Bradley Whitford Explains how Witnessing His Mother’s Cognitive Decline Influenced His Portrayal of The “SVU” Character.

Whitford also exclusively reveals to PEOPLE the origin of a special nod to Mariska Hargitay’s mother, Jayne Mansfield, from the upcoming episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

The West Wing alum Bradley Whitford appeared as Pence Humphreys on this week’s episode of Law & Order: SVU. Pence is a dementia patient who believes he killed his beloved wife Winnie (Nancy Travis).

The internet was the first place, Whitford, 63, turned to in order to get the part right. He tells PEOPLE that you should “Google the condition and learn as much as you can about it,” but he also drew from personal experience.

“I was the youngest child in a large family. A decade or so ago, my mother passed away. She had cognitive confusion towards the end of her life while living with me, though it wasn’t exactly [dementia]. She lived a very long life “He mentions that his mother would have turned 108 years old this week.

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Bradley Whitford Opens Up About How Seeing His Mother Suffer from Cognitive Decline Shaped 'SVU' Role

Whitford drew inspiration from his mother as he prepared to portray his character’s cognitive decline. “The tragic thing about this is that you wouldn’t know it if you were walking down the street, especially in a younger person [like Humphreys]. When specific synapses fail to connect, it comes in these waves “He imparts. Therefore, the key was essentially observing how my mother thought as she suffered from cognitive decline.

Whitford claims that when it came time to apply his preparation to his performance on set, “When conducting research, you most definitely don’t want to be thinking about it. You shouldn’t be thinking too much.” And if you want to think a lot, you wouldn’t become an actor, he adds in a joke.

The episode, which was directed by SVU star Mariska Hargitay, heavily relies on the thematic progression of Humphreys’ love for his wife up to the point where he confessed to killing her despite having no memory of actually carrying out the deed.

Humphreys’ sleep apnea machine, which recorded that he was in bed when his wife was murdered, allowed Hargitay’s Captain Olivia Benson to prove his innocence. But when Humphreys heard about her discovery from Benson, he completely broke down.

It was almost simpler for this particular person [that way] to realize [that he didn’t kill his wife], according to Whitford, who describes the scene. He acknowledged that he had done it as a result of his condition, but why would someone else do it?

That was probably the outcome that Whitford’s character could not bear the most. As stated by Benson in the episode: “We removed his only source of solace. He wishes he had the guts to complete it himself.”

Not only did Whitford’s mother play a role in “King of the Moon,” but Hargitay’s own late mother Jayne Mansfield was also honored in Thursday’s episode.

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Bradley Whitford Opens Up About How Seeing His Mother Suffer from Cognitive Decline Shaped 'SVU' Role

Benson paid a visit to Humphreys in the hospital during one of the scenes starring the two actors. From his hospital bed, the suspect was intoxicated as he made love to Benson, telling her, “I could never forget a gorgeous face or an hourglass figure.”

His subsequent remark was even blunter, describing Benson as having “a face like Jayne Mansfield and an ass like the devil.” Before leaving the room, Benson simply raised her eyebrows and exchanged a knowing glance with ADA Dominick Carisi (Peter Scanavino).

Hargitay is the real-life daughter of Mickey Hargitay, a renowned screen siren and former Mr. Universe. Mansfield was only 34 years old when she passed away in a car accident in 1967; her daughter, who was 3 at the time, was unharmed. Just a few weeks after Mariska received her first Emmy for her work on SVU, Mickey passed away in 2006.

Whitford comments on the Mansfield allusion by saying, “I saw that in there.” “I was unaware of that; I was unaware of the entire narrative. When I questioned Hargitay about it, I learned that she lost her mother when she was a very young child, which is unimaginable to me. I was aware of her father and was aware of how close they were. I believe I questioned, “Did they just insert this?” Are you alright? “He remembers.

It transpires that the nod to mom was deliberately made. “She replies, “Yeah. But I preferred it. I desired to have it there “says Whitford. “I found it to be sweet,”