Off Script: Josh Radnor Unwinds From 'The Babylon Line' With Yoga and Oscar Contenders (Q&A)

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Josh Radnor, who stars in 'The Babylon Line'

The 'How I Met Your Mother' alum talks preshow playlists, evoking empathy and how the off-Broadway production has bled into a new play he’s writing.

Josh Radnor is back onstage in The Babylon Line, a new play by Richard Greenberg that sees the How I Met Your Mother alum playing a writer in 1967 who commutes to suburban Levittown to teach a creative writing class for adults. Directed by Terry Kinney, the drama reunites Radnor with his drama school colleague, Elizabeth Reaser.

The off-Broadway role is a starring turn for Radnor, who was last seen on the New York stage in the Broadway play Disgraced in 2014. “Doing eight shows a week, I forgot you have to be a bit of a monk,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Disgraced was a 90-minute play and I was onstage for an hour, so it went by like a bullet. I feel like I have double-duty here because I’m both the narrator and I’m in the story, so it requires this focus where I’m part of the action and commenting on it at the same time. The first few weeks of previews, I was a bit underprepared for what it was taking out of me, but I feel like I’m finally hitting my groove.”

Ahead of Monday’s opening night at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Radnor, 42, goes Off Script to talk preshow playlists, evoking empathy and how the production has bled into a new play he’s writing.

What do you admire most about this story?

I'm always drawn to stories about writing and the imagination, but this is also densely structured and thematically rich. These two people think they’re in the middle of a tragedy, but they then realize it’s going to be OK. It’s ultimately a hopeful play without being sentimental. And my character feels human and dimensional to me. He fancies himself as a reckless person who will do anything for his art, but he realizes it’s more important to be a good person. I like the struggle he undergoes — he thinks he’s making the wrong decision that turns out to be the right decision, and that’s a lovely concept.

What have you given up for this role?

The winter months in Los Angeles, which are much more pleasant than they are in New York City.

What have you taken on for this role?

I’ve gotten back into yoga at the gym in my building, and just trying to take care of myself and keep my body moving. Meditation is also a big part of my daily routine.

What’s your pre-show ritual?

I try to get 10 minutes onstage to warm up with stretches and speech exercises, which my drama school teachers will be happy I still do. I have so much dialogue in this play, so I make sure my voice is in good shape. And I’ll listen to a nourishing podcast or some classical music that’s energizing and illuminating.

What do you do when you’re not onstage?

I’m not offstage much, but I try not to check my phone, especially because the news can come in and rattle you. Those things can wait.

What’s something special in your dressing room?

A tiny little gold statue of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god that’s a remover of obstacles. I had it at the bottom of my bag, and I didn’t realize I brought it with me to New York.

Favorite thing to do around town on your day off?

I always have grand ideas about what I’m gonna do on my days off or when I don’t have a matinee, but I’m always a little more catatonic than I’d hoped. But it’s good movie season, so I’m trying to stay on top of those movies that one has to see in order to participate in that cultural conversation. I’m staying near Lincoln Center, and there are a ton of theaters in that area.

Has this show taught you something about writing?

Just spending time with rich, lyrical language is helpful for a writer; sometimes you’re unconsciously metabolizing stuff and other times you’re stealing outright. I just started writing another play that I can actually hear Richard’s voice in my head — and in some way, I now have to go through and scrub out what’s not quite mine. But I’ve been tinkering with it and I’ve been really happy with it so far.

What do you hope people take from The Babylon Line?

It does what all good art does: gives you access to other people, lives and perspectives. My character attempts to reduce these people in the suburbs to cliches — he tries to make them grotesque, he finds himself at fault. They’re people who are complicated and just trying to do their best. And in this particular moment we’re in, we can all do with a larger dose of empathy.

The Babylon Line runs through Jan. 22.