As hilarious as he is moving, Lithgow begins his interview with Scott Simon on “Backstage With…” by telling of his childhood spent in the theater, including his first role as one of Nora’s children in A Doll’s House at age two-and-a-half. Lithgow says, “I don’t remember it at all, but I’m told I was very good…I was told I had a future.” As a young boy, he also played numerous small parts in Shakespearean productions directed by his father, founding artistic director of Great Lakes Theater Festival, Arthur Lithgow. When asked about when he received his first applause from an audience, Lithgow reveals that it wasn’t on a professional stage. Rather, he got a huge round of applause while portraying a damsel in distress in a melodrama at the final night of Boy Scout camp in Ohio.
An actor with an incredible range, Lithgow entertains the audience with tales from his diverse roles, including his portrayal of a transsexual in the film The World According to Garp; the voice of Lord Farquad in the hysterical animated comedy Shrek; and, perhaps his most famous role as the alien Dick Solomon in the hit television series 3rd Rock from the Sun.
While proclaiming his love for Shakespeare, when asked why he doesn’t return more frequently to his classical theater roots, Lithgow replied that he prefers to work on new material, always trying new things: “The real excitement for me is the kind of dangerous business of creating a new piece of theater.” In fact, Lithgow’s most recent work is his own new piece of theater, a one man show inspired by the bedtime stories told to him by his father when Lithgow was a child.