Learn more about John Lithgow's career ahead of him playing Roald Dahl in 'Giant'

The Tony and Emmy-winning Hollywood actor is starring in Mark Rosenblatt’s provocative new play Giant at the Royal Court in London this autumn.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Get ready for what promises to be the most talked-about play of the year. Hollywood star John Lithgow will play Roald Dahl in a new drama, Giant, which sees the famous author about to release his children’s book The Witches, but then rocked by a scandal surrounding anti-Semitic comments he made in an article.

Mark Rosenblatt’s debut play, directed by Nicholas Hytner (artistic director of the Bridge Theatre), also stars Elliot Levey (Olivier Award winner for Cabaret). It runs at the Royal Court from September.

As you plan your trip to this hot-button drama (and get ready for furious discussions in the bar afterwards), get to know all about Lithgow’s impressive Emmy, Golden Globe, and Tony-winning career – from performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company to sitcom Third Rock from the Sun and playing Winston Churchill in The Crown.

Book Giant tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

John Lithgow’s beginnings

Lithgow was born in 1945 in Rochester, in New York state, and theatre was in his blood. His mother used to be an actress and his father ran the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey. However, he didn’t go straight into drama, but studied history and English literature at Harvard College. There he saw a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited, and that inspired him to pursue acting.

Lithgow won a Fulbright Scholarship to come to England and study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. That was his entry into acting, so it’s no wonder he’s still eager to return and perform here.

John Lithgow on screen

Lithgow made his film debut in 1972 in the cumbersomely named Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues, an independent film in which he played a drug dealer. He then appeared in Brian De Palma’s 1976 film Obsession, and he had a supporting role in Bob Fosse’s extraordinary autobiographical film All That Jazz, in 1979.

Lithgow was back with De Palma for the neo-noir Blow Out in 1981, also starring John Travolta, then scored two Supporting Actor Oscar nominations: for comedy-drama The World According to Garp in 1982, and weepie drama Terms of Endearment in 1984. He also played the antagonist in the dance-liberation movie Footloose in 1984, as the small-town minister who faces off against Kevin Bacon’s rebel teenager.

Lithgow continued to experiment with different genres, but was reunited once again with De Palma for the 1992 psychological horror Raising Cain. Later, he became a hero to a whole new generation by voicing the villainous (but diminutive) Lord Farquaad in the 2001 Shrek movie.

Lithgow had supporting roles in a range of films after that, including Kinsey, Dreamgirls, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, This Is 40, Interstellar, Pitch Perfect 3, and Late Night. He played Roger Ailes in the #MeToo drama Bombshell, in 2019, and recently appeared in Martin Scorsese’s award-winning epic Killers of the Flower Moon.

On TV, Lithgow appeared in numerous small-screen films, and he hosted Saturday Night Live three times in the 1980s.

Then, in 1996, he landed a role as an alien studying human lives on Earth in the massively popular sitcom Third Rock from the Sun. The show ran for six seasons on NBC and it won Lithgow three Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.

In 2009, Lithgow won another Golden Globe for playing a very different character: the “Trinity Killer”, who dominated the fourth season of the dark crime series Dexter.

He switched back to sitcoms for a guest appearance in the popular How I Met Your Mother in 2011, and did two episodes of the hilarious Drunk History series in 2014.

In 2016, Lithgow guest-starred in Netflix’s prestigious royal drama The Crown, playing Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He reprised the role in seasons two and three, winning another Emmy Award.

Lithgow was hilarious as the eccentric Professor Larry Henderson, on trial for murder in the wacky comedy Trial & Error, in 2017. He switched tack again for the noir drama Perry Mason in 2020, and most recently starred in thriller The Old Man.

John Lithgow Trial and Error - 1200

John Lithgow on stage

Lithgow made his theatrical debut in David Storey’s play The Changing Room on Broadway in 1973 – and immediately won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor. He continued that Broadway streak with My Fat Friend in 1974 and Trelawny of the Wells in 1975. That year he also played Laertes in Hamlet for Shakespeare in the Park.

In 1976 Lithgow starred in the Broadway premiere of Comedians, directed by Mike Nichols, and then played Mat Burke the following year in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. He was nominated for another Tony in 1985 for boxing drama Requiem for a Heavyweight, and starred in a Broadway revival of the fast-talking comedy The Front Page (the basis for movie His Girl Friday) in 1986.

The Tonys nominated Lithgow again for his 1988 performance in David Henry Hwang’s acclaimed M Butterfly. The play did win a Tony, and was also shortlisted for the Pulitzer. Then in 2002 Lithgow switched to a musical: the Nicholas Hytner-directed Broadway production of Sweet Smell of Success. This time Lithgow did finally score that Best Actor Tony.

Lithgow starred in a drama about Napoleon, The Retreat from Moscow, in 2003, and then went back to musical theatre – and was once more Tony nominated – for the premiere of the hilarious con-artist farce Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

In 2007 Lithgow came to England to play Malvolio in Twelfth Night for the RSC. He didn’t stay long, heading back to Broadway for Arthur Miller’s seminal All My Sons. He was Tony-nominated in 2012 for David Auburn’s play The Columnist, with Lithgow starring as real-life journalist Joseph Alsop.

Lithgow returned to England in 2013 to do farce The Magistrate at the National Theatre, and then he gave his King Lear for Shakespeare in the Park. In 2014 he led a Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, and he played Voltaire in a concert version of Candide at Carnegie Hall.

Most recently, Lithgow played former President Bill Clinton in Lucas Hnath’s alternative-universe play Hillary and Clinton, with Laurie Metcalf playing Hillary. The show opened on Broadway in 2019.

Now Lithgow is back treading the boards, and in the UK, with Giants at the Royal Court. It’s an exciting chance to see this legendary actor in the flesh, and in a blistering new drama too.

Don’t miss out: book Giant tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Photo credit: John Lithgow in production imagery for Giants. (Photo courtesy of production)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive London theatre updates!

Special offers, reviews and release dates for the best shows in town.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy