Interview: HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE writer/director/actor Josh Radnor
Multihyphenate Josh Radnor is a rarity. So many films are made every year, but few that leave a powerful impression on its audience. Radnor's directorial debut, HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE, is one of those rare few films that left me in awe. I saw HTYMP two years ago when it premiered at Sundance, and I've since been waiting for the rest of the world to get a chance to see it, too. Starting this month, that's about to happen, as HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE is set for a theatrical release.
Last week, I interviewed Radnor over the phone - we dove really deeply into the making of HTYMP and shared our love for John Hughes, among other things. This was, without a doubt, one of the best interviews I've done in my GATW career. Radnor is really proud of and passionate about his work (as he should be) and he knows exactly what feelings he wants his audience to take away from this film.
Check out the full interview after the break.
Josh: Hey, you guys wrote such a nice review for us out of Sundance , I really appreciate it. My producer Jesse just kept saying we gotta talk to those guys because they really seem to get the movie.
Chase: Yeah, we all fell in love with it when we saw it at Sundance. It speaks so much to people getting close to hitting 30 who're still trying to figure out life. You know, when I was 18, I thought I'd be married with kids and a house when I was 28.
Josh: Haha, yeah.
I'm 28 now and I'm not close to any of that, haha.
Yeah, me neither, man, and I'm 36, so I hear ya.
Well, cool, man, let's go ahead and jump into this because I know you have a busy day. The first thing I want to talk about is Annie and Sam's friendship. It's really rare to see a male and female have such a close friendship without any sexual tension. What inspired you and how did you develop that, because you nail it?
Oh, that's cool, thanks. Well, it's based on a friend of mine, which probably has something to do with that. One of the things when I was developing the script that I wanted to do was base a character on my friend and I had her blessing to do it. Sam's not based totally on me, but there is something of the essence of my friendship with this girl that was important for me to have in the script. I think it's true, in a lot of movies you don't really see that male and female dynamic; I have just have a lot of friends who are women that I haven't dated and will never date, probably. If I was going to do an honest portrait of what that time was like for me in New York, that's an element of it. I just hinted at the fact that there can be crossed wires in those sorts of situations, but it was a scene that got cut. There was a scene that got that with Sam and Annie on the rooftop that was really one of my favorite scenes that just got in the way of the momentum of the story after while; it was a writing problem and not anything else. Annie is just tormented by the situations with these guys and how she can't make it all work; Sam goes off on how great she is, and she says to him, "If I'm so great how come you never wanted to be with me?" It's just this kind of awkward moment that was great and it will be on the DVD's deleted scenes. I did want to address that because I also felt those things can get complicated. When people say that men and women can't be friends I think that's nonsense.
Yeah, that's total bullshit. A lot of my staff are women and we're just like best friends and family and I wouldn't have it any other way. That's why I wanted to talk to you about that because you rarely find that in movies.
Well, cool, I'm glad you zeroed in on that, because I think it's an important but unspoken part of the movie. You know on some level the movie is about family, right? It's about new families developing; Rasheen, Sam, and Mississippi get this kind of weird family going for a few days. There's communities of people who develop in this cities where you know we're not in these small villages or tribes anymore, but we do find our tribe, we do find our people, so to speak.
Absolutely. So, HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE is one of those indie dramadies which seems to please different audiences - it's really a mixed bag of humor and emotion. What were some of your influences in making the film?
What was up for me while I was writing [HTYMP] and getting set to direct was...I love Richard Linklater; you know, DAZED AND CONFUSED. For a while I was very unhealthily obsessed with BEFORE SUNRISE and BEFORE SUNSET. I like movies that allow people to talk...find the drama in the talking. I don't carry a gun and spy on people...some of those movies, while they're great fun, they don't feel like my life or anyone I recognize. MAGNOLIA was a really big influence on me when I saw it, the intersecting storylines. I don't have anything like frogs falling from the sky. He [P.T. Anderson] made me feel in that movie like you can do anything, people can burst into song. It just freed up my imagination as a filmmaker. I recently re-watched THE BREAKFAST CLUB on New Year's Day with some high school friends, and talk about a movie that holds up. I remembered every frame of it and haven't seen it in years but John Hughes generally and, that movie in particular, I think I underestimated the effect it had on my consciousness. Not to overstate things, but I think he taught a whole generation of people about empathy in the most basic way. I ended up reading a Vanity Fair piece after his death that really devastated me, I think he was a really special guy - time has been good to him and his movies.
