(DailyDig.com) – The February 23 episode of “Law & Order: SVU” included a celebrity guest star. Bradley Whitford, 63, plays Pence Humphreys, a man with dementia (early onset) who makes a murder confession because he believes he murdered his wife, Winnie.
As for his research, Whitford said he used Google and his mother’s experience to learn as much as possible about the illness. She had a lengthy life span, but in the last years of her life she had cognitive disorientation, not dementia, while living with him.
Whitford was aware that his portrayal needed to be sensitive, so he avoided pushing too heavily on the uncertainty that dementia always brings for fear of losing the audience’s empathy with the character he was portraying. He expressed concern about going overboard, since he wanted to give justice to the tragedy of such a situation.
He used observations of his mother’s cognitive decline to inform his portrayal of his character’s same decline. He said it was unfortunate that people wouldn’t be able to tell if someone on the street had the illness, particularly if they were younger like himself. It occurs in waves if certain synapses fail to fire. He finally discovered it by seeing how his mother’s thought process was throughout her dementia.
Whitford noted that he didn’t want to focus on research while he was acting, so he was careful not to let any of that preparation show in his performance on set. He “wouldn’t become an actor” if he wanted to devote a lot of time to contemplating the issue.
He goes on to say that something he learned from his mother’s condition is how annoying it can be when one’s intellect isn’t functioning properly. It’s quite stressful to endure a traumatic experience when your brain isn’t functioning properly.
The episode of “SUV” hinges on Humphreys’s confession that he murdered his wife, which he cannot remember doing, and on the narrative progression of his love for her.
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