Extended Interview: Bradley Whitford
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
TERENCE SMITH: How important for this show is it to be real and credible?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: You need to be real enough to be believable, but you don’t necessarily have to be real enough to be real. And there is a distinction. We’re telling a story. And the demands of that are different from the demands of, really, a documentary. The audience must believe in order to keep faith in the story, and that’s the sort of level of reality that you go to.
TERENCE SMITH: So to get that, how much research or work did you do about the role of a deputy chief of staff?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: Well, it was interesting, because in the end it came down pretty quickly. The Stephanopoulos book–which I retitled “Everything Brad Whitford Needs To Know To Do This TV Show”–was very helpful, just because it gave a sense of the sort of smell and the texture and the level of intimacy with the president, which I was just unaware of.
I’ve always been a political junkie, so I’ve always done a lot of political reading. I thought it was a great untapped arena, because in shows like this you have personal stories against a backdrop of inherent conflict. There is so much theatricality and so much conflict here.
And the reservation the networks always had was, “Well, everybody hates politicians”; to which my answer was always, “More than they hate lawyers?” So you know, I think just in terms of research, though, I mean, we’re constantly–We are fed by, you know, each trip here [to Washington, D.C.] and any contact that we have.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, did you go and meet and talk to your counterpart?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: Yeah. And you know, the White House’s view of us was always, I think, kind of comical. They were happy to be heroicized and happy to be played by people wearing makeup with music behind them. But I think they didn’t have a lot of time for us to sit around their office.
TERENCE SMITH: Can a show like this, with dramatic license, convey the truth about a White House, even better than conventional news reporting?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: Well, I’ll tell you what they can do — and I don’t know how to express this without mixing about five metaphors. But what’s very interesting playing a role like this, and I think what the show does well, is it shows the context of the difficulties of these decisions.
And the issue for my character every week, and the issue of the show, to an extent, every week–and here’s where the metaphors get mixed–is, how dirty do your feet have to get without suffocating yourself in the mud in order to get an inch of what you really want done?
I think the difficulty of making those decisions is something that we can show in a way that the press doesn’t. I think the press feels as though it loses its credibility if it isn’t critical in a way that sometimes verges on a kind of bitchiness.