Born on Oct. 10, 1959 in Madison, WI, Whitford was raised in a Quaker family he later described as liberal and pinko. Bitten by the acting bug while attending Madison East High School, Whitford pursued a bachelor's degree in English and theater at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. After graduating in 1981, he continued his theater studies at the Juilliard School in New York City, which he attended for four years. He began his professional stage career opposite Kathy Bates in a production of Sam Shepard's "The Curse of the Starving Class" (1985). Whitford next made his onscreen acting debut soon after leaving Juilliard, starring in the thriller Doorman (), in which he played an apartment building doorman targeted by a deranged killer, after which he was cast in a small part by director William Friedkin for the made-for-television movie "C.A.T. Squad" (NBC, 1986), an action thriller about an international anti-terrorist unit trying to protect a top secret laser project. Following an appearance opposite Gena Rowlands in "The Betty Ford Story" (ABC, 1987), he was the snobbish boyfriend of Elisabeth Shue, whose cancellation of their date leads to her Adventures in Babysitting (1987).
Returning to the stage, Whitford was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster production of "Romeo and Juliet" (1988) during the New York Shakespeare Festival's marathon performance of all 36 of the Bard's plays. Whitford continued to immerse himself in theater roles, replacing actor Tom Hulce to make his Broadway debut in a production of "A Few Good Men" (1989), written by future "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin. With his career on the rise, Whitford resumed his onscreen career - often as a snobbish Yuppie type - playing a surgical resident in Vital Signs (1990), which he followed with a small supporting part in the courtroom thriller, Presumed Innocent (1990) and as a doctor in "Awakenings" (1990). Back on stage once again, he delivered an excellent and critically acclaimed performance as "Coriolanus" (1991) for the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. He was subsequently seen in small roles, playing Al Pacino's brother-in-law in Scent of A Woman (1992), a lawyer in Philadelphia (1993), and a sharpshooter assisting Clint Eastwood in A Perfect World (1993). Though cast in small supporting roles, Whitford was nonetheless appearing in major films with some of the day's top stars.
After appearing opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon in The Client (1994), he had a breakthrough playing the conniving subordinate of an overgrown rich kid (Adam Sandler) forced to go back to kindergarten in Billy Madison (1995). Meanwhile, the small screen offered him several meaty roles, including a world-weary private eye opposite Kate Capshaw in the short-lived "Black Tie Affair" (NBC, 1993), a recurring role on "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005), and as a man coping with the complications of his wife's pregnancy on the Emmy-winning "Love's Labor's Lost" episode of "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009). Following a major role supporting Richard Gere and Bai Ling in the political thriller "Red Corner" (1997), he tried series television once again, this time displaying his comedic gifts as one of three divorced buddies in the sitcom "The Secret Lives of Men" (ABC, 1998). The show tanked with audiences and was duly canceled after seven episodes. On the big screen, he had a prominent co-starring role in Masterminds (1997), followed by lesser parts in Bicentennial Man (1999) and The Muse (1999).
Whitford finally received his due in Aaron Sorkin's long running political drama, "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). As Josh Lyman, the sharp, witty and occasionally arrogant deputy chief of staff to the President of the United States (Martin Sheen), Whitford was a cast member for the show's entire seven season run. Though initially considered for the role of White House communications director Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), the actor fought for the part of Lyman over the objections of studio executives. Eventually, he won out with Sorkin's help and went on to win an Emmy Award for his performance in 2001, while earning another nomination the following year. He became a consistent red carpet presence, along with his wife, actress Jane Kaczmarek, who, herself, was enjoying a successful run on the sitcom, "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox, 2000-06). His stint on "The West Wing" kept him busy most of the year, leaving him little time to pursue separate projects other than small parts in features like "Kate and Leopold" (2001) and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005). Thanks to his liberal politics and starring role on a popular political drama, Whitford began making appearances as a panelist on "Real Time With Bill Maher" (HBO, 2003- ), where he aired his views on a variety of topics, including his opposition to the Iraq War.
Once "The West Wing" wound down to a conclusion, Whitford went right back to work with Aaron Sorkin on the writer's next series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07), an ambitious, but ultimately failed dramatic look at the behind-the-scenes goings-on of a "Saturday Night Live"-like show. Whitford played Danny Tripp, a former producer of the show and struggling drug addict who is brought back with his writing and producing partner (Matthew Perry) to breathe new life into the dying show. Despite the show's high profile development and marketing campaign prior to airing, "Studio 60" spent its short life in constant doubt whether or not it would be canceled even though a majority of critical reviews were positive. Whitford moved on to co-star as a prosecutor who tries a seemingly mild-mannered housewife (Catherine Keener) for kidnapping and murder in "An American Crime" (Showtime, 2008). Following a leading role in the global warming miniseries "Burn Up" (BBC, 2008), he had a small role in the adult ensemble comedy Bottle Shock (2008). To the shock of many, Whitford and wife Kaczmarek filed for divorce after 16 years of marriage. The long-term spouses had been a Hollywood rarity, though signs of a split were evident when Kaczmarek made cryptic comments about the state of her love life.
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