Eight Life Lessons I Learned From Meeting Bradley Whitford
I moved to DC in 2012 ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of my obsession with a TV show called The West Wing. My favourite character — after briefly being distracted by the pure hotness of Sam Searborn — was and remains Josh Lyman, and more specifically Josh and Donna in combination. By April 2013, I had met Richard Schiff, Melissa Fitzgerald, Rob Lowe, and Stockard Channing, all of which was very exciting, but I was getting very impatient to meet Bradley Whitford, who played Josh.
I lived a ten-minute walk from the Hilton where the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is held, so I wandered down to star-spot, but never once did it occur to me, seven years after the end of The West Wing, that Bradley Whitford would be among the guests. And yet!
Here’s what I wrote about unexpectedly meeting him at the time, once I had ever-so-slightly come down off my high.
The best things in life often happen when you don’t expect them
DC has been wonderful.
But some things, very occasionally, let’s be honest, have been a let-down. They have generally been the things I have been building up in my head for ages. On Election Night I missed the moment when the result was called, and I didn’t get to high five with a large room full of my exhilarated campaign buddies. On Inauguration Day I narrowly missed out on seeing the President after sitting in the cold for hours. But this — this was different.
I went celeb-spotting outside the White House Correspondents’ Dinner at the Washington Hilton with very few expectations. It was just down the road and might be fun. Would it be nice to see Matthew Perry? Sure. Would I like to be able to tweet a picture of Kerry Washington? You bet. But If I hadn’t — well, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.
By 7 or so, I’d seen a few celebs and lots of pretty dresses. That was going to be plenty — I was happy enough to go home and watch the dinner on TV on C-Span. (Because what better way to spend a Saturday night than watching a load of semi-famous people sitting around eating and having fun without you?)
Until there was a rumour that the two men in the distance, chatting in the driveway like old friends, were Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. And it really did look like them. And then Brad moved and there was something about the gesture that made him instantly recognisable to me.
Always look your best
I’d been running late(ish) and not been intending to be in any photos that day: I wore a nice dress, mostly on the off-chance that I’d be able to sneak into the hotel, but I didn’t blow dry my hair. And I wore perfume, but not my favourite one.
Always blow dry your hair. Always wear your favourite perfume.
The fact that something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it has to be a let-down
For the last couple of years, I’d been dithering about whether I should meet Brad, and the reason was this: meeting him in person couldn’t possibly live up to expectations. Everyone always says he is super nice when they meet him, but what if he was having an off day? What if someone else (unfairly, unreasonably, damn it) got all his time and attention? And, of course, there was always the very high possibility that I would say something stupid and forever be embarrassed to show my face around him again.
Let’s face it, unless it resulted in him asking me to have dinner and offering to write the screenplay for the movie based on my novel, it was going to be a disappointment.
Well, no. It wasn’t.
He came up the escalator texting. My friend had been surreptitiously hiding behind a pillar and she called me over.
Because he was texting, I had a moment to catch my breath before I went up to him. He looked like a normal person with his phone. A normal person in a tux, mind you.
Because he was texting, he didn’t walk past straight away like everyone else had. It was like the moment was arranged for me.
I went up to him and said, “could I please get a photo with you?”. He said, of course. Then he apologised for being distracted by his phone. And I, of course, graciously replied, “don’t apologise! I’m the one in your space. I’m just grateful you’re taking the time. I love your work.”
No. I didn’t say that. I said — oh mortification — “that’s okay — not like I’ve been waiting four hours for you or anything!”. It was gentle ribbing in a charming British accent. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
And then I asked him if it was fun that night. He said. “Yes, it was a lot of fun.” Said it in that nice voice of his.
And then — yes, predictably — some other people asked him over and I could have sworn they got more time and attention than me. But you know what? In the moment, it hardly mattered at all. Bradley Whitford had put his arm around me! I had finally met him! It’s four weeks later and I still can’t believe it actually happened.
In a tux.
The night before, I had been watching him on my iPad in a tux in DC, and here he was in a tux in DC. With me.
“You look like you’re in a West Wing episode,” one of my friends said about our picture.
One amazing experience is often not enough
I sort of always knew once wasn’t enough. The plan was never just to meet him once. The plan was to become friends.
Also, one of my friends asked me (jokingly, I think), “so, Claire — what did Bradley Whitford smell like?”. And I didn’t know. I didn’t know! Next time I will take these things in.
And, I said the stupid thing about the waiting four hours and I want to redeem myself and say something nicer and less stupid.
So yeah. I need to meet him again. And we still need to have dinner.
(Edit from 2020: we did, in fact, have lunch once. But don’t tell 2013 Claire that or she might explode.)
Dreams come true
This is for the twelve-year-old in me who never got to meet Jason Donovan. Whose parents thought that front-row tickets to his concert were an unnecessary extravagance.
When your dreams come true, you find out who your friends are
One of my friends simply posted, “this picture makes my year”. Others retweeted the photo or tweeted to check I was still breathing. One of them passed my email with the photo around to everyone around her. All night the messages of congratulations (!) kept coming, and then it was 2 a.m. and my UK friends starting waking up and posting too. At Church the next day people came up to me and hugged me congratulations. The next week, a friend of mine who has just had a baby said “but let’s talk about your big news!”.
People who care about me know what a big deal this was. How much I had wanted it. This is, after all, the guy who inspired my first novel (and after whom the main character is named). He’s the reason I’m in DC and the reason I write at all (well, okay, him and Aaron Sorkin).
Make sure your iPhone is charged
The moment and the buzz lasted because of the tweeting and the Facebooking. Sometimes, those things stop us living in the moment. Other times, they extend and magnify the moment and become part of it.
The buzz of a dream-come-true will last
I still can’t go past the Washington Hilton without smiling.
(Update from 2020: still true.)