John Lithgow On His Killer Role In “DEXTER”

John Lithgow On His Killer Role In “DEXTER”
By Abbie Bernstein
©Buzzy Multimedia

Dexter, The Trinity Killer, John Lithgow

Some people are most familiar with John Lithgow as the well-intentioned if very confused alien commander on six seasons of the NBC sitcom 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN and the hero of the telefilm DON QUIXOTE. Broadway audiences know him for a wide variety of roles, including several that have won him Tony Awards for THE CHANGING ROOM and THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. Movie viewers have seen him play a warm-hearted transgendered friend in need in THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, the distressed airplane passenger who sees a something on the wing in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, the stern reverend in FOOTLOOSE, the mad scientist Dr. Emilio Lizardo and his extraterrestrial possessor Lord John Whorfin in THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, the kindly dad who opens his home to Bigfoot in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS and the voice of the diminutive, dictatorial Lord Farquaad in SHREK. Then there are those who know Lithgow for a specific type of role – the killers he’s played over the years in OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, RAISING CAIN (all from director Brian De Palma), CLIFFHANGER and RICOCHET, to name a few.

Lithgow is returning to his onscreen homicidal habits in the fourth go-round of Showtime’s DEXTER with a season-long arc as Arthur Mitchell, aka the Trinity Killer, who has gone undetected for thirty years. Good thing for the citizens of Miami – and other cities where Arthur has been active – that Michael C. Hall’s serial-killing eponymous hero finally becomes aware of Trinity’s deeds.

At a party thrown by CBS and Showtime for the Television Critics Association, Lithgow – in person very genial and decidedly non-menacing – takes time to talk about what drew him back to series television and playing another character with a compulsion to end the lives of others.

Prior to signing onto DEXTER, did Lithgow have any sense that perhaps he’d like to portray a killer again? “I sort of half-do that,” Lithgow says. “The business doesn’t really allow you to make clear plans. Along come things to surprise you. But I do love it when along comes something which is very, very different from what you were doing, and something that’s surprising for the big audience out there. I say that I play a serial killer on DEXTER and his first victim is High Commander Dick Solomon of THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN,” he laughs, alluding to the fact that people who know him from the comedy are in for a big perspective change. “There’s no getting around it – I am a serial killer, although it takes Dexter awhile to learn that. And I quickly become known as the Trinity Killer, because I kill in threes for very specific reasons, none of which I will tell you.”

Lithgow says he wasn’t especially a fan of DEXTER before being offered the role of Arthur – mainly because he hadn’t seen much of it. “I was certainly aware of DEXTER, but I never really watched that – I watched about twenty minutes of an episode the first season, and I had lost the thread, so I never got back on the train. But ever since I said ‘Yes,’ I’ve caught up with all the episodes and I love the show. I was elated to learn that I had signed on to such a terrific program. It’s what you hear every actor say that you interview. In my case, it’s absolutely true. These are fabulous people to work for. The writing staff, the creator of the show and the cast – it’s just been a marvelous experience.”

Has there been anything on DEXTER that has grossed Lithgow out? “Well, I mean, that’s kind of the idea of the show,” he points out, “but it’s also got this terrific, ironic kick. So many aspects of it, so many elements, are the elements of comedy: talking at cross-purposes, Dexter’s voiceover commenting on the acting, always making ironic little jokes, playing a little twist on circumstances, just from the tone of it – it’s so far beyond just being a slasher picture.”

With his career in so many mediums, does Lithgow ever plan which one he’d like to tackle next? “As I say,” the actor replies, “it’s hard to calculate anything. I do constantly rotate back to the theatre, because that’s where I come from. I feel I sort of belong there. In fact, the next thing I’ll do after DEXTER is a play [MR. AND MRS. FITCH, a new play by Douglas Carter Beane, opposite Jennifer Ehle]. Actually, I will tell you this – I’ve developed a one-man show and going off to London to do that in October. It’ll be a week after DEXTER wraps. It’s called STORIES BY HEART. It’s a show I’ve been doing in New York at Lincoln Center the last two springs.”

STORIES sounds as though it may be on the autobiographical side. “Autobiographical,” Lithgow agrees, “and it’s also about storytelling – and I tell great stories.”

This implies that Lithgow is a writer as well as a performer. “Yes. Although I’m always embarrassed to say that, because I respect good writers too much. But yes, I write. I wrote my one-man show. I’m writing a memoir right now. Now that I’ve said it I have to do it!” he laughs.

Is there anything else Lithgow would like to say about DEXTER or his career in general that nobody’s asked lately? “I’m not sitting around waiting for any questions, I’ll tell you that. There’s plenty of far, far more important things to talk about than television or acting – but that’s my job,” he concludes, laughing again.

By Abbie Bernstein
©Buzzy Multimedia

 

 

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