Drama: An Actor's Education

by John Lithgow

Having been a fan of both John Lithgow’s drama and comedy, it’s easy to see where he gets his motivation. From primary education at various schools in Ohio, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and growing up the son of the highly skilled and regarded actor/director Arthur Lithgow, John Lithgow learned the craft at an early age. He grew up in the world of theater and literature, back to the times in his youth when his grandmother would recite “Wreck of the Hesperus.” In pre-civil rights days in Antioch, Ohio, his parents were social activist, left-wing progressives who shared their beliefs with their children. Coretta Scott (before her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr.) was one of his babysitters!

"DRAMA is a theater junkie’s milk-and-cookie fix.... If you are involved in the theater, acting, or simply a fan, I know you will learn from John Lithgow and his journey as an actor."

Lithgow graduated from Harvard, where there was no formal education in the arts, and then attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. The stage became his home, and during the 1970s, the Broadway stage saw him in many leading roles. New York Times caricaturist Al Hirschfeld drew him when he was performing in Broadway’s Bedroom Farce, and his portrait hung at Sardi’s in New York, a popular hangout for actors in the ’70s.

In his formative years, Lithgow, on a summer trip to France as a teenager, worked backstage for Marcel Marceau, the great mime. I’m quite sure that this experience helped him during the episode of “3rd Rock from the Sun,” when the evil Dick Solomon locks the good Dick Solomon in an invisible cage in the basement. The story he tells is not only well written, but also builds to a very funny climax. Lithgow has an ease with words and transforms the written page into a work of art, which, by the way, he also studies. Actually, he wanted to be an artist prior to becoming a well-known actor.

“If you hear enough applause and laughter at a young enough age, you are doomed to become an actor.” His Shakespearian knowledge is extraordinary. He has acted in many Shakespearian plays, produced and directed by his father, and many others.  A lifelong Shakespeare scholar and devotee, Lithgow, at the age of 62, returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company in their production of Twelfth Night.

Lithgow has an intensity as an actor that transforms him into the character. He explains that the performance is for the benefit of his audience, and all effort should be focused on transforming the actor into the character. “Good people can do terrible things, bad people can astonish us with their goodness. This is one reason why life constantly surprises us. It is also, incidentally, at the heart of the best comedy and the best drama.” Lithgow portrays a dichotomy of character in the highly acclaimed series “Dexter,” currently in its fourth season, as the chilling Trinity Killer.

DRAMA is a theater junkie’s milk-and-cookie fix. Lithgow takes you by the hand through his personal journey, the trials and tribulations of his life in the theater and movies. One of its most stunning features is Lithgow’s sharing of his relationship with his father. This sets the tone and inspiration for the book, and displays Lithgow’s humility and gratefulness for his success.

If you are involved in the theater, acting, or simply a fan, I know you will learn from John Lithgow and his journey as an actor.

Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on October 6, 2011

Drama: An Actor's Education
by John Lithgow

  • Publication Date: October 9, 2012
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0061734985
  • ISBN-13: 9780061734984