John Lithgow may have won two Tony Awards, six Emmys, and a couple of Golden Globes, but even he doubts his own skills sometimes.
Take, for instance, every time he’s in a musical. “I feel like a fraud,” he says in the latest of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “I’m almost embarrassed I won a Tony award for best actor in a musical!”
He took home that trophy for his role in the 2002 musical adaptation of “Sweet Smell of Success”; he went on to star in the “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” musical in 2005. The much-employed TV and film actor (“The Crown,” “Pitch Perfect 3”) is currently back on Broadway in a Roundabout Theatre Company production of “John Lithgow: Stories by Heart,” the one-man show that’s equal parts autobiography and storytelling.
He talks about the show’s origins in the new episode, and also recalls the early days of his career on Broadway, when he won a Tony Award two and a half weeks after he made his Broadway debut in “The Changing Room.”
“New York was so different then,” he remembers. “The theater district, you wouldn’t recognize it. Half the theaters were dark, and all those dark theaters had marquees up of shows that had closed the year before. But the shows that were on were Bob Fosse’s shows, Hal Prince’s shows, ‘Little Night Music,’ ‘Pippin,’ ‘That Championship Season,’ ‘Chorus Line.’ Just amazing things going on. Feverish creativity.” He palled around with the likes of Meryl Streep and Mandy Patinkin. “We were poor theater rats, and we didn’t give a damn.”
He conceived and wrote “Stories by Heart,” but he much prefers being an actor for hire. “The nice thing about acting is how completely irresponsible it is,” he notes with a laugh. “I mean, face facts, you have your lines written for you, your day is scheduled. All you have to do is show up and be prepared for that.”
He adds, “I sit around and wait to be other peoples’ brainstorms. Other people think of things for me that I didn’t think I was capable of, and when you’re challenged like that, you tend to have the most thrilling experiences.”
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