‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Bradley Whitford’s 1 ‘Insecurity’ About Playing Commander Joseph Lawrence

Bradley Whitford has played Commander Joseph Lawrence for three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale. And he fit right into the cast immediately. But as is turns out, there’s one aspect of playing Commander Joseph Lawrence that makes Whitford feel insecure, and it involves The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4.]

Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence in 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 Episode 8, 'Testimony.' Bradley Whitford's character in 'The Handmaid's Tale' wasn't in Margaret Atwood's original novel, which Whitford said makes him feel 'insecure' at times. But the character is still captivating. In this photo, he stands in home library with his hands in his pockets. He wears a leather suit vest with a button-down shirt underneath and neck scarf and glasses.
Bradley Whitford as Commander Joseph Lawrence in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 8, ‘Testimony’ | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

What happens to Commander Lawrence in season 4 of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

Whitford’s character in The Handmaid’s Tale sauntered onto the show in season 2 as Emily’s new Commander. And Emily soon learned things were done differently in his house. At the end of season 2, he orchestrated Emily’s escape, making room for June and Nichole in the process. When June stayed behind, he took her in as his new Handmaid. And in season 3, he oscillated between seemingly supporting Gilead and wanting to help people get out of it.

But audiences soon learned his role in the creation of Gilead — specifically, the colonies — destroyed his wife. Her mental health never recovered from the horrors her husband helped create. Having that effect on his wife changed him forever, as did Eleanor Lawrence’s death died in season 3.

In The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, Lawrence gets his power in Gilead back. And suddenly, he seems to think better of the country he rebelled against and works with Nick to change things in his favor. You never really know how Lawrence will react to anything. One day he’s comfortable with bombing Chicago. The next he’s helping June carry out her plan to kill Fred.

Whitford told The Wrap Lawrence’s behavior in season 4 is all about making amends to his late wife.

“It’s sort of pathetic that it takes that kind of personal loss for people to imagine the losses of others,” he said. “But it’s given him a kind of daring that he didn’t have before. I think he has a debt to pay.”

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Bradley Whitford’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ character isn’t in Margaret Atwood’s book

While The Handmaid’s Tale writers and Whitford have created a fascinating character in Lawrence, he’s actually not in The Handmaid’s Tale book. When The Los Angeles Times asked Whitford what he would ask Margaret Atwood, he said:

“I always have this insecurity because I live in her world, but she never wrote my character. I guess I would ask her what I want to ask anybody who’s connected with the show or has seen the show: ‘Do you think I suck?'”

Atwood does like the The Handmaid’s Tale. She believes it’s done a solid job of keeping the plot interesting since it ran out of book material at the end of season 1. And Atwood appreciates the diversity in the cast. Overall, she’s pleased with the adaptation of her work.

“I think I would have to be awfully stupid to resent it because things could have been so much worse,” she said, according to The Guardian. “They have done a tippety-top job… the acting is great, they’ve stuck to the central set of premises.”

Director Liz Garbus and Commander Lawrence actor Bradley Whitford on set of 'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 4 Episode 10, 'The Wilderness.' Whitford sits in a wool coat, paisley suit vest, neck scarf, and glasses in a yellow booth at a diner in daytime. Whitford is playing Commander Joseph Lawrence in this scene and is being directed by Garbus. The floor is black and white and checkered and the walls are brick.
Director Liz Garbus and Commander Lawrence actor Bradley Whitford on set of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 10, ‘The Wilderness’ | Sophie Giraud/Hulu

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Does Margaret Atwood like ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ show?

Atwood also understands that because it’s a TV show, parts of her original story were bound to change.

“If you’re going to have a series you can’t kill off the central character and you also can’t have the central character escape to safety in episode one of season 2,” Atwood told The New York Times. “It’s not going to happen.”

Given that, she’s likely cool with the series creating Commander Lawrence. But there have been some aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale that Atwood openly dislikes. First and foremost, June has survived way too long. She said:

“I’ve done some yelling, but it was fairly effective yelling. I think it’s a bit of a problem for people that know about real totalitarianism that some of these characters have survived for as long as they did. Surely they would have been shot by now. Quite a few too many people know what June has been up to.”

Luckily for Whitford, Atwood hasn’t shared any notes on his performance. But he has won an Emmy for his portrayal of the Commander and is nominated again for season 4. So, that’s something.