‘The Crown’: John Lithgow on the ‘Big Scary Challenge’ He Faced Playing Winston Churchill

John Lithgow’s career in Hollywood spans decades. A veteran, he’s no stranger to TV shows, movies, and plays. Earning praise for his turn as Winston Churchill in Netflix’s The Crown, the 74-year-old actor says taking on the role of a real person proved to be a “big scary challenge.” Keep reading to learn more about Lithgow’s fears of playing Winston Churchill, the late U.K. prime minister and historical figure.

John Lithgow joins the cast of ‘The Crown’ 

John Lithgow arrives at the premiere of 'The Crown' in 2019
John Lithgow arrives at the premiere of ‘The Crown’ in 2019 | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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Lithgow is the only American actor to join the cast of The Crown. He appears in the pilot episode of the Netflix original series as Churchill, the seemingly larger than life individual donning his signature hat and cigar. Portraying the character in 11 episodes, Lithgow’s final appearance is in The Crown Season 3, Episode 1: “Olding,” according to IMDb.

The actor’s ‘terrified’ to portray Winston Churchill 

During a June 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the two-time Oscar nominee participated in the publication’s “How Are You Famous?” breaking down his most popular roles.

In doing so, Lithgow recounted his turn as Churchill on The Crown and shared why he felt nervous to portray him on screen.

“Claire Foy was already set, [as was] Stephen Daldry, who’s just a genius director,” he said. “And the fact that it was Netflix, they were selling the crown jewels to produce it. I just knew it was going to be a spectacular project.”

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He continued, saying, “As excited as I was, I was equally terrified. To be enlisted the only American to join all these great English actors and to play the ultimate Englishman, it was a big scary challenge. But I was so excited and flattered that they would think of me for it.”

The right actor for the part, both audiences and critics love his performance. 

John Lithgow wins awards for his performance in ‘The Crown’

Despite his nerves about portraying “the ultimate Englishman,” Lithgow shines as Churchill. His performance lands him two accolades; an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award. 

At the 2017 Emmys, Lithgow takes home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, according to the Television Academy. It’s his first Emmy win since 1999 when he won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for 3rd Rock from the Sun

John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in 'The Crown'
John Lithgow as Winston Churchill in The Crown | Robert Viglasky/Netflix

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He gets more recognition when he wins a SAG Award. In 2017, he beats out other popular programs such as Game of Thrones and This Is Us to win the category of  

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, according to the Screen Actors Guild Awards

What’s John Lithgow doing now? 

Lithgow is back on TV in 2020. He currently stars in the HBO miniseries, Perry Mason, as Elias Birchard “E.B.” Jonathan. He stars opposite Matthew Rhys (The Americans) who plays the title role. We’ll have to wait and see if Lithgow’s latest TV role brings more nominations come awards show season.

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