John Arthur Lithgow (born October 19, 1945 in Rochester, New York) is a highly prolific and accomplished Academy Award-nominated American actor, musician, and author.
A dorm room housemate of Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones at Harvard in the mid-1960s, Lithgow's career has taken many odd turns with a variety of roles. Following his career on stage, where he twice won a Tony, he successfully moved into film with a number of versatile roles, the best-known of which are Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp, Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose, Sam Burns in Terms of Endearment, and George Henderson in the family classic Harry and the Hendersons. He had a tendency to play villains, such as assassin Burke in Blow Out, Cain in Raising Cain, Earl Talbot Blake in the Denzel Washington crime thriller Ricochet, Eric Qualen in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger, and Large Ham Doctor Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. His more recent films include Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Interstellar, and Pet Sematary (2019).
In 1996, Lithgow moved onto the small screen, playing lead character Dick Solomon in the oddball sci-fi sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. The show ran until 2001 and earned him three of his five Emmys. He's also lent his voice to audiobooks, dramatic readings, and animated movies, such as the first Shrek in which he played the villain Lord Farquaad. Not to mention playing Yoda in NPR's radio dramatizations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Lithgow joined Dexter for its fourth season, playing Arthur Mitchell AKA The Trinity Killer. His complex, layered, and downright terrifying portrayal was met with widespread critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award for the Best Supporting Actor and another Emmy. He also has had a career on Broadway, most recently as real-life Agent Peacock Joseph Alsop in The Columnist. He occasionally appeared as Jerry Whitaker on How I Met Your Mother. He also played Winston Churchill in Netflix's The Crown (2016) which earned him several awards.
He happens to be one of the nicest people anyone could hope to meet, with fellow actors and colleagues saying how much of a pleasure it is to work with him. He's also a talented children's entertainer, having authored many children's books and music CDs for children. Recently, he published an autobiographical account of his life in theater, which he titled Drama: An Actor's Education.
- Ax-Crazy: Many of his villainous roles certainly qualify as this.
- 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: Many of his later roles have him playing these and he's also very much one in real life.
- Evil Is Bigger: He's played a lot of villains and at 6'4, he's usually noticeably taller than the actors playing the heroes.
- Evil Is Hammy: He's very dramatic and plays a lot of villains so this trope shows up a lot in his career. Though it often doesn't make them any less intimidating.
- Fake Brit: Even if not fully, he usually uses a Received Pronunciation accent in varying degrees in most of his roles and he is so well-respected that 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 realizing he was doing it. Played completely straight when he played no less a Briton than Winston Churchill in The Crown.
- Family Business: His mother was an actress and his father was a theatre producer and director.
- Faux Affably Evil: Many of his villainous characters are polite on the surface but pure evil underneath.
- Friend to All Children: He's a talented children's entertainer, having authored many children's books and music CDs for children.
- 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 Doctor Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Lithgow himself considers this his hammiest role.
- Not to mention his role as Dick Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun.
- Appears again in a big way when he appeared on The Colbert Report to read Newt Gingrich's hilariously overwritten press report.
- Lampshaded with a Ham-to-Ham Combat with Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live between Lovitz's Master Thespian and Lithgow's The Great Baudelaire, each actor trying to upstage the other.
- Self-Deprecation: Lithgow titled his autobiography Drama.
- Star-Making Role: He'd been acting in films for about a decade at that point, but his turn as transsexual former NFL player Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp kicked his career into high gear, to the extent that some people incorrectly think it was his film debut.
- What Could Have Been:
- He was originally chosen for Hades in Hercules before the casting of James Woods. However, even after he recorded all of his dialogue for the film, Disney found that he didn't have the right balance of menace and comedic timing they were looking for.
- He was the first choice for the role of Doc Brown in Back to the Future before Christopher Lloyd was cast, but turned down the offer due to filming conflicts with Twilight Zone: The Movie.
- He auditioned for Jack Napier in Batman before the casting of Jack Nicholson. However, he believed that he wasn't right for the part and tried to convince Tim Burton to not cast him as the iconic comic book character.
- He was the runner-up for the role of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs before Anthony Hopkins was cast.
- He was considered for the part of Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters before the casting of Harold Ramis.
- He was the original choice to play Frasier Crane in Cheers but turned it down to focus on his film career.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: Despite being American, his voice noticeably blurs the line between that dialect and one of a Brit.