Bradley Whitford on Playing Rahm Emanuel

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Photo: Getty Images

Remember back when Bush was president and things were really bad, but you could always watch the West Wing, and pretend, at least for a few hours, that Martin Sheen was president? The show is off the air now, but one of the characters is now in the real White House: Bradley Whitford's character, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, was based on Rahm Emanuel, back when he was special adviser to the Clintons. Jada Yuan caught up with Whitford backstage at the Heart Truth fashion show, in which his wife, Jane Kaczmarek, was one of the models, and got some insights on Obama's chief of staff.

Have you gotten your invitation to the Obama White House yet?
I saw him at the inauguration and he said, "You have to come to the White House! But not for a while. We're a little busy."

You don't get to weigh in on appointments?
No, strangely enough. I mean, Barack is supposed to call me tonight because of this whole Commerce thing. But mostly, no. I do not.

What were the particular Rahm-isms your character mimicked?
My character sent a dead fish to someone. I actually heard Obama say the other day, "People think Rahm is a bad guy, but he has a really soft side. He volunteers to teach profanity to underprivileged kids." Pretty much all of the loose-cannon episodes, where my desire to win outweighed my ethics, are sometimes based on Rahm. Not that he would ever do that.

Is he that bizarre? I mean, I’ve met the guy.
Not bizarre. Just, uh, blunt. I think that if you played Rahm Emanuel like Rahm Emanuel actually is, I don’t think people would believe it. I think people would think, “Wow, I can’t believe somebody is actually like that.”

Ever see him dance?
No, but I wanted to put that in the show. I wanted Josh to take ballet lessons, but it never happened.

Do you have a ranking system for who on the West Wing cast gets to go to the White House first?
Do you mean, does Martin [Sheen] get the first reception? No, I mean, we went into the Clinton and the Bush White House. But we’re not on anymore. And that’s okay. We don’t have to do that show anymore because we don’t have to pretend anymore. We have a smart guy in office now.