Josh Radnor

The 36-year-old star of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, who also writes and directs (his first film, happythankyoumoreplease, debuts this month), talks about traffic, the gold rush, and L.A. as a blank canvas

There are a lot of actors in New York who get flown out to L.A. because they’re doing a network test. They get put up at the Universal Hilton. It rains that weekend. They get lost driving, and they can’t find their way. They get cut at the studio and have to go immediately back home. That’s their experience of L.A., and they hate it. They feel like the city didn’t welcome them somehow. I had a different experience. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and spent a lot of time in New York, but I moved to L.A. in 2003 because a girlfriend had moved out here. We lived in the Hollywood Tower—that kind of creepy old building next to the 101 freeway. It was, Wake up, look out the window at the cars streaming by, go across the street to the 101 Coffee Shop, get some pancakes. Right away I found that if I wasn’t at a premiere, I didn’t feel like I was in Hollywood, really. I just felt like I was in this great sunny town.

I had all the cliché ideas about L.A. But my girlfriend showed me the hiking in Runyon Canyon and great little neighborhoods. She took me to El Matador, that beach in Malibu. We went to Idyllwild and to Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms. I don’t know why I’m talking so much about this relationship that ended a long time ago—we’re still very good friends. But she said to me, “If you know who you are in L.A., it’ll work out.” It’s true.

I go into this in my movie. There’s an extended argument between a couple played by Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber. He comes back from Los Angeles and wants to move there. She’s a lifelong New Yorker, and the idea of moving to L.A. is like a coffin to her. Why would she ever want to do that? He tells her his philosophy about Los Angeles. He says it’s just this big collection of neighborhoods where it’s always sunny. It’s this blank canvas, and it reflects you back at you.

The only real evil is the traffic. There’s that phrase “If you think you’re enlightened, spend a weekend with your mother.” Well, I always say, “If you think you’re enlightened, drive in L.A. when you have to be somewhere and you’re running a little late.” Then you’ll see how much more work you have to do.

What I love about L.A. is that you can wake up on a Monday morning and not have much going on, and by Friday you can have this life-changing thing in your lap—or the potential for it. Things move very fast out here. You can get an audition, you can read for the casting director, read for the producers—next thing you know, you have a test deal, you’re reading for the studio, you’re reading for the network, and you have a pilot.

They say a place is infused with the character of whoever settled the land. Utah is always going to have a Mormon feel to it. Wisconsin is always going to be Protestant and liberal and cheese-y. And California is gold rush territory. People came out here looking to find that opportunity. It’s a great place for dreamers.