From a humanoid alien to Winston Churchill: John Lithgow proves he can do it all
John Lithgow is quite the surprise. Now 74 years old, he has acted extensively on the stage as well as the big and small screens. For all that, he’s appeared in an enormous number films and series that I’ve never watched, but from those I have, his distinctive voice has somehow wormed its way into my memory and I can identify him by that alone. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
That’s what happened with his role as EB Johnson in Perry Mason; in Bombshell and The Crown his physical appearance is altered but the voice immediately gives him away.
He was also in the original – and better – Footloose (1984), though I don’t remember him in it at all; there’s no shame in that, given it was in the last century, and frankly Kevin Bacon’s dance is all that matters. The song in the movie was Never by Moving Pictures, but the music video of the title track by Kenny Loggins is also super-cool. The remake of Footloose is on Netflix.
Unfortunately, Lithgow acted in an eye-opening amount of rubbish too, commemorated forever on the internet. Daddy’s Home 2 and Pitch Perfect 3 have embarrassing Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 20% and 30%, for example.
Lithgow’s television career spans decades, from 1974 up to the present. Perhaps the best-known is 3rd Rock From The Sun, a sitcom that ran for 139 episodes from 1996 to 2001. He was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for each year the show was broadcast, winning in 1996, 1997, and 1999.
Brilliantly creepy in 12 episodes of Dexter in 2009, Lithgow played Arthur Mitchell aka the Trinity Killer in Season 4. The Outstanding Guest Actor Golden Globe rewarded him for this role. Lithgow is no stranger to awards ceremonies; more recently he picked up the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Support Actor (Drama) in 2017 for playing Winston Churchill in The Crown.
Lithgow has taken home Tony awards, and been nominated for Oscars and Grammys but as yet he has not completed the coveted quadruple crown (or Grand Slam of the entertainment industry), known as EGOT.
You didn’t know about the Grammys? Nope, me neither. The categories were also a revelation: Lithgow has done a great deal of children’s entertainment too; some of his spoken word and musical albums earned him the nod four times.
Research revealed two marriages, the first one ending because he had an affair with Norwegian actress and one of director Ingmar Bergman’s muses, Liv Ullman. The first marriage yielded a son, Ian Lithgow, who is a clinical psychologist when he’s not acting. He hasn’t been in a whole lot, bar 48 episodes of 3rd Rock; a little role here, a little role there … including opposite his father, playing EB Johnson’s son in Perry Mason.
Rumours that Lithgow is Brad Pitt’s uncle, sadly, could not be confirmed, but it would have been an awesome fun fact if it were true.
Here’s where you’ll find him on Showmax and Netflix in South Africa.
In this film, Lithgow plays the revolting Roger Ailes, the network head who was accused of multiples cases of sexual harassment and cost Fox millions of dollars in settlement.
Bombshell also stars Charlize Theron (for some strange reason, quite unrecognisable), Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie.
Attorney EB Johnson (Lithgow) is the main employer of private investigator Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys, The Americans). At the centre of this series is the kidnapping and murder of a baby boy, which shocks the world to its very core.
Mason learns about law from his father figure Johnson, which lays the foundations for his own long career in the courtroom. Close your eyes and play the trailer above to hear Lithgow’s voice, the first one you’ll hear, and then hear Lithgow’s own thoughts in this behind-the-scenes video:
So about that voice, which is also the first in this trailer … Lithgow lends his to the character of Lord Farquaad, the mixed-species love child of a human mother named Pea, and Grumpy the dwarf. He is the only non-fairy tale character in the 2001 animated feature about a swamp ogre and his love for Princess Fiona, and is the main antagonist in the original film (although he didn’t appear in the book).
It’s speculated that the character is inspired by the animosity between producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and then-CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner. More Shrek fun facts here.
The Crown (Netflix)
The Crown is one of Netflix’s proudest moments, documenting the life of Queen Elizabeth II from 1947 through to present day. Claire Foy assumed the role of the monarch in the first two seasons, followed by Olivia Colman in Season 3. Season 4 is scheduled for 15 November 2020.
Lithgow has been in all three seasons as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.