Thoughts on Bradley Whitford’s on screen…

Thoughts on Bradley Whitford’s on screen persona? Are his current roles personifying toxic white masculinity a continuation of the douches he played in his pre-THE WEST EING days? (See SCENT OF A WOMAN, or ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING). Is TWW an aberration despite being his most well known role? How would you fit his two roles on TRANSPARENT with all this? (Or for that matter TROPHY WIFE.) (Feel free to ignore examples you haven’t seen.)

Oh dear, other than The West Wing, I have seen precisely none of these.  But I do remember joking sometime in the last few years that Bradley Whitford seemed to be the go-to guy for obnoxious white privileged dickery – maybe it was when I saw him in Cabin in the Woods?  (He also played that role with distinction in The Post, the Agent Carter short and Get Out, so all credit to him – he is very, very good at it).

I think The West Wing was a little bit of an aberration, because from what I remember hearing about it, Josh was never intended to be the ‘hero’, Sam was.  And I can’t help but think that chemistry had a lot to do with that – Whitford was just a lot more fun bouncing off Allison Janney and John Spencer and Janel Moloney and Martin Sheen – whereas, I don’t think Rob Lowe had blinding chemistry with any of them.  (Compare Rob Lowe in Parks and Rec – he just seems to fit better there, and I think the personal chemistry was the cause).

And I hate to say it – because I always feel super-mean when I write these things – but I think a lot of it comes down to his looks.  Because, while Bradley Whitford is a good-looking man (and he looks much better with the white beard than I would ever have expected), he is not the kind of drop-dead stop you on the street handsome that usually gets cast as the hero.  

I mention this, because when thinking about both Veep and Mad Men, it’s noticeable that the embodiment of obnoxious male privilege, the character we are all encouraged to despise…well, it’s never the unequivocally beautiful man.  The audience is given permission to loathe Jonah and Pete Campbell – the narrative actually leans into their awfulness, showcasing it for – but Don and Dan never really receive that treatment.  (Again, I feel really mean writing this down – I think Timothy Simmons is very handsome – outside of whatever the Veep costume and make-up department does to him – and, while he’s not my personal type, Vincent Kartheiser has very pretty eyes, and was quite obviously ‘uglied’ up for Mad Men).  (This is all paranoia that some day one of these actors will come across a post of mine and be hurt because I insulted their looks – which, I do know that that is tremendously unlikely…but still).  We don’t want our despicable white males to be too good-looking apparently – perhaps because if they’re too handsome it ends up distracting from the point being made?

I think it’s also somewhat down to the…type of charisma Whitford has.  People talk about big and small screen actors as though there are clear-cut distinctions, when really it’s more of a spectrum.  Some actors have a kind of screen-eating quality that doesn’t seem to have much of anything to do with their actual talent or skill – Angelina Jolie for instance, or Will Smith, neither of whom I would consider particularly impressive or nuanced actors, both have this.  They draw the eye.  Whereas others have a charisma that thrives on intimacy, on the small moments – Julia Louis-Dreyfus seems the perfect example of that to me, because it’s long been clear film-makers don’t have the faintest idea what to do with her (women aren’t supposed to be pretty and funny), but on television, where she can create a character over years, she thrives.  

He’s also very good at playing a loveable asshole, which has to be a factor.  It’s no small skill, playing someone who really is obnoxious in just about every way, and still managing to keep the audience with the character.  The actor needs to have a lot of charm to counterbalance all the awful things the character is doing – there is a very fine line between a rogue and a dick, and not all actors are able to dance along it for a prolonged period.  

As in, Whitford may keep getting cast as these awful men precisely because he himself is so likeable, and so there’s a kind of counterweight that ensures the characters remain human.  (As much as all the characters in Veep are terrible people, I think Reid Scott is the only one who has to deal with this particular challenge – or maybe…Dan Bakkedahl as Furlong also has it to a lesser extent?  Gary and Mike and Kent and Amy and Ben are each dreadful people, but I don’t think the audience’s relationship with them has the kind of love-to-hate-hate-to-love quality that it does with Dan, and, to a lesser extent, because her complexities are so much greater, Selina).