John Lithgow: “You do learn plenty from bad actors”
John Lithgow is an actor who has had success on stage, television, and movie screens, although he’s probably best known for his lengthy run as Dr. Dick Solomon on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun or for his turn as the Trinity killer on Dexter.
Despite his success, in his memoir, Drama: An Actor’s Education, Lithgow focuses mostly on his beginnings as an actor, including how he learned how to perform so well as both a comedic and dramatic actor. Nonetheless, in an interview with the A.V. Club, Lithgow doesn’t hesitate to talk about his time on the popular 3rd Rock from the Sun series.
Portraying the same character in a television series for six seasons has plenty of challenges, but Lithgow recounts working on the series as one of the most rewarding experiences of his career because of the collaboration between the actors and the writers.
He explains, “3rd Rock was remarkable. I’ve tried another sitcom, and I knew it wasn’t going to work. A lot of it had to do with the fact that it was so theatrical. It was very high-energy, it was a bunch of theater actors, and we worked intensely with the writers, which was very, very exciting. It was a very creative experience every week, just inventing a 22-minute, one-act farce. It never got boring. Sometimes it got a little crazy, toward the end, but it never got boring. Imagine laughing for a living—that’s what we did.”
But Lithgow doesn’t have praise for all of his previous co-stars: in fact, in his memoir he mentions one of the worst. He describes it as, “There’s an entire chapter devoted to working with a bad actor. I use a pseudonym. It’s called ‘Mr. Pleasant,’ which was the name that the movie crew came up with for him. To all appearances, he was such a sweet guy, but in fact he was running everything, my first experience with a true diva. You do learn plenty from bad actors—you probably learn most of all from bad writing, because that’s how you learn to save your ass. But certainly the best directors and the best actors are who you learn the most from. Good examples are better than bad examples. ”
Seems like Lithgow has learned a lot in his long career… even from the worst experiences!
Drama: An Actor’s Education is available now at Amazon and other book stores.