For Bradley Whitford, being bad has had its benefits.
Since first attracting notice with his Emmy-winning portrayal of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman in "The West Wing," the veteran character actor has been a steady presence in several TV series and films, including "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," "Trophy Wife," "The Cabin in the Woods" and "Saving Mr. Banks." His specialty has been playing intelligent guys who may have a bit of an edge.
But Whitford's career received a healthy jolt in the past few years, with revelatory portrayals of dangerous, menacing characters in high-profile projects. His role as an awkwardly pleasant neurosurgeon with a sinister racist agenda in Jordan Peele's "Get Out" was highly praised, and his work on Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" as the ominous and contradictory Commander Lawrence, one of the key architects of the oppressive Gilead, has earned him an Emmy nomination for guest actor.
That momentum, after a resume full of supporting and featured roles, has finally led Whitford to his first solo lead, starring in NBC's new comedy "Perfect Harmony." This time around, he's breaking good (well, sort of), playing a decent guy with more than a few chips on his shoulder.
The silver-haired Whitford regards "Perfect Harmony" as the latest highlight in a career that has taken on new vitality. In addition to having his name above the title, he's also an executive producer.
"It's an obnoxiously good and lucky time for me," Whitford says with a knowing, good-natured laugh during lunch earlier this month at a noisy Pasadena restaurant. Although the temperature outside has topped 100 degrees, he looks cool and upbeat -- despite the fact he's wearing a denim jacket over his black T-shirt.
He makes a joke about his recent gallery of dark characters: "My wheelhouse seems to be playing creepy white privilege." But the challenge of taking on figures whose political philosophies are diametrically opposed to his own liberal views -- and the success he's had doing so -- has given him the confidence to take more risks as a performer.
And if professional accolades weren't enough, he got married just a few months ago to Amy Landecker, who also appears in "The Handmaid's Tale." The couple met around five years ago when they were in the cast of "Transparent." (He previously was married to actress Jane Kaczmarek. They divorced in 2010.)
Whitford is still getting used to his heightened celebrity. He is particularly amused by the "very weird" phenomenon of young black men who recognize him and want to take selfies, "with me acting like I'm auctioning them off."
"Perfect Harmony" stars Whitford as Arthur Cochran, a former Princeton music professor who feels he has little to live for after the death of his wife. But when he happens upon a small-town choir who lack the requisite chemistry, the crusty Cochran finds new purpose in trying to get the singers in sync. The members of the choir in turn believe Cochran might be the answer to their prayers to deal with their dysfunction and help them in competitions.