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Bradley Whitford talks politics, brings laughs to Miami’s lecture series

“The West Wing” star Bradley Whitford brought the house down with laughs at his lecture series event.
“The West Wing” star Bradley Whitford brought the house down with laughs at his lecture series event.

Bradley Whitford, star of the hit drama “The West Wing,” and for his role in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” brought the house down with laughter in Miami University’s first lecture series event of the spring semester.

Opening with a big, “What’s up, Miami?”, the Emmy-award-winning actor known for his role as Josh Lyman kept the atmosphere light while delving deep into his view of the current political landscape. 

“It’s easier to be cynical now more than ever,” Whitford said. “That’s exactly what the forces of repression want us to feel: that your vote doesn’t matter, that your participation doesn’t matter. The moment you abandon the political process, you sentence yourself to a gulag dictated by the people who do participate.

Despite some darker moments as Whitford talked about political affairs, he spent most of his time remembering “The West Wing,” which he jokingly described as “soothing, progressive porn,” its unexpected influence and how he made it big.

As a graduate of the Juilliard School, Whitford struggled to find worthwhile roles. He described one of his earlier film roles, “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise,” as a bad movie. However, it came right before Aaron Sorkin, writer and creator of “The West Wing,” found Whitman a leading role on the acclaimed show.

“Aaron really went out on a limb and fought to keep me in the game,” Whitford said. “I was at a gas station in Santa Monica, and I had a new thing called a cell phone. Aaron called and said, ‘Great news. You’re in the show. You’re going to be Sam.’”

Whitford had the crowd laughing constantly, with several moments when the crowd’s laughter interrupted his answers during the Q&A with John Forren, executive director of the Menard Family Center for Democracy. Many in the crowd of hundreds were excited to see the actor who played a role that defined television dramas.

Photo by Sarah Frosch | The Miami Student
Hundreds were in attendance to see Bradley Whitford, known for his role in “The West Wing” and “Get Out.”

“We try to watch everything he’s in,” Michele Abrams, a Miami alumna who graduated in 1972, said. “We grew up with ‘The West Wing.”

Bob Viney, Abrams’ husband, hoped to see if Whitford’s politics matched the character on the show.

“[We’re most interested in] seeing if the political views on the show match his own and what he thinks about the difference between the ideal west wing and the current and previous west wings,” Viney said.

Whitford, an outspoken progressive Democrat, has worked on fundraisers for Democratic candidates including Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, and President Joe Biden. Though weary of celebrity influence in politics, Whitford hopes to use his influence for the better.

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“Most people want to spend the currency of celebrity productively,” Whitford said. “Politics is where you create your moral vision.”

When not talking about Democratic candidates or his disdain for Republicans in contemporary politics, Whitford spent much of his time joking about experiences on “The West Wing,” including his years-long battle with former co-star Josh Malina.

Whitford recounted prank wars in which Malina got the director of an episode arrested for stealing props — Malina planted them. Whitford also talked about his failed plan to get Malina in the Screen Actors’ Guild “In Memoriam” reel to have Malina pronounced “dead” to Hollywood.

He also told the story of one of “The West Wing” episodes he wrote, which he used primarily to get Malina to say, on national television, “I can’t act.”

Attendees of the lecture were happy to see a partisan speaker, seeing it as refreshing to hear from someone who had defined views. Jaime Spears, a Miami 2018 alumna, thought hearing from someone passionate in his beliefs was great for college campuses.

“I think getting students access that might not easily get access, to hear it from a perspective in person is a good idea,” Spears said.

Whitford closed his lecture with a Q&A from the audience. Among the topics discussed were specific influential episodes like “Isaac and Ishmael” and when Yo-Yo Ma guest starred and passed his priceless cello around to the extras. Whitford also talked about the experience of shooting when former co-star John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry, passed away.

“It was very weird to shoot a scene where I’m told Leo’s dead, I have a scene where I’m a pallbearer,” Whitford said. “It was like a month after …”

The episode in which Spencer’s character passed away mimics the actual events following Spencer’s death in 2005.

Whitford made sure to keep things happy before and after each sad moment he recounted. Eerily echoing the persona of his character on “The West Wing,” he joked with an attendee about one of his romantic moments in the series.

“‘If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights,’” the attendee quoted from the show.

“Say it again,” Whitford replied, leading the audience to erupt in laughter.