Yeah, absolutely. When he passed, we did a dedication and all of my staff wrote about their favorite Hughes film and why and how it inspired them.
Oh, that's cool, can I Google that? I'd love to see that.
Yeah, actually if you go to our site, it should be on the left side; there should be a banner for it.
Going back to intertwining stories and MAGNOLIA being an inspiration - all the stories in HTYMP are all equally balanced. Is there any character you feel the film belongs to more or do you want it to all be equally balanced?
The balance was definitely a writing challenge and it was also an editing challenge. About 45-50 shots and edited footage didn't end up in the final movie...so there was a lot of stuff that happened. When you're editing a movie you're essentially rewriting the movie. I once heard this thing a famous costume designer said, she said, "A costume isn't finished when you've put every last thing on it that you can, it's finished when you take every last thing off it that you can." That - on some level you're trying to pair it down to its essence. Sometimes in editing I would have written something that I learned in editing that the actor just gave to me in a look that I didn't have to say the line of dialogue. And that's where cinema is different than theatre because you can really get up close and a great film actor, you can tell what they're thinking...I used to say that Annie was the heart of the film and I still believe that on some level, but also Rasheen is really important to me, but then I go around to every character. The culmination of Charlie and Mary Catherine's storyline still devastates me when I see it, just because the bravery in how amazing they were in that, Zoey and Pablo. I think on some level Sam #2 (Tony Hale) is the hero of the movie, he's the most emotionally evolved of all of them on some level; he knows who he is and knows what he wants and how to communicate it without all the veils and deflections. I guess when it comes to the characters I love all my kids equally. (laughs)
Haha, yeah, that's a great answer. Okay, so going back to what I said earlier about how I thought I'd have it all figured out when I was 28 and I don't, and you nailed how most people I know my age are currently going through. How much of this was taken from personal experiences in life?
I remember I was the class president of my high school so I gave the graduation speech. And the whole thrust of my graduation speech was, you know, people tell you this is the best time of your life and we should reject that. Even though this was a great place to go to high school it's like, "remember the zits and not having the date for the Homecoming, remember how difficult it was." I was 17 when I wrote this and I stand by it on some level, you know, I don't want the best time of my life to have been in the past. Isn't the goal to make every time the best time? One of the things I've hit on is in my later years (laughs) is kind of shifting focus, it's a perception shift, not a circumstantial shift. That's why gratitude became the theme of the movie, it's appreciated what's going on right now. Everything right now is great, everything right now is perfect, everything I need is right here, and if you get there then everything is just great. We're always trained in America to always be focusing on the future, right? But you're never going ot get there. Where I am right now, if you told the 16 year old where I'd be, he'd be so psyched, but the me now can find all sorts of reasons to be dissatisfied. It's just about shifting your perspective on things and I think I used to share some of Sam restlessness and disatisfaction, but part of the movie in some ways was imposing the older, wiser perspective that I think I now have and am working towards having onto my younger idea of things. And while it's not autobiographical, a lot of it is thematically true.
Right here is when our interview time was up and Radnor kindly asked if we could have a few more minutes.
Cool, I can give you one more good question - after someone sees the film, what would you like for them to take from it?
Well, that's really up to them. I think it's a really interesting question, if people are like, "do you think Sam and Mississippi stay together?," I think that's a really great conversation to have. There's not a coda at the end that shows what happens to them and I kind of want your mind to wonder and wonder. If you're actually concerned about the characters and where they're headed, then I've done my job. I love movies where I feel altered, somehow, when I leave. I call it the "Post Good Movie Glow," where you just feel completely different than when you sat down to watch the movie and it's a particular magic that a good movie can work on you...I don't think it's my mission as a filmmaker to teach anyone anything, but if something I drop in a movie gives someone a different perspective on their life and eases things a bit, than that's all fantastic.