PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Senior White House adviser Josh Lyman was the most intelligent and effective political operative ever. Sadly, he's fictional. That being the case, we had to settle for talking with the actor who played him, Bradley Whitford.
BILL KURTIS: He joined us in the spring, and Peter asked him about playing the villain in the horror film "Get Out."
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SAGAL: So in this movie, you play this guy who turns out to be pretty evil. And do you think that you were cast in the role in part because, to so many, you're Josh Lyman - well-meaning, great White House aide who wants everything that's good?
BRADLEY WHITFORD: Yes, because that's exactly what Jordan said.
SAGAL: He really?
WHITFORD: Yeah. Yeah. He said, who is a better portrayer of predictable liberalism than me?
PETER GROSZ: The whole family is like that. Between Allison Williams...
GROSZ: ...And Catherine Keener, it's all people who people are, like, oh, I like that person.
SAGAL: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I loved her...
GROSZ: It's brilliant.
SAGAL: ...In that other movie and...
SAGAL: ...That TV show. And now, my god, what are they doing?
ALONZO BODDEN: Well, speaking for the black people, we didn't like you.
BODDEN: We weren't...
SAGAL: You weren't charmed.
BODDEN: I'm sure you're a nice guy and all that, but yeah. We - no, we had a meeting. We had a talk.
BODDEN: We didn't like you.
WHITFORD: I get very strange looks. I was getting some food in a strip mall, and they only took cash, and I didn't have it. And the woman said there was a cash machine in the barber shop next door. And I walked into, like, the set of the barber shop. And there were 10 African-American guys there. And I walked in, and they said, oh, my god.
SAGAL: I want to talk a little bit about "The West Wing" because I know - I mean, like, I grew up a Trekkie, and I have been to "Star Trek" conventions. So "Star Trek" fans are obsessive. They are as nothing compared to "West Wing" fans.
WHITFORD: Yeah. They're - we call them, like, Wing nuts.
SAGAL: And people seem to love that show because it represents the world - at least, the one that they wish they could live in of, like...
WHITFORD: Yeah - liberal progressive porn.
SAGAL: It really is.
SAGAL: Were you guys...
WHITFORD: Really well-informed, well-intentioned people. Let's just watch them solve it.
SAGAL: Were you - when you were making the show - which, of course, was during the Bush administration, it was...
SAGAL: ...For the most part, it was on the air - were you aware of that - that you were providing kind of an alternative reality to comfort people who were not enjoying living in the real world of that time?
WHITFORD: Yeah. Bush, by the way, looks like Abbie Hoffman now.
SAGAL: Yeah, I know.
WHITFORD: But yeah. It was weird because there was a time where it was kind of sad. I mean, the only upright Democrats were fictional, and it was odd and sort of - it became an alternative universe.
SAGAL: I want to ask you about the new movie, which is "The Post" - it's about the Washington Post, which is pretty great. Your character seems to be kind of a vague bad guy who's standing next to Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and telling her not to do the right thing because it's not prudent.
WHITFORD: Actually, that character is, I think, the only character in the movie who is not real, which is interesting. He's sort of an amalgamation of these - this is my child screaming at me. Hang on. Hey, baby, I'm on the radio. You've got to be quiet.
WHITFORD: They're used to me saying not now.
SAGAL: Yeah. How old is your child? Is it a boy or girl? I couldn't hear.
WHITFORD: That is my 15-year-old daughter. And I...
WHITFORD: Absolutely no respect.
SAGAL: Of course not. Of course not.
WHITFORD: Like, the - like, one of them said to me once a really devastating thing - said, come on, dad. I've seen dogs be good in movies.
WHITFORD: And the worst thing about that is that's an absolutely true statement.
SAGAL: It really is.
SAGAL: All right. Bradley Whitford, we have asked you here to play a game we're calling...
KURTIS: Headless Body in Topless Bar.
SAGAL: That, of course, was the most famous headline ever run by the New York Post. And we thought, since you're starring in a movie about The Washington Post, we'd ask you three questions about the other, less stodgy Post - the one in New York. Answer two questions right, and you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anybody on this show they may like. Bill, who is Bradley Whitford playing for?
KURTIS: Nicholas Godfrey, Louisville, Ky.
SAGAL: All right. You ready to do this?
WHITFORD: Is that his name? Or is that where he's from?
SAGAL: His name is Nicholas Godfrey.
WHITFORD: Oh, OK. From Louisville.
SAGAL: He's from Louisville.
WHITFORD: Got it.
SAGAL: Wait a minute. Did you think his name was Nicholas Godfrey, Louisville, Ky.?
WHITFORD: I was impressed.
SAGAL: It is.
SAGAL: All right. Here's - your first question about the New York Post is actually about that famous headline - Headless Body in Topless Bar. It ran on the front page in 1983. But it almost didn't run in the Post. Why? A, because it offended the delicate sensibility of the paper's owner, Rupert Murdoch...
SAGAL: ...B, because fact-checkers at the paper could not be sure if the bar was indeed a topless bar or C, because they ran out of capital S's in the compositing room and had to carve a new one to finish the word topless?
SAGAL: You're going to go for B. You are right.
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SAGAL: This is an amazing story.
SAGAL: There's this gruesome crime in New York. And the editors say, we'll run a headline - "Headless Body In Topless Bar." And they said, but is it really a topless bar? They sent somebody out to check.
SAGAL: And it turned out to be, so they could run the headline. Next question - known for its gossip pages, sometimes, the Post has done public service journalism, as when they did what in 1989? A, gave students the answers to an important statewide test by printing them on its front page...
SAGAL: ...B, published a fold-it-yourself cardboard knife in case you got mugged or C, printed a full-color rat identification guide so New Yorkers could tell the Norway rat from the common brown rat?
SAGAL: No. It was actually A. They printed the answers to the New York State Regents Exam on their front page.
SAGAL: And because the Post published the answers, the quiz was canceled. Yay.
SAGAL: All right. Last question - and if you get this one, you win it all. Australian Col Allan, also known as Col Pot, was the editor-in-chief of the Post from 2001 to just last year, 2016. He was known for what quirky habit? A, sniping at people in the newsroom with a BB gun; B, urinating into his office wastebasket during meetings or C, shouting by crikey every few seconds?
WHITFORD: Well, it's the Post. I'm sure he's urinating in the trash can.
SAGAL: You're right. Yes...
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SAGAL: ...Of course that's what he's doing.
SAGAL: In fact, he was so famous for doing this throughout his career that when he came to the Post, they gifted him with a brand-new wastebasket.
SAGAL: Bill, how did Bradley Whitford do on our quiz?
KURTIS: Two out of 3. You won, Bradley. Good for you.
SAGAL: Bradley Whitford is starring in the new film "The Post." Bradley Whitford, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME. What a joy to talk to you.
WHITFORD: My pleasure.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.