John Lithgow explains why The Crown cast him, an American actor, to play the famous British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in the Netflix series.
John Lithgow finally explains why The Crown cast him, an American actor, to play the famous British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Created and written principally by Frost/Nixon’s Peter Morgan, Netflix’s hit historical drama premiered in 2016 and quickly caught on with audiences for its dramatization of the inner workings of the Royal family. The Crown is now four seasons into its run on Netflix with a fifth on the way.
The Crown season 1 featured First Man’s Claire Foy as the first actress to portray Elizabeth Windsor in the historical drama, beginning with her marriage to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1947 to her eventual ascension to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. The early part of her reign included many face-to-meetings with the beloved British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who was dealing with the Great Smog of London at the time. To play the important role of Churchill, The Crown cast Dexter’s John Lithgow, which was a curious choice given he was one of the only Americans in a sea of British actors.
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During a recent appearance on GQ’s recurring video series in which actors break down their most iconic characters, John Lithgow finally explained why he was cast as Winston Churchill on The Crown. Lithgow reveals that the show’s creators wanted a non-British actor to play Churchill because of his close ties to America. They ended up going with Lithgow, who is “about as English as an American actor can get.” Read his full explanation below:
I went to drama school in London many years ago. So there’s this sort of English thread. I’m about as English as an American actor can get to a point of pure pretension. You know, when you think about Churchill, he’s as different from every other Englishman as an any American is. He’s an eccentric. They just loved the idea. They said we’ve seen all the sirs play Churchill. We’ve seen Burton do it. And Albert Finney do it. And there was a whole raft of them that year. And all of them Englishmen. Churchill’s mother was an American for one thing. That’s the first thing Steven told me when I asked him why’d you cast me? And he had this affinity for America. I may be terrified of playing this role, but they think it’s a great idea, so I’ll go with that.
Before Lithgow, Churchill was almost exclusively played onscreen by British actors, including Richard Burton in 1974’s The Gathering Storm and Albert Finney in the 2002 film of the same name. Recent years have seen an influx of Churchill portrayals in movies, all of them Englishmen. There has been Succession’s Brian Cox in Churchill, Harry Potter’s Timothy Spall and Brendan Gleeson in The King’s Speech and Into The Storm, repsectively, and most recently, Simon Russell Beale in Netflix’s Operation Mincemeat. Perhaps the most memorable performance of them all was Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour, who won an Academy Award for his transcendent portrayal of Churchill.
Though casting an American in the role seems like an inappropriate choice, executive producer Stephen Daldry had two good reasons for the decision – Churchill’s American background and Lithgow’s roots in English theatre. However curious or controversial, Lithgow’s casting paid off in a big way, as he won multiple awards for his performance in season 1, including the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Though Lithgow’s Churchill no longer appears regularly on The Crown, the Netflix show is coming off its most acclaimed season yet and is currently gearing up for its season 5 premiere in November 2022.
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Adam Bentz is a news writer for Screen Rant with an interest in a wide range of movies and television, though it was revered auteurs like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Aaron Sorkin who ultimately sparked his interest in the craft. Motivated by his love for the screen, Adam studied creative writing with a concentration in screenwriting at Southern New Hampshire University.
After graduating, Adam proudly interned as a writer for The Borgen Project, a nonprofit organization working to end extreme poverty. Other than covering news for Screen Rant, Adam reviews films on his website adambentz.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter @adam__bentz
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