Award-winning actor John Lithgow is known for playing a variety of roles, his most recent including Winston Churchill on Netflix’s The Crown, a murder suspect on NBC’s Trial & Error and Will Ferrell’s dad in the forthcoming Daddy’s Home 2, which has been filming in town this spring. He’ll add Harvard Arts Medal recipient to that list on April 27, when he’ll receive the honor from his alma mater as a kickoff to the free Arts First festival he helped create, which runs through April 30. But first, he spread some Crimson cheer.
How does it feel to win the Arts Medal? I’ve been involved in the Arts Medal since it was created in the early ’90s. I was on the Harvard Board of Overseers and I proposed it, and I’ve always felt a certain kind of pride just having created the thing. It’s given me a great deal of pride from the very beginning. Since I created it, I have recused myself all these years. They’ve asked me a few times to accept it, and I thought it was just not right. But this is the 25th anniversary year of the Arts First festival, where it’s always presented. In fact, Drew [Gilpin] Faust, the president, she called me herself and said, “OK, it’s time. You’ve got to receive this award.” So I’m a little embarrassed. I’m embarrassed and proud at the same time.
What made you want to get involved years ago? My performance history at Harvard is a big part of my own narrative of my life, really, so once I was on the Board of Overseers, I thought the most effective thing I can do is to involve myself in the arts among students, just as I was involved so much back in those days. Harvard is not a place that has always been closely identified with the creative arts…but there’s an enormous amount of talent. … I just thought it was a good idea to shine a spotlight on that.
What part of the festival do you enjoy most? Every year, the most exciting part of the festival is Saturday afternoon. There’s a performance fair, which we invented the very first year we ever had the festival. … The productions in each of these venues change every half-hour, and that means about 80 or 90 different performances take place that afternoon. It’s just an extraordinary fair, a kind of smorgasbord. If you spend the entire afternoon going from one thing to another, you could still see only about 10 to 15 percent of what’s on offer. It’s just an incredibly exciting atmosphere. That’s the thing that makes me proud every year.