In 1973, Lithgow debuted on Broadway in David Storey's The Changing Room at the Morosco Theatre. Lithgow received his first Tony and win for his performance for Featured Actor in a Play. He also won a Drama Desk Award. The following year he starred again on Broadway in the comedy play My Fat Friendopposite Lynn Redgrave at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. In 1976 he starred on Broadway in Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays opposite Meryl Streep and Tom Hulce at the Playhouse Theatre.
In 2002, Lithgow starred as J.J. Hunsecker in the Broadway adaptation of the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success alongside Brian D'Arcy James. Lithgow won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his performance. In 2005, He was starred on Broadway in the musical-comedy Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. alongside Norbert Leo Butz at the Imperial Theatre. While both were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, Butz won over Lithgow. That same year Lithgow was elected into the American Theater Hall of Fame for his work on Broadway.
In 2004 and 2007, Lithgow debuted Carnival of the Animals' elephant character — nurse Mabel Buntz — with the New York City Ballet and Houston Ballet, respectively. In 2007, Lithgow played Malvolio in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night, at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom.
In 2008 through 2009, Lithgow played Joe Keller in a Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons directed by Simon McBurney. Lithgow starred alongside Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and Katie Holmes in her Broadway debut at the Schoenfeld Theare.
In 2010 Lithgow starred in the Off Broadway production of Douglas Carter Beane's comedy Mr & Mrs Fitch alongside Jennifer Ehle at the Second Stage Theatre from February 22, 2010 to April 4, 2010. In 2012 Lithgow returned to Broadway in David Auburn's new play The Columnist which played at the Manhattan Theatre Club with previews starting on April 4, 2012. The performance earned him a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.
In the winter of 2012-2013 He appeared in the London revival of Arthur Wing Pinero's The Magistrate as Police Magistrate Aeneas Posket at the National Theatre.
It was announced in February 2014 that he would return to Central Park's Delacorte Theater and Shakespeare in the Park for the 2014 summer season in the title role of Shakespeare's King Lear directed by Tony Award Winner Daniel Sullivan. The production was the play's first there since 1973 and Lithgow's first time there since 1975, when he had played Laertes.
In Fall 2014, Lithgow returned to Broadway as Tobias in a revival of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. He starred opposite Glenn Close, Martha Plimpton, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins. Pam MacKinnon directed the limited 18-week production at the John Golden Theatre.
Lithgow starred in the solo play John Lithgow: Stories by Heart, which opened on Broadway on January 11, 2018 at the American Airlines Theatre, written by Lithgow. Lithgow has performed this play around the US, starting at the Lincoln Center Theater in 2008, with a return performance at Lincoln Center slated for April to May 2019.
Lithgow is set to star as Bill Clinton opposite Laurie Metcalf as Hillary Clinton, in the Broadway play Hillary and Clinton at the John Golden Theatre. Joe Mantello is set to direct Lucas Hnath's play. The play opens April 18, 2019 and will close July 21, 2019.
In 1976 he starred in a pivotal role in Brian De Palma's Obsession with Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold as Cliff Robertson's long time business partner Robert Lasalle.
In 1979, Lithgow appeared in Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical movie All That Jazz as Lucas Sergeant. The character was loosely based on the real-life Broadway director and choreographer Michael Bennett, known for his work on Follies, Company, Dreamgirls and A Chorus Line.
In 1982 and 1983, Lithgow was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performances as Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp and as Sam Burns in Terms of Endearment. Both films were screen adaptations of popular novels. In 1984, Lithgow also played a pastor who condemns dancing in Footloose.
In 1983, Lithgow appeared in a remake of the classic Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" in Twilight Zone: The Movie as the paranoid passenger made famous on the television show by William Shatner. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Lithgow reveals this role as his favorite of his film career.
In 1991, he starred in the movie Ricochet opposite Denzel Washington as Earl Talbot Blake, a criminal seeking revenge against the policeman who sent him to prison. Also in 1991, he played missionary Leslie Huben in the film adaptation of Peter Matthiessen's novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord. In 1992, he starred as a man with multiple personality disorder in Brian De Palma's film Raising Cain. In 2002, he narrated Life's Greatest Miracle, a documentary about human embryonic development.
In 1987, Lithgow starred in the Bigfoot-themed family comedy Harry and the Hendersons. In 2000, Lithgow gained iconic recognition for voicing the evil Lord Farquaad in the Academy Award winning Dreamworks Animated film Shrek alongside Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz.
In 2004, he portrayed the moralistic, rigid father of Alfred Kinsey in that year's biopic Kinsey alongside Liam Neeson. In 2006, Lithgow had a small role in the Academy Award-winning film Dreamgirls, as Jerry Harris, a film producer offering Deena Jones (Beyoncé Knowles) a film role. In 2010, he briefly appeared in the romantic comedy Leap Year playing Amy Adams' dad.
Lithgow during the 2010's appeared in Rise of the Planet of the Apes., Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014), Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman (2014), and John Madden's Miss Sloane (2016)
Lithgow gained critical attention for starring in Ira Sachs' independent romance film Love is Strange (2014) alongside Alfred Molina. The film received a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus reading, "Held aloft by remarkable performances from John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange serves as a graceful tribute to the beauty of commitment in the face of adversity." The film also received 4 Independent Spirit Award nominations including for both Lithgow and Molina.
Lithgow then starred in the independent film Beatriz at Dinner (2017) alongside Salma Hayek, Connie Britton, Jay Duplass, and Chloe Sevigny. The film is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus reading, "Beatriz at Dinner offers timely social commentary enlivened by powerful, layered performances from Salma Hayek and John Lithgow."
Lithgow's latest film is Mindy Kaling's comedy Late Night (2019) starring Emma Thompson. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival where it received glowing reviews. The film is set to be released June 7, 2019.
Lithgow is also set to play Roger Ailes, in the Jay Roach film Fair and Balanced alongside Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Connie Britton, and Malcolm McDowell. The film is set to be released December 20, 2019.
In television, Lithgow is probably most widely known for his starring role as Dick Solomon in the 1996–2001 NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. He received six consecutive nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and won three times (1996, 1997, 1999). His son Ian regularly appeared alongside him as Leon, one of his physics students.
In 1986, Lithgow received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his appearance in the episode The Doll of the Amazing Stories anthology series.
Additionally, Lithgow has been nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for The Day After (1983), and two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special for Resting Place (1986) and My Brother's Keeper (1995). Lithgow was approached about playing Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers, but turned it down. Lithgow starred with Jeffrey Tambor in the NBC sitcom Twenty Good Years.
Since 2006 he has starred in Campbell Soup Company's commercials advertising their Campbell's Select premium soup brand.
On March 5, 2009, Lithgow made a cameo on NBC's 30 Rock, in the episode "Goodbye, My Friend," with several references to his role in Harry and the Hendersons.
In September 2009, Lithgow joined the cast of Dexter as Arthur Mitchell, a serial killer and Dexter Morgan's nemesis. He won a Golden Globe Award for this role, and won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series.
He guest starred on How I Met Your Mother in the role of Barney Stinson's father, Jerry.
In 2015, Lithgow made a cameo on Louis C.K.'s Louie on FX, in the season five episode "Sleepover" alongside Glenn Close, Michael Cera, and Matthew Broderick.
In 2017, Lithgow in starred Trial & Error as a professor who becomes implicated in the murder of his wife in the first season (spring 2017) of the NBC mockumentary series.
In his most recent television role Lithgow portrayed the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill in the first season of the prestigious and critically acclaimed Netflix Historical Drama series The Crown (2017) opposite Claire Foy. Lithgow won numerous awards for his performance including a Primetime Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
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