Nov 6, 2013
09:48 AMArts & Entertainment
John Lithgow Comes to Fairfield Nov. 15; Gives Us the Fascinating 'Scoop'
Actor John Lithgow, 68, may be best known for his Emmy-winning (“3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Dexter”) and Oscar-nominated (“The World According to Garp,” “Terms of Endearment) turns onscreen—he’s also a dual Tony Award winner, for “The Changing Room” (his Broadway debut) and the musical “Sweet Smell of Success”—but on Nov. 15 he brings a more personal showcase, “Stories By Heart,” to the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University. It’s a tribute both to his father, theater director Arthur Washington Lithgow III, and the art of storytelling.
Lithgow took time out of his schedule to chat with Connecticut Magazine in advance of the Connecticut appearance. Here's what he had to say:
On “Stories By Heart”: “Each act is anchored by a short story that I perform in a one-man tour-de-force. The first, ‘Uncle Fred Flits By,’ is a wonderful P.G. Wodehouse tale, very British and hilarious. The second is the Ring Lardner story “Haircut,” which has a lighthearted vernacular style to it, but becomes a very dark tale told by a barber as he’s giving a shave and haircut to a stranger in his little Michigan town. Both stories are part of an anthology called Tell Us Tales, which my father used to tell stories to my siblings and me when we were kids. So this gives me the opportunity to introduce each one with short stories from my own life, a lot of them about my dad.”
On his father’s influence: “I acted in plays even before I remember doing it. The first thing I did, I’m told, is play one of Nora’s children in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, in which my father played my father. So my dad was just a constant presence; in fact, he hired me for my first professional job.”
On his destiny “aha” moment: “I was much more interested in becoming a visual artist. But then I went to Harvard and fell into theater there. There was one production that was so ecstatically fun; of all things, it was an obscure Gilbert & Sullivan operetta called Utopia, Limited. I was cast as the lead, even though I’d never sung a song onstage. In one number, I literally stopped the show—the audience wouldn’t stop applauding. That’s when I decided, ‘It just doesn’t get better than this.’”
On the “Dexter” Trinity Killer, a favorite TV gig: “It was an extremely well-run and well-conceived show. I worked almost exclusively with Michael C. Hall, who’s a terrific guy and wonderful actor. It was also great to be in a 12-episode story arc, to step in and step out, because that arc was as tight as a drumhead. Every episode presented a whole new aspect of this character; the momentum just built and built. It was kind of like being in one very compelling novel of a series of novels. Now, shorter cable roles have become the jobs devoutly to be wished—everyone wants to be in a show like ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘The Sopranos’ or ‘The Wire.’ Those are TV’s great achievements.”
On the allure of great scripts: “The jobs you really want to do are the roles that grab you when you read them. That’s why I’m doing this little indie film right now with Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange. It’s about a gay couple who have been together 40 years, and at the beginning of the film, they finally marry. Almost immediately, one of the two loses his job over it, and their lives go into a tailspin. Yet it’s a very touching and funny film, not bleak at all. It’s a wonderful portrait of marriage—what I find extraordinary is that the film treats a gay marriage as an ordinary marriage.”
On his preference, comedy or drama: “They’re equal-opportunity pleasures. It’s great when you can mingle the two, play an absurd scene in a very compelling drama, or stop a comedy in its tracks with a serious moment. That’s why ‘Stories By Heart’ is so full of gear changes. Shifting those colors; that’s what life is about. Even a day of terrible frustration and anger has moments of ridiculous laughter.”
For more on his appearance at Fairfield University Nov. 15, and for tickets, see the Quick Center's website.John Lithgow Comes to Fairfield Nov. 15; Gives Us the Fascinating 'Scoop'