- Badass Grandpa
- The Big Guy: At 6"4", he towers over most of his castmates.
- The Cast Showoff: Frequently finds an excuse to play piano on-screen.
- Cool Old Guy
- Fake Brit: Even if not fully, he usually uses a received accent in varying degrees in most of his roles and he is so well respected he could be mistaken for a British actor anyway. Lithgow spent two years in England on a Fulbright scholarship in his youth, and picked up the accent without even realising he was doing it.
- Large Ham: When it's called for.
- Cliffhanger in particular isn't just being a Large Ham, it's a pig farm the size of Nebraska.
- Which is nothing compared to the Ham Planet that is Lord John Whorfin in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Lithgow himself considers this his hammiest role.
- Appears again in a big way when he appeared on The Colbert Report to read Newt Gingrich's hilariously overwritten press report.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Frequently
- Self-Deprecation: Lithgow titled his autobiography Drama.
- What Might Have Been: His role in Steve Martin's LA Story was cut entirely after filming was completed.