The Animal Side of Acting: Shea Whigham on Gaslit | Interviews

But most of all, this is the G. Gordon Liddy Show. Shea Whigham’s performance as the only White House Plumber to never name names is one for the ages. His hair is dyed jet black, with a mustache to boot; he doesn’t blink, and sometimes his entire face above his mouth doesn’t move at all. Whigham delivers, with equal parts panache and soul, a perfect portrayal of a man who operates outside the bounds of normalcy in every conceivable way; to Liddy, none of this is anything less than an 11th-century crusade to preserve America. Whigham’s body swells as he corners Magruder; he causes Dean to physically shrink in his presence. And although Liddy’s zeal can be seen from space, he has honor. He petrifies his colleagues into delirium, but he adores his children. This is a landmark role for Whigham, one that will be celebrated and studied for decades to come. I spoke with Whigham about his performance on “Gaslit” last week. 

I think this is the role of your lifetime. Would you agree?

Thank you. Yeah, well, thank you for that. It’s interesting to unpack this. It’s the toughest. I think it may be the toughest one, you’re right. That I’ve had to take on, just because of how much was known about him and how well known he is. I mean, it was the one that scared me the most, the most recent I’ve taken on. It took every day, all day, for months to stay in there with him. For me to make sure I got him right. You know, so yeah, I think you’re right.

Which is really interesting, because I spoke with an editor friend of mine, because I was so excited to speak with you. And he said, “I’m thrilled you get to talk to him, because he’s one of those actors who seems like he nailed it just by existing.” I think Reverend Theriot is a really great example of that, because I just believed that you were an evangelical minister.

Without expounding too much on how hard it is to try to find these characters, it’s a pound of flesh. I mean, that one, I had to follow a preacher in Northern California for weeks at a time to try to find that realism. With Liddy, I knew there’s an inherent trap with Gordon Liddy. He can become a caricature or a cartoon character if you’re not careful unto himself. So I wanted to find the real man without and do it. And I wanted to do him justice. I told Matt Ross, I want to make sure I give him a fair shake. You know what I mean? Insanity down to what are his honorable qualities? And he is, he does have those. And that was what I had to hang my hat on, if you will. He never named names. He wasn’t a snitch, right? He never did it. Everybody else did around him. And he went for 23 years, he was going to serve that time. So I feel like that’s something that’s a base, that’s a foundation, you can start to play a man that had these other qualities you know. And then the way that he treated his family, those five kids and Francis. And I said if we start there, then we have a human being and then it can go anywhere. Then I can take him anywhere. You know what I mean? And he’s a lot funnier than you think. 

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