LOS ANGELES – Bradley Whitford says director Jordan Peele gave his career a turbo boost.
By casting him as Allison Williams’ father in “Get Out,” Peele introduced the former “West Wing” star to a new audience.
“What Jordan did was a miracle,” Whitford says. “When you’re a guy pushing 60 and you’re lucky enough to be in a movie like that, it opens a lot of opportunities.”
Among them: a recent Emmy-winning turn in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the starring role in “Perfect Harmony,” an NBC sitcom about a former Princeton music professor who finds redemption in a small-town church.
The roles have enabled the 60-year-old Madison, Wisconsin, native to play a host of diverse characters, including that of a closeted transvestite in “Transparent.” It, too, won him an Emmy.
“Handmaid’s Tale,” however, made him sweat. “I was so in love with that show,” Whitford says. “I felt like I got a guest shot on ‘Godfather 2.’ I usually don’t get intimidated, but it took a while to get past your fear. When you go into something like that, you just think you’re going to diminish it.”
When he got the Emmy nomination, “I was so relieved: ‘OK, so you didn’t make it worse.” Even better? It won him his third Emmy.
Now stretching even further with “Perfect Harmony” (which features plenty of physical comedy), he says he wouldn’t hesitate to return to “The West Wing” if a much-rumored reboot occurred.
“It’s all up to Aaron (Sorkin, the creator),” Whitford says. “Everybody keeps talking about it, but there’s a fear about doing it. I used to say while we were doing the show, ‘You want to get out before your banana turns brown.’ It was such a wonderful experience, you don’t want to sully it with a lesser version. Aaron would have to find a way to do it.”
Peele, however, cracked the door to Whitford’s popularity.
“You look back at how (‘Get Out’) turned out and you assume we always knew it would turn out that way,” he says. “We did not. If you get that tone wrong, it could be a disaster. It was a $4.5 million movie shot in 21, 22 days and nobody thought it would do anything. At best, it would be a really loved $30 million movie ... and then it just turned into this explosion.”
“Get Out” was nominated for Best Picture, won Peele the Oscar for Best Screenplay and fueled a discussion about racism in the United States.
Part of its success, Whitford says, was Peele’s way of working with actors. One of the stars of “Key and Peele," Peele kept the horror film’s set light. “He’d direct us as Obama. It was fun.”
Peele also didn’t tell his actors what to do. “Only the insecure directors do that,” Whitford explains. “They don’t allow themselves to be surprised. The best directors – like Jordan and Steven Spielberg – want you to engage creatively. They’re very collaborative.”
Married earlier this year to actress Amy Landecker, Whitford says his personal life is in a different place, too.
“Since I met her,” he says of his former “Transparent” co-star, "my blood pressure dropped and it’s been a very calm, loving, supportive relationship that just sort of feels like home.”
“Perfect Harmony” airs Thursdays on NBC.