‘CBGB”s Bradley Whitford talks about New York when it wasn’t nice

Bradley Whitford plays a sleazy record exec in the biopic "CBGB." Credit: Getty Images
Bradley Whitford plays a sleazy record exec in the biopic “CBGB.”
Credit: Getty Images

Bradley Whitford doesn’t have a huge role in “CBGB,” the new biopic on the legendary NYC club that helped birth the punk and New Wave movements in America. He plays Nicky Gant, a sleazy, hedonistic record exec, making him one of the only actors playing a fictional person.

“The West Wing” star reminisces to Metro about a club he only went to once, by accident, at a time when Manhattan was a much more dangerous place.

Did you have any experience with CBGB back in the day?

I wandered in there. I was going to acting school in the early ‘80s, and I wandered in there one bourbon-soaked evening.

Was anyone playing?

No, it was just a night out. I have a vague memory of being there. I did not experience the scene. I did experience the bar counter.

What was it like on a night when they didn’t have a band playing? Was it just a dive bar?

Yeah, it was divey. It had a grungy authenticity. It wasn’t as I think a place like that would be today. It wasn’t Disneyfied or corporatized. It was clearly a little business.

The Bowery is so much cleaner and richer today than it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The city has changed so much. My god, Alphabet City used to be a really different kind of place. Now it’s totally fine. I remember, I was this stupid idiot from Wisconsin, this acting student. I was doing a play. I was playing a heroin addict. So I went down to Avenue D and I bought some heroin. [Laughs] Stupid. I didn’t use it.

What did you do with it?

I just wanted to see what it was like to go buy it and get a needle. That’s as far as I went. I’m always fascinated by the line where research is trumped by fear. Usually it’s trumped by vanity. I was too chicken to try it, but you could go down there and they asked me if I wanted Hitler or Nancy Reagan. I took the Nancy Reagan. [Laughs]

How much research was involved and what kind of research?

I read “Just Kill Me” [oral history book about punk]. I looked at some videos. I was not playing a real human, which was helpful.

How did you get into that scene?

Basically I was chain smoking and snorting powdered sugar. That was the research I did. [Laughs]

What’s it like snorting powdered sugar?

You should f—in’ try it, man. [Laughs] If you mix it with a little Hitler it’s awesome. No, it was funny, I brought my then 9-year-old daughter and then realized I had brought her to the set to watch daddy chain-smoking and snort fake cocaine. Snorting powdered sugar for about a shooting day will get you kind of buzzy. You get a little sugar high. You get a sweet taste dripping down the back of your throat.

Inevitable Aaron Sorkin question: Any plans to crash “The Newsroom”?

I will do any role for Aaron. I will do yard work for Aaron. I honestly think that it I think it would be a little weird for a “West Wing” person to walk into that world. I don’t know. I would do it in a second. Call him. Tell him. Do what you can.


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