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Whitford goes 'Boeing-Boeing'

The 'West Wing' actor is getting physical in the Broadway revival about a '60s bachelor with three fiancees.

May 30, 2008|Colleen Long | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- It's midmorning on a sunny spring day, and Bradley Whitford arrives a little late for an interview looking downright exhausted.

The day before was his first two-performance day in the Broadway revival of "Boeing-Boeing," he explains, and it took a lot out of him. That's an understatement, really, because the play -- a farce about a swinging 1960s bachelor in Paris juggling three stewardess fiancees -- is incredibly physical. The actors race around the stage, slamming doors, hopping over furniture and kissing passionately. At one point, Whitford does a gorilla impression while crawling, in a suit, on the floor.

"I feel like I ran a marathon, but in a good way," he says as he orders breakfast at a diner on Manhattan's East Side near his temporary apartment. (He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, "Malcolm in the Middle" star Jane Kaczmarek, and their three children.)

Whitford is best-known for his Emmy-winning role as Josh Lyman on NBC's "The West Wing." The show was canceled in 2006, after seven years on the air, something that made Whitford sad at the time.

"In retrospect, especially when something goes beyond your hopes in terms of what it's about, the writing and the people you're working with, you really don't want your banana to turn brown," Whitford says. "It was sad for it to end, but I think it happened at the right time."

He then co-starred with Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet in "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin's NBC drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." The series, about a late-night TV show, lasted only one season.

While much of his fame comes from his TV roles, he's no stranger to the stage or film, and he likes to skip among mediums.

"I think being on stage encourages you to be audacious, and the interesting thing about acting in front of a camera is you can't lie, you can't fake it," he says. "You have to be truthful in a way that on stage when you're projecting, it's not the same thing."

Whitford grew up in Madison, Wis., studied English literature and drama at Wesleyan University, and then earned a master's degree in theater from the Juilliard School.

His first professional performance was in the 1985 off-Broadway production of "Curse of the Starving Glass" with Kathy Bates, and from there he says he's tried to do at least three or four plays a year, though it was difficult during "West Wing" because the cast had only two months off a year.

Still he managed to perform in the original "Three Days of Rain" at the Manhattan Theatre Club, "Measure for Measure" at Lincoln Center Theater and the title role in "Coriolanus" at the Folger Theatre in Washington.

His screen credits include "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," "Little Manhattan," "Scent of a Woman," "Billy Madison" and "Presumed Innocent." He's also in the new Showtime production of "An American Crime" with Catherine Keener.

Now he's appearing in the role of Bernard in "Boeing-Boeing." The comedy -- a translation by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans from a French play by Marc Camoletti -- was on stage almost 50 years ago. It ran for seven years in London's West End, but died after less than a month on Broadway in 1965.

The show was a big hit in London again last year in a version directed by Matthew Warchus, known for his direction of the plays of Yasmina Reza.

Christine Baranski plays a long-suffering French housekeeper, who must be an air traffic controller, so to speak, for Whitford's Bernard, a successful businessman living in Paris. His old friend Robert (Mark Rylance) comes to visit just as the stewardesses' schedules change and mayhem ensues.

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