Bradley Whitford, the actor best known for his role as Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in “The West Wing,” is just as politically fervent and arguably more candid than his character on TV. Before his generally haphazard speech at American University, Whitford sat for an interview.
As he entered our little room, his imposing height and perfectly aligned, sparkling teeth took me by surprise. His grey suit and muted blue-green shirt fit in a very L.A. sort of way-they weren’t snug-but they were cut more narrowly than the suits we see here on K Street. As he sat down and crossed his legs, his jacket sleeves hiked up to reveal a series of beaded wooden bracelets sliding over a green plastic livestrong-type plastic bracelet.
Through all of his jokes about Cheney shooting his hunting buddy and Clinton’s “white-trash alcoholic” background, Whitford apparently takes his acting, politics, and fatherhood very seriously.
Whitford currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Jane Kaczmarek of “Malcolm in the Middle,” and his three kids. Despite his current star-studded life, his childhood was relatively low-key: he was born in Madison, Wis., and grew up in a politically active, Quaker family. His love of literature and interest in stage acting brought him to Wesleyan University, where he majored in English. Perhaps it was at this point in his life when he became a self-proclaimed yuppie. Or, it could have easily been afterward during is graduate studies in acting at Julliard in New York. Either way, Whitford is an intellectual and a professional actor who has honed his craft.
When I asked him how he originally became interested in acting, he said it started in high school with an anti-nicotine advertisement he did, proving that he has always been socially and politically aware. This little taste of acting was more of an extra-curricular activity for Whitford than a passion: he wasn’t always so confident about its legitimacy as a career or pastime.
“I’ve always has this really ambivalent feeling about making a spectacle of myself. One of my earliest memories is actually seeing my sister in a play and it was like I was 3 years old, sitting on my mother’s lap, watching it as if I were watching a car wreck, ya know?” he said. “Why would anyone want to put themselves in that position? And I often thought that right before I went on stage- but it very quickly became a terribly satisfying, playful way of life.”
“When I went to Julliard, it was like, whoa, this is for real. When I leave here I am really going to have to be an actor.”
Still somewhat insecure about the profession in general, he self-deprecatingly admits, “My grandfather cleared land and raised cattle and I wear makeup.”
Although Whitford is one of them, he doubts actors who use their public image to promote a political agenda. At his speech he confessed that “When Ben Affleck gets up to a podium and laments the growing trade deficit, I inevitably want to scream, ‘just shut up and entertain me, Meat Puppet!'” Whitford’s point, which he later made explicit, was to question our leaders and political activists.
The actor expressed real concern for the ongoing state of affairs in this country.
“I grew up in a family where the internalized understanding was that the kids were going to grow up into a better world,” he said. “I worry, because I don’t think my kids are going to have that. The world is very scary. The world would be scary without the choices the current administration made, but they just exacerbated it. And it ticks me off. I want my kids to have a good life.”