Bradley Whitford is back on television like you’ve never seen him before. Sure, you’re probably used to seeing him as an articulate intellectual on Aaron Sorkin shows like The West Wing or Studio 60. If you’re a movie fan, maybe you like him as a generic villain. The Good Guys brings Whitford to the buddy cop drama as an alcoholic renegade paired up with a young, by the books hotshot.

Whitford rocks a ‘70s moustache since his character hasn’t really left behind the glory days of his early career. Even in person, he’s pulling it off. Perhaps it helps that he has an ironic sense of humor about it. The Good Guys premieres May 19 on Fox, but you can get an even earlier sneak preview in this interview with Bradley Whitford.

Q: Were you looking to do another series?

Bradley Whitford: You know, I always think of years and years ago I did a movie with Clint Eastwood and we were sitting, it was right after he won an Oscar and there was a thing that said in the New York Times Arts and Leisure section, this big story about him that said, “Clint Eastwood’s Vision of America.” He was laughing at it saying, “Vision of America? Five years ago I was directing a monkey. Now they think I’m Gandhi.” It’s like the best role available. It really does come down to I can imagine no nightmare worse than being on a TV show which is a relentless shoveling of story balls into the engine, if it’s not a part that you really enjoy doing. I was looking to do something obviously radically different from smart guy in a suit.

So instead you’re a dumb guy in a uniform?

BW: No, he’s not dumb but he’s not an effete guy who’s working in the White House. And it’s really fun to play these roles of guys who are just operating totally out of their reptilian brain stem.

How exciting is it to slide on the floor shooting two guns at once?

BW: I’m more excited for my son because he will love it. I’ve had to shoot a lot of guns in my life. I once was doing a bad TV movie and we had to reshoot it because I was so inexperienced with guns that they looked at the dailies and I was going, “Pow, pow.” I was actually making the sound as I did it. I grew up Quaker so there’s nothing more absurd than a Quaker with a gun. I’ve overcome that but my son is very excited about it.

What does being a producer on this entail? Does it give you more control?

BW: You know, it came up for a number of reasons. I’m interested in being as involved as I can be. John Wells was a wonderful sort of mentor for me in terms of writing and I got to spend a lot of time in the writer’s room and write some West Wings. That level of involvement was important to me and you want to have some say in terms of who you’re going to be working with. Matt and I agreed. I said, “I don’t just want a credit. I want to be able to be honest with you.” It’s been good.

Are you doing any writing on this?

BW: Not as yet. I’ve got a lot going on and certainly not in the first year but eventually down the road, I’d love to.

How would you describe The Good Guys?

BW: I got very excited about this because Matt [Nix] is a really great show runner. That’s the bottom line and the tone of this, the kind of Elmore Leonard, kind of Raising Arizona tone is something that has not been on TV for a while: very smart, very funny action-comedy that is kind of a flavor that I haven’t seen on TV. It was sort of a forehead-knocking moment of, “Oh, my God. That would be a great show to have that sort of funky, smart, humor combined with action.”

Is this a guy show or will the ladies like it too?

BW: Absolutely. Absolutely, with Colin Hanks?

You did a pilot for another cop show that didn’t make it, so were you just looking for a cop show?

BW: I was so drunk, I don’t remember the show. No. It was a strange thing. It was a character who was partnered with a younger cop who had a little bit of a drinking issue and a mustache. But, it turned out that that show, of course, did not get picked up. It was a blast for me to play a part like that, and it turned out that already in development, based on, I believe, an old feature script, was a thing called Jack and Dan which happened to have a lecherous, alcoholic cop, paired with a younger cop. So that’s how it came about, but it was not a re-do or a rip-off, but it was a sort of timing thing. I mean, it was already in development.

Are these guys bumbling cops?

BW: I think my character is actually a great cop, and we turn out to be wonderful crime-solvers, but there are challenges. I mean, there’s a little bit of a drinking issue for me, not too big, but I think enough for some funny. It’s the lighter side of lechery and alcoholism, the fun side.

We’ve avoided the elephant in the room long enough. Tell us about the moustache. Did you grow it for the first cop show?

BW: It’s actually fascinating growing a mustache because just this morning I dropped my kids off at school and yet another mother — women are very creeped. I don’t know if it’s Boogie Nights or what – women are fascinated and creeped out, and I always get this reaction which is, “Oh, are you growing that for a part?” A kind of disgusted, creeped-out thing. And my kids hate it. I did grow it. The other guy had a mustache. It is very funny. It’s not just a stereotype. Of a certain age of cops, there are mustaches. Just look around. So after the pilot did not get picked up, I shaved it. And then I took a lot of testosterone and then grew this one again.

Is this the most difficult thing you have ever had to bring home for a part before?

BW: My growing this mustache, I gotta say, it reminds me of a lot of the work De Niro did in Raging Bull. You know, this is real. He was like a middle-weight contender.

Does the moustache stay for the rest of the series?

BW: Yes. Yeah, I think this guy has a mustache.

Are you living in Fair Park in Dallas?

BW: Yeah, right by a Ferris Wheel. I’m living in the studios that were the Sears building or something.

Has it changed your impression of Dallas?

BW: I have not been there in a long time. My uncle and my cousins, I spent my youth going down to Corpus. My cousins live sort of all over the state now, some in Corpus. I’ve worked in Austin and I’ve never really stayed in Dallas fro any extended period of time so I’m looking forward to it. Listen, traveling is tough. I have kids. I mean, the good things about Dallas is being able to pop back and forth, but to me the hardest thing about being an actor is having to make those kind of choices in order to work. And growing a mustache. 

Do you have anything in common with your character?

BW: I think that I share with him, I mean Colin is 32. Suddenly I’ve gone from thinking I’m a young actor to feeling like Ernest Borgnine. One thing I do share with this character is I think I have a bright future behind me. I think I peaked, professionally and biologically in another decade. No, there’s just a kind of a ripe wisdom about him, which is a horrible combination of words. He’s an old-time guy who cuts through the politically correct stuff that gets in the way, unnecessary stuff, like Miranda rights and evidence rules, all that stuff that keeps you from actually getting to the bad guy. That’s a fun thing to play.

Speaking of the future you have behind you, how often do people come up to you and quote Billy Madison?

BW: You know, I do not enjoy watching me. I really do not. I really do not in anything. It’s just creepy which is not an uncommon reaction. I’m not a fan of me.

Do you have a relationship with the fandom for that particular movie?

BW: Yes. I had been playing a lot of yuppie scum and I was concerned about playing yuppie scum. Sort of why I wanted to do this part is that after West Wing, you just get a bunch of guys in suits talking intelligently about stuff. I had been the yuppie scum in a number of movies and I was getting typecast. So I was worried about doing Billy Madison and Adam had never done a movie before. I always remember my agent going, “You should do it. Nobody’s going to see this.” Generation after generation of drinking games later, a lot of people [have]. In fact, I was a little relieved when West Wing happened because it kind of got Billy Madison out of the top line in the obituary.

It’s funny they said no one would see it. Didn’t anybody think it would have a following in college dorms?

BW: No, nobody knows what they’re doing. Adam, by the way, is truly, because I’ve bumped into him over the years, a really sweet, grounded guy who works like a dog and he’s a really good family guy, so I have a lot of respect for him.