There's nothing I love more than a complex character. From The Soprano's Tony Soprano to House's Gregory House to The Handmaid's Tale's very own Serena Waterford, these characters have given television viewers a gift that just keeps on giving — it's just in the layers. Now, as Season 3 of the Hulu original series is well underway, fans have their eyes on Commander Joseph Lawrence, the morally ambiguous man who helped Emily escape Gilead in Season 2. So who plays Commander Lawrence on The Handmaid's Tale? Bradley Whitford has been in the entertainment business since the '80s, so chances are, you've seen him before.
With all the twists and turns that lie within Commander Lawrence's character, it's no surprise that The Handmaid's Tale team brought on a well-seasoned actor to play the role. Whitford is best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as Josh Lyman on The West Wing. He also portrayed Dean Armitage in Jordan Peele's Get Out, Don DaGradi in Saving Mr. Banks, and Hadley in Cabin in the Woods. And if you've been to the box office lately, you might have seen Whitford play Dr. Rick Stanton in Godzilla: King of Monsters. Nonetheless, the 13-year-old in me will always remember Whitford as Al — aka Carmen's dad — in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which also featured Whitford's Handmaid's Tale co-star, Alexis Bledel. My, how things have changed.
Understandably so, when Whitford was cast in The Handmaid's Tale, he was in awe. On the Today show, Al Roker asked Whitford if the Hulu series was the first role he took on as a fan. The actor responded:
I was very excited when this came up. I was aware of it and then I was binging it. Being on Handmaid's Tale is like doing a guest shot on The Godfather 2. You can't believe that you're there. It's such an incredible creative experience and obviously... unfortunately, it's a little too resonant culturally. But it's an amazing place to be.
Whitford also shared his thoughts on Commander Lawrence.
"It's very interesting. He is morally in play," the actor said. "He is incredibly frustrating and one of the most fascinating characters I've ever done."
Frustrating is right. Following the first three episodes of the third season, fans are questioning whether or not Commander Lawrence is a bad guy. But, it looks like everyone will just have to wait and see.
"We'll see where he lands," Whitford told Today.
But at least the actor who plays the Commander has a sense of humor about his role.
"Creepy, white privilege that appears to be my wheelhouse," Whitford joked. "Who knew that there was a career opportunity there?"
Prior to the release of The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, showrunner Bruce Miller discussed Commander Lawrence's character and the many layers that lie beneath the surface. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the showrunner explained that the Commander Lawrence was actually based on "academics in Germany [during World War II], who had come up with a lot of the plans and did calculations, and came up with the theories that ended up informing both the war and the Holocaust and the kind of Nazi racial policy."
Since the Commander was essentially — as Aunt Lydia put it — the "architect of Gilead's closed economy," the Hulu series dives into his sense of responsibility and guilt for the damage he has caused.
"He feels like an architect of a system that in a lot of ways broke his wife, and [that] makes him feel sick to his stomach," Miller told THR.
That said, Miller also made it clear that Commander Lawrence is no angel.
"He seems a little gone, with a glint in his eye. So that makes him very tough to predict, what he's going to do," the showrunner explained. "He can be helpful, or not so helpful. That's the kind of character we like, someone who is interesting and consistent, but in the end, unpredictable in some really basic and important ways."
When it comes to Commander Lawrence in The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, I am left baffled and conflicted. On one hand, he has helped June and Emily. On the other, he's a key player in the creation of Gilead as we know it. Whatever happens next is up to the writers, and I can't wait to watch it all unfold.
The Handmaid's Tale airs Wednesdays on Hulu.