There’s no mistaking that voice. Whether you know that distinctive sound from Lord Farquaad, Dr. Dick Solomon, or a version of Winston Churchill, it is always unmistakably John Lithgow. The two-time Tony winner, five-time Emmy winner, and two-time Oscar nominee snagged his 12th Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series as the Prime Minister of Great Britain in Netflix’s The Crown.
Lithgow’s ties to London run deeper than his character’s home. After performing in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia Limited during his undergraduate years at Harvard, Lithgow set out to become an actor and won a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
A powerhouse talent from the start, Lithgow won the Drama Desk and Tony Award for his Broadway debut in The Changing Room in 1973. And, the actor didn’t simply use the theatre as a launchpad for his impressive screen career; he boasts 22 Broadway credits to his name. He performed continuously on Broadway from 1973 to 1980 in My Fat Friend with Lynn Redgrave, Trelawny of the “Wells” with budding actors Meryl Streep and Mandy Patinkin, Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays, Secret Service, Boy Meets Girl, Comedians, Anna Christie, Once in a Lifetime with George S. Irving, Spokesong, Bedroom Farce, Division Street, and Beyond Therapy. In fact, Lithgow added Broadway director to his résumé in 1976 with his revival of Boy Meets Girl.
In 1985, Lithgow won a Drama Desk Award and earned a Tony nomination for Requiem for a Heavyweight, which he then followed up by taking on one of the stage’s great roles: Walter Burns in the 1986 revival of The Front Page. He starred in the original M. Butterfly from 1988 to 1990, and then after a 12-year Main Stem hiatus, decided to tackle musicals with Sweet Smell of Success. Lithgow has a knack for that, too, winning his third Drama Desk and his second Tony Award for his leading role in the musical by Marvin Hamlisch, Craig Carnelia, and John Guare.
He earned yet another Drama Desk nomination for his work opposite Sigourney Weaver in the premiere of A.R. Gurney’s Mrs. Farnsworth at Off-Broadway’s Flea and came back to Broadway for two more plays (The Play What I Wrote, The Retreat from Moscow). His fifth Tony nomination came for his portrayal of a conman in 2005’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, alongside Norbert Leo Butz, cementing him as a bonafide musical comedy star.
Look Back at John Lithgow’s Onstage Career
The actor returned to his British stomping grounds for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night in 2007. He returned to New York theatre with his performance in Mr. & Mrs. Finch at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage in 2010 and followed that up with a Tony nomination for Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Columnist.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, the actor took on the titular role of King Lear for Shakespeare in the Park’s 2014 production before taking on the Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance opposite Glenn Close.
Now, Lithgow’s understated performance of the strong-headed traditionalist Winston Churchill in The Crown earned the actor his first Emmy nomination since he won in 2010 for his work on Showtime’s Dexter. With five wins already under his belt, on September 17 we’ll see if the work he started in London decades ago will lead to a sixth trophy.
Tune in to the 69th Annual Emmy Awards September 17 on CBS.