Pin It

John Lithgow: “Acting on stage is a batting average game, if you bat 300, you’re doing extremely well”

john-lithgow-the-columnistThere isn’t many sentences you can say in New York’s Theatre District that will elicit more smiles than, “John Lithgow is in a new show.” The popular Third Rock from the Sun TV star has been appearing regularly on the New York stage after he returned for Sweet Smell of Success in 2002 after a 14-year absence from Broadway. 

Lithgow stars in The Columnist, based on the life of journalist Joe Alsop, a staunch conservative who nevertheless was a closeted homosexual.  Lithgow spoke to the New York Times about taking on such a conflicting role.

Lithgow admits that despite his experience he still is nervous about appearing in a bad production.  He says, “You work this hard on something and number one, you want so badly for people to love it. Number two, you gradually persuade yourself that it’s absolutely brilliant. Going to see a play, you think, ‘How could anybody think this was any good?’ You see that 50 people worked on it. Or a movie. Nobody sets out to do something bad, they all set out to do something good, by the time it opens they think it is good, which is why bad reviews stung them so deeply. I’ve had that experience many times. Acting on stage is a batting average game, if you bat 300, you’re doing extremely well.”

As for his new role, Lithgow was attracted to the role because of Alsop’s very human complexity.  He explains, “There were all these vivid qualities to Joe. In terms of behavior and contradictions and dualities, all the things you look for as an actor, just his way of speaking, his extravagance, his flamboyance and the fact that he was a gay man in an era where you kept that a dark secret. All these things I just found very fascinating.”

He then studied for the role by watching footage of Alsop and observing his eccentric gestures.  Lithgow points out, “There was this marvelous long interview with him, C-Span, which I watched and listened to. What I discovered was that Joe’s manners were so extreme, I had to modulate them, moderate them a little bit, so that he wasn’t simply too theatrical. It’s quite an unusual talent to play a very theatrical person. It was very important that he be extremely real and that I respect the man. I didn’t want to demean him with my performance or ridicule him or judge him.”

The Columnist has a short run on Broadway, after which Lithgow will gear up for the release of This is 40, Judd Apatow‘s next film in which he appears. Lithgow explains that while working on the film he was initially very hesitant about the part, but soon discovered how comfortable he was with Apatow’s improvisational style.  He says, “[Apatow] sent me the script, I was all set to go. I knew my schedule. I was terrified. I said, ‘I don’t know what this character is.’ There was not that much there. But I had the good sense to go and visit the set a week before, so I saw him work on scenes between Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. I saw the deal immediately and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is going to be so much fun.’ [Improvising] requires an incredible openness, relaxation and a quick wit, but boy, it gets great stuff, and you can see it in his movies.”

The Columnist opens this week and runs through June 24 at the Friedman Theatre.

Leave a Reply

Latest Videos

http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/watch-ron-perlman-on-his-fathers.jpg
Watch: Ron Perlman on His Father’s Influence on His Early Career
Ron Perlman is a prolific actor, and he has also lent his distinctive voice to a number of projects in film and television — including the new animated film The Book of Life. One of the reasons that Perlman works so hard is not only because he loves being an actor, but because of what […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/cate-blanchett-asks-graduating-s.jpg
Cate Blanchett Asks Graduating Students a Heavy Question: “What the hell can you do with an arts degree?”
“What the hell can you do with an arts degree?” Many actors ask themselves that when they find themselves struggling to make it in Hollywood while saddled with student loans. It was Cate Blanchett who posed that question recently to graduating students at Macquarie University in Sydney where she received an honorary doctorate degree. The […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/matthew-mcconaughey-rallies-his.jpg
Matthew McConaughey Rallies his Alma Mater Football Team to Victory with the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Chant
Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey delivered a different kind of speech two weeks ago when he spoke with the Texas Longhorns football team after their close 20-17 loss to UCLA. The moment was a bit odd, but hilarious at the same time. Coach Charlie Strong was the one who invited the Dallas Buyers Club star to inspire the […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/watch-anna-gunn-reveals-her-awkw.jpg
Watch: Anna Gunn Reveals Her Awkward ‘Breaking Bad’ Audition Details
Though Breaking Bad was obviously a career highpoint for every actor involved, they all must move on to their next projects (except for the few who are involved in the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul). This includes Anna Gunn, who portrayed Walter White’s wife Skyler on the award-winning series series. Gunn’s new series, the […]
http://www.dailyactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/watch-conversations-with-maggie.jpg
Watch: Conversations with Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott of New CBS Series ‘Stalker’
Both Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott are TV veterans, with Q recently starring in Nikita and McDermott recently starring in both American Horror Story and Hostages. This season both star as the leads of Stalker, a drama series on CBS about LAPD detectives who specialize in crimes that have to do with stalking. In a […]