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This edition: John Lithgow on the Role of a Lifetime

Episode Details

Original tape date: August 1, 2014.

Back in the seventies, a time of Vietnam and Watergate, war and corruption, disaffected youth flocked to productions of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the story of a young prince angered by betrayal and the abuse of power. Today, in an era of aging baby boomers and an unstable world, we’re surrounded by productions of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the story of an elderly monarch losing strength and sanity, seeking order in uncertainty.

Why are we so drawn these days to the tale of Lear and his dysfunctional family? John Lithgow, the award-winning actor and writer is playing him right now in The Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park production, and on this week’s edition of Moyers & Company, he tells Bill Moyers what it’s like to perform the monumental role and what he thinks its significance is in a time of so much violence and unrest.

Lithgow has been blogging about the experience in The New York Times. “’King Lear’ is full of high-pitched, raw emotion,” he wrote. “From day one, I’ve been tracking Lear’s journey into madness. It’s a journey fueled by humiliation, anger, regret and sorrow. His interaction with every character he confronts… is scaldingly intense. I’ve found it impossible to rehearse the role dispassionately. Try as I may to restrain myself, the emotions simply run away with me.”

John Lithgow is a constant and notable presence on stage, television and in the movies; twice a Tony winner, recipient of five Emmy Awards (three for “Third Rock from the Sun”) and two-time Oscar nominee (“The World According to Garp,” “Terms of Endearment”). He is the author of several books for kids, an acting memoir and editor of a collection of poetry, “Poet’s Corner.” His new film, “Love Is Strange,” opens in three weeks, and he has begun rehearsals with Glenn Close for the Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance.”

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