Bradley Whitford Reflects on ‘Valley of the Boom’s Unconventional Storytelling

National Geographic/Ed Araquel

Coding blue! Technology empires crumble in the January 27 finale of Valley of the Boom, National Geographic’s wild six-part limited series that tells three true, interconnected stories from the dot-com boom and bust of the 1990s and early 2000s.

We hacked into the mind of former West Wing star Bradley Whitford, who plays James Barksdale, CEO of Netscape, the company that created the first dominant browser for easy web surfing.

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The Nat Geo docudrama hybrid about the internet gold rush of the '90s is frenetic and playfully irreverent.

Competitor Microsoft’s brutal war on Netscape makes for Shakespearean stuff. Do you see Barksdale as a little-guy hero?

Bradley Whitford: He’s a decent, thoughtful man who reminded me of my dad. He wasn’t in the business world only for profit, but for the employees. Jim is deadpan, down-home, never gets rattled and is always thinking five steps ahead.

Did you meet him?

I didn’t have a chance! The good news is, while the internet is destroying our ability to be intimate with one another, it’s perfect for actors preparing to play real human beings; you can saturate yourself in hours of interviews.

The show has a unique style. It weaves in dance numbers, rap battles, puppets and interviews with real people, like Barksdale, to drive the narrative. Was that fun?

When you know that they are cutting from documentary interviews of the guy that you’re playing to you playing him, that’s nerve-racking. But it’s an interesting way to tell a story.

Why were you drawn to this project?

This is the origin of the thing that is reaching into my kids’ brains and rearranging the way the neurons fire!

What’s your hope for the future of technology?

Facebook is wonderful — we can all connect. But so can people who want to destroy our democracy. We live in the Information Age; I wish we lived in the Wisdom Age. I’m optimistic we will assert our humanity on technology, rather than allowing technology to erase ours. [Laughs] Whoa, that was a pretentious sentence!

Valley of the Boom, Finale, Sunday, January 27, 9/8c, National Geographic