Who is the Greatest British Statesman
"He was very worried because the monarchy was very important to him"
John Lithgow shines in the Netflix series "The Crown" as Winston Churchill, who introduces the young Queen Elizabeth II into office. In an interview, he provides information about this demanding role.
Mr. Lithgow, Churchill was the greatest British statesman of the 20th century. How do you approach such a historical figure?
You can imagine how unsettling that was. And I'm not just talking about its high profile. You know what he looked like, how he spoke, his sense of humor is well known, all these things. He also came from the Victorian era, he was as English as one can be. It was important that he was visible as this great Englishman. And I'm an American.
Still, director Stephen Daldry trusted you to play this role. . .
I've played a lot of English roles. I studied in England when I was young, I worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the National Theater. I felt very welcome on the set, no one doubted my cast. Of course, I did a lot of research for this role. But I was aware from the start that I would not be able to duplicate Churchill. I had to work out his essence in my own way and unlike him in many ways. It could even be that the differences between him and me are what's exciting about it all. I also didn't want people to see the film and say, "Oh my God, he's just like Winston Churchill." That wasn't my goal. In a way, it's a challenge to let the audience forget and accept me in the role.
What is Churchill's character for you?
He has many very strong qualities - in all colors, he has a wonderful wit, a passionate temperament, but he was also sentimental. And he was a drinker. (Lithgow changes his tone of voice at lightning speed and slurs for a moment. Then he gets serious again.) You know, we didn't want it to be a polished acting performance. So that you get a feeling that this is a real person. The costume designers built me a different body. Churchill's face was different, so they not only glued things on the outside of me, but also stuffed them into my mouth. (He starts talking as if something is hindering him.) And when you're in the fat suit, you don't feel like John, you feel like Winston.
The phase you play is the end of Churchill's career and the beginning of the era of Elizabeth II. How do you imagine the relationship between the two at that time?
He was her advisor. Churchill saw himself as the one who was personally to save the monarchy by teaching it to be queen at a very young age. He was very concerned because the monarchy was very important to him. The death of King George VI. was a terrible shock to him and everyone else. The fact that such a young woman in her mid-twenties who was not at all prepared for this role succeeded him was seen as a great danger to the constitutional monarchy of England. So he approached it with the same impetus with which he had previously said: “I am the only one who can win this war”, “I am the only one who can defeat Hitler”, “I am the only one, world peace because I am the only one Stalin will talk to ». With the same naturalness he now said: "I am the only one who can save the monarchy."
At the same time, he also showed uncertainties and instabilities. . .
All of these inner conflicts are what an actor just loves. In certain basic things he taught Elizabeth to be queen. Which is wonderful because in the process the Queen herself becomes aware of her own power and begins to disregard it. It's very exciting, a kind of father-daughter relationship. And a shift in power as she gradually grows into the role of queen.
What was it like working for Netflix?
You know, these things can change quickly, but right now Netflix is the benchmark, everyone wants to work with Netflix. They show great talent in the things they do. They are people who are good at delegating, that is their great talent. They choose people and then disappear again from the scene. I'm sure there were a lot of clever notes, but you didn't feel any of them on set.
Do you see a link to today's monarchy in “The Crown”?
I think the monarchy is in very good shape. The interesting thing is that their representatives do nothing about it. It is the parliament that runs the country. It's almost a bit like Netflix when I think about it properly. (He laughs.)
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