NatGeo goes outside the box once again, this time unfurling the fascinating tale of the Internet’s infantile years in the 90s in a time that predates Google, Facebook, and YouTube in their new series ‘Valley of the Boom.’ To say truth is stranger than fiction certainly applies to this new series and we were lucky enough to sit down with Bradley Whitford to talk about his role as Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and how this now little remembered company had set its sights to be the #1 Internet browser.
ScienceFiction.com (SF.com): So what intrigued you to take this role?
Bradley Whitford (BW): When I read the script, I thought it was great. I thought it was weirdly clear in telling a very complicated story and I had never seen anything like it. I couldn’t compare it to anything. Those are the things in my career that have been the most exciting. Those are the ones that tend to be the most satisfying to pull off. There was a joyous exploration while we were doing it. You certainly don’t know it’s going to work until you see it with an audience.
SF: I heard that this project was turned down by a lot of studios before Nat Geo decided to take it on.
BW: No one knew what to do with it. [Director] Matthew [Carnahan] really hit on a fun way to tell this story. You can call it a crazy, audacious experiment. It was really fun to break the fourth wall, but it’s intimidating when you’re playing a real person and you know that they’re going to be cutting from an interview with that person to you. That’s unnerving.
SF: You play Netscape’s CEO, Jim Barksdale. Did you ever meet with him before you starting filming?
BW: No, I didn’t. I had a pretentious way of rationalizing it but logistically I was shooting something else and had to go right into shooting this, so I didn’t have time.
SF: So basically, you just Googled him?
BW: (laughing) That’s the irony. You can just Google the person and you’re seeing them and practising along with the way they talk. There was a ton of tape on him so you can really get saturated. I would like to meet him someday. He was a guy who I really fell in love with; a really honorable guy in a difficult environment. He’s incredibly funny in a very understated, deadpan way that I loved.
SF: Were you aware of Netscape and the company’s story before this?
BW: I was aware of the name Netscape. I knew the Wild West aspect of it. I don’t think they understood how fundamentally this would change the world. Maybe they did, but it’s been a radical, radical change from when that company started.
SF: What was the big thing you got out of playing Barksdale?
BW: I loved playing Barksdale because he was tortured by business fundamentals and the ideas about the most ethical way to run a business. A lot of that, unfortunately, is absent now. The thing that is frustrating to me is that these big tech people get an ethical pass when, at the end day, all they really care about is making money.
‘Valley of the Boom’ premieres Sunday, Jan 13th at 9pm on National Geographic.