Bradley Whitford in episode 405 of The Handmaid's Tale
Bradley Whitford on the set of The Handmaid's Tale
Regrets? Bradley Whitford has a few.
Start with the fact that he directed the finale of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2007... and then waited fifteen years before venturing behind the camera again. "As an actor, there's a psychology of submission in that someone must choose you to do something," he explains. "It's a corrosive feeling, because you're so tantalizingly close to a really fulfilling creative life."
In Toronto, where he's working on the penultimate episode of season five of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, his feelings have changed. "I honestly have enjoyed it so much," he says. "I was just saying to my wife that I'm sorry I haven't done this a lot more."
In his defense, the man has been busy.
Looking back at his seven-season run on The West Wing as White House staffer Josh Lyman, Whitford calls the character "emotionally constipated, ethical and infuriating." But the role brought him three Emmy nominations and one Emmy win. Since the series wrapped in 2006, he has turned up in everything from Shameless to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to The Mentalist to Mom.
And just when audiences thought they had him pegged, Whitford played Marcy as well as Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (among other characters) in Transparent, for which he logged two more Emmy nominations and another win. He also met his aforementioned spouse, actress Amy Landecker, on the show.
"It makes me happy to be able to play those different parts, and I feel incredibly lucky," he says, noting that he was typecast as "the asshole" in the 1980s and early '90s. "I want casting directors and writers to know that just because an actor is good at one kind of part, it doesn't mean they're not good at another one. This goes all the way up the food chain. I remember when Meryl Streep wanted to do more commercial stuff."
Whitford has upended expectations again as Commander Joseph Lawrence on The Handmaid's Tale, for which he's racked up three more nominations and, in 2019, his third Emmy win. Though laconic and gruff — he agreed to bomb Chicago, after all — Lawrence helped heroine June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) set up the murder of the vile Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) outside of Gilead in the season-four finale.
"June touched something in him that was decent," Whitford says of Lawrence. "Now they're having discussions about how a free society works. Do you solve problems by gaining power within the system, or do you attack it from the outside?"
Offscreen, Whitford says his power dynamic with Moss has changed since they first costarred on The West Wing — when she was a teenager. Watching her direct three episodes last season, he was so wowed he decided to follow suit. "Lizzie was just extraordinary," he says, "and her bravery inspired me to do it."
He adds that it's been a complicated yet rewarding process — and he won't go so long before trying it again. "I feel like I'm finally going to a high-end film school," he says. "It's a pretty good one for a sixty-two-year-old former asshole."
Season five of The Handmaid's Tale debuts September 14 on Hulu.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #10, 2022, under the title, "Delay and Delight."