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John Lithgow has released a memoir titled “Drama: An Actor’s Education” that was well reviewed in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe & Mail. According to Johanna Schneller’s review and interview, he is a natural raconteur in print and in person.
In a market where many celebrities are encouraged to write an autobiography, it is heartening to see that at least one has a story to tell, and has a talent for telling it. It is easy to list some of the memorable characters he has portrayed, and to mention the awards he has won, but talents should be recognized in their other forms.
There are many, many actors out there, even without considering the film industries beyond Hollywood. They must work hard at reminding people who they are, as it is their popularity that helps keep them employed. Some are fortunate enough to work consistently; for some, it is luck, for others, it is talent.
With all the names to remember, it is not easy to follow any one’s career consistently, nor should anyone need to; however, it is often pleasant to stumble upon a reference of an actor doing something distinct, out of his expected context. There is something intriguing in seeing such people as ‘one of us,’ as a normal person, as himself.
Even in interviews, we might doubt the authenticity of character that is presented. In such cases, when we meet an actor or similar celebrity, it seems important that he or she turn out to be the nice person we had hoped, or, in other cases, shock and disappointment because he or she is not the person we had projected. People are people, even if they are actors.
John Lithgow is firmly rooted among the nice people. Audiences are happy if actors can act; we are impressed when they can sing or dance; it is unusual if they can play an instrument as well. Mr. Lithgow can do these, and write –all very well. Moreover, he is as charming and personable as we had hoped.
He plays arrogance convincingly on stage or screen, but he does not wear it well in person. There are a few roles that help define an actor’s range, and these are what tend to stay with the various audiences. In particular, some will be familiar with his many children’s books, and with his children’s albums; another audience will know his work on stage, Broadway or Royal Shakespeare Company–he was a stupendous Malvolio in Twelfth Night–most will know him from his considerable work in TV and film.
This man can act, as many know: from a trans-gender role in “The World According to Garp,” through multiple-personalities in “Raising Cain,” to bad men, opposite Sylvester Stallone in “Cliffhanger,” and in “Dexter,” or comedy roles in such films as “Shrek,” or “3rd Rock from the Sun,” he can be gentle or completely manic.
It is all the more impressive that John Lithgow can not only act but sing, play the guitar and write. Often, many wince when celebrities try to branch out into ‘the other industry.’ Some actors cannot sing, though they try; some singers cannot act, though they must.
There was a day when “actors” were genuinely multi-talented: actors such as Dick Van Dyke, Julie Andrews, Danny Kaye and Mary Tyler Moore could sing and dance as well as act; some also played instruments. John Lithgow, is a truly compelling, versatile and pleasant man at the top of his game with no sign of slowing down.
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