2005 Tony Awards Q&A: John Lithgow

No stranger to the Broadway stage, Best Leading Actor in a Musical nominee John Lithgow is currently starring in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Lithgow was seen last season in The Retreat From Moscow at the Booth and in Mrs. Farnsworth at the Flea Theater. Since his Tony-winning debut in The Changing Room in 1973, he has appeared in 18 Broadway shows. Notable among them were Comedians, Anna Christie, Bedroom Farce, Spokesong, Once in a Lifetime, Beyond Therapy, Requiem for a Heavyweight, The Front Page, M. Butterfly and the musical Sweet Smell of Success, for which he won his second Tony.

On screen, John Lithgow has appeared in over 30 films including Oscar-nominated roles in The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment and appearances in Twilight Zone: The Movie, Footloose, Buckaroo Banzai, Harry and the Hendersons, Cliffhanger, Raising Cain, A Civil Action and Shrek. For various TV shows, Mr. Lithgow has been nominated for ten Emmy Awards. He has won four of them, three for his role on NBC's "3rd Rock From the Sun," the hit comedy series which also brought him a Golden Globe, two SAG Awards and the American Comedy Award. For children, Mr. Lithgow has written five best-selling books, released two CDs, performed concerts with several major symphony orchestras and more.

What has the experience of doing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels been like for you?

This has just been a great show, and it's right up there with my favorites. I love the people that I'm working with, which is why it's so nice that the four of us were nominated. We have six principal actors, and four of the six were nominated. I feel badly for the other two, but I feel ecstatic that all of us have been acknowledged. I feel like the four nominations are an acknowledgement of the ensemble spirit of the show, and of its high quality.

Your partner in crime Norbert Leo Butz has been nominated as well, what's the relationship like there?

Norbert and I don't really think of it as a competition. I just adore this guy, and I love working with him. I suppose that it would have been a disappointment not to be nominated for either of us, but the fact that we're both nominated is a tribute to our onstage partnership. Whatever happens, we just love the whole deal.

How did you hear about your nomination?

I watched the nominations yesterday on television. I originally said that I wasn't going to, and I had a few people all ready to call me with the news. I thought 'oh what the hell I can take it' and of course was happy of that decision!

Are you looking forward to or are you nervous about the next few weeks?

The next few weeks really ratches everything up, and I can say that having been through it before. I think that there's a real attention from the audience at how nominated the show is, and that we're the 'bees knees,' which makes everything livelier. It's a good feeling so I'm looking forward to that.

Much has been made about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels going head to head with the other big musical comedy of the season, Spamalot – any competitive feelings there?

Going head to head with Spamalot is great, and I'm looking forward to it. I think that it's the glory of the season that there's so many different contenders. If you look at the 4 contenders for best musical, they are all vastly different and all great. In my opinion, that's how it should be.

You've traversed all the various mediums of entertainment, how does Broadway fit in?

For me, working on stage is much more exhausting than all the other mediums, but it's also much more thrilling. When I do theater, it's like coming back to my roots in so many ways. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is my 19th Broadway show. A lot of those stage appearances were in the seventies before I got into film and television, so it's just very nice to come back to that rhythm of life. There's nothing like spending an evening with an audience every night.

And of course the audience reactions to the show have been great…

The reactions of the audience are getting better all the time, and word has gotten out about how much fun the show is. Audiences are really growing and growing which being up on stage is great to see.

What effect has the 50,000 CD promotion had on that growth?

I think that the CD promotion was a very genius thing, because it's very important to get the music out there. I remember when I was a little kid, the very first musicals I saw were My Fair Lady, and the Music Man, and before seeing either one, I would listen to them for a year. I would know every syllable before I ever saw it on stage. I think that's an important thing to introduce to today's youth to carry on the tradition…

John Lithgow is nominated for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for his role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

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From This Author Robert Diamond