John Lithgow reflects
on his journey
By Stephanie E. Ponder
ACTOR JOHN LITHGOW is known for his
versatility: Think Charles Rodman in the
recently released Rise of the Planet of the Apes,
Emilio Lizardo in the cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai and his Emmy
Award–winning role as a serial killer on the
TV show Dexter.
Now he’s trying his hand at writing a
memoir, Drama: An Actor’s Education. The
idea was born after caring for his ill father in
2002. During that time Lithgow, 65, began to
reflect on the power of story—impelled by
“Uncle Fred Flits By,” a P.G. Wodehouse short
story his father read to him as a child, which
he then read to his elderly father, and by
thinking about his work as a storyteller and
the path that led him to where he is today.
The Connection recently caught up with
Lithgow at his vacation home in Montana,
where he talked about writing his memoir.
The Costco Connection: Why
was it important for you to write this book?
John Lithgow: When you reach my
age you look back at your life; you look back
at your parents. I think it began as a sort of
tribute to my father [Arthur Lithgow] and the
desire to keep his memory alive … and tell
people about him, because he was a very valuable person in my life. He was a very valuable
person, period. I think he was a really great
man of American theater [an actor, theater
director and producer], and I thought it was a
really interesting story, to tell his story, and,
emerging from that, to tell my own story.
CC: Drama focuses on your career up
until the late 1970s. How did you decide
what to include and what to leave out?
JL: I started writing without a plan and
realized about a third of the way through that
I should probably stop this book at the most
logical halfway point.
CC: You write about some very private
experiences, including your divorce and an
affair. Why did you include them?
JL: When I set out to write the book, I
don’t think I had intended to go into those
very, very personal places. In a sense I felt like
I was either going to write an honest book or
An Actor’s Education,
is available in most
a dishonest book. And I chose to really be
honest with myself. That very, very difficult
year that I wrote about toward the end of the
’70s, where my life basically fell apart. If I’m
going to write a book about my life, how am I
going to leave that out? It was that important
to me, and I’ve learned an enormous amount,
not just about me, but about human emotions
in a very general way. And as an actor, I trade
in human emotions.
CC: I was surprised to learn that you
started out wanting to be a painter, not an
actor. Do you still paint?
JL: Yes. I paint and draw. It’s a hobby now.
It’s not a great calling now as it was when I
was a kid—as reflected in the book. And I’ve
nursed the fantasy all my life of switching
things around completely and going back to
painting—or at least taking a year off and
doing nothing but painting. But I don’t know,
acting is so damn much fun, and people keep
hiring me, so I don’t think I will ever do that.
CC: You’ve written several children’s
books and now this memoir. Do you have
any interest in writing a novel?
JL: I love novel writing, and I worship
novelists, and somehow I don’t presume to
put myself in their category. I feel like a lightweight as a writer, almost a dilettante.
I am an actor at heart. All of my energies
go into that. Writing this book, I took it very
seriously and spent a long time and worked
very hard on it, but I still feel like I’m an actor.
I had the feeling that I was pretending to be a
writer the whole time I was writing it. C