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John Lithgow: “I was intimidated by playing Winston Churchill” in The Crown

The New Yorker reveals his thoughts on Churchill and his love for Liverpool FC

Published: Friday, 16th December 2016 at 7:21 am

You’re American and you’re currently playing Winston Churchill in The Crown
– how was that?


I play him between the ages of 73 and 80. He’s an old man and has just been elected Prime Minister for a second time and still has a grandiose image of himself. There’s a wonderful line where he says, ‘You have to be a monster to defeat Hitler’. But he’s beginning to succumb to
a lot of insecurities and frailties.

People might be surprised that you were cast to play Churchill, but you’re a bit of an Anglophile, aren’t you?

My father produced outdoor Shakespeare festivals out in Ohio when I was growing up, so I was in 20 Shakespeare plays before I was 20 years old. Then I came to England to study drama. My first six roles on Broadway were English characters.

So your English accent just trips off the tongue?

Yes. I was Malvolvio in Twelfth Night with the RSC in 2007, so I’ve certainly paid my dues as a fake Englishman. But I was intimidated by playing Winston Churchill. He’s the most famous Englishman of the 20th century. I felt a great responsibility.

He was quite cantankerous in later life, wasn’t he?

If there’s any comic relief in The Crown, it’s Churchill. He was marvellously unpredictable. There are wonderful scenes, like me yelling through the door while sitting in a bath tub. He had some very withering put-downs.

The Crown is said to be the most expensive TV series ever made. Did you have a huge winnebago?

Don’t make me laugh! There was a lot of money spent on it, but you wouldn’t want your worst enemy to spend a day in one of our poky little trailers.

You’re at home in New York watching TV – describe the view from your sofa...

My wife and I watch TV with a little tray on our laps. We’ve been engrossed by a lot of British drama recently. We loved Peaky Blinders and The Night Manager.

Do you only watch drama?

No, I watch sport, while my wife grumbles. I follow Liverpool FC because my boss on Third Rock from the Sun, Tom Werner, is a co-owner, so I’m a huge fan – I’ve even been to Anfield.

How are they doing this season?

You haven’t heard? They’re top of the league! I’d better not say any more, I might jinx it.

You’ve won Tonys, Emmys, Golden Globes. Where do you keep them all?

They’re in storage. I’ve reached the point where I’ve won too many to put them all on display. People will think I’m showing off!

Is there one that eludes you still?

Well, who wouldn’t like an Oscar? It’s unlikely, but a man can dream.


See John Lithgow in The Crown on Netflix


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