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Radnor ages gracefully in latest ‘Liberal’ film

Set stills from BCDF Pictures' 'Liberal Arts'

Set stills from BCDF Pictures' "Liberal Arts"

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Updated: September 19, 2012 5:44PM

A few years ago, actor-writer-director Josh Radnor was showing his film “Happy­thankyoumoreplease” to students at his Ohio alma mater, Kenyon College.

“I hadn’t planned on aging, but it happened,” says the 38-year-old. “It was shocking. I figured out that I was twice the age of the students there. It was jarring because I felt like college was yesterday.”

He had a crazy idea. “I mentioned to my film’s producer, ‘What if I was my age, came back to college and dated a student there? It would be really inappropriate.’ ”

His producer’s reply: “It would be a really great movie.”

So Radnor, who also stars on “How I Met Your Mother,” sat down to write “Liberal Arts,” which he also directed. The film, which opens Sept. 21, is about a thirtysomething named Jesse (Radnor) who comes back to his alma mater for a professor’s retirement party and falls in love with a student named Zibby played by Elizabeth Olsen.

“A lot of college movies are about partying,” Radnor says. “I was much more interested in the relationships, the ideas, the professors and all this stuff you don’t see in a lot of movies. It felt fresh and a new way to tell this story.”

He was actually allowed to film at Kenyon — a good thing, “because I couldn’t imagine falling in love with another school.”

The film explores a deep nostalgia many have for college.

“What’s beautiful about college and also so deeply sad is they give you four years to belong to something so amazing. When you graduate, they tell you to get out. The sad thing is the professors stay and move on to other students. In many ways, the professors are always abandoned, too.”

The flipside is that those who love college never really want to leave.

“That’s what my character Jesse is dealing with. I dealt with it a few years after leaving school. It’s that feeling that you’re being booted out of Eden. Kicked out of paradise,” Radnor says. “You’re tossed into this adult world where suddenly you have to deal with mundane things like paying rent. You need to get a job. You’re a real grown-up. These things feel like a grind if you’re someone who is really interested in books and an exchange of ideas.”

His film also explores the idea of an older man dating a younger woman.

“A lot of movies are about justifying that kind of relationship and him saying, ‘This is why I have to be with her,’ ” Radnor says.

“I wasn’t interested in making that movie. This is about a guy wrestling with getting older asking himself, ‘Am I attracted to this young girl or am I attracted to her youth and what that represents?’

“The truth is she never would have liked him when he was in school. He would have probably drunkenly confessed his crush and she would have said, ‘I just want to be friends.’ ”

In the end, Radnor says he worked out some of his own aging issues with “Liberal Arts.”

“When I turned 38, it got scary,” he admits. “I do believe what the professor character says in the movie when he tells me, ‘You always feel like you’re 19 even though the mirror and your birth certificate tell a different story.’ ”

Radnor laughs. “I have to remind myself that being young is not all that great either. No one is thrilled to be 18. In fact, they’ve done studies that the unhappiest decade in life is your 20s.

“Suddenly, 38 sounds pretty good.”

Big Picture News Inc.

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