That cheeky grin and his ever-receding hairline, #JohnLithgow has kept us entertained since the '70s with the chameleon-like ability to play anyone and everyone. From his award-winning role as transsexual ex-football Roberta in The World According to Garp, to the Alzheimer's-afflicted Charles Rodman in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, John Arthur Lithgow rightly deserves his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Literally born into theater thanks to his theatrical producer father, it wasn't long before a young Lithgow was treading the boards of Broadway. A move into cinema was inevitable and his first starring role was in 1976's Obsession. After a lucrative career and his recent stellar performance on #Netflix's #TheCrown it doesn't look like the 71-year-old is going anywhere yet. Let's take a trip down memory lane for some of John Lithgow's most memorable roles.
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1. The Horror Star -Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
Taking over from William Shatner is no mean feat, but Lithgow played the delirious plane passenger in the 1983 remake of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." George Miller recreated the infamous Twilight Zone segment, modernizing the tale of a gremlin on the wing. As the aviatophobic man trapped 20,000 ft. in the air, "Nightmare" is one of the most parodied TZ stories, and thankfully the remake stands up to the original — mainly thanks to Lithgow's enigmatic lead.
It isn't just his mad grin that shows the actor was having a great time, Lithgow went on to say that his part in the classic story was one of his favorite roles ever. In fact, Lithgow's performance was so good, it lead to horror director Joe Dante wanting to cast him as Joker in a Batman film that never came to be.
2. The Pastor - Footloose (1984)
While there is no villain in Herbert Ross's toe-tapping tale, Lithgow's Reverend Shaw Moore played the authoritarian opposite to Kevin Bacon's Ren McCormack. Lithgow himself is not a man of religion but delved into a bit of method acting for his part as Moore. Seeking a minister in the Yellow Pages, he posed as a genuine believer:
“I did feel like a total hypocrite, a snake in the grass, but without that — this man was extremely kind and very persuasive. That’s what I needed to play that part and deliver those sermons.”
It isn't quite the extreme lengths that the likes of Christian Bale or Heath Ledger underwent, but there is no denying that there is something powerful about Lithgow's performance as the righteous minister who thinks dancing is the Devil's work.
3. The Dad Role - Harry And The Hendersons (1987)
The story of the yeti-cum-houseguest stole the hearts of families worldwide. Apart from the giant yeti, Lithgow became the lead as George Henderson in 1987 Harry and the Hendersons. The film followed an Elliot and E.T.-esque storyline as George and his family tried to keep their newfound friend safe from the outside world.
Lithgow beautifully balanced the role of stern father figure and comedy dad, while Hendersons was such a success it was spun into the TV series of the same name. Sadly, only Kevin Peter Hall's Harry returned, but if it hadn't for the popularity of the film, Harry would have likely been turned into a floor rug long before the show's three seasons.
4. The International Terrorist - Cliffhanger (1993)
In an era where funny-talking British accents were the most menacing a villain could have, Lithgow's role as Eric Qualen in Cliffhanger is right up there. A Hans Gruber of one-liners, Qualen had such '90s quips as:
"Kill a few people, and you're a murderer. Kill a million, and you're a conquerer. Go figure."
Lithgow took command of an otherwise mediocre film as the maniac leader of a failed US Treasury heist. Lithgow's Qualen took on Sly Stallone's miss-cast mountain climber, and some truly awful action scenes. Despite being nominated for Worst Supporting Actor in the 14th Razzies, I still think Lithgow shone. The role became part of pop culture as ludicrous villainy, so at least it will be remembered.
5. The Goofball - 3rd Rock From The Sun (1996)
When you hear the name Dick, several people may spring to mind, but alongside Van Dyke, Dick Solomon is my favorite. A step into TV roles meant that Lithgow was a huge part of the late '90s for fans of NBC's alien comedy 3rd Rock from the Sun. Playing Dr. Dick Solomon, Lithgow once again returned to a patriarchal role, this time as High Commander of an alien unit sent to Earth. Zany, infantile, and a lot of fun, Solomon was full on Jim Carrey crazy in what could be Lithgow's best role to date.
Over the show's six seasons we saw Dick settle into life as the madcap physics professor at a local university, then develop a relationship with Jane Curtin's Dr. Mary Albright. The whole dynamic of the cast from 3rd Rock made it like a mental asylum version of Friends, but front and center, Lithgow was the best thing to happen to that show.
6. The Animated Villain - Shrek (2001)
Many forget that the original villain of the Shrek franchise is voiced by Lithgow himself. The pint-sized Lord Farquaad lay misery on the poor inhabitants of Duloc in DreamWorks' first entry. Named as a not-so-subtle way to say f*ckwad in a children's film, Lithgow's performance makes the character vile to say the least. Possibly the franchise's most sadistic villain, Farquaad's death at the end of Shrek meant that Lithgow never made it to the sequels — there was an idea to have him return in an alternate universe for Shrek 4, but it was scrapped.
Ultimately we could have had a very different Shrek as it was Alan Rickman who was originally offered the role of Farquaad. Rickman turned down the part to play Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, and Lithgow was the next choice — presumably they'd seen his Cliffhanger tape.
7. The Psycho Killer - Dexter (2009)
Whereas 3rd Rock and Hendersons showed the comedy side of the actor, Dexter took Lithgow on his darkest turn yet. Winning both a Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy, Arthur Mitchell/The Trinity Killer bagged Lithgow the awards he deserved. Appearing in the fourth season of Showtime's murder drama, Lithgow assumed the identity of a mild-mannered suburbanite. His "Harold from Neighbours" routine didn't last long, and just like the show's titular character, there was a bloodthirsty maniac bubbling underneath.
Lithgow's Trinity Killer was Dexter's biggest adversary, and was one of the greatest villains to grace our screens in modern times. A turning point in the show, the Trinity storyline also gave way to one of TV's biggest twists and the murder of Dexter's wife Rita.
8. The Leader - The Crown (2016)
For John Lithgow's most recent role it is a short hop over the pond to Rule, Britannia. Netflix's critically acclaimed series The Crown puts Lithgow in and among the British Royal Family. In a part seemingly made for his impressive acting chops, Lithgow heads up the government as Winston Churchill.
However, taking on the role of one of the most important figures of the 20th Century was a daunting task for Lithgow, and he admits that even he was scared to take on the part:
“I was a bit scared playing Winston Churchill. The responsibility’s huge, especially working with an English cast such as Claire Foy playing the Queen. Also, makeup and wardrobe were considerations... When I was cast I was surprised. Excited. Also scared. I knew I wouldn’t do any imitation."
Alongside some great acting talent, Lithgow steals every scene with the bullish charm of "Winnie," so he had nothing to worry about. Could The Crown add some more awards to his groaning trophy cabinet? We think so!
Ever heading to space, ruling a country, and unleashing his inner psycho, what is left for the jack of all trades? Star Wars fame, Bond villain supremacy, or an MCU appearance? With over 40 years of acting under his belt, Lithgow is up there with the Goldblums and Fiennes as the cream of the acting crop. For King and country, we salute you, sir!
Check out Lithgow alongside Jimmy Fallon and Anna Kendrick telling some spooky campfire stories, and don't forget our poll below!