t want to do a horror film. I had done ‘Let Me In’ which was another one I initially said no, I don’t want to do that, and then I read it and met the director. My agent said I had to read it and the day I read it I signed up”

On ‘The Cabin in the Woods’:

“I loved it. I loved the part and I loved the whole idea of it, and working with Joss and Drew”

On if he reads reviews:

“Oh be kind, pleas be kind (I was). I do, you know I try not to and I say no, but I always end up doing it, and I’ll tell you why. We don’t do this in a vacuum. I don’t do it for myself, I do it to try and connect with someone out there watching. That’s why I do it. I can’t write, I can’t paint, this is my art, this is what I love to do. So I read reviews, and it hurts when someone doesn’t like it, since they’re saying they don’t like you. You know, I’m 65 years old and it still bothers me. I don’t think it’ll ever change, since in my head I’m still 19. You think all the good reviews are wrong and the bad reviews are all right”

On his status in the business after an Oscar nomination:

“I’m a character actor, that’s what I am and what I was before ‘The Visitor’, though I’ve had the opportunity to do some really interesting roles because of ‘The Visitor’. You know, to have these sort of opportunities at this point in my life is really amazing to me”

On if there’s any downside to fame:

“Oh, I’m not that famous, but no there hasn’t…people are just so nice…but I’m not that famous”

On seeing the final cut of ‘Liberal Arts’:

“I didn’t expect what I saw. I didn’t expect how smart it was and how really clever it was. Josh had it all in his head”

On ‘Killing Them Softly’:

“Oh, it was fun, I had a great time. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s really interesting. It was a great script and Andrew Dominik is a terrific director”

On Social Media and if he participates:

“I’m not on there, but someone put me on Facebook. Someone actually who English wasn’t their first language, posting as me. My wife has it, but I’m not. I’m on the computer though, I’m on my iPad and I have my iPhone”

On directors that he’d like to work with:

“I don’t have that, or any roles…I don’t have any great desires, I just take it as it comes. There’s lots of great directors, but I guess I wouldn’t want to work with anyone unless they were interested in working with me. It’s a two way street”

The film opens in limited release on Friday.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